Saturday, 24 November 2012

Winter 2012


Back in the 1970’s before Virgin Trains, Cross Country, London Midland and all the other multitude of train operating companies (TOCs) we had an organisation called British Rail. This organisation ran the trains, maintained the track and signalling and all the employees belongs to one organisation, had road learned all the routes around the area they were based in etc.


Sundays was always known as disruption day as passengers knew that journey times would be extended due to diversions caused by “Engineering work”. To the passengers it was a nuisance but to rail enthusiasts it was a day of delight and going over  railway routes not normally traversed. In the 1970’s when British Rail had the Midland “Railtourer Ticket” i also “rail bashed”. By having the ticket for the week it covered me to places Like Crewe, Derby (but not via Uttoxeter), Nottingham, Gloucester, Hereford and Shrewsbury. I lived in Birmingham then and made several “diverted due to engineering work” trips in the region. One was from Birmingham to Crewe via Soho Junction , Perry Barr, Walsall, through what we know has the Chase line which was freight only and onwards up to Rugeley Trent Valley. Then Onwards via Colwich Junction, Stone, Stoke and onwards to Crewe. A long journey as you can see but both Wolverhampton and Stafford were undergoing Engineering work. Other Journeys have been involved Birmingham to Rugby being diesel hauled via Water Orton to Nuneaton. Now some diversions mean the trains Go up to Stafford to come back down the Trent Valley Line what a difference.
 
Engineering work on a Sunday, traditionally the quietest day on our railways, is nothing new as this picture from 1957 shows


Why am I mentioned all this about engineering work you might ask? Well when I noticed that their was Engineering work Scheduled on Sunday 18th November resulting in a Rail Replacement Bus Service between Rugeley, Walsall and Tame Bridge and that some preparation work had been done between Pleck Junction, Walsall and the former Dudley arm of the South Staffs Rail line towards the M6 Bridge and Bescot curve I put two and two together. Network Rail staff and contractors had full possession of the line in this area.
 
Only rail enthusiasts will understand this when I say I got a bit excited thinking that there just might be work being done on this section of the mothballed line. Readers from the www.southstaffsrail.co.uk website will know that Freightliner Heavy Haul are bringing back this section between Pleck Junction and Bescot Curve as a turn back siding for their coal trains to avoid going onto the mainline at Bescot.
 
I duly arrived at Wallows Lane which was the best vantage point for my first visit of the day and I wasn't disappointed and neither was my fellow SSR member Rob Taylor who I informed straight away.Positioned on the line was an engineering train top and tailed by a 66 Locomotive (don't ask numbers I don't spot) with wagons full of ballast and also track infrastructure. Staff were cleaning and replacing ballast at one end and at the Pleck Junction end rails were being positioned.






 
 

It was a cold and frosty morning as this picture depicts but when you see even an engineering train on the line which last had a train on in 1993 you can understand the feeling of a new birth of a railway even though a very limiting one.



I returned later in the day and took more pictures which you can see at
More engineering work is scheduled on that line but not sure when but it is all in conjunction with the Re-signalling work in the area which culminates next August Bank Holiday (2013) when the line will be shut whilst that transfer everything to the West Midlands Signalling Centre at Saltley. When that happens many signal boxes along the Chase line together with Walsall Power Signal Box will close. The re-signalling work has taken into account the possible re-opening of the South Staffs Rail line between Ryecroft Junction, Walsall through Brownhills and onwards to Lichfield City for freight and possible passenger services in the future as well as a chord between the Chase and Sutton Lines

The work on this stretch of line will still allow for the extension of the Midland Metro should the plans on running it over the Dudley Area of the South Staffs line to Walsall not be pushed back even further. The current working making this a turn back siding will cause less disruption to traffic movement through the lines at Bescot but also enable quicker turnaround of coal trains between the Sutton and Chasse lines.
These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group in general Dave Cresswell

Monday, 1 October 2012

Late Summer 2012


During September many of you have either signed the Epetition or voiced your opinion on the franchise of the West Coast Mainline currently being run by Virgin Trains.  From 9th December this should be the First Group as they were awarded the franchise by the government. Due to a challenge by the incumbent this now looks doubtful and will have to be run by the government just like the East Coast Trains franchise at present.
 
P1010083
 
This of course causes uncertainty for the people who work for Virgin trains as well as staff in First Group. However from the public point of view does it really matter as long as the trains run as advertised, on time and at a reasonable price? Both Virgin and First group in their bids promise various things some in great detail, other parts of the bids just an overall commitment but no firm promises. Even some people are calling on the government to nationalise the railway again and save money in the long term. I don’t think that will ever happen and whoever bids for future franchises will have to think carefully of what they promise.

Stop press - West Coast Main Line Franchise Competition Cancelled  - 


Whatever happens on the West Coast route for a while the trains and staff will be the same, go to same destinations and charge an ever increasing price per ticket. But what about the existing franchises that have still some years to run are they delivering on the service they promised.
In our region the main commuter train operating company is London Midland. London Midland operates train services through the heart of England from London in the south, to Birmingham in the Midlands and Liverpool in the north west. London Midland began operating on 11 November 2007.
 

P1010082
 

Just lately London Midland have had a situation where trains are being cancelled across its service due to shortage of train crew. Rail replacement bus services to fill the gaps or passengers just having to wait for the next available service.
The social media as you would expect has a hive of lively debate on the subject and many people comment as though they know how to run a railway operation.
 
lm
© London Midland
 
Some have even take the  opportunity to have a go at the person who is operating the twitter account (http://twitter.com/londonmidland ) as if it was their fault personally of the shortage of train crew. I am aware that the people who are manning the London Midland twitter account do not do it as their main job but as an aside because they wish to help their customers get the information required during times of disruption. I don't know of many training operating companies who have staff who man twitter until the early hours of the morning and also really engage with the users as well as this company. But i digress as much as the twitter rapport is great I know that without trains passengers cannot travel and that's what frustrates some people. Personally I find I am more delayed by the buses being more unreliable in my area of the West Midlands than the trains but that's another story
 
Now I don’t run a railway or profess to have an in-depth knowledge of railway operations but do take a keen interest in the behind the scenes areas. I have never worked directly within the industry but through my working life I have helped people get from A to B with my knowledge gleaned more as an enthusiast and to promote public transport.
 
I know a long time ago under the old British Rail regime there were staff sitting around New Street station or on “rest day relief” just in case someone didn't turn up for work or cover was needed. No employer these days likes staff sitting around being unproductive. Today things are very different I know and there are not as many staff to do these cover duties. There are all sorts of things that cause difficulties and cancellations including disruption on the line through cable theft or signal failure which displaces train crew, sickness, planned staff training and as we hear for more often in the news unfortunately people deciding to take their life or play dangerously on a railway line. These are just a few incidents I know which can have a major impact on providing a service and I’m sure you can think of more beside the wrong kind snow, leaves etc.
 
Just like in other industries staff apply for jobs with other companies and if successful wish to move as soon as their contract allows them to. I believe this has been the case with London Midland where quite a few staff have got jobs with the longer distance train operating companies and subsequent increase in salary and I don’t blame them. Most companies have forward planning for the average turnover of staff and to ensure that they have qualified staff to take their place. But training takes time and if a lot go in a short space of time there is most definitely a shortfall.
 
I’m told to qualify as a driver takes between 9 and 18 months and to illustrate what a driver has to do I will refer you to the ASLEF website
Its not surprising in my opinion how long it takes to become qualified given the responsibility and the safety requirements. In contrast from my brief online research it takes a person around 9 years to become a GP. An airplane pilot up to 10 years and I could go on but am sure you see the point that replacing staff cant happen in a short time.
 
London Midland have stated through twitter that they will soon have more drivers who are nearing the end of their training and will come on stream soon. Of course in the early stages they will not be driving solo but be being observed by experienced drivers. Vacancies for Senior conductors are also being filled and successful applicants will be undertaking the required training. Its a slow process I know and can be very frustrating for us passengers at times but if there aint qualified staff available other than recruit more and train them what can be done.
 
If London Midland lost their franchise tomorrow  and another company took over what would happen?  Well like the ending Virgin Trains Franchise the existing staff would transfer to the new company (whoever it would be) and their would still be cancellations as the new company couldn't suddenly find qualified staff I’m sure.
 
These views expressed here are my own as I see things and not those of the South Staffs Rail Group in general
 
Dave Cresswell 1st October 2012

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

August 2012 Guest Writer Rob Taylor


Life at Fossway Crossing
This month’s blog is all about the life and work of a crossing keeper who worked and lived at Fossway Crossing on the South Staffs Line, just south of Lichfield.
We met up with her Grandson, Iain who lives in Scotland, to talk about his childhood memories of when he used to spend the summer holidays at his Gran’s helping her out at Fossway.
Thursday 26th July 2012. 6.30pm Location: Fossway Crossing/ Signal Box
Iain contacted us through the SSR website last year, after his son in law, who lives in the Black Country, spotted the Bescot to Lichfield video footage on the main home page. Iain, who was born in Kilmarnock Scotland, was overwhelmed when he saw the video on South Staffordshire Railway website. This was especially so, because as the Bescot men passed Fossway crossing, they can be heard clearly talking about Iain's Gran being the crossing keeper. Iain contacted us in mid July, saying that he was coming down to Lichfield to attend a wedding, and arranged to meet up to talk about his times at Fossway as a young boy at his Gran’s.
 Crossing Keepers Cottage
It was in 1946 when Emily moved into the crossing keeper’s cottage at Fossway. The small cottage was railway owned, so came as part of the job for the crossing keeper. Iain explained that the railway cottage had no hot water, just a single cold tap in the Kitchen, this was also were the tin bath was located. The toilet was located outside. There was a cellar down some stone steps Emily had to boil water for Iain to have a bath. There was obviously no central heating and no double glazing. It felt very damp, but Iain loved it.
 
The cottage was painted black or as Iain always says, it was the soot from all the steam engines going by which gave it its black appearance. The up line was only about 1.5 metres from the side of the cottage, this meant that each time a train went by the whole house used to shake. Iain used to run outside when a train came, he would run through the veranda and into the garden of the cottage. There was a gate in the fence at one end of the garden. Here he would stand and hang outside on the gate. He was so close to the moving train, he could nearly touch it.
In the hot dry summers, the steam trains use to set fire to the grass in the cutting, as well as leaving soot all over Emily’s washing she used to peg out in the narrow garden.
 
Iain used to visit his Gran from 1958 when he came as a six month old baby to the cottage for the first time. In 1973 Iain left school, but still had every holiday down at Fossway for many years.
 
At work at Fossway
At around 6pm, Emily would have her tea and spend the summer evenings in the Signal Box. The instruments would go quite, but on the odd occasions the needles on the instruments above the levers would move on either the up or down line, then she knew she had to get the two huge keys (Annett Keys) ready to open the gates. These were like two heavy cast iron rifles used to secure the gates and unlock the levers for the crossing signals. She would swing the gates across the road, as the gates were permanently across the tracks. Once the gates had been opened the next step was to put them the keys into the floor panel and turn them to allow the operation of the levers to set the signals to clear. Emily’s hours were long, 6pm to 8am, 7 days a week.
 
Fossway Signal Box Explained
Iain explained the layout of the Signal Box in which he helped his Gran pull the levers for the signals.
There used to be steps straight up to the door from ground level outside. As you walk through the door, on the left hand side there was a wooden stool, and a sloped desk for the train register. In the middle on the back wall there was a fire place, and to the right of that there was a comfy chair. Just above the chair in the corner was the phone secured to the wall. The levers and instruments were located in front of the large track facing window. Iain could never pull the levers nor could his dad, but his Gran was very strong and could pull the levers with no effort. During the day the signal man would sit in the Box and as it was a quiet line, in between trains, the signalman would make paper models.
Plan of Fossway Signal Box – How Iain remembers it (not to scale)
Iain explained that he was always very curious on what was hidden away underneath the Signal box, as Ian became older he would ask his Gran what lay beneath and eventually on occasions she would get a big key to open the door. There use to be a big hammer hanging on the wall to fix the wooden blocks which held the rails in place on the sleepers (this was before the iron clips). Iain would pick up the big hammer and help to bash in the blocks in between the tracks. He always remembered that he went so far down the track and he always remembered his Gran shouting, “Don’t go too far you will be run over”.
Every Friday Iain and his Gran would go shopping into Lichfield, this would be also a visit to Lichfield city station to pick up Emily’s wages from Station Master. The Station Master would give Iain a little brown envelope, and once opened he would find half a crown. Iain explained that he was made up that the railway was paying him a wage for hammering the blocks in, but he later found out it was taken out of his Gran’s wages, which was a bit of a letdown.
Fossway was Iain’s six weeks school holiday, 6 wonderful weeks with the best Gran in the world. For the last two weeks Iain’s parents would come down for their holiday. Iain never had a toy train set, mainly because he had a real one! Iain was never bored; he used to play up and down beside the railway and the old canal which used to be beside the railway. Iain still clearly remembers the year 1825 inscribed on the brickwork of the canal. It was an adventure playground. Iain comments “It was probably the happiest time of my life as a youngster, I would love to re-live a day with my Gran with the trains rolling by again”. Emilys Life “Fossway Crossing Keeper” Emily was born in 1905 and became crossing keeper in 1946 Emily lost her first husband after the war and in 1957 she married again to a Norman Baker, he was a plate layer/ track maintenance on the Fossway section of the South Staffordshire line, that’s how they met each other, but sadly Norman died in 1963. Soon after Emily fell over and broke her hip; her relatives in Burntwood felt she couldn’t cope by herself, so she moved in with them. Emily who also only had only one eye through cataracts stayed the rest of her life with relatives in the Burntwood area. Meanwhile British Rail did not replace the crossing keeper and the house fell into disrepair. Emily died in 1994 age 89, Iain always visit’s her grave in Wall each time he’s down from Scotland. A local farmer/ contractor who lives at Fossway farm bought the cottage and land off British Rail, he had it for a number of years before he sold it to a developer. Iain had a phone call from he’s relatives in Burntwood saying it a sad day, as they are knocking down Gran’s house. Iain managed to get down to Fossway before all the house was taken away. He managed to take a brick from the house as a memorial.
 
Iain’s cousin (Rob Evans) painted a picture of the Railway Cottage and Signal Box as a wedding gift for Iain back in the 1970’s. Iain took a copy of the painting of his Gran’s house to the new house on the site of Emily’s cottage, to the occupiers, who proudly have it framed in there hallway today.




Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Summer Blog 2012


I will be taking a break from writing a blog for August so thought I’d do a summer blog that is right up my street, in terms of Food and Railways.

Railway catering has in the past been the butt of many comedians jokes. The British Rail Sandwich had a bad reputation but in the last year of British Operating 8 Million sandwiches were sold. See here for information http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_sandwich Even “The Goons” a popular British Comedy Series dedicated a whole show to the subject of “The collapse of the British Railway Sandwich System”

In the early days of the railway system the various companies prided themselves in providing an at the table service in their dining cars. The Pullman Trains in particular boasted about having a full freshly cooked nutritious breakfast for Businessmen.


 
For the general travelling public it was either food from the various railway catering outlets usually just called the “Buffet” or later under the branded “Travellers Fare” banner. On the trains either a trolley service of snacks and light refreshments or a Buffet car selling various items which at times were neither appetising or cheap but if you were hungry that was it.

 

Times have changed and when the government in 1994 de-nationalised the railways and British Rail was no more the same happened with Travellers Fare.

Since then individual train operating companies have provided a variety of food for their customers either on-board or by means of contracts with external companies to provide a trolley service. With more and more outlets appearing at stations the catering and trolley services on some routes has diminished or finished altogether. In fact in our own region, London Midland withdraw catering services on trains altogether from the August Bank Holiday last year stating the following which is taken from their website.

“Following an extensive review, we're sorry to announce there will be no catering on board our trains from 27 August 2011

Over the past 3 years we have trialled catering on a number of routes -  Birmingham to Liverpool, Birmingham to London, and Crewe to London - and recently increased the number of services with catering facilities to assess demand at different times of day.
Whilst a small proportion of passengers appreciate the option to buy on the train, the greater range of products at station outlets means that the majority choose to purchase food and drink before boarding. On this basis we regret that we can no longer justify the high cost of providing on-train catering.”

On-train catering is not cheap to run whether from a trolley or a Buffet so hard decisions have to be made and in London Midlands Case I can see their point.

There are many new outlets springing up at stations across the country and nearby to stations so the public can whatever they need. On many railway stations you see the same companies selling their food and if your canny you will get yourself a free Bite Card https://www.bitecard.co.uk/ which gets you 20% discount at the establishments mentioned on their website that are based in the railway stations. Quite a choice but there are some independent operators who offer something different not only in the food and drink they supply but also the surroundings in which you can purchase and consume

 

Those passing through Birmingham Moor Street station will know it has an air of yesteryear and may well have visited an establishment I can highly recommend having been there a few times. Its called Centenary Lounge (http://centenarylounge.com/) The internal d├ęcor is inspired by the 1930’s Art Deco Bistro and on entering you will have a feel of luxury and warmth as well as noticing that it has all the features of a 1930s Great Western Railway Facility. Its licenced as well so if you almost all if not all your catering needs are sorted whether you are travelling or not. It’s a great meeting place as well.

Take a long at their website to get the feel of the place and now they have introduced a takeaway outlet at Birmingham Snow Hill Station which I had the privilege of being there at the official opening on Tuesday 17th July, when the Chocolate and cream ribbon was cut by non-other than Mr Phil Tonks (http://philtonks2.blogspot.co.uk/) and on twitter as @philtonks2 who is renowned in these parts for being partial to a quality bacon roll.




Whilst station outlets and on board catering has changed there is an open market for delivering good quality food and drink at a reasonable price to the travelling public. And if it can offer something different like Moor Streets “Centenary Lounge” and at Snow Hill “Refreshments by Centenary Lounge” then that can only be good for business as well as the discerning public who like to be treated special. The manager of Centenary Lounge tells me that plans are far ahead for opening an establishment at Stourbridge Junction Station in the very near future and of course that was part of the Great Western Railway who knew how to do things in style.

Railway refreshment facilities may have changed over the years as well as our requirements in this fast moving world of ours but its good to know some people are taking refreshment facilities to much new heights and I think the Centenary Lounge Branding and Art Deco style with real wood (Its Walnut) s their unique selling point and worthy of a visit. And if that wasn't enough for themselves they have been shortlisted for the “National Architecture Award” together with a B.A Award from “Business Today”

See you back here in September
Dave Cresswell

Sunday, 24 June 2012

June 2012–Blog


We purchase a ticket which is an authority to travel between selected stations or within an area based on the terms and conditions of the issued ticket.
 
I am aware that terms and conditions can be complex and sometimes people fall foul of some rule or complication. Rules tend to get relaxed a bit when there is disruption as all Train Operating Companies have an agreed system in place to accept each others permits to travel as announced to help each to get to the destination the customer has paid for. However there are general National Carriage rules that apply irrespective of which train operating company you use. Full terms of conditions can be downloaded here if you are interested
The problem is I think that customers don’t always explain fully their travel needs to the ticket seller or mis-advice is given as the staff member isn't fully aware of the conditions themselves. Many customers now purchase their tickets online but don't read the terms and conditions before purchase so find themselves out of pocket when they have to purchase a new ticket from the train manager. Now is this the fault of the customer or the ticket seller? Of course it depends on how clear things are at the point of sale.
I was amused on my recent visit to Edinburgh via the East Coast Mainline on Cross Country Trains from Birmingham New Street when a group of passengers wanted to upgrade their tickets purchased online from a company to first class under a special offer so they could get first class hospitality. They had brought the cheapest tickets possible online which didn't allow them to be able to upgrade as they wasn't standard tickets but they still claimed that the train manager was being unfair. I think the train manager would have been unfair if he had turned a blind eye to the ticket they held and sold them an upgrade when First Class passengers had paid either the upgrade for purchased standard tickets or the full price.
Now we can all moan if a train is late or cancelled as it can be a big inconvenience to us or others who rely on us as the train operating company has not met our expectation of service. Sometimes its within their control and in many cases its down to the Railway infrastructure, whether it be signalling, track, overhead wires etc. which is all managed by Network Rail. Or it could be other factors like vandalism through cable theft or trespassers on the line. However the bottom line as I understand it is that train operating companies have to get you to where it states on your ticket by any means possible and that's it apart from under National Rules the onus is on you to make a compensation claim under “Delay Repay” rules. Not everyone bothers to do this as it seems complicated to them but its important that they do.
The above relates to people who do actually purchase but then there are  people I do not have any sympathy for. These are the ones who aren't really customers because they board trains without having any intention of paying for the journey they are undertaking. These people do not have an authority to travel so they are in effect trespassing on the railway as well as committing an offence of theft of service. The consequences of “Rail Fare Evasion” can be read on this Solicitors site at
Back in September 2011 the mail Online highlighted the Top ten answers given to revenue protection inspectors (RPI) when asking into why the person didn't have a ticket or in many cases means to pay and therefore a clear intention of fare evasion.
It’s always good to see ticket checks being made on a train and the look on some peoples faces when then become aware of ticket inspections. Some move coincidently to the opposite end of the train and alight at the very next station or pretend to be asleep. I’m sure the RPIs have heard them all before and the ones I’ve seen working for London Midland are polite, listen to the passenger (as they haven't paid they are not customers) to determine whether a genuine reason for not having an authority to travel and the what the persons intentions are. Where they do issue a penalty notice having gone through a few identity procedure checks explain fully why and what that person has to do. The RPI’s know their patch and can spot regular offenders even before the offenders themselves are aware.
Remember the onus is on the traveller to prove they have attempted to purchase a ticket for their journey at the earliest opportunity not at their destination so buying one online, at the booking office (if open or machine if available) or from the conductor on the train or follow their advice if they cant sell you one for any reason.
We may not agree with the fares, the charging structure, the regular increases but we pay so why should the fare evaders get away with it and deprive the Train Operating Companies of the revenue which in turn can affect our level of service and the companies re-investment.
Dave Cresswell

Sunday, 13 May 2012

May 2012


This month my blog is slightly different than normal as I want to mention the current campaign by Network Rail who manage the infrastructure of our railway lines in the UK and at the end the “Safer Travel Partnership

If you follow any of the Train Operating Companies on Twitter you will know hardly a day goes by without one of them reporting that a person has been hit by a train or there are trespassers on the line. At least it causes inconvenience to passengers, disruption to services and in a lot of cases a unnecessary waste of emergency services resources .

There are unfortunate times when a railway worker is killed and that's why Network Rail insist that everyone working or have a requirement to go on the permanent way at times have to have a “Personal Track Safety Certificate” to prove they have undergone the appropriate training and examination to be fit to be trackside and this has to be done every two years. For non railway workers hit by a train it is not the train or the drivers fault and certainly not the train operating companies fault but the person who is hit.

However some passengers really have a go at the companies without thinking it through. Some maybe through frustration at yet another delay on our heavily used railway lines and some because they just don’t think. And many just do not even think about the train driver or the people who have to deal with the situation at ground level in dealing with the aftermath.

In my personal opinion there are two types people who get hit by a train. Those who deliberately do it as a way out from their troubles or unfortunately their mind is not what it used to be and those who are so downright stupid or do not think of the consequences of trains bearing down at them at speeds up to 125mph or more and the distance they travel in that time. If you haven’t seen the new video Network Rail video you can by clicking the image below

advert-to-promote-rail-safety-620-image-2-240493306

http://www.networkrail.co.uk/Champion-athlete-Dai-Greene-heads-campaign-to-prevent-rail-trespass-deaths/

There is also some footage from a BBC news story from the Oxfordshire area

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-18017440

Is it really worth risking your own life and those of others if you drop something onto the railway or taking a shortcut across the tracks? I think not but as you can see from the clips some people think it is.

The railway today is a whole lot different to when the South Staffs Railway line was open, speeds are higher, more dangers about but the same can be said for the roads. Would these idiots suddenly run in front of a heavy truck coming towards them? Probably.

People can take responsibility for their actions but animals can’t and as you know only last week a Cross Country train on its way to Manchester from the South hit a dozen cows that had stampeded apparently onto the railway line through a damaged fence. Remarkably as the media and social media reports go the robustness of the train and the drivers swift actions prevented things from being worse than they were. Unfortunately there were some twitter users who kept saying it was a Virgin train that hit the cows without checking the facts but most people on twitter did spare a thought for the driver, crew and passengers.

British Transport Police who are responsible for policing the railway are regularly out in schools up and down the country highlighting the dangers of the modern high-speed railway and trying to get the message across to our younger people about the dangers of trespassing or taking risks on the rail. But there will be some who do not take heed or take leave of their senses for a short time endangering themselves or others.

And finally in the West Midlands if you didn't know already we have a “first of its kind” partnership between Centro, West Midlands Police, British Transport Police and Transport Operators make up the Safer Travel Partnership, which exists to make public transport in the West Midlands even safer. The partnership is called “Safer Travel Partnership” and the website http://www.safertravel.info/ gives more details of what their aims are.
 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

“Rail travel reaches 90-year high” – That’s the headline in the industry newspaper “Railnews April 2012”


It goes on to say that “New figures show that the number of railway passengers in Britain has reached a level not seen for more than 90 years, and may be close to setting an all-time record”.

In another article in the same “Railnews” it tells us that the West Midlands has seen the number of rail journeys almost doubled since 2001 and that in 2010/11 42.8 million journeys were made.


Impressive figures and from the overcrowding on some trains you will be well aware of the increases. 

Levels not seen for more than 90 years, I wonder why? And what has been the real increase for the years of Dr Beeching assessment of the railways where the motor car was taking over a lot of journeys and the very high cost of motoring today and therefore the number of people returning to the railways because of this.

I’m one of those who for over a year now have most days commuted to work instead of driving for the very reason of cost. As I live in the West Midlands area I’m lucky enough to be able to purchase a Bus and Rail monthly season ticket by direct debit which costs only £81.50. This entitles me to travel on all the Bus operating companies buses within the West Midlands county boundary and also all trains within the same area. Simple and convenient, one card that covers all that for less than one posh coffee per day. My costs to and from work before I shifted travel mode was on average £180 per month excluding car tax and insurance which I still of course pay. I am sure many more people have done the same to stretch whatever income they have. If your outside the West Midlands then I am aware public transport costs are higher but there are add-on tickets to the Centro card which can still save you money.

These season tickets were not available in their present form in 1963 or was as many bus companies or regular buses but still the railway network was savagely cut. Many people worked and lived locally to their employment so it wasn’t always necessary to travel by public transport to work.

People now work further away from where they live, fuel prices have rocketed as well as motor insurance. People are working longer hours, working on the go via mobile devices so railway travel is looking more and more inviting to a lot of people who wouldn’t have dreamt of it five or ten years ago.

Whilst there are many more train operating companies than there were in 1963 there are all operating to have our custom and make money. Each of them have their own promotions and the one that covers all local services within the West Midlands County is London Midland. With Cross Country and Arriva operating out to Leicester, Derby, Shrewsbury etc. Cross Country together with Virgin Trains undertake more long distance services. At one time before government deregulation we had one company that undertook to do all and was called British Rail.
P1000070
(A London Midland Class 172 Unit approaches Smethwick Galton Bridge on the Snow Hill Lines)

The railways these days is far from British but we all want to get from A to B on time at reasonable cost if possible but do we really care what the train company is called that tries to fulfil our requirements?

In 1963 we had Dr Beeching reporting on our railways, in 2011 we had Sir Roy McNulty's. We was charged with giving an ” independent Rail Value for Money” Using their words “The review, which was jointly sponsored by the Department for Transport and the Office of Rail Regulation, recommended ways in which the whole industry can work towards delivering a safe and efficient railway which represents value-for-money for customers and taxpayers.”
Without commenting directly on that review as there are more expert people than me on that, isn’t it possibly another case of Dr Beeching mark 2 to some extent?

I am sure all the Train Operating Companies (TOC’s) are like any business reviewing the services they deliver, save on costs but not lose customers. However as I’ve said before you cannot run trains to places that the railway no longer has tracks. In many parts of the country there are reports and studies being done at the cost of many thousands of pounds. What happens to these reports once they have been published? All local authorities and businesses say yes re-openings are a good idea and then like many of them get dusty on the shelf only to be used for yet another study 5 or ten years down the line.

Mary Portas who has reported recently on the state of the high Street has said its no use commissioning reports and findings if people don’t get off their backsides and do something about them afterwards.

Yes I know its all about finances but also about social need. Our present Prime Minister David Cameron is encouraging the Big Society and working together and whatever your politics its makes sense if people do actually work together.

Recently I was asked at Walsall station by a stranger how they could get to Lichfield  and they were appalled when I told them that the Bus service was every 90 minutes and there best way was to go to Aston or better still Dudeston so avoid the steps and change their for a Cross City service. At the best of times this would take them about 50 mins to an hour. Or travel to Rugeley Trent Valley and then travel down the West Coast Main Line to Lichfield Trent Valley and change for Lichfield City. I asked them the reason they wanted to go to Lichfield from Walsall and they said only recently moved into the area and they had been offered a interview and the Job was ideal for them. On hearing the tortuous way round they would have to go they said “might as well forget it”

Another person asked me best way of getting to Wolverhampton from Walsall and sadly I had to say “By Bus” as there is only one direct train a day to Wolverhampton at 19:36 the rest via New Street which takes almost an hour.

The above is are only two examples that I've come across but am sure there are many more not only for the South Staffs line but many more up and down the Country where services have been curtailed or lines torn up through lack of foresight or other priorities.
Isn't it time to take the Mary Portas line and take action on some of the Local Transport reports that have been undertaken in recent years, local and public positive partnership and funding to re-instate new transport links and upgrade others.

 (Former South Staffs Rail Line near Brownhills April 2012 (c) Dave Cresswell)

But of course if we do that the Treasury surely will lose out on monies because people wouldn’t be paying high taxes in fuel duties or tax on insurance premiums? If they travel by more economic public transport means.

This Blog are my own views and not those necessarily of the South Staffs Rail Group. For more on the South Staffs Line please go to southstaffsrail.co.uk

Thursday, 2 February 2012

February 2012 Blog

I write this blog (still left handed) on the day my plaster came of my right arm following a fracture in early December. It was such a joy when it was taken off even though I'm far from recovered and I shall have a lot of physio to do. I was such a joy to put on a sleeved shirt again in this freezing cold weather, simple things but very pleasurable.
The same can be true of the South Staffordshire Rail website at southstaffsrail.co.uk as i looked at it this evening and noticed that Rob had posted pictures up that Quattro have sauntered up the line a bit and cleared some of foliage. See the pictures here at this link
As Rob mentioned it was December 2010 that the came as far as Hammerwich and removed some track (still not back in-situ) for their training exercises. Training exercises or not its good to see that an effort is being made using their skills to clear some of the line.
I haven’t been down to Hammerwich since my accident so miss visiting but Rob took up the mantle and has kept the monthly update of pictures going.
Centro,on the other hand has been asking the public as part of the local transport plan for our thoughts on various aspects of transport in the West Midlands region and in particular re-opening the line for Freight between Stourbridge and Walsall. As many of you know that was part of the South Staffordshire railway and would form a good shared freight/Midland Metro corridor. This would also help to reduce the amount of freight trains avoiding passing through the Birmingham area. Centro are also interested in creating a Freight Depot at Bescot which is currently underused. The re-opening of a passenger service to Aldridge extending some services from Birmingham through Walsall. Its early days yet but its quite clear from their plan that they wish to see these developments happen.
The other arm of what used to be part of the SSR now called the Chase Line is going from strength to strength with passenger loadings. Many of these trains that I've been on from Walsall to Birmingham are   heavily loaded and standing room only on many of the Saturday trains as they arrive in Walsall from Rugeley, Hednesford, Cannock etc. London Midland have strengthened some of the trains but passengers need to remember only three coaches can fit on to the platforms beyond Walsall. The reliability and timings can be a problem at the moment with maximum line speed of 45mph but even with the problems the passengers seem to want the service.
With freight movements increasing and passenger growth in the region it can only be a good thing and although we shall never have the heyday of yesteryear with loads stations etc with the steady growth that's taking place in the area its good to know that Centro are more positive in the current transport plan than they have ever been.
Below is a picture showing Birmingham and surrounding district as it looked in 1961with the many passenger and freight lines.

And finally I’ll leave you with a link from British Pathe News showing some footage in the opening sequence of our line as part of a panoramic view of the mining areas in 1972
Dave Cresswell