All posts by spatialsyndave

Superannuated rocker trying to apply some environmental flair and creativity to transport and planning.

Bouncing to Breakfast in Brigg!

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I wrote in an earlier blog about a trip on the ‘parliamentary’ rail service along the Brigg line in North Lincolnshire. Since then we’ve had several more shorter trips on the purely parliamentary section between Brigg and Gainsborough Central. It’s since become a regular feature of our journeys between the north east and Norfolk, so much so that our daughter Chloe has travelled on the line three times in the first 17 months of her life!

To recap, the service between Sheffield and Cleethorpes via Gainsborough Central and Brigg has been a nominal one operating on Saturdays only since October 1993. Parts of the route are served by other services which I suppose means the railway industry think those areas are adequately served.

At the western end trains between Sheffield and Lincoln serve all stations to Retford but take the ‘joint line’ at Trent junction and serve Gainsborough Lea Road before trundling (or bouncing) off to Lincoln. To the east of Brigg from Barnetby to Cleethorpes there is a TransPennine Express service that runs via Doncaster and Scunthorpe and an East Midlands Trains service between Lincoln and Grimsby via Market Rasen. With the much bigger places of Scunthorpe to the north and Lincoln to the south well served, I dare say the rail planners preparing for privatisation in the early 90s weren’t too worried about the places served by that strange line in the middle.

It wasn’t always like that. The line through Gainsborough Central and Brigg was originally part of the main line of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway (MSLR) whose main business was shipping coal from the South Yorkshire coalfield out through Immingham. The MSLR was later to expand to London and link up with its Chairman, Sir Sam Fay’s other railway interests in the Metropolitan Railway in London through the building of the Great Central main line linking Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester with the Capital. Later still the section between Manchester and Sheffield became Britain’s first electrified inter-city main line. Sadly neither the Great Central nor the Woodhead line across the Pennines survive today but that’s another story for another day!

Since 1993, the three stations of Gainsborough Central, Kirton in Lyndsey and Brigg have been served by just three trains each way on Saturdays only. The lack of a weekday service means that the line plays almost no part in the lives of people in the communities it purports to serve. The situation has perpetuated itself through three franchises – the original Regional Railways North East (later Northern Spirit), the first Nedrail/Serco Northern franchise and into the present Arriva franchise. There were high hopes that some improvement might come through the last re-franchising exercise but it was notable by its absence from the Train Service Requirement (TSR).

The situation isn’t helped by local government boundaries. The route from Sheffield to Cleethorpes via Brigg passes through South Yorkshire PTE, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire unitary authorities. No one authority could really promote it and each of them have other priorities when it comes to rail. Brigg itself prior to 1996 was the administrative centre of Glandford Borough Council with its HQ on the approach road to the town’s railway station. On re-organisation of Humberside local government, Glandford was merged with neighbouring Scunthorpe to create North Lincolnshire with its HQ in Scunthorpe. No guesses for where their rail priorities lie. Even the appointment of Brigg constituency MP Andrew Percy as ‘Northern Powerhouse’ Minister for a while didn’t produce any change in political support for a six or seven day a week service!

Our recent trips on the Brigg line have seen us stay overnight in a Travelodge near Hull and drive to Brigg arriving around 10:00am. Originally we had breakfast in the local Wetherspoons. These days we have breakfast in the nearby Deli Diner on the recommendation of Brigg line campaigner Paul.

The Deli Diner is itself an interesting building having once been a pub called the Butchers Arms! Having fortified ourselves with a full English its up to Brigg station for the 11:47 to Sheffield which we take as far as Gainsborough Central. On our most recent trip on 3 June 2017, 142 007 did the honours. Apparently this was an unusual working in that it’s a Manchester based unit that rarely strays this far east. Looking at its tatty bus style bench seats, it can stay west of the Pennines for good as far as I’m concerned!

Our return to Brigg has involved the 13:01 departure from Gainsborough Central, this time on 142 093 giving us the luxury and refinement of high backed seats. (Apparently the last return trip that day had the luxury of a class 150 Sprinter unit!) Our time at Gainsborough on this occasion was spent mainly queuing for the baby change facilities at Tesco as Chloe needed a nappy change!

I must admit to waiting for the 13:01 with a certain amount of trepidation. On a previous trip the train was delayed by just over an hour by a power failure at Trent junction and we were worried that we would be stranded. No such worries on this occasion. It was also good to see a large family group heading for the seaside with buckets and spades – evidence that the message about the line is getting out there.

The journey itself is pleasant if a little uneventful. Lincolnshire is not as flat as it appears to be and the mile long Kirton tunnel punctuates our journey. At the east end of the tunnel are the remains of Kirton lime sidings with evidence of limestone workings and lime kilns alongside the railway. Even in the few years we have been visiting it is noticeable how nature is gradually reclaiming this area.

On the approach to Brigg the gas fired power station has changed completely in appearance over the past three years whilst the distant views of the ‘megawatt valley’ 1960s coal fired power stations at West Burton and Cottam is likely to change in the near future as coal ceases to be the primary source of fuel.

Indeed the latter changes are likely to represent the biggest and latest threat to the line as traffic taking imported coal to the power stations dries up. There are no current plans to close the line but the industry stubbornly refuses to develop plans to upgrade it into a daily service either. So the line continues in its present strange state of limbo, it’s very existence promoted by a dedicated band of local volunteers.

Footnote: Since writing this blog it has become public that Northern are looking at extending the Sheffield – Retford stopping service to terminate at Gainsborough Central. Subject to the necessary Network Rail this would finally give Gainsborough Central an hourly weekday service though Kirton in Lyndsey and Brigg would continue to be served on Saturdays only.

 

 

 

IN – A Better World for Chloe!

I voted by post in the EU referendum three weeks ago. It’s too late to change my mind. Nothing that’s happened in the intervening period has caused me to regret the decision I made then. In fact a lot has vindicated it!

We have a baby daughter who is now approaching six months old. My greatest hope for Chloe is that she grows up with the same values of respect, care, compassion, humility, generosity and understanding that Heather and I share. I hope we will equip her with the necessary skills and competencies to make a success of her own life and make a difference to those around her. But I also want her to grow up in a world where those values are reflected in the way we live our lives and do business. A world free of discrimination where we celebrate diversity, a fair world where we look after those less fortunate than ourselves through well funded and managed public services but also a world where Chloe and her generation can have as many opportunities as possible and enjoy a good quality of life.

Much as I love a bit of nostalgia and heritage, the world I want for my daughter certainly isn’t some Bisto flavoured vision of Little England, of Vera Lynn, of cricket on the green, of vicars on bicycles riding two by two, of warm flat beer in fag smoke filled pubs, men in red jackets on horseback chasing furry animals to death with dogs, of picture postcard villages with swan necked street lights, of cucumber sandwiches every Saturday teatime, of district nurses driving Morris Minors, where every face we see is white and every bus has a rear platform. If it ever really existed outside of Ealing comedies and episodes of Dads Army, such a vision belongs quite rightly in Beamish or any other social history museum. I’m 60 years old next year and I don’t remember it! The world has moved on from that and would have done whether or not we were part of the EU. Far from ‘wanting our country back’ we should be building our country in the reality of the 21st century.

The country I want for my daughter is one where we have honest and trustworthy politicians who don’t lie and aren’t in it for themselves. People who in accepting public office also fully accept the responsibilities that go with that office. I would expect such politicians to be drawn from across society and reflect the diversity of the communities that they represent and bring to the process the skills and experience from living in those communities.

There’s a hell of a lot that is wrong with the EU. It is an institution that is noble in intent but something of a bloated monstrosity in practice. To the uninformed (or deliberately misinformed) it seems to have turned unnecessary bureaucracy into an international pastime! However, much of what it does is to harmonise and liberalise standards across industries in order to promote free trade across all member states. It isn’t just about people from the EU taking jobs here. We also have the opportunity to work there, as I did on high speed railways in Italy a few years ago.

Much of the employment and disability rights we enjoy today have been hard fought. In many cases the standards originally set by the UK (usually under a Labour government) were adopted rather than the other way round. Remember one person’s ‘red tape’ is another person’s protection against unscrupulous elements. The ‘bonfire’ of red tape will just allow your boss to cut your pay and holiday then sack you more easily when you complain. Similarly with environmental standards. I don’t want my daughter going to the beach to swim in diluted human sewage as I did as a child.

Contrary to the imagery promoted by a rabid xenophobic right wing press, we aren’t being flooded by work shy migrants living on benefits. Anyone who thinks living on benefits is easy just try signing on at your local job centre. The one occasion I had to sign on I found it the most demoralising and humiliating experience of my life. I’ve been privileged to work with people from all over the world. They’ve usually been well educated and very talented people whose skills, experience and personalities have enriched our work. And whilst I’m on about immigration, if our borders are so wide open, why is it that the only time I ever get stopped and interrogated by a officious jobsworth is when I re-enter the UK?

If anything was to seal the deal on my voting decision it was the dislikable nature of the politicians leading the leave campaign. Sadly the referendum has given a platform to some very unpleasant people expressing some equally abhorent views based on greed, hate and negativity. From the unprincipled unbridled ambition and buffoonery of the aristocratic Alexander Boris de-Pfeffel Johnson, to the downright lying from that spiv Gove (who has no intention of building any shiny new hospitals unless they’re private ones) to the barely concealed racism and golf club bigotry of of that slippery loathsome reptile Farage. Outrageously and paradoxically these paragons of over-privilege have tried to portray themselves as representing the interests of working class people. Don’t believe it for one moment! Given a choice between Brussels and Boris as PM with Farage elevated to the undemocratic House of Lords, I’d plump for Europe every time!

I have several friends on here who are supporting the leave campaign. I respect them for their strongly held views and sincerely hope it never comes between us. I have deliberately not engaged in debates with them on social media for that reason. Nothing anyone says will convince me its in my family’s interests to leave so please respect my views and don’t even try to argue! (Abusers will be immediately defriended and blocked – you have been warned)

It will therefore come as no surprise then that I have already voted to stay in the EU. It isn’t an endorsement of Cameron. It certainly isn’t an endorsement of the EU which badly needs reform. In my considered opinion it’s by far the better of the two options open to me to ensure my daughter has a bright future ahead of her.image

Confessions of a Former Bus Preservationist!

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SUNDERLAND CORPORATION 100
ABR 433, a 1949 Crossley DD42/7C
This is a compilation of edited articles originally written for the newsletter of the North East Bus Preservation Trust which outline the restoration of this historic bus.
ABR 433 was the first of a batch of six supplied new to Sunderland Corporation Transport in 1949 and carried fleetnumber 100. It was bodied to Liverpool specification with H30/26R seating configuration. It is thought to be the last surviving ‘Liverpool’ style (as opposed the manufacturer’s usual ‘Manchester’ style) in existence. Its original Crossley engine was replaced with a Gardner 5LW in 1953.
After withdrawal from revenue earning service in 1963, it passed to the Sunderland County Borough Council’s General Purposes Committee for use as a mobile polling station along with older 1947 Crossley no 13 (GR 9007). This stay of execution probably allowed it to survive into preservation. The council disposed of both vehicles in 1972 to Geoff Lister. a Bolton based bus dealer, both subsequently passing to the late Norman Myers, a collector of Crossley vehicles.
I acquired the bus in early 1998 and returned it to the North East after an absence of 26 years. Over the next 13 years I undertook restoration work on it until an unfortunate change in personal circumstances forced me to sell it in March 2011.

Introduction
My involvement with former Sunderland Corporation Crossley ABR 433 started when I read an article in the Sunderland Echo mentioning that two former Sunderland Corporation buses had become available and that the North East Bus Preservation Society (Now NEBPT) were looking for individuals to take them on.
I responded to the article and, being the only one foolish enough to express an interest, soon found myself the owner (perhaps custodian is a more accurate description) of a Crossley bus.
I had always been interested in Sunderland Corporation buses because they were my main mode of transport throughout my childhood. As a result, owning a Corporation bus, albeit one that I was too young to have known in regular daily service, had been an ambition of mine.
Over a thirteen year period its upkeep and restoration took up a huge chunk of my time and spare cash until the loss of my employment forced me to reluctantly sell her.
1. Bringing the Crossley Back Home
Sunday 7th June 1998 started wet (and far too early for someone who had had a Saturday night on the town) but undeterred, Ian Alderson and myself set off from Sunderland with Ian Findlay’s trailer loaded with two spare wheels (borrowed, with thanks, from John Shaw) and headed for Bolton. Our mission was to prepare the Crossley, ABR 433 for her journey home. Breakfast at a McDonalds in Leeds had us suitably fortified before heading off towards the M62 over the Pennines. Dropping down towards Manchester, the heavens opened (it always rains in Manchester!) and my worst fears about working on the bus in the p**sing rain looked likely to be realised. Nevertheless, by the time we reached the M61 the weather faired up. All we needed to do was to find the farm, a task that was not helped by me leaving the Motorway two junctions too early.
On arrival, we turned into the farmyard and gained our first glimpse of the Crossley sitting in the open fronted barn. The natural urge to get out of the car and have a look was sharply curbed by the growling guard dog jumping up and digging its claws into my Rover’s coachwork. Fortunately, Gordon Southern, the farmer was quickly on the scene to call the dog off and I was soon able to get my first close look at the old girl.
First impressions were favourable. The body panels seemed straight and the frame reasonably solid. The worst areas appeared to be the cab and the rear platform whilst the interior had been stripped for its role as a mobile polling station. Despite the junk in the lower saloon, the fleetnumber 100 and the ‘spitting prohibited’, ‘smoking prohibited’ exhortations on the front bulkhead confirmed this as a Sunderland bus. I was immediately transported back to my last ride on a Sunderland half cab twenty five earlier and the weekly trips to my grandmother’s ten years before that.
Unfortunately, this trip wasn’t about wallowing in nostalgia. First of all the Crossley had to be dug out of the place that had been her home for the past few years. Whilst the barn had provided cover from the elements, the earth floor of this agricultural building was relatively soft. As a result, the Crossley was virtually axle deep in mud.
Gordon was undeterred. He attached chains around the Crossley’s front axle and started to drag the bus out with his tractor. Initially she refused to budge, the tractor rear wheels throwing up a pile of earth behind them. When she did move, she started heading for the right hand door post despite Gordon’s efforts to pull her into the centre of the doorway. Despite our worries and misgivings, Gordon was more skilled in this than we had given him credit and the Crossley emerged into the daylight (indeed the sunshine) for the first time in several years……..
Our main task was to ensure that the rear tyres were up to the journey to the North East. Not having seen the bus since it left Sunderland, I had assumed the worst. In the event the tyres proved to be more than adequate. This was fortunate as the wheelnuts needed heating up with oxy-acetelene to release them when the wheels were subsequently removed. I dread to think of what would have happened had the wheels needed replacing.
Fortunately, our task was confined to ensuring that everything was secure for the journey home. This left some time to look around the buses stored on the farm, some of which had belonged to the late Norman Myers including a pair of Northampton Crossleys, one of which had a badly damaged rear end that we were assured had been running just before Norman’s untimely death. Personally, I found the place rather melancoly, even when compared with the Barnsley scrapyards.
In order to simplify the task of collection, the Crossley was moved to a position close to the other buses in open storage. Gordon was obviously pleased to get the use of his barn back, the space vacated by the Crossley quickly being filled by farm equipment before we left for home.
Once back home, it was time to arrange a suspended tow. A call to heavy recovery specialist Ian Bradley (Eurowrecker) secured his agreement to take on the job. Ideally this would have been a return load but this wasn’t to be. We agreed that, if a return load hadn’t materialised, Ian would go to Bolton to bring the bus back on 27th June. A telephone conversation with Ian on 26th led to me asking the farmer if Ian could pick it up on the Friday evening which he duly did.
With everything arranged, I went to the pub on the Friday evening. I reckoned that I deserved some relaxation. Nevertheless, despite several pints of the amber liquid, sleep didn’t come easily that night. I had visions of a Crossley stuck on the hard shoulder of the M62 with burst back tyres or of bits of disintegrated Crossley being scattered over the Pennines. In the event, I needn’t have worried. Ian had picked up the bus at 9pm and after a run on cruise control along the M61, M62, A1 and A19, had reached Peterlee by 1am. I’m reliably informed that it was even spotted on the M62 near Huddersfield at around closing time that night but then that Yorkshire beer is fairly strong stuff.
My plan was to get to Wardley early on Saturday morning and prepare for the Crossley’s arrival. Getting into my car at 9am, my mobile phone rang. It was Ian. “I’m at Peterlee, I’ll be there in 20 minutes” he said. This just gave me time to dash to Wardley, open the gates, open the shed doors and get WBR 248 out to allow the Crossley to be put into the shed. As I was reversing the Atkinson out, I caught sight of the wrecker, with ABR 433 on the back, coming up the track. The Crossley was home at last!
Ian Bradley demonstrated considerable skill in reversing the Crosssley into the shed, considering how gingerly I had just reversed the Atkinson out. Soon the Crossley was in place in her new home and a large wedge of the folding stuff changed hands. I didn’t get much more done that day as, almost as soon as Ian had left, the first of a procession of fellow preservationists and SCT enthusiasts arrived, calling to see a bus that had left the area some 26 years previously. The level of interest was somewhat gratifying as I anxiously surveyed what appeared to be a huge heap of decaying metal that I had just taken on!
Restoration began quickly but that’s another story for a future installment.

2. A bit of Omnibus Archaeology
Having finally got the Crossley to her new home at Wardley, restoration work on her began almost as soon as she arived. For my own part, I was anxious to get stuck in to what looked like an enormous task and there seemed to be little point in hanging around.
Work in the first week comprised mainly of evaluating and getting a general feel for what needed doing and cleaning out over a quarter of a century’s muck, grime and rubbish. The muck that was swept out of both saloons filled two dustbins whilst other junk, such as bits of old wood and old rope filled Ian Findlay’s trailer. Fortunately, Gateshead Council’s tip is just up Leam Lane from Wardley.
Both wings had been damaged over the years. The offside one had almost corroded away completely, along with the lower part of the cab sheeting, whilst the nearside one was corroded at the four mounting brackets. It was also buckled at the front where the bus had been under a none too careful suspended tow at sometime in the past. In order to ease access, particularly to the engine and the front of the chassis, both wings were removed and temporarily inside the bus.
On the Monday after delivery, I called into the local DIY store and bought a host of cleaning materials including a tin of paint stripper. The latter was to prove fortuitous in that it allowed the removal of coats of paint almost one at a time. With care, it was found that a layer could be removed without damaging the one below. On trying this on an area where we could detect that the Corporation crest lay below the surface, we found that the paint lifted but, if we got the paint stripper off quickly enough, it left the transfer unscathed. Subsequent evenings saw the uncovering of the legal lettering, the ‘Sunderland Corporation’ legend along the sides, the ‘Shop at Binns’ advice so typical of a Sunderland bus and between decks adverts for Palmers and Vernons Pools.
This almost felt like being an archaeologist. The Shop at Binns proclamation had been signwritten by hand and was dated 8/58. Palmers were a local firm that did much to introdce the technological advances of the day to Sunderland citizens through hire purchase. Their advert for Bush transistor radios was dated August 1960. Here was a piece of social history being uncovered before my very eyes! I could almost see mop topped youths dancing with girls with beehive hair-dos to ‘She Loves You (yea yea yea)! (This is all well before my time by the way – the Sex Pistols were my era!). The Vernon’s pools advert tempted punters to the prospect of winning £150,000 for a farthing stake.
The immovable wheelnuts were mentioned in the last installment. Once at Wardley, I was able to remove the front wheels myself. The back ones were a different story. In the end it took some oxy-acetelene applied by Ian Findlay and a length of scaffolding pole to get them loose. Whilst the wheels were off I painted them green. Yes I know, its only cosmetic and a job that could be left until last but the job made me feel better and the bus certainly looked a damned sight better for it. I also wire brushed and painted as much of the chassis as I could using two coats of ‘red lead’ and one coat of silver. This was probably one of the worst of the early jobs and after five successive nights of lying flat on my back with muck falling into my face I was well and truly sick!
As I became more familiar with the bus, how it was constructed and its problems, it became obvious that I would need to learn new skills. A visit to the local library highlighted a vehicle restoration course at the local college and I enrolled on it. Whilst mainly aimed at people restoring old cars, the skills and techniques are applicable other vehicles. The Crossley’s nearside front wing became my college project though not before I bought a trailer in which I could move it around in. The restoration of that wing will no doubt br the subject of a future article.
During the light evenings of July and August, I could be found at Wardley most nights. On most occasions I worked on my own, on others Ian Alderson came along to lend a welcome helping hand and some moral support. As September approached, the nights were getting darker and there was a distinct chill in the air. Suddenly two or three hours at Wardley after a day at work didn’t seem such an attractive proposition whilst a few pints in my local did!
It was on September 1st 1998, the day after the Seaburn Rally, that the Crossley sprung her first nasty surprise. I decided to remove the panel between the drivers cab and the engine compartment so that I could have a look at the offside of the engine. Ignorance would have been bliss. Unfortunately both cylinder blocks were cracked due to frost damage. The damage looked to be quite old, perhaps dating back to before the bus left Sunderland.
Suddenly I found myself in the business of a major engine rebuild or finding a decent Gardner 5LW to replace it. Just to rub salt into the wound, later the same evening, I managed to crack the windscreen whilst removing the windscreen wiper motor.
How I wished I could win £150,000 for a farthing stake. I could do a damned good restoration job on the Crossley with that money!

3. Repairing The Front Wings
Both the front wings required a considerable amount of work. The nearside one was the better of the two with only five holes caused by corrosion. The offside one was almost terminally bad but the bits that would be visible on the outside of the bus were largely intact. The Crossley wings were a fairly distinctive shape with a raised lip or ridge running along the centre line. When viewed from the side, there is a rather huge gap between the tyre and the wing itself. Looking at photographs of various Crossley buses, I quickly realised that the wings are among the defining features in the frontal appearance of a Crossley, as indeed they are in most exposed radiator buses.
This presented me with a difficult dilemma. Do I repair the originals or do I seek replacements? Crossley wings are not exactly the sort of thing that your local motor factor can supply off the shelf! It is possible to get new ones fabricated but could the subtle curves and distinctive styling be reproduced? I decided to repair the originals, and just to prove what a masochist I am, I would do the job myself.

This is where a vehicle restoration course at City of Sunderland College came in useful. The course is aimed mainly at people restoring old (and not so old) cars. To get the full benefit of it, your own project is advisable. At sixty quid it represented good value, especially as you can get use of the college workshop facilities on one night a week for 36 weeks as well as picking up lots of useful tips and making useful contacts. Essentially the techniques involved in repairing a quarter panel on an MGB GT are the same as for a Crossley wing.
The basic technique involves cutting out the corroded metal until you reach some good stuff to weld onto. A patch made from 16 gauge steel is then cut and formed to shape and MIG welded into the hole. This all sounds dead simple when, in actual fact, the repair of both wings took almost seven months, the nearside one at college, the offside one, in parallel, at home. Given that I needed the offside one to provide a datum point for the repair of the cab, this meant that there was a long period when it might have looked like work had stopped on the Crossley. Having said that, Wardley isn’t the most pleasant place to work on a cold winters evening so it was useful to have some quite big jobs that I could tackle in the relative comfort of home.
First step is to remove all the paint on the wing so that the ‘good’ metal is exposed. This is essential as, to get a good weld, the metal has to be rust free. Otherwise the resultant weld looks as if a stray seagull or pigeon has made its mark on the job. Having said that, my early attempts at welding looked like metallic bird s**t anyway! Removal of the paint revealed that the wings on ABR433 had been repaired on more than one occasion in the past, – and not always to a good standard.
The patch is cut slightly over size and the edge is ‘joggled’ to provide a slight overlap with the original panel. Getting the right shape is the difficult bit. This was particularly true of the patches where the nearside wing is mounted. These needed the ‘ridge’ forming in them. This was done with a universal sheet metal working machine, a rather amazing Swedish built contraption that can cut and form sheet metal. The nearer the patch is to the original profile, the less filler (or bodge!) needs to go in to finish the job properly. I confess to having spent a few quid at Charlie Browns……!
Setting the job up for welding can be somewhat tricky and usually takes as long as the welding operation itself, if not longer. Welding clamps are invaluable here but where the clamps can’t reach, a helper holding the thing in place with a hammer shaft until the patch is tacked in usually does the trick. Once a few tack welds are in place, a bit of work with a hammer and dolly will close any other gaps so that the patch can be firmly welded into place.
In all, the nearside wing needed five patches, the offside one took nine, some of which were patches welded to patches! The final outcome is not perfect but is probably up to the standard to which an in-service bus would have been repaired. Late in November 1999, I took advantage of 838’s absence to have work done at Busways to take both wings back to Wardley and reunite them with the Crossley. Just putting them temporarily in place made a dramatic improvement to the appearance to the bus. Bolting the offside one into place meant that, at last, I could start tackling rebuilding the cab. In the meantime I had rebuilt the cab door ready for re-fitting.
4. Fixing the Cab
The cab was the bit of the Crossley that worried me most. Even before I had been to Bolton to see the bus, I was aware from photographs that it was in quite a bad state. One photo taken in the yard at Fulwell Depot circa 1964 shows evidence of the dreaded tin worm doing its worst. Another, circa 1972 in Geoff Lister’s yard at Bolton reveals a hole developing in the front panel just above the offside wing. By the 1980s, when a more recent photo at St Helens Transport Museum was taken, the wing was held in place with ropes tied around the mirror mount and the first window pillar. The rope was still holding it together when the bus arrived at Wardley.
Once the offside front wing was removed, the cab side and dash panel just hung there over a huge great void above the front wheel. With only photographs, one or two remnants of wood framing and the aluminium strip over the wheel arch to go on, I would often go to Wardley, study it, shudder and clear off home (or to the pub!). Those were the occasions when I began to doubt my own sanity in taking on the job!

Nevertheless, with the offside front wing repaired, a major piece of the giant jigsaw puzzle fell into place. Aquisition of a quantity of hardwood meant that I could fabricate a new wheelarch frame and cut out some new panels. I decided to leave the windscreen and offside cab window in situ whilst the lower panels were replaced. I suspect that the window frames were all that was holding most of what was left of the cab together. No doubt an expert would have ripped the whole lot out and started from scratch. As I’m no expert and something of a coward in these matters, I took a more cautious approach.
The panel immediately behind the wheel was tackled first. I had come by part of the waist panel from a modern Plaxton coach which was around the right dimensions and had the advantage of a coating of corrosion protection. There were two distinctively shaped steps in this panel originally and these were cut out using the remains of the original as a template. The shaped backs to the top step was salvaged from the original but that for the lower one was fabricated from scratch and gas welded into position. On reflection I would take the latter course of action if I were to do the job again. You live and learn!
The panel above the front wheelarch was cut out using nothing more sophisticated than aviation snips, the curve at the front being formed around a piece of iron bar. The curved profile of the wing was followed by using the aforementioned aluminum trim as a template
The front panel (or is it the dash panel) was the next to be tackled. After the old one had been extracted a cardboard template was made up and the new panel cut in one evening at the college. This panel had a recess to clear the back of the headlight casing so a 4 inch diameter hole was cut out for this. The domed back to this recess was carefully removed from the old panel, stripped to bare metal, and tack welded into place. There was also a hole cut for the sidelight.
The inside of the original panel also included mountings for the instrument panel and main junction box. Again these were removed from the old panel, cleaned up and carefully tack welded into place to minimise distortion.
I now had a new front panel ready to bolt on (or so I thought). On trying it in place, a problem became apparent. The new panel appeared to be about an inch too short. Surely I couldn’t have measured it wrongly? After all the work involved in creating the new panel I would be feeling pretty angry, not to mention looking stupid if that was the case. Not having the old panel to hand at Wardley to measure against, I took the new one home feeling rather despondent. On checking against the old one the measurements were spot on. Something was wrong somewhere.
Back at Wardley, I decided to bolt the new panel in anyway. Whilst I was busy, John Purvis remarked that perhaps the floor had dropped. This proved to be the case. When the floor was jacked up slightly, everything bolted into place as intended. The thing was starting to look like a proper bus again.
In the meantime, the cab door had been removed and had taken up residence in my garage at home. This was another job that I would think about then decide to leave for another time. With work on the cab progressing, it was now time to get on with it. In the event, I fabricated a new frame for the section below the window using sections folded up to match the Crossley originals for the verticals and square steel section for the horizontals. New panels cut from 16 gauge steel were fitted front and rear whilst an aluminum pocket was salvaged from the old one, cleaned up, painted and screwed to the inside. The window frame proved to be made of brass which I cleaned up and repaired so that the sliding vent worked as intended. The catch, which had seized completely, was dismantled and cleaned up whilst a new locking handle was fitted.
With the cab door reinstated and new lower panels in place, I could now tackle the area around the windscreen and offside cab window. Both were removed and taken home for cleaning and repair whilst the surrounding area was being repaired. The offside windscreen pillar proved the most difficult area and involved welding new metal repair sections into place.
The windscreen frame turned out to be chrome although badly weathered in places. The stays enabling it to open were cleaned up and painted whilst a new piece of laminated glass was fitted to replace the original that I had broken earlier. The wiper motor turned out to be burnt out but I managed to find one with a broken gearbox for 50p at the Greater Manchester Transport Museum. By swapping the gears out of my old motor, I had myself a perfectly good wiper motor for the princely sum of 50p. I wish it were all that easy or cheap.
Where the panels joined at the front of the bus, they had originally been joined with steel rivets. These proved virtually impossible to source but I did find a supply of a similar pattern copper rivet with the correct cheese head. Fitting them involved making a rivet snap tool from a piece of iron bar suitably case hardened. I worked on the theory that when painted the copper rivets will be virtually indistinguishable from the steel originals.

With the windscreen and offside cab window replaced it was now time to turn my attention to the nearside. Both nearside windows were removed and taken back to ‘Fulwell Depot’ to be cleaned up and repaired. Once again new metal was welded in to effect repairs in the sheeting whilst a new curved section was made using the rollers at the college to bridge the gap between the cab side and the bonnet. With the windows cleaned up they were replaced and a new catch fitted to replace the old one which I had butchered when taking the windows out. The handles for the catch were soaked for a couple of days in vinegar (!) to produce a polished brass finish.
The bonnet cleaned up very nicely having stripped off several layers of old paint. Unfortunately the hinge pin was rusted solid into the hinge and no amount of hammering and industrial language was going to shift it. In the event I cut it open to extract the pin then rebuilt the hinge. This involved removing the hinge from the bonnet and refitting it using countersunk copper rivets.
By now the front end was starting to look the part and I was feeling that some progress was evident. One notable missing bit is the bonnet side. This is in Nick Larkin’s possession (how and why is another story) so if you are reading this, Nick, I need it back quite urgently. It isn’t an item that I can copy from another Crossley as it has an aluminium ‘bulge’ riveted on to it to clear the Gardner accelerator linkage, a feature unique to Sunderland. I have photographed and measured No 13’s bonnet side but, as it is shallower, it still doesn’t give me much to work from. If I can get the original back from Nick, it will save me a lot of work.
5. The Engine Transplant

Readers may recall that an early setback was to discover that both blocks on ABR 433’s Gardner 5LW engine were badly frost damaged. I did manage to get the engine started but keeping it running was another matter and it quickly became apparent that a major rebuild or replacement was needed. Whilst a rebuild was possibly beyond my limited mechanical skills, I was also conscious that it would add about a year to what was already becoming an increasingly lengthy project. The answer was to find another engine – either a Crossley or another Gardner. I reasoned that a Crossley would be like hen’s teeth to find but a Gardner, whilst being under-powered, would allow me to paint the bus in my beloved green and cream of the Norman Morton era. It would also be easier to find one….or so I thought!
The year 2002 saw a career change for me into transport planning consultancy. My new job saw me based in Newcastle (quite a move for a ‘Mackem’) but one of the advantages of being in the ‘forbidden city’ is that the Northumberland St branch of WH Smiths has a better selection of transport magazines to pore over in the lunch break. It was during one of those lunch breaks back in November that I picked up one of the lorry preservation rags to find an advert for a Gardner 5LW. I bought it and immediately phoned the advertiser on my mobile phone. Was the engine still available? – yes it was.
The following Sunday saw me heading off down the A1 to Doncaster, a large wedge of the folding stuff in my wallet, to see my prospective purchase. The engine had been used as a fairground generator, as many Gardners had become in their second careers, and thus was mounted on a cradle with a lorry radiator connected to it. It started ‘on the button’ albeit a little smokey at first and, despite no exhaust or silencer, made all the right noises. The price was very reasonable, so much so that I reckoned that, if the worst came to the worst, I could use it as a source of spares. The seller and I shook hands on a deal.
Having bought an engine, I now had another set of problems to deal with. The engine was in Doncaster, the bus at Wardley. Even if I got the engine to Wardley, I didn’t have room in front of the bus to swap engines as 838 was parked nose to nose with mine. To make matters worse, my boss wanted me to work in Italy for a few weeks.
The transport problem quickly resolved itself. Tony Clayton, the man who sold me the engine is a lorry preservationist with a Mercedes pick up complete with 1 ton Hyab crane to service his fleet. We agreed a price for him to deliver the engine to Wardley which he did in late November.
Fate also took a hand in resolving the working space problem. Whilst all this was going on, the Society had agreed to take on Sunderland Guy 139 and 838 moved temporally out of Wardley to allow buses to be moved around in connection with the 139 project. This gave me two, or possibly three, weekends to do the transplant, a deadline made all the more hard and fast by the prospect of my forthcoming assignment in Italy.
Prior to the arrival of the engine, my father and I set about preparing for the transplant by removing the radiator and loosening of the engine mountings. The radiator took up residence in my garage at home where it joined so many other Crossley bits that it has become difficult to get the car in. The job of lifting the engines was entrusted to the Society’s ex Wheatsheaf hand crane, no doubt the same one that put the Gardner in back in 1952.
Getting the old engine out proved to be more difficult than I imagined due to the tight clearance between the chassis rails. The starting motor, dynamo, gear lever and exhaust manifold all had to come off to get it out though we didn’t know that when we started. With Ian Alderson joining us for the big lift, it eventually took us two weekends to remove the old engine but we learned all the lessons the hard way! With a little persuasion and a certain amount of bad language it did eventually come out so that we now had two Gardner engines sat on bogies in front of the bus.
Even at this stage, the two engines were not a direct swap. The ‘new’ engine had been adapted for its role as a fairground generator. The most obvious was a ¼ inch thick steel plate, with a pulley attached, welded to the flywheel. This came away with the hammer and cold chisel allowing us to swap the flywheels and fit the clutch from the old engine. The clutch plate had plenty of ‘meat’ left on it and went back on. The vacuum pump, accelerator linkage and front mounting bracket also had to be changed. The ‘new’ engine came with a radiator fan fitted and I had hoped to retain this but, in the event, it proved impossible because of the mounting arrangement in the Crossley frame. We shall just have to see whether she runs hot on the road.
Installing the replacement engine proved easy compared with removal of the old one, perhaps because we had learned from our mistakes. It took just one Sunday afternoon and rather less bad language! By my target date of 8th December it was in although coupling everything up was to take a little longer. At this point my assignment in Italy was put back until the New Year but at least the transplant job wasn’t getting in anyone else’s way.

The job was stopped for most of January 2003 whilst I was away working in Rome but, on my return to the UK, I was able to get the bus ready to move. The radiator was cleaned up and the grille repaired. There was no guarantee that it wouldn’t leak when filled with water but I reckoned that, having taken it off once, it would be easier to remove it a second time. In the event, a bottle of Radweld cured the few small leaks that were there.
Other jobs involved putting the gear lever and linkages back in place and connecting up the clutch and throttle linkages. Eventually, the day came when it was time to see if she moved. That was Sunday 9th March. Having moved 838 outside I sat in the driving seat, started her up, engaged first gear and let out the clutch. Slowly she moved under her own power for the first time in at least 30 years. Flush with success I drove towards Scotts Court, changing up to second gear on the way. To my surprise the synchromesh still worked making for a surprisingly easy change for a bus of this period.
In the coming months, I hope to work on the brakes so that I have a bus that stops as well as goes and start to look at the electrics. At present the fog lamp works but none of the others do. In the meantime I have been rebuilding the platform as well as having the added distraction of another Sunderland bus, Willowbrook bodied Leyland Atlantean RCU 588S (Sadly scrapped after I sold it), to keep me out of mischief!
6. Sourcing and Replacing the Seats
When the bus was converted into a mobile polling station in 1963, all but three of the original seats and the longitudinal seats over the rear wheel arches were removed. The originals had been on curved top municipal style frames with the seat backs and cushions covered in red leather. They were also somewhat narrower than those fitted to modern buses due to the narrower width of the Crossley. As a result, finding replacement seats of the correct style and pattern were to prove a problem at first.
Initially I managed to create a pair of additional seat frames by using items from a modern Dennis Dart. The curved top to the seat was recreated by hacking around with the chrome handrail. All of this was time consuming and produced an ‘acceptable’ rather than a convincing result.
Eventually sufficient frames for the lower saloon were donated by a member of the Tameside Transport Group. These came from a Stockport PD2 and needed new feet and mounting brackets welding on to them before they could be used. Seat backs for the Stockport frames came from a variety of sources, mainly the Barnsley breakers yards whilst a set of red leather seat cushions of almost the right width came from a former Burnley East Lancs bodied Atlantean also in a Barnsley breakers yard.
Finding fifteen suitable seats for the upper saloon seemed to be a very tall order until a chance encounter at a rally with a former work colleague, Dr JR (Jim) Young of Nottingham. Over the years Jim had found homes for a number of former buses from the Channel Islands. Among these were the pair of Leyland Tiger PS1s which had started out on Jersey, went back to the Chanel Islands to be rebuilt for use on Guernsey and were latterly in use with Mac Tours in Edinburgh. During their period between Jersey and Guernsey they had been with Jim at his Lincolnshire base.
Fortunately, before being shipped off to Guernsey, the seats were removed from both buses and left with Jim. At the time of our chance encounter, Jim was preparing his premises for sale so he invited me to go and take whatever was useful to me.
There turned out to be 17 ex Jersey frames of the right style and width painted in light green with backs covered in a green moquette. Prior to being in the PS1s, these had been in a a former Jersey pre-war Leyland TD. There were no matching cushions but there was a set of the right width items in a red moquette from an ex Guernsey Albion Victor.
A trip to Lincolnshire with a trailer saw us bringing the whole lot back up the A1 and over the next couple of weeks we re-seated the upper saloon. Two spare frames were painted black and the upholstery recovered in red leatherette to replace the previously mentioned Dennis Dart items.
I now had a bus with a full set of seats!

North Coast 500

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Imagine getting away from it all, heading for somewhere really remote with hardly any mobile phone signal and even less chance of decent wifi. No chance of a phone call or email from the office and an opportunity to hide from social media (in theory at least) for a day or two! A place where even the A roads are single track with passing places where you can travel for several miles without encountering another human or vehicle of any sort. A place with amazingly spectacular rugged natural beauty, unspoilt sandy beaches, abundant wildlife and isolated castles. Surprisingly this is still possible on this overcrowded island that forms the British mainland.

Setting out from home and heading for Scotland on a rainy July Saturday morning, we had no idea that we would travel to the remotest corner of the British mainland or to explore what has recently been billed as ‘Scotland’s answer to Route 66’! Our original plan had been to head to John O’Groats for an obligatory selfie then head back south to ‘civilisation’. One of the advantages of touring in ‘Sammie’ our converted Transit camper van is that we can be completely spontaneous with our travel itinerary. So it was only at John O’Groats that we decided to head west along the North Coast then south to Ullapool before returning to Inverness in a huge anti-clockwise loop.

Our first night away from home was spent near Aviemore where, the following morning we we took a steam hauled ride on the preserved Strathspey Railway after watching Virgin East Coast’s ‘Highland Chieftain’ HST depart south for Kings Cross. The Strathspey Railway is impressive, sharing the station at Aviemore giving a sense of what it must have been like to change from the main line to the branch line train. A long train of BR Mk1 coaches meant that the coach parties were accommodated without inconveniencing us spontaneous customers. An added attraction is that food can be ordered and delivered to your seat to be eaten at leisure during an hour long round trip.

Heading up the east coast our second night was spent at Wick where we availed ourselves of the free wifi whilst enjoying a pint or two of real ale in the local Wetherspoon’s. Wick itself had a fairly sad run down atmosphere about it with a lot of empty shops in the town centre. I recall being struck by how many buildings had vegetation growing from the rainwater goods. On the other hand, the obligatory Tesco store on the edge of town seemed to be doing brisk business.

Our third day away saw us heading to what had been originally been intends as our ultimate goal, John O’Groats. I’m not really sure what I had expected of John O’Groats. Certainly the distant views of the Orkneys led to a feeling of anticipation that the place was the start of an adventure rather than a destination in its own right. However, despite various attempts to improve or revive the place, it remains a distinctly underwhelming bleak and windy outpost!

Named after Jan de Groote, a Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, the hotel on the site of his house was semi-derelict from the mid 90s until relatively recently. It’s lowest point came in the mid naughties when the Lonely Planet guide said “If John was a person, he’d be a second hand car salesman or a gerrymandering politician”. I’m not sure I’d have gone quite that far in damning the place!

The position has improved of late with the hotel being refurbished into holiday lets and as part of the deal, the developer Natural Retreats has provided a fingerpost sign where visitors can take a ‘selfie’ for free (unlike the rip off at Lands End 874 miles away!) A craft and workshop village next to the main car park seems to have seen mixed fortunes with most units behind the immediate frontage standing empty. On the other hand the ferry service to South Ronaldsay was doing brisk business. Had we got there a little earlier in the day we would have been tempted with a coastal boat trip?

Whilst there is a camp site at John O’Groats, the distance to the nearest pub along with the wind and rain, meant we decided that we’d seen all we wanted to see and that we’d drive on. A look at the map led us to decide to head west along the north coast then southwards down the west coast, a route that involved single track roads but offered the prospect of spectacular scenery.

Before we’d gone much further, we deviated slightly to the north to Dunnet Head, the real most northerly point on the British mainland. Dunnet Head really is a windswept outpost with a lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Despite its remote location, we found ourselves sitting in a passing place to allow two oncoming touring coaches full of passengers from a cruise ship to pass us on their way back to Thurso. Indeed we stopped briefly later on the sea front at Thurso to watch launches from the cruise ship ferrying passengers back aboard from the coaches on the quayside at Scrabster.

Conscious that we had no pitch booked for our next overnight stop we pressed on westwards with the intention of making Durness our next stop. The first few miles out of Thurso seemed rather more ‘urbanised’ than I’d expected. The location of the Dounreay nuclear plant here is part of the explanation. In my student days there were always dark tales about this place. Tales of bright nuclear physics graduates going to work there for fantastic salaries only for all their hair to fall out and them to die of cancer by the age of 25.

Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment is actually much bigger than I’d imagined and the 139-foot steel sphere of its first reactor is still a prominent though rather rusty feature of the landscape. The site was established in 1955 in order to pursue the UK Government policy of developing fast breeder reactor technology. Dounreay was chosen as the location safety, the theory being such a remote location could be easily evacuated should a catastrophic failure occur. Given events at Chernobyl and Fukushima, I’m wondering whether it was a risk worth taking.

On the other hand the site provides a lot of employment locally with other more recent reactors use to test materials along with fabrication and reprocessing facilities for nuclear materials and development of test rigs. With Heather being 4 months pregnant at the time, we decided not to hang around too long just in case!

West of Dounreay the road shows significant signs of recent improvement with EU signage acknowledging the contribution from European funding sources.This area is notable for being the most sparsely populated region in Western Europe and along with other similar areas in the EU, improved transport links are seen as a key investment. I couldn’t help thinking that the pressure to ‘improve’ the road would in many ways detract from the reason for going there – its remoteness and unspoilt rugged beauty.

Eventually the upgraded road ran out and we continued our journey west on single track roads with passing places. I quickly realised that the passing places weren’t just for oncoming traffic. They were also useful to pull over to let faster traffic behind past. Interestingly we seemed to encounter the same vehicles quite regularly with a couple of German and one French registered motorcycles seemingly passing us on the long straight stretches only to meet up with them again at the next point of interest or spectacular viewpoint.

Durness, some 72 miles from Thurso and our intended overnight stop is the largest village in this part of north west Scotland. Its a relative metropolis with a population of 400 whose economy is based on crofting and tourism. We headed for the Sango Sands camp site where we booked ourselves a pitch for the night. We were lucky enough to find ourselves a pitch within yards of the adjacent pub with a fantastic view of the bay with an almost turquoise sea meeting a crescent of golden sand. As an added bonus, the pub had free wifi so Heather was happy to be able to catch up with the world of Facebook in this remote part of the world!

Next time we will probably stay longer as there is a lot to see and do locally. There are numerous marked paths from which it is possible to see whales, porpoise, dolphins and seals plus a variety of sea birds. Smoo Cave with its waterfall dropping down into the dramatic tidal gorge will be on the itinerary as will be a trip to Cape Wrath which involves a ferry and minibus as its not accessible by public roads.

Having been well fed and watered and enjoyed a good nights sleep, next morning we began the 60 odd mile journey south to Ullapool. Again the first 20 mile or so from Durness were single track road, our first encounter with an oncoming vehicle being the bin lorry heading towards us at break neck speed. We took our first comfort break at Scourie, about halfway between Ullapool and Durness where we found some surprising evidence of modern civilisation. I was quite amazed to find a cash machine at the local post office run by some people originating from Surrey. Even more amazing was a newly installed EV Rapid Charger. I subsequently found that there’s a programme to install chargers in rural Scotland and that one or two intrepid souls have done the North West 500 in an EV!

Ullapool, our next destination lies on the eastern shore of Loch Broom and was founded 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society. For civil engineering enthusiasts, the harbour was designed by Thomas Telford and is used as a fishing port, yachting haven, and ferry port.

At the time of our visit the new ferry, the £42m Loch Seaforth seemed to have settled into regular service to Stornoway having suffered from some well publicised teething problems. There were delays to the upgrading of facilities for the new ship at Stornoway and at Ullapool, work to install a new linkspan was also delayed. The new vessel, MV Loch Seaforth was built by Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft MBH and Co KG in Germany and was launched on 21 March 2014. Her delivery too was delayed by storm damage to the fabrication shed at the shipyard. Her name revives that of one of her predecessors on the route dating from 1947.

Interestingly for a ferry port, Ullapool was never on the railway network. Parliament granted permission in the 1890s for a railway from Ullapool to a junction with the main Highland network at Garve, but insufficient funds resulted in the scheme being abandoned.

Our stay in Ullapool was on the Broomfield site on the edge of the town overlooking the waters of Loch Broom and affording us views of a most spectacular sunset. An adjacent pub, the Arch Inn provided us with good food, fine ales and free wifi along with some friendly company setting us up for a very enjoyable evening.

Next day we headed back to Inverness. On this occasion we took the direct route though in future I think we’ll meander around Wester Ross. What we hadn’t realised until shortly afterwards was that we had done the ‘North Coast 500’ albeit in an anti-clockwise direction and in a slightly shortened form.

The North Coast 500 (NC500) is the brand name being promoted by the North Highland Initiative (NHI) to promote tourism through an iconic touring route to rival the USA’s Route 66 round the coastal edges of North West Scotland. The NC500 route is just over 500 miles and begins in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. From Inverness, it follows the A835 towards the west coast, and snakes along the coastline upwards through the North West Highlands, across the north edge of mainland Britain and finally down the east coast on the A9 from Britain’s most northerly town; John O’Groats, completing the loop in Inverness.

 

 

 

People Watching on Public Transport – So was Steven Norris right???

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Back in 1993 or 94 the then junior Transport Minister, Steven Norris made a statement that sent most of us left –leaning advocates of public transport into a frenzy of outrage at what most of us saw as an insult to all public transport users.

Norris, himself a former car dealer who seemed to enjoy the privilege of using his ministerial chauffeur driven car, was quite genuinely trying to explain why people prefer using cars rather than using public transport. Extolling the virtues of car ownership and use Norris said “…you have your own music and heating controls and you don’t have to sit next to horrible, smelly people….” What got lost in the storm of fury following Norris’s comments was that actually, there are quite a lot of very inconsiderate, ill mannered and yes – smelly –people on buses and trains (and planes for that matter!).

I make no bones about it, I am one of those somewhat odd people who actually enjoys travelling on public transport. I quite happily pat my BMW on the bonnet each morning as I head off to the bus stop for my trip to work. The latent sociologist and social anthropologist in me is fascinated in people watching. Everyone has a reason for travelling whether its for business or pleasure, whether the reasons are happy or sad. Indeed in an earlier blog, I was advocating the use of phenomenological techniques to better understand the transport experiences of the most excluded and vulnerable in society.

Some people even travel for the sake of a journey. My late Mother used to like nothing better than a bus ride from Sunderland to South Shields on her concessionary pass. She would regularly meet and chat with other older people in a similar situation to her and, whilst her health allowed her to do it, it was a way of combating the soul destroying loneliness of ageing.

Social media has provided us with a rich source of information and, dare I say it, data on how people feel about why, how and what its like to travel on public transport. A bad experience on public transport and it is reported worldwide and instantly on Twitter. I’ve been trying to find an academically rigorous way of harvesting information from Twitter because it provides a valuable insight into how we feel about public transport and, better still how we feel about our fellow passengers.

A quick scan of Twitter during the morning commute reveals a whole catalogue of deadly sins committed by our fellow commuters on a daily basis. These include the following:
People who talk loudly
Those who use their mobile phone like a megaphone
Putting bags on seats to prevent people sitting there
People standing in MY spot on the station platform (the spot where you know the train doors are)
People sitting in MY seat (and conversely people who think a particular seat is theirs)
People eating breakfast on the journey
Putting make up on during the journey
‘Male spreading’ (surprisingly common among young men for some reason)
Putting feet up on the seat opposite
People who have obviously not washed or showered
Those who cover up the lack of personal hygiene with cheap deodorant such as Lynx
People who fart (Silently or loudly)

Of course this all reflects the rich variety of human life, warts and all. There are often logical explanations for this behaviour. Most commuters are leading busy lives so inevitably some people try to save a few minutes by doing things on the way. I check my emails and undertake ‘social research’ on Twitter but others eat breakfast or finish getting dressed on the train or bus. I remember in my student bedsit days, the queue for the bathroom was such that on the rare occasion I went to a 9 o’clock lecture, I would postpone my shower until I got on campus. I may well have been that smelly person!!!

I was reminded of all of these issues thanks to a rather unpleasant and uncomfortable incident on my trip home from work the other night. When I boarded the fairly empty bus there was a young woman sat in the centre of the back seat with a little girl about 3 years old playing, as small children do, in the seats in front of her. When the bus got to the City Centre and began filling up, I had expected the mother to ask the child to stop playing and to sit next to her both for the child’s own safety and to allow boarding passengers to use the seats. She didn’t. As a result one woman and one small child were monopolising 13 seats at the back whilst people were standing at the front of the bus.

A few minutes out of the City Centre the child running around the bus knocked the newspaper that a man sitting close to the back was reading. The child wasn’t behaving badly or maliciously. She was just playing. The man glanced round briefly than returned to reading his paper. Like me he seemed concerned for her safety on a moving bus. There was no verbal communication – only the man’s body language.

Then it all kicked off!……….
“Who the F*** do you think you’re looking at” shouted the woman with the child. The man didn’t look up. “ I said who the F*** are you looking at you F***ing C***” shouted the woman again. This time the man responded: “I didn’t say anything but seeing as you are asking, would you mind controlling your child please?” “The bairns not deeing owt you F***ing C***” shouted the woman”. “Classy” responded the man. At this point the woman proceeded to shout and scream obscenities at the man, the gist of it being effectively a death threat. The other passengers all looked around horrified before looking at the floor or their newspapers or their phones….

What was only a couple of minutes seemed like hours before the woman and child reached their stop. Unfortunately for me she had looked back up the bus as the man and I exchanged glances and shook our heads. “Who the F*** are you shaking your head at ‘Fattie’ she bawled at me” by now trying to make her way back up the bus to treat me to her tirade of choice language. The driver stopped her re-boarding leaving her on the pavement shouting more foul language as the bus pulled away.

It would be easy to dismiss this person as some vile, foul mouthed, drug crazed dreg of humanity. A charver straight off the Jeremy Kyle Show and indeed that was my initial reaction. On the other hand she may well have been the most vulnerable person on that bus, her behaviour on this occasion being the outward manifestation of more deep seated problems. Whatever, I do feel sad for her and especially her child.

As an advocate of public transport what does that incident do for the image of public transport? Bus and rail staff are not social workers yet they find themselves dealing with incidents like this on a daily basis. For those of us with a car sitting at home, the temptation to drive to work following an incident like this is all too great. (I didn’t by the way).

The moral of this blog is that for every person out there on public transport, there is a story about why they are travelling. Whatever the horrible behaviour or pungent smells, there’s probably a reason for it. Which is why the woman on the bus the other night reminded me of that charmer, Steven Norris!
See also:
http://www.thepoke.co.uk/2014/12/16/public-transport-trading-cards/

Stones and Shuttles at Stonehenge…..!!!

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I always try to end each year on a high with a visit to somewhere interesting and memorable. So it was that New Years Eve 2014 found Heather and I almost seeing out the daylight of the old year at Stonehenge. Whilst most people go there to see the stones, in the tradition of a true planning and transport geek, my main interest of the visit was to see the new visitor centre and to observe how the associated transport arrangements were working.

As an iconic historic site that attracts huge numbers of visitors, Stonehenge represents the epitome of the need to balance the conservation of the precious historic artifacts with the demands for public access whilst also managing the huge numbers wishing to visit the site. Added to that its location alongside the A303, one of the country’s busiest trunk roads linking London with South West England and (until recently) at a busy road junction and it all adds up to be the recipe for a ‘perfect storm’!

Pressure from visitor numbers is nothing new at Stonehenge and it seems that those responsible for looking after the site have been trying to keep up with the pressure of inexorably rising visitor numbers in parallel with advances in transport to get there. Even before the advent of the motor car, at the end of the nineteenth century there had been complaints about rowdy tourists, litter and the danger of falling stones. At that time the site was privately owned and in 1901its owner fenced it off and began charging a shilling (about £4.75 in today’s money) to enter the site.

It would seem that whatever is done to manage the site, it is impossible to please everyone. After the site was first fenced off, one critic commented on “nearly a mile” of barbed wire for excluding “all and sundry” and their “greasy papers, scraps of meat… wagons and brakes… and horses tethered nearby”.

The location of the stones in the ‘V’ between two busy roads has also been a problem that has exacerbated as traffic volumes have raised. Again this isn’t something new. It had been recognized as far back as 1927 when the then Ancient Monument Department, the predecessor of English Heritage’s decided that something must be done by closing the minor road (the one that became the A344 when road numbering came in a decade later).

Unfortunately more drastic action wasn’t taken and, until recently the site was subject to various ad hoc adjustments and changes to try to accommodate the demands of visitors. The first attempt at providing a proper visitor centre came in 1968 when a concrete facility was dug into a hollow on the northern side of the A344. This at least helped to satisfy the demand for postcards, snacks and toilet facilities and its design meant that it was largely hidden from the stones. However, it quickly proved inadequate and its very location accessed off the A344 meant that closure of that road as a first stage in removing traffic from the vicinity of the stones became much more problematic.

By 1979 visitor numbers had swollen to some 600,000 per annum and the 1968 concrete hollow had been joined by more facilities in Portakabins, many of which were visible from the stones. In 1993, Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee reported on the situation and described the situation at Stonehenge as a “national disgrace”. Despite the Public Accounts Committee recommending that something really must be done urgently, it was to be a further two decades before anything drastic was done!

Provision of a new visitor centre has been inextricably linked with what to do with the two adjacent roads. The preferred options have usually involved complete closure of the A344 at this point and to put the A303 in a tunnel to effectively hide it from the site. A tunnel would be expensive, however, especially as it would be part of a scheme to upgrade the A303 to dual carriageway at the same time.

In the early naughties, a proposal for a visitor centre designed by the same architect as the present scheme gained full Planning Approval. Unfortunately this was abandoned at the end of 2007 after the then regional assembly declined to fund the Highways Agency’s proposed A303 road tunnel. This meant it was ‘back to the drawing board’ and the present visitor centre was designed on the basis that the A344 would be closed but could proceed irrespective of what was proposed for the A303.

The new Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre, a sensitively designed modern building, is located 2 km away from Stonehenge and designed by leading Australian architectural practice Denton Corker Marshall (no relation to me unfortunately!). It is the first phase of English Heritage’s £27million project to transform the visitor experience of this iconic site. It was made possible by a £10m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and substantial gifts from the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Linbury Trust and the Wolfson Foundation.

Opened on 18 December 2013, the new visitor centre offers an interactive exhibition space, café, shop and toilets. Land trains or shuttle buses take visitors on the 2km journey from the visitor centre to the Stone circle along part of the closed section of the A344. Alternatively it is possible to walk and take in the historic landscape. Whether on the shuttle or walking, the intention is that visitors “will have a heightened sense of anticipation when they arrive at the visitor building as Stonehenge is not visible – it will only emerge slowly on the horizon during the ten-minute shuttle ride to the monument”.

On our own visit we approached on the A303 from the east and hit a huge queue of traffic on the approach to the Amesbury roundabout and chose to take the ‘scenic route’ via Larkhill to approach the visitor centre from the north. My immediate impression was one of vast windswept and badly marked out car parks on the edge of which the purpose designed Land Rover shuttle trains were parked up. The coach park is on the northern side of the former A344 and their (often elderly) passengers have even further to walk than car users.

A respectful touch on the walk from the car park to the centre is the memorial to the first UK military airmen lost in a flying accident in 1912. This has been relocated from ‘Airman’s Corner’, the roundabout junction between the A344 and the A350 from which the visitor centre now takes its access.

My initial impression of the Visitor Centre building is that it is relatively unobtrusive and respectful of its surroundings. That impression continues inside where it appears light, unimposing, sensitive to its surroundings and deferential to the stones and the World Heritage Site. Given its Australian design team, the old Aboriginal injunction to “touch the earth lightly” has most certainly been invoked in this instance. I was certainly much more impressed than I was with a certain transport museum in Glasgow covered in an earlier blog!

The key objectives in the design brief were that the new facilities had to be highly sustainable, wholly reversible and of extremely low physical impact on the archaeologically sensitive site. In response to the requirements of the brief the new building is conceived as a perforated undulating metal sheet, pinned in the ground by a series of fine metal columns, under which shelters a block of timber and a block of glass.

“The metal roof undulates to reflect the rolling landforms of Salisbury Plain and the visual effect of the sheet overhanging the blocks on the ground gives a transitory and temporary sense to the centre. This approach also ensures the solidity and timelessness of the stones is not compromised or visually diminished by the new structure.”
(Denton Corker Marshall web site).

According to Barrie Marshall of Denton Corker Marshall, “The design of the centre is based on the idea that it is a prelude to the stones, and its architectural form and character should in no way diminish their visual impact, sense of timeless strength and powerful sculptural composition,”…. “ Instead of people getting cosy in a solid museum building before heading to the stones, the architect and English Heritage wanted the experience to be as exterior as possible, with much of the circulation and views connecting to the landscape”.

As with many visitor attractions currently, there’s an attempt to use modern technology and virtual reality to introduce and explain to visitors what they are about to see. A 360-degree virtual experience lets visitors ‘stand in the stones’. A three-minute film, based on state-of-the-art laser scan images of the stone circle transports the viewer back in time through the millennia and enables them to experience the summer and winter solstices. It’s not as good as standing in the middle of the stones yourself but it’s probably the next best thing!

Outside the visitor centre there are the recently opened Neolithic Houses where visitors can see reconstructions of the types of houses that the people that built Stonehenge were likely to have lived in.

Another of the transport elements of the new arrangements has been subject to much criticism and debate since the new visitor centre opened. That is the shuttle between the centre and the 2km to the stones themselves.

The design involved providing this connection using a ‘Visitor Transit System’ (VTS), a ‘Disneyesque’ fleet of five retro-styled 60-person-capacity “road trains” whose cabins are modeled on the Land Rovers that pull them. These were designed and engineered by Warwickshire based TDI, and manufactured in Scotland by Greenfold Systems Ltd. Unfortunately the physical capacity and journey timing estimates for the land train were “over optimistic” leading huge queues at each end of the route. This led initially to buses being hired in to supplement the VTS. Whilst there doesn’t appear to have been a formal decision to scrap the VTS, it would seem buses have replaced it recently.

As I alluded to earlier, on our visit the Land Rover VTS trains were parked up and, in their place a fleet of Optare Solo buses hired from local bus operator Wilts and Dorset were in service. Most wear a special khaki special livery but these are supplemented by fleet liveried buses. On our visit the shuttles seemed to be coping fairly well and the presence of wheelchair passengers on both the outward and return journeys suggests (on the face of it) that the needs of visitors with disabilities are being accommodated.

At the stones themselves, newly sown grass is now establishing itself on the former alignment of the closed section of the A344 to return Stonehenge to its original, more dignified setting. On the other hand, a short distance to the south a constant stream of traffic continues to inch and growl its way past on the A303. Only a few weeks previously the Government announced that the A303 would be put into tunnel at Stonehenge but with a General Election looming, I can be forgiven a little cynicism about that announcement.

I did have some gripes about our visit. Those who know me well would have been surprised if I hadn’t! On arrival at the visitor centre English Heritage have ‘meet and greeters’ providing information to people in the queue and encouraging them to take out annual membership. We were asked: “Are you from London or are you visitors?” My reaction was to ask if it was so unusual to get visitors from the North of England. Our ‘meeter and greeter’ then tried to make conversation to make amends: “Are you senior citizens?” she said! Grrrr!!!! Heather had just celebrated her 30th birthday a fortnight before…….!!!!!

The other gripe concerned the Gents toilets in the visitor centre where the majority of ‘facilities’ were taped off with signs saying ‘out of order’ and customers standing in long queues. If I’d paid £27million for a building, I would at least expect the toilets to work properly!

Overall, I was actually impressed with the visitor centre building itself and the shuttle service in its current form. The building fulfils its brief in being unobtrusive and respectful of its surroundings yet at the same time taking pressure off the stones themselves and adding to the overall visitor experience. The shuttles were frequent and offered sufficient capacity although how well they would cope during the peak of the tourist season may be open to question.

Whilst it would be preferable to wander around the stones themselves, apparently it is possible to arrange this as part of a small group outside normal opening hours. See http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/content/imported-docs/p-t/stone-circle-access-application-jan-sept14.pdf