It was 44 years ago that former Coventry Transport Daimler CVG 239 (VWK239) was repainted in Coventry Marshall red and cream livery rather than receiving the expected West Midlands PTE blue and cream colours. This prompted the bus to be chosen to take on the Rykneld Run in 1976. The bus was then on display at Derby Transport’s depot in Derby.
So started a busy period for the bus, which spent a period during school holidays helping out at the former Midland Red but by then WMPTE-owned Hartshill garage. Visits to Showbus at Hillingdon followed in 1977 and 1978 as well as local appearance within the West Midlands.
Upon withdrawal it was bought by a group of staff, of which I was part, from Coventry but was never fully restored. That took place when it passed to DeCourcey of Coventry, who replaced the red and cream livery with the darker original livery which was carried. 239 took part in a Reunion event for former Coventry bus staff in 2010 but had generally remained stored since then. Now it has been restored and looks resplendent. It is now up for sale with a sale price of £25,000. The sale is being handled by respected Midlands-based preservationist Roger Burdett.
In line with Government advice, train operators continue to urge people to only travel by train where their journey is essential, such as that of a Key Worker.
Avanti West Coast told us recently that loadings were in line with people complying with the Government’s advice and on some trains loadings had been in single figures.
Now it had come up with a number of retro-style posters to continue to promote the ‘Essential Travel’ and ‘Stay Home’ messages.
Railway posters have always been iconic and we must say that we do like the retro-look of these posters.
A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast said: “We’re lucky to serve beautiful destinations along our route but whilst the UK responds to COVID-19 our vital services are only here for key workers and those making essential journeys. To get across that message and keep communities safe we have created artwork depicting them, including Conwy Castle and The Lake District, to reiterate the latest government advice and support the message not to visit North Wales and Cumbria.”
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which administers the National Railcard scheme on behalf of train operators says that there will be no refunds of extensions for Railcard holders despite the current COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The RDG has not responded to a request to disclose how many Railcards are currently in use but says that Railcards are non-refundable and no extensions to expiry dates will be given.
With train companies operating reduced timetables, and the Government insisting rail travel is currently being provided for key workers, millions of people have been forced to abandon their rail travel plans. That includes those who make regular use of their Railcard(s)
Whilst refunds have been offered for tickets already purchased under a deal agreed between the Government and the rail industry, there is no such scheme to offer compensation to Railcard holders.
Whilst the RDG says that the savings on just one journey can cover the cost of a Railcard, it fails to acknowledge that most Railcard holders make many journeys a year and are currently unable to do so.
A spokesperson for the Rail Delivery Group told Steven Knight Media: “Railcards provide great value for customers as the cost of a Railcard can often be covered by the savings they offer in a single journey which is why they are normally non-refundable and cannot be extended.
“We recognise that these are exceptional times which is why we have offered fee-free refunds on almost all kinds of tickets, have extended the time to claim a ticket refund and are refunding tickets remotely without people having to travel to a ticket office.”
With the Government call for ‘Essential Travel Only’ set to continue for at least another two weeks and possibly longer we hope that the Rail Delivery Group will reconsider its position and at least offer extensions when Railcards come up for renewal. But, given that Railcard extensions would affect the revenue stream for train operators is it a case that the Government would have to make the decision?
The recent extension of National Express Coventry's services through from Bedworth to Nuneaton reminded me that almost 50 years ago Coventry Transport was working with the National Bus Company's Midland Red subsidiary to operate a joint service between Stoke Aldermoor-Coventry-Ash Green-Bedworth and Nuneaton.
The local Government re-organisation of 1974 saw the scheme abandoned but not before much work had been done on the planning, including production of timetables and fare tables.
Back in 2012 we produced a Research Paper on the proposal but never finished it through to publication. We can now share it with you. It has been uploaded in four parts as we have to limit our uploaded documents to under 1MB. All the pages are there, but to save file space we have deleted the blank pages.
The transport sector is having to come to terms with unprecedented challenges through the current crisis situation. However, COVID-19 seems to have achieved the transfer back into (temporary) Public Ownership of the rail franchise system.
Train operators are running a much reduced timetable, some are mothballing trains, and passenger numbers have significantly reduced as the Government pushes its essential travel only message.
So what is the position now and what is the Government’s exit strategy to return train operations to the private sector.
Rail franchises are effectively now Government controlled and operated by the private companies under a Management Contract. I understand that the arrangement gives the private companies a ‘commission’ of 2% which was based on a complex set of calculations based on franchise cost base at March 1st.
There was no option given for the private companies to remain as commercial operators. The Government apparently dictated that those that did not sign up to the Management Contract would be replaced by the Government’s own Operator of Last Resort (OLR). All signed up and the only franchises which are under the OLR are LNER and Northern.
So how long will these arrangements apply?
Initially for six months says the Government. During that time we may get to see the contents of the Williams Report which is likely to suggest radical changes to the rail franchising system.
Couple with that the fact that whatever the date is that the Management Contracts end, se it after six months or even longer, the railway that the private companies have will bear no relation to the railway they had at the start of 2020.
Passenger numbers will no recover to pre COVID-19 levels overnight. It will take months if indeed passenger levels do return. Sure, leisure business will see a boost at people make visits to family and friends. But these are generally price-sensitive passengers who will travel at off-peak times.
What the COVID-19 restrictions have demonstrated is the ease that people can work from home given the technology that is now available. The unknown is how many companies will allow staff to work from home in the future allowing them to downsize offices and other infrastructure.
I suspect that the private companies will all want to re-negotiate their franchise going forward. Their Business Plans on which the franchise finances were based are now not worth the paper they are printed on. The difficulty for the private rail franchises is how can they prepare a new Business Case for the post COVID-19 railway when neither they, nor Government, know what the post COVID-19 railway will look like.
Will we see a queue at the Secretary of State for Transport’s door asking, nay demanding, that the Management Contract terms continue until the railway has returned to some kind of normality. Mind you, that could take years.
We salute all key workers and that includes everyone keeping the railway running at this difficult time but is it really necessary for a train operator running a massively reduced train service with relatively few passengers to keep telling us it is achieving 100% performance. But there again it is one of the train companies operated directly by the Government’s Operator of Last Resort so it must be Government policy to push performance figures at this time….
In our Blog last week we said that the Government’s plans for putting franchised train operators onto management contracts made no reference to Open Access operators.
Now we get the news that Hull Trains, a First Group company, has decided to suspend all its services until further notice. A statement on the Hull Trains website this morning read:
“As a result of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, passenger numbers across the industry have dropped significantly since national guidance was issued for people to stay at home and stop all non-essential travel.
‘Hull Trains is an open access operator and does not have a contract with the government, as a result we have not been offered additional financial support which franchised rail operators have in the form of an Emergency Measures Agreement.
‘After exploring all possible avenues to keep services running, it is not currently financially viable to run our services.
‘If you are a key worker and your travel is essential Hull Trains tickets WILL be accepted across all other train operating companies”.
Rail union RMT responded to the service suspension by saying:
"This decision affects 130 rail staff around the Hull area and they must be treated as an absolute priority. We expect the company and the Government to guarantee wages at 100% and not some reduced rate and we also expect jobs, service, pensions and conditions for these rail staff to be fully protected throughout this crisis. We will be in direct talks to secure our members the guarantees they are entitled to. The Government have given the rail companies financial assurances, the same must apply to staff".
Open Access operator Grand Central, which also operates on the East Coast Main Line has now also suspended its services.
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.