Friday, 15 December 2017

Back To The Future 2

Now, pay attention at the back. 
From last Sunday a new operator took over the franchise which was London Midland.
The new company is called West Midlands Trains ...
... a consortium owned by Abellio (Dutch State Railway), J R East and Mitsui (both from Japan).

Simple so far? BUT ... the West Midlands Trains business will operate as two separate "companies". These are ...
... operating services in the "Greater" Birmingham area; and ...
... running the outer suburban stuff from London Euston to Birmingham via Northampton. It also includes the Watford Junction to St Albans Abbey branch ...
... the Bletchley to Bedford line ...
... and longer distance services venturing into the dragon-infested North West.
We all know that this split-personality won't actually work in practice and West Midlands Railway branded stock will end up at Bedford or St Albans whilst London Northwester trains will appear at Stourbridge.

So why the split.
West Midans PTE, which took on responsibility for local trains and stuck WM logos on them ...
... rebranded as Centro and repainted its trains.
Then it lost its buses via privatisation to National Express and its trains, also to National Express as Central Trains. The overall PTE publicity was rebranded as Network West Midlands.

But the PTE has now been expunged from the pages of public transport history and been replaced by The West Midlands Combined Authority ...
... which is beginning to call itself TfWM.
Now WMCA (not the most exclusive acronym) and/or TfWM would really like to take charge of its trains a bit like Transport for London has hi-jacked London Overground. But DaFT (The Department for Transport) doesn't want these country bumpkins from Brum to take over completely. So "in readiness" for future UDI, Birmingham Trains will be painted a different colour and "overseen" by West Midlands Rail.

West Midlands Rail is a partnership of 16 local authorities in the West Midlands region of England, responsible for rail transport policy in the region. Along with the Department for Transport, West Midlands Rail has had joint responsibility for overseeing rail services running within the region from December 2017. 

They haven't got a logo yet - but, no doubt coming soon ... !!
Oh yes they have - just found it! From their publicity you might think that West Midlands Rail owns and runs the trains ...

A new era of rail travel offering passengers more frequent services, better trains and extra seats was ushered in today (Monday December 11) as management of the West Midlands network was put into local hands.

A new franchise, managed jointly by a consortium of local councils and the government, got underway bringing a near £1 billion investment into the local network over the next eight years.

The new franchise, which runs until March 2026, will see more services and more space for passengers while stimulating and supporting further economic growth and jobs across the region.

... but they don't. The trains are still run by the franchisee under the tight control of DaFT, the Department for Transport.

Here is a little challenge for our readers with nothing much to do over the next couple of weeks.

But the good news (????) is that they have unveiled both new liveries; West Midlands Railway (in mock-up a few weeks ago) but now for real ...
... and London Northwestern Railway at a launch at the Kings Heath depot on Monday last. fbb is not sure whether the picture below is for real or a computerised paste up.
Neither paint scheme (vinyl scheme) endears itself to fbb who is, as he keeps being told, old fashioned enough to believe that a livery should enhance the design of the vehicles, not destroy it.

The printed timetables are already available on-line and will soon arrive at stations - another unnecessary re-design cost?
Still it keeps the graphic companies in business.
    ADVENT CALENDAR - 15     
However those angels are pictured, they look faintly ridiculous.
Perhaps they were a sort of celestial choir giving a very Holy concert?
What are we to make of Luke's narrative?

There were some shepherds in that part of the country who were spending the night in the fields, taking care of their flocks. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone over them.

They were terribly afraid. 

The angel and terrified shepherds?

So let's start with the shepherds ...
... and their fields. The site is marked by a chapel these days ...
... but there is plenty of poor quality grazing around and about.
The site looks about right even after a couple of thousand years.

So what sort of people would work the night shift? Historical research reveals that these "zero hours contract" sheep-carers were very well down the social scale; think rough sleepers who are best avoided.

Would they have fabricated the angel story? And if so, why? Would they even have admitted their fear?
Unless, of course, it was real.
 Next logo collectors blog : Saturday 16th December 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Back To The Future 1

L N W R Reborn? Not Really!
The pre-grouping railways of the UK were famous for their style, their quality and their desire to impress. The poster above was displayed in America, encouraging their trans-Atlantic traveller to take the luxury route o London.

The company was formed on 16 July 1846 by the amalgamation of the Grand Junction Railway, London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway. This move was prompted in part by the Great Western Railway's plans for a railway north from Oxford to Birmingham.

LNWR called itself "The Premier Line" 

This was justified as it included the pioneering Liverpool & Manchester Railway of 1830, and the original LNWR main line linking London, Birmingham and Lancashire had been the first big railway in Britain, opened throughout in 1838. As the largest joint stock company in the United Kingdom, it collected a greater revenue than any other railway company of its era.

It certainly exuded quality ...
... and kept its trains (particularly its expresses) in top condition.
A Directors' saloon coach is preserved on the Bluebell Railway.
Despite its self proclaimed "Premier" status, the company never seemed to have the "cachet" of the Midland Railway which it eventually joined in the 1923 "grouping" to form the L M S.

The London Midland and Scottish Railway adopted the maroon colours of the Midland ...
... for some of its top link express locomotives.

Under privatisation the former L M S outer-suburban services out of London Euston became the oddly named Silverlink ...
... owned by the National Express group. Services in the Birmingham area became Central Trains ...
... also a National Express company but with a wider network than just the Birmingham area.

Then we had a rejig of the franchise areas and the London outer suburban stuff was glued to the Birmingham area to become London Midland, run by GoAhead.
Rail enthusiasts hearts were gladdened when Keith Ludeman ...
... then big boss of GoAhead announced that the new franchise would seek to offer the quality and reliability of the old L M S. He also hinted that maroon would be the main colour the London Midland's new livery ...
... just like the good old days.

It never happened. Green, black and grey adorned all suburban trains out of Euston and all local services in the West Midlands. These colours also appeared on the Parry "People Mover" buggies running between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town.
So it was that the two companies under the first blast of privatisation became one.

Of course we all know what happened last Sunday, don't we? The new franchise holder for the London Midland company would be known as West Midlands Trains.

It is owned by rail operators Abellio (Dutch State Railways) ... 
... and J R East (operators of many lines in Japan including Shinkansen expresses).
Also in the mix is Japan's Mitsui Group which is a huge international conglomerate centred round "big" engineering.
Bur here's a funny thing.

West Midlands Trains will operate its franchise in two lumps; West Midlands Railway and London North Western. Or, to put it another way, Birmingham services are to be separated from the London outer suburban routes.

Back to the Future indeed!

We will explore further tomorrow.
    ADVENT CALENDAR - 14     

The story is so familiar; Shepherds meet angels, leave their flocks and go down to the village to see the baby Jesus.


They didn't take  lamb to "give" to the baby. 

What can I give him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
yet what I can I give him: give my heart. 

Christina Rossetti (authoress of  "In The Bleak Midwinter") implies that they did.

Well the Biblical shepherds didn't. Luke explains their abandonment of their flocks in very simple words.

The shepherds said to one another, “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and saw the baby lying in the manger. When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child.

We keep coming across those pesky angels! Tomorrow we try to make sense of the super-natural encounter.
 Next WM Trains blog : Friday 15th December 

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Christmas - Is This The Way To Do It?

Is It Only A Year Ago?
fbb wrote a blog in which he compared Seasonal bus provision in Bristol with the Festive Flop that is Sheffield. Here are a few extracts from that year-old posting, praising developments in Bristol..
One good house point.
A near normal service with some judicious pruning as thee evening wore on. Another good house point.
Not bad at all (and much better than most) but not as good as, say, London. But another good house point.

For those that would like to read about the full comparison, the blog itself is (here).

Roll forward to 2017 and ...

Sunday 24th Dec Christmas Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate from the start of service,


however... The last departures will be from around 6pm, with no services operating after approximately 7.30pm ...

Ever heard of the 24 hour clock?
It is used in all other publicity!

... (except Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3 which operate a normal service). Click here for a list of last departures

Nope. Its a backward step and a festive raspberry!

Tuesday 26th Dec Boxing Day

Special timetables will operate on a number of services in and around Bristol, click here for more details. Sunday timetables will operate on Airport Flyer Services A1 and A3. There will be no services operating elsewhere on the West of England network.

And the list of these services? There isn't one as far as fbb can tell. You must scroll through the PDF pages in the leaflet ...
... and see what is one offer.
But there is a positive on New Year's Eve.

Sunday 31st Dec New Year's Eve
Normal Sunday timetable will operate.

So in Bristol, NO early shut down on 31st. Even better, many night buses will run; here are some of the last "night" (i.e. early on 1st January) journeys on offer.
Thus it is that you can have a party at the pub on New Year's Eve, but you have to stay in on Christmas Eve.

But why withdraw the evening service on 24th after only one year?

The word on the Bristol streets is that they didn't carry enough passengers. Possibly true, but as 2016 was the first year for many an aeon that such a service was on offer, the take-up would surely need time to grow. But once established, surely a Christmas Eve evening service should attract more punters?

Bus industry short-termism strikes again?

And, is the "booklet" available in printed form? Our Bristol correspondent will doubtless let us know.

Just for the record, whilst Sheffield has selected services running until about 1800 on Boxing Day and fewer such on new Year's Day, everything finishes between 1700 and 1830 on the two "eves". There are no Boxing Day and New Year's Day services anywhere else in the whole of South Yorkshire with some notable exceptions in Barnsley (of which more later).

Bristol has gone backwards in many ways, but it is still far, far better than Sheffield, and ever farther better than Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Why the difference?

Over the border in West Yorkshire ...
... you can download a summary leaflet (so presumably not available in print!) which offers all the usual reductions.
But there are no details - for these you are obliged to search and download. No paper copies?
But this time we have an index ...
... to go with the timetables.
But despite the plenty of buses on Boxing Day, there is a paucity on New Year's Day.
And the voluntary services?
Just two!

O.K., a reasonable service on Boxing Day and (almost) nothing on New Year's Day with (fbb assumes until informed otherwise) no printed material at all.

Not good.
So they arrive at Bethlehem and we are immediately on familiar territory. The innkeeper has pity on the pregnant Mary and allows her to use his stable or cattle shed. Baby Jesus has "no crib for a bed" and gets plonked in a manger - an animal's feeding trough.
The rest of the detail goes to make up innumerable Nativity scenes and innumerable nativity plays which are all part of the "Christmas Story".

Except that most of it has been added in - without the slightest whiff of evidence.


The Innkeeper is not mentioned. It is very likely that there was an innkeeper but his part in the story remains an assumption..

She was pregnant, and while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to have her baby. She gave birth to her first son, wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger - there was no room for them to stay in the inn.


The cattle shed/stable is not mentioned.

In about 150 AD, a high flyer in religious circles named St Justin Martyr wrote about the Nativity.

But when the Child was born in Bethlehem, since Joseph could not find a lodging in that village, he took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger.

Today you can still see caves in and around Bethlehem. Some of them are turned into shrines but some remain in their original usage. It is where the animals are kept in the winter.
And while we are looking at Luke's actual words as they describe the nativity scene, please note ...


... there was no star, no animals, no wise men and no angels.

We have seriously damaged the Nativity story by adding in so much irrelevant clutter. What matters, what Luke records, what Justin Martyr records was beautiful in its magnificence; just a man, his unmarried pregnant wife, later with child, in a gloomy cave behind the pub with that not very clean feeding trough in which The Son of God was laid.
Nothing else happens until some smelly, scruffy and rough-mannered shepherds turn up.

Not a very auspicious start to a major world religion? But most Carols get it right:-

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born in us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
 Next "no idea yet" blog : Thursday 14th December