Our good friend Alan Stalham writes to say "I read with interest your article on parcels by bus. When I was a conductor with Eastern Counties in the mid 1970s we used to pick up blood in cooler boxes and were met at either Cambridge Bus Stn or Peterborough. I also remember papers (Evening Telegraph) being put on the 1620 324 service from Peterborough and dropped off at a house in Etton for the paperboy to deliver.
Delaine Buses has issued a special timetable containing vehicle duties for its Heritage Running Day on Sunday April 26th. It can be dowloaded from the file below.
The Norfolk Green operation, which was acquired by Stagecoach in December 2013, is to be absorbed into the Stagecoach East subsidiary. The change will take place from May 1st and will see Norfolk Green come under the control of Stagecoach East Managing Director Andy Campbell. It will add a further 86 buses to the 366-strong Stagecoach East fleet. The distinctive Norfolk Green livery and Stagecoach variation will be swept aside for corporate Stagecoach livery.
Stagecoach East operates services throughout Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and into Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire. Norfolk Green operates services in Norfolk and into Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
Norfolk Green’s main depot is in King’s Lynn, but it also operates from a number of small outstations. Until recently it also operated the Ely Town Service, but this is now operated by Stagecoach East from its’ Cambridge depot.
Under Stagecoach ownership, Norfolk Green has been allowed to keep its local identity. It also has its own version of the Stagecoach corporate livery using silver, and two shades of green. Steven Knight Media understands that the Norfolk Green business will trade under the Stagecoach Norfolk brand.
Since becoming part of Stagecoach, Norfolk Green has been managed by Stagecoach South Managing Director Andrew Dyer, who is retiring in July 2015.
In the past year or so since Stagecoach acquired the Norfolk Green business, they have taken time to understand the operation and to consider how best it can be developed as part of the main Stagecoach business. This is the same approach as Stagecoach have taken with previous acquisitions.
Stagecoach says: "We believe we can continue to develop the business by integrating the Kings Lynn depot operations fully into Stagecoach East. This also makes sense geographically".
The Stagecoach spokesperson added: "All vehicles from Kings Lynn depot will carry corporate Stagecoach livery although those vehicles inherited from Norfolk Green will retain Norfolk Green branding until either their replacement or scheduled repaint".
Andy Campbell, Managing Director of Stagecoach East said: "We look forward to attracting even more people on to our greener, smarter services by continuing to deliver the high-quality, affordable bus services across the east of England."
Norfolk Green is excellent at using Social Media to inform its’ customers of service disruption, ticket offers and upcoming service changes. Unlike some users of Social Media it also interacts with its customers.
An announcement yesterday caught my eye.
We have to advise that currently we will not be operating any services into West Lynn village on either the 505 or 55.
There are a number of low hanging trees along this section of the route and we have decided to withdraw our services from West Lynn until the works to trim them or the trees are no longer a hazard.
We are working closely with Norfolk County Council to try to minimise the period of disruption to our passengers.
I am old enough to remember the days when most bus companies when faced with low or overhanging trees went out and cut them down. I presume that systems and processes mean that is in many cases no longer an option available to them. So it seemed the residents of West Lynn would suffer. However, Top marks to Norfolk County Council as later in the day Norfolk Green announced:
Following discussions with Norfolk County Council this morning we can confirm that Highways are dealing with this as an emergency and have dispatched somebody to assess the situation and arrange for the necessary cutback hopefully today.
We would like to thank Highways for their quick response.
A great result and even better news followed later in the day.
Great news - thanks to the swift actions from the Highways Department at Norfolk County Council our 505's and 55's will be able to resume normal route of operation from Thursday.
Thank you all for your patience and understanding today.
Well done to Norfolk Country Council for sorting the problem swiftly and to Norfolk Green for excellent customer updates.
I was looking through some images recently and what struck me with the number of packages and parcels that were piled up in the windscreen of some Midland Red buses. The pictures dated from the mid-to-late 1960s, a time when many bus companies would carry parcels. I’m not sure how in today’s ‘elf-n’safety’ world whether loose packages on the front dash of a bus would be allowed but over 40 years ago it seemed a case of anything goes.
It made me wonder what could be sent by bus and what charges would be made. So looking at Midland Red in 1965 the timetable tells me that I could had a letter to the Conductor for posting. The letter had to have stamps to the correct value attached and it then cost an extra 2d (1p) for which a bus ticket would be issued. What I don’t know is if the conductor would post it at the next available post box or at a convenient point during his or he shift.
But it was not just letters, I could send a milk churn containing no more than 4 gallons of milk by Eastern Counties. Generally, the bus would be met on route and the package collected, or it could be sent to one of Eastern Counties’ travel centres of parcels agents for collection later. I’m sure the milk churn delivery would have been a useful option for some farmers - but how and where was it located on the bus? Maybe just placed on the platform. What the Eastern Counties timetable also tells me is that I couldn’t send a half side of bacon by bus! Also excluded was dog food, boxes of flowers and musical instruments as well as glass, china or liquids. For a parcel up to 5lbs the cost in 1969 was 1/3d (around 7p) with a maximum weight parcel of 42lbs costing 5/- (25p).
The cost for sending parcels by Midland Red in 1965 was 5lb 1/6d (8p) and for a maximum weight of 40lbs 4/6d (around 23p). There was a reduced rate for newsprint. Newsletter packages, news photographs, medicines and letter parcels for Warwickshire Cricket Club coast 1/- (5p) provided that they did not exceed 2lb.
Finally, it seems that wheeled suitcases and wheeled shopping trollies, carried free on most buses today, were seen as extras by Midland Red and cost 1d for every 6d of the adult fare, or part thereof. Midland Red also offered a left luggage facility at its travel centres.
But wait a minute. It seems you can send parcels by bus in 2015. I am told that there is a category on the ticket machines of Lincolnshire-based Delaine Buses for Parcels. So I spoke with Kevin Delaine-Smith who confirmed that is the case and the cost in 2015 is £1.60 (which would have been 1/9d – around 9p – in 1965).
Sitting on the bus, being cooled by the on board air con and surfing the web whilst also charging my smartphone with lighting that would put the best searchlight to shame I was reminded what modern public transport can offer. Additionally CCTV provides added security and real time tracking means that the operator should always know where the bus is.
That's a long way from the industry I joined in 1974. Forget air con, there was little in the way of heating on many buses. At least being served by Midland Red buses had doors, but then I arrived in Coventry and the West Midlands PTE where rear entrance buses had open platforms. Conductors regaled stories about being soaked with water pistols in Summer and hit with snowballs in Winter as they stood on the platform.
Crews also spoke about having to wear multiple layers of clothing in cold weather with one larger gent saying with the extra layers on he found it difficult to walk down the gangway to collect fares. I also found that a problem - it was tiring walking up and down stairs and I'm sure I wasn't the only conductor who operated as pay on entry policy form the rear platform.
I can remember Coventry Daimler CVGs being pressed into service at a former Midland Red garage in the heart of the Black Country (Harts Hill). They must have been detested by the Conductors there who had been used to Midland Red D9s with platform doors.
I can also remember a late evening trip on a Midland Red S16 in the mid-1970s. The bright lights from the headlights and interior lights marked it's progress as it emerged from the distance. But that all changed when it pulled into the bus stop. First the lights dimmed and then diminished. No alternator to keep the lights glowing from charged batteries. Merely a dynamo, which did it's job when the bus was moving but put hardly any charge into the batteries. It was like this at every stop and road Junction. No chance to read a newspaper. I also remember the driver saying how worn the gearbox was and how once he had moved off it was easy to change gear without using the clutch.
In the last 40 years we have come a long way and bus companies now cater for a passengers who need more than a means of getting from A-B. The mobile phone means we all seemingly need to communicate on the go. But even the humble mobile has morphed into the Smartphone. I remember my first mobile phone, slightly larger than a house brick and able to retain a charge for no more than eight hours. Calls cost around 95p a minute but it did come with a free call allowance every month - a full THREE minutes worth! At least my mobile was mobile (of sorts) - a fellow railway journalist has a phone which took up all a large pilot-sized brief case. I digress, but I did upgrade at one stage to the Nokia Communicator - a mobile phone that could send fax messages and I remember using it to file news stories on press days on those few occasions when I just happened to be out of the office on a press day, which my colleagues of the time would probably say is every one of them.
The Midland Red S16 had manual transmission, dynamo system for battery changing and power and tungsten light bulbs. This example at Nuneaton also has the tell-tale signs of oil in the cooing system with oily deposits running down the front grille from the concealed radiator filler cap. Photo (c) Steven Knight Media/Midland Red Coaches collection.
The first nine-coach Virgin Trains Pendolino, 390050, to have one of its First Class carriages converted to Standard is now in service. The train, which also received a major interior refresh and a deep clean as part of the work, marks the first of the 21 nine-car Pendolinos to have carriage G converted. When finished, the project will create an extra 2,100 Standard seats across the fleet providing more than 5,000 extra Standard seats a day.
Phil Whittingham, Managing Director at Virgin Trains, commented, “Our main focus is always our customers and their needs. We have seen demand for our services increase significantly, with more than 34 million journeys made on our trains last year, something that we are very proud of. Converting these First Class carriages to Standard allows us to respond to requests from passengers for more seats on our busiest routes. We’ve also given our Pendolinos a well deserved spring clean and remain as committed as ever to improving the service we offer to our customers.”
The work is taking place at Alstom’s depot in Oxley, Wolverhampton, with one train completed a week and all trains converted by September 2015.
As part of a wider fleet upgrade project, each of the nine-car Pendolinos will also receive a major interior refresh and a deep clean when the conversion takes place. The scope of the work is a result of feedback from Virgin Trains employees, customer research and collaborative discussions between Alstom and Virgin Trains and aims to ensure that the Pendolino fleet delivers on passengers’ expectations of the Virgin Trains brand.
After the nine-car trains have been upgraded, the remaining 35 eleven-car Pendolinos will also undergo the major interior refresh and a deep clean with the full Pendolino fleet completed by mid-2016.
When I joined the bus industry in 1974 they electronic destination blind for buses was merely an idea and buses and coaches countrywide were fitted with roller blinds, which had to be manually wound by the driver or conductor. These were traditionally printed on linen, but over the following years a tear proof paper-type material called Tyvek was used.
Changes to the destinations on the blinds were kept to a minimum, but there was an option to cut the blind and splice in additional names. I recall that at West Midlands PTE this was done four or five times and then a new blind was manufactured.
What wasn't evident at the time is how scarce some of these early linen blinds would become. Many with 'old style' fonts and even art-deco style lettering were consigned to the rubbish bin when no longer required, or handed over to the paint shop. They were ideal for using to mask areas on buses that didn't need painting. I even used one on the stairs at home when painting.
If only I had kept them. Looking at ebay there are hundreds of sections of printed destination blinds up for stale, now seen as artwork. It is still possible to buy some full destination blinds but there are becoming rare.
There was also major differences on how the blinds were laid out between operators. Many had the destinations grouped together which meant there wasn't far to wind the blind and key destinations were repeated several times. Others went for an alphabetical style which could give the driver or conductor arm ache winding from top to bottom of the blind! That may account for a greater use of generic destinations, although Service, Relief and Service Extra were also frequently used if the actual destination was not on the blind!
There was little Easter joy for Carnforth-based steam and diesel charter train operator West Coast Railways as Network Rail announced on the afternoon on Thursday 2nd April that it was suspending WCR's license to access the national rail network. Network Rail has concerns about the safety regime at WCR following an serious incident when a steam-hauled train passed a signal a danger at Wooton Bassett which protected the Great Western Main Line. A Great Western passenger service had passed over the junction barely a minute earlier.
West Coast Railways will be unable to operate trains in its own right until at least May 15th and will only have its license reinstated it it can prove to Network Rail that its safety procedures are in order.
This is the first time since privatisation of the railways almost 20 years ago that a train operator has had its license suspended following an industry investigation into the signal passed at danger incident.
In order for operations to resume on May 15th WCR has to convince Network Rail that it has take steps to address the concerns.
West Coast Railways says that it will fulfill its charter train commitments by using other charter operators to run trains on its behalf. It is hoped that WCR can do this seamlessly and that it can also satisfy Network Rail that it is fully competent with robust safety procedures in place to resume operations in its own name from May 15th, otherwise there could be passenger confidence fall out whit could hit the charter train market.
We have uploaded both the Network Rail letter to West Coast Railways and also a WCR letter to its customers so you can see the full facts.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.