Thursday, 31 January 2013

Researching Redditch Revisions [2]

Three stations : four/five buildings ... of a sort
In 1859 a single track branch opened from the Midland Railway's main line at Barnt Green to Redditch. There was one intermediate station at Alvechurch and the terminus was the above modest structure on Clive Road, north west of the town centre. Nothing remains of the original site, although it would be nice to think that these railings ...
... around the yard of a van hire company close to the original location, might be the 1859 originals recycled. Sadly fbb thinks they are modern.

The Evesham and Redditch Railway linked up coming from the south in 1882 and a new station was built just south of  Bromsgrove Road. This necessitated a tunnel under Mount Pleasant a short distance south of the new station.
The Evesham line closed in 1962/3. The site of the Tunnel is made easy to spot from the southern approach as the road built on the former trackbed is cunningly named Tunnel Drive.
Go straight on here, through the trees and you would find the erstwhile tunnel entrance. Similarly from the north the trackbed is clearly visible in the aerial shot.
The second station site was where the big slab of a shopping centre with bus station was built (top centre) and the tunnel entrance is bottom centre. And what, pray, are those little rectamgular white and grey ants?
They are buses, no less; because this luxurious facility (note the lavish undercover maintenance sheds in the background) is the First Bus "depot" that Rotala (Diamond Bus) has "bought".

In order to build the aforementioned Redditch shopping experience, the line from Barnt Green was cut back to the north side of Bromsgrove Road. By that time, the station had been reduced to nothing but a bus shelter.

fbb has visited Redditch only once and briefly (date not remembered but probably late 60s). The train service had been progressively reduced to two peak hour single journeys from Redditch in the morning and back in the evening. The evening stock returned "light" to Tyseley Depot. 

Recognising the threat of line closure, fbb and West Midlands chum John decided that the possibly doomed line had to be "done", so took one of the evening trips; intending to return by bus. Your rotund railway rider is fairly convinced that it was the second station (south of Bromsgrove Road) that formed the lavishly appointed terminus. He remembers greenery behind the diesel train ...
... rather than the factory premises as seen at the third station site.

Anyway, having arrived on the one-way train, the driver and guard appeared concerned for fbb's presence of mind and/or sanity. "How are you getting back?" they asked, "There aren't any trains." fbb and chum proffered their aim to catch a bus. "Don't bother with that, mate, it'll take hours. Hop in and we'll drop you off at New Street."

And they did. That was the only time that fbb has ever had a free lift in a train!

The Bimingham Cross City Line was inaugurated in 1978 with a much improved service to Redditch, and the present electrification was completed in 1993. The town now has a car park and a nice compact station building ...
... which National Rail claims is staffed from 0610 to 2210 Mondays to Saturdays and 0900 to 1700 on Sundays. So much better than a single bus shelter!
Cross City line timetable extract

Just across Bromsgove Road (or, better, through a subway) we come to the bus station ...
Rail station behind the tress and below road level (left)
Bus station and shopping centre (right)

... which leads us naturally on to the Redditch bus services and (eventually!) a review of what First Bus has sold to Rotala aka Diamond Bus.

 Next Bus Blog : Friday 1st February 

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Researching Redditch Revisions [1]

First's Fantastic Free Fares Facility - A Follow-up

In the first part of the "Free Fares" blog (read again), fbb referred to the truncated former First Bristol service 18/518 between Hanham and Shirehampton. The implication was that this route had disappeared. fbb had boobed slightly, but with mitigation. Rotala's Bristol area operations have a bit of an identity crisis. Wessex Red; Wessex Connect, Wessex Bristol or just plain Wessex are some of the names used to confuse the elderly and those, like Winnie-the-Pooh and fbb, of small brain.

Wessex whatever-it-is-this-week does operate to Shirehampton and Avonmouth from the UWE and Abbey Wood areas as routes 501 and 502.

And now, today's offering:-

Who remembers "Needles and Pins(-a)"  by the Searchers?
If you do (or even if you don't) there's a link to a Video thereof (here)

And that was the key industry of Redditch.

In the 19th century Redditch became the international centre for the needle and fishing tackle industry. At one point 90% of the world's needles were manufactured in the town and its neighbourhoods.

In the 1960s it became a model for modern new town planning. It was designated a new town in 1964 and the population increased dramatically from 32,000 to around 77,000. By the 21st century needle-making and other traditional industries had been replaced by modern light industry and services, with Redditch also functioning as a dormitory town for Birmingham. The automotive retailer Halfords and engineering giant GKN both have their headquarters in the town.

So a small Worcestershire market town  ...

... became something much bigger and, arguably, much less attractive.

The planners made a brave attempt to provide for good public transport with numerous bus only links, but inevitably the motor car won the battle with a network of fast (?) main roads with potentially complex junctions. Indeed Redditch has the dubious pleasure of being the site of one of the few (the only?) "clover leaf" road interchanges in the UK at the (in)appropriatelty named "Headless Cross"
The so-called "clover leaf" and its multi-level derivatives, forms the only junction design (apart from a simple roundabout) that allows turns in all direction without conflict. Clever, but expensive in cash terms and land use!

So the small needle-producing community of the 1930s ...
... became the sprawling dormitory town of the late 20th Century.

Like most growing settlements, the first significant public transport was the railway which arrived by way of a branch from the main line at Barnt Green in 1859. Thus it is that we examine the train service development in tomorrow's blog.

In the meantime, visitors to Redditch may like to visit the Forge Mill Needle Museum.
And if, like fbb, you wondered why Mrs fbb's knitting needles had the same name is a celebrated bubbly chocolate bar ...
... you might be able to find out. But not for a few days as the Museum is closed in January.

So next we record Redditch's three railway station sites with four station buildings; an unusual and intriguing train ride for fbb; plus a slightly quirky link with the town's bus services.

Who would have thought that Redditch would be so interesting? (?)

 Next Blog (Rail) : Thursday 31st January 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

First's Fantastic Free Fares Facility [2]

How to "sell" a bus service. First, First gave it a logo:-
Hmmm, that's different but not exceptional. Then their initial publicity showed a branded bus ...
... and that's not unusual these days. But this is!
Sadly free rides only on the X18 and the offer finished last Friday; so don't go rushing off to Aztec country ...
where's Aztec East?

... for a freebie, 'cos now you'll have to pay. [Unless, of curse, you are ancient like fbb; then the evening journeys are free; if you haven't lost your bus pass.] And there were stickers on the buses and posters for employers on the route.
But the stunner was a huge advert in the "Bristol Advertiser". The ad included this panel ...
... with its "X18 only" map. And Marc Reddy ...
... First's big boss in the area, has stated:-

As awareness of the new express service grows, its popularity amongst commuters who want to travel via the A4174 ring road to get to and from work destinations quickly, easily and without the hassle of driving themselves, is similarly expected to increase. Notably in order to appeal more to potential passengers, the vehicles being used on the service are also top notch, with seven modern buses being used to provide the service, each boasting leather seats and free onboard WiFi.

Seven buses, Mr Reddy? Looks like three on the X18. Maybe you have included the service 18 as well. Yes; looks like four on the 18. Three plus four equal about seven.

So what next, First?
First's partners, South Gloucestershire Council, announced another bus improvement back in September 2012.
A drive to improve bus services in South Gloucestershire stepped up a gear this week with the opening of a new route. The Cheswick Bus Link will provide bus passengers non-congested access through one of the busiest parts of the district with a 1km bus and cycle-only route. Opened today, it is operating between the University of the West of England (UWE) and Abbeywood in Stoke Gifford allowing buses to bypass traffic on the Avon Ring Road and Coldharbour Lane.The link will also connect residents of the new Cheswick Village development and it is hoped the route will improve journey times and reduce car usage.

Here is the symbolic cutting of the tape by a local dignitary with a service 19 of Wessex Bus in attendance ...

... but, of course, the X18 (also 18 and First's Bristol City service 70) also benefit.
Incidentally, Wessex Bus is part of the Rotala Group that has just bought the Redditch and Kidderminster depots from First. It's a small (blogging) world.

All in all, very good news for bus passengers and lets hope the spectacular promotion of the X18 produces an equally spectacular growth in passenger numbers. From the concept of the route and the excellent publicity it deserves to succeed.

Thanks to our Bristol correspondent for news of the "Cheswick Link"

 Next Bus Blog : Wednesday 30th January 

Monday, 28 January 2013

First's Fantastic Free Fares Facility [1]

Xpansion of a Bristol Bus Route
Not that far away actually, but in Bristol!

Not quite so long ago there was a route 18 between Shirehampton, Westbury, Frenchay, Kingswood and Hanham ...
... a sort of North Bristol outer half-circle. Tendered (non-commercial) journeys were numbered 518. But by last Summer even its curtailed replacement was under threat.

First Bus is withdrawing from the only bus service linking parts of South Gloucestershire with Frenchay and Southmead hospitals, despite passenger numbers almost doubling in the short time the service has been running.

The bus company currently has a contract with South Gloucestershire Council for the 18 service which runs from Emersons Green to Southmead Hospital via Downend, Frenchay Hospital, UWE’s Frenchay campus, Parkway station and Little Stoke.

A spokesperson for First Bus said: "We can confirm that we have given the Council notice of our intention to withdraw from operating Service 18. We began operating this service in September 2011 and have done everything we can to make it financially viable since then, for instance altering the timetable a number of times to make it more punctual and reliable and therefore more attractive to customers. Problems still remain though and while passenger numbers have increased since we've had the contract, they are still short of what we had hoped, making the service financially unsustainable for us."

But that was then and now is now (as they say?) and deals have been struck to ensure the continuation of the service; and in January came an enhancement.

A brand new, express bus service linking Aztec West and Emersons Green running around the northern fringe of Bristol began on Wednesday 2 January.

Serving the Emersons Green Science Park, UWEs Frenchay Campus, the MOD Abbey Wood site, Filton Abbey Wood Railway Station and Aztec West, with some journeys extending to and from Kingswood (Kings Chase Centre), the new Service X18 complements the existing Service 18 (Emersons Green - Southmead), which First operates under contract to South Gloucestershire Council as part of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund initiative.
click to enlarge timetable

First incorporates the X18 with the 18 on its publicity leaflet ...

... which is a little strange as the services only have two time points in common. And the accompanying  but otherwise excellent map also shows the two services together and in the same colour which could be confusing to an outsider ...
click on the map to enlarge

... which is why fbb has extracted a simplified version.
UWE is the University of the West of England, as attended by fbb's No. 1 son ...

... MOD is the monstrous Ministry of Defence Office complex at Abbey Wood ...

... "station" is Filton Abbey Wood (with just a small chunk of the MOD offices in the background) ...

... and Aztec West is a vast "business park".

So there are plenty of potential commuting customers to crowd on to the X18!

Now in "the good old days" a bus company might put out a pile of leaflets for a new route and hope for the best. Indeed (as we have seen recently for new service 21 in Northampton), sometimes information is simply not available at all.

Which reminds the old fellow. Uno (operator of the new 21which started on Monday 21st January) still hadn't admitted to it on-line by late afternoon yesterday (Sunday 27th):-

But both Northamptonshire County Council and the University thereof have managed to get hold of a leaflet and add it to their timetable pages.

Now here's the "something strange" from our "Star Wars" type caption above: taking a tip from the retail selling industry, First in Bristol have done much better than merely printing a few leaflets for its innovative X18; as we shall see tomorrow.
Premiere Buses of Nottingham ceased trading at 1700 on Friday 25th January after unsuccessful attempts to find a buyer.

Premiere's web site earlier this morning

The general opinion is that the company had grown too big too fast and was unwise to attempt to compete with ,long-established quality operator Trent Barton who have stepped in to cover some services and accept outstanding tickets. A commercially sensible move from Trent as they quietly snigger in the back office!
Premiere in happier times
 Next Bus Blog : Tuesday 30th January