Tuesday 27 April 2010

East London Line Extension

It was rather handy really. This morning I had to get from my home near Tower Bridge to Canary Wharf to have a meeting with the Olympic Development Authority. By the time I had finished the East London Line Extenson had opened to the public and I could get back via Wapping station for the first time since December 2007.

Only yesterday, it seems, the L T Museum took its 1938 tube stock out for a final run on the East London Line reminding us of the days when tube stock did indeed work on this branch.

Amazingly that was two and a half years ago and today for the first time we are plugged in to Dalston Junction and in due course to West Croydon and Highbury & Islington as well.

I'm very pleased to see the Overground brand in increasing use. When, as Capital Citybus, we tried (and failed) to win the franchise for the North London Line in the 1990s we chose 'Overground' as our trade name. Odd now to look back on our proposals. Well, we did not succeed in winning the franchise (National Express did), but at least the name Overground came into being and now runs around London in one form or another.

A different subject altogether. I see Trevor Wright's new book "Moving Comfortably Ahead" on Capital Citybus is out. I am sure someone will send me one (I'm happy to pay!).

"Moving Comfortably Ahead" was alredy in use at Citybus, Hong Kong, when we joined their owning group. I began to use it as we morphed from blue and silver Ensign Citybus into yellow Capital Citybus thinking it was a good idea but years later Citybus MD Lyndon Rees told me he actually didn't like it in the first place!

In time we moved onto another clever strapline (well I thought of it so thought it was clever) "here today, here tomorrow". It came to me when I heard critics of the private sector say we were here today, gone tomorrow. As we used it, we also made it clear we could be relied upon.

I've not had anything to do with the book but look forward to seeing what is says about those happy days. I think it is almost all entirely photographs - a great reminder of a varied and colourful time in London's bus history.

I believe the rules at Twitter require us to use this link when using their photographs so I am happy to oblige: http://twitpic.com/1ivrn3


Friday 23 April 2010

T T Tsui

My old boss, Tsui Tsin-tong, has died in China aged 69. He suffered a stroke whilst still active as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultantive Conference.

"TT", as he was always known, was a prominent Hong Kong businessman. His name became known in transport circles here when he expanded his portfolio of companies outside Hong Kong, where he owned Citybus, to acquire the London bus operations of EnsignBus in 1990 in what would become Capital Citybus, which he owned until 1995.

It was widely expected that further acquisitions would follow. In fact his activities were part of a more general diplomatic initiative which ended as abruptly as it had started as the relations between China and UK improved in the period after the Tiananmen Square episode of 1989. Subsequently Hong Kong ceased to be a British colony. The details of this are much more about international economic and political history than transport. When I write my book I shall cover this in more detail.

Until then, suffice to say, that working for a rich Chinese philanthropist was an interesting experience - one shared by my close colleague and hero Lyndon Rees who will have his own chapter in my book - a man who arrived in Hong Kong to open platform double-deckers with two conductors and retired having brought tri-axle air-conditioned one-person buses to the colony.

Returning to TT, we made frequent visits to Hong Kong, some of which were simply to be displayed as the European trophies of growing Far Eastern economic growth. As is the way, sometimes we arrived and were kept waiting for days. On other occasions we were whisked off a long flight to be taken to a huge event and promptly despatched again. People in the circle changed rapidly. On one occasion we spent an entire day (a Saturday I might add) discussing business opportunities, only to be taken aside in the plush toilets of some Hong Kong skyscraper to be told the meeting was a sham and would be re-run tomorrow without one of the key people who had already been earmarked for dismissal.

There was little time for rest. A rare free Sunday afternoon was interrupted with the news that we were to "go walking" with TT. We ended up at a restaurant where the hapless occupants of a large table were ejected by the owners and replaced by us as the owner welcomed our illustrious leader.

Of course the conversation was largely in Cantonese and we strained to hear our names pronounced in English and hoped to catch the intonation around it to work out whether the reference was positive or otherwise.

And then in a flash time was up and they were gone.

TT was a great collector of ancient Chinese artefacts. I kid you not - the capital expenditure approval for what is now our Northumberland Park depot was being discussed at another huge meeting of mostly strange Chinese characters. Whilst the agenda item was being discussed, a youthful but scruffy lad entered the room clutching a tatty carrier bag. TT partially withdrew the contents - a vase of some kind by the looks of it. He beamed excitedly as this new artefact came into his possession. He promptly announced we were adjourning for a celebration lunch and when reminded of the business at hand, approved the purchase of Northumberland Park with a wave of his hand.

His rise in business was accompanied by critics and periodically questions of the origins of his wealth made the press - occasionally in the UK and sometimes referring to arms sales.

We saw nothing of this - we did see his extraordinary persuasive and inciteful personality, generosity, and political influence. We also saw a rather short attention span and rarely understood his longer term direction. We were part of something else.

There was much else going on - and sadly we neither understood the activities nor the language......

Here, outside his Mayfair flat, and after a couple of hours standing in the street with  a cardboard bus, I pose with T T Tsui for a publicity shot to promote our bid to run London bus route 29 using three-axle, air-conditioned Leyland Olympians sometime in 1991.


Sunday 18 April 2010

I know where I was 40 years ago

This is a bit addictive but you've been getting more updates than usual and if you have worked out from that, that my wife Alice's medical condition is improving a bit then you would be right.

And this is a bit sad since I know where I was 40 years ago today.

18th April 1970 was the conversion of route 81 (Hounslow - Slough) from RM crew operation to SM one man operation (I use the term employed at the time - no disrespect intended) and the withdrawal of the fairly recently introduced 81C which ran from Slough to Heathrow.

I was there! Actually the 81 was my central bus connection in my youth so I recall it from its RT days. Despite its tenuous links outside London it spawned variations to Fords Works at Langley (81A), London Airport (81B) and eventually the unusual 81C.

Unusual for a couple of reasons. The 81C replaced half the main service to Hounslow to provide a direct link into Heathrow Airport from the west. Until then most through services, including the Green Line 704 and 705, served only the northern perimeter forcing a change. So, a new central bus service from the west, indeed outside Greater London, was unusual and so was the method of operation.

Duties provided for crews to work from Hounslow to Slough as an 81, to Heathrow and back as an 81C, and then back to Hounslow again as an 81. Half a duty - done.

But Central Bus crews did not change routes during their shift, like their Country Bus cousins. Indeed changing route number blinds were just not in the Union agreement. A small handful of routes were exempted from this agreement, by dint of history, of which the most famous was the service from Barking to Beckton Gas Works as route 100 which was run off the back of journeys on route 15.

But the 81C was a new one and Hounslow was amongst the least co-operative of sheds. Nevertheless it was achieved and in this isolated outpost, Central Bus conductors changed the number and via blinds at the front, side and rear of RTs, and then RMs, between 81 and 81C.

I know it sounds funny now but it was HUGE in the 1960s!

But also very odd is that less than two years later it was withdrawn and the link to Heathrow from the west was lost.

Since then the 81 became famous for being the first London bus route to be operated by a private operator under tendering - Len Wright Travel who won it in the first round in 1985. I drove on it twice - once driving DMSs acquired from Ensignbus, and later some new Leyland Lynx vehicles obtained to deliver improved standards.

I saw Len Wright himself only last week. He no longer is involved in the UK bus industry but he was something of a pioneer and I must write some more about him another time. In a funny twist of fate, he started London's first tendered bus operation - London Bus Lines - in 1985, and I shut it down again (in 2004) by which time it was part of CentreWest London Buses.

We had a celebration dinner with Len as guest of honour.

Nowadays Heathrow Airport is a huge centre of employent as well as passenger traffic. A high proportion of passengers even change modes at Heathrow Airport without every stepping on a plane. Our own services from the west, skilfully marketed by Matthew Wooll and his team in First in Berkshire, have grown this market to support a frequent service operated, thanks to BAA, by very modern Mercedes Benz Citaros.

As a young chap, something I couldn't have forseen, standing there exactly forty years ago!

RM1108 standing at Slough Station - a road now one way in the opposite direction so don't try it! The via blinds were rarely changed but mostly they kept the 81C panels which were at least correct even if brief. Here we have the panel for the 81 which is just plain wrong!


Saturday 17 April 2010

The Bristolian

Well there were a lot of familiar transport-industry faces in and around Bristol today as Castle class locomotive 5043 hauled two special trains.

As 1Z22 she worked 1133 Paddington to Bristol Temple Meads via Bath Spa arriving at 1357 and as 1Z24 later at 1702 back to Paddington via Bristol Parkway.

Two of these 4-6-0 locomotives are certified for main-line railway use and they were of course associated with GWR for their lives, one forming the last 'proper' steam train departure from Paddington in 1965.

A super day for it and as ever the sight of steam on the main lines of the UK bringing out many smiles. Long may it continue to be possible!

5043 seen here approaching Bristol Parkway station - a place, of course, never served by GWR steam, it having opened some 7 years after they were finally withdrawn.


Friday 16 April 2010

And another shaggy dog story

Greyhound is comning to Bournemouth starting 1st May.

This week we launched it in Bournemouth's Town Square and Managing Director Alex Warner was there with a real greyhound to do so.

This latest expansion introduces another destination to the portfolio of Greyhound destinations as well as the new links to the Isle of Wight mentioned earler this week.

Of course all our plans for all of our people went awry this week as volcanic ash shut down air travel across the UK. We all ended up with changed plans although perhaps none as much as the Aberdeen team who were in Bournemouth!

I was OK - I was in Lancashire and had good train alternatives!

It's an ill wind.......

As I write we are deploying coaches to airports in Scotland ready for the first long haul flights which are expected.

As always business is about being ready for the unexpected. Contingency planning and business opportunities. In his book about South West Airlines, the US low-cost carrier, former CEO Herb Kelleher talks about how when you are dealing with the random nature of people moving, being light on your feet and being ready to move is critical.

In the earliest days of my own Capital Citybus business being owned by the management team we knew our earliest months would be tough. In the event within a few weeks of buying it, a major incident in the London Docklands prompted us to despatch, without being requested, some buses to replace the DLR. Not only were they needed, the numbers were officially increased several times over and the requirement persisted for many days.

A most welcome boost to our income at a critical time!

Thanks for all the comments about the new Greyhound connections to the Isle of Wight which start on 1st May and can be accessed by clicking on the "add extras and checkout" icon when booking to Portsmouth afterthat date.


Wednesday 14 April 2010

Greyhound from the Isle of Wight

About 12 years ago I did a wonderful assignment with First working with Hovertravel on the Isle of Wight planning a hovercraft service from a park and ride site on the River Thames to the Millenium Dome. We overcame most of the practical issues (there is even a slope up alongside the Dome) but were worried about the risk of too few passengers. How right we were!

The partnership with Hovertravel however did lead to other exciting projects including studies for passenger and freight Hovercraft services in the USA (quite a few US airports are former military seaplane establishments so come with the necessary smooth interface between concrete and water). Nothing in my job description ever mentioned very fast runs along narrow stretches of water in a San Diego Police Launch!

However, closer to home we now have another partnership: Isle of Wight residents have been campaigning for better and more competitive links to London for some time.

So from May 1 Greyhound UK, Southern Vectis and Hovertravel will provide an ‘all in one’ ticket from anywhere on the island to London from just £8, plus 50p booking fee.

In order to quicken journey times Greyhound has designed its timetable alongside Hovertravel, already the fastest link between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, and where possible will provide seamless connections in both directions. In addition, Greyhound is to start and end its Portsmouth – London services directly outside Hovertravel’s Southsea terminal at Clarence Pier.

There are always new examples of integrated transport but hardly ever one involving Hovercraft so definately a First !!

Today, Barbara Ann, one of the Greyhound fleet, made a special appearance on the island to help promote the new service. Barbara Ann and one of Southern Vectis’ buses flanked a hovercraft on Hovertravel’s pad at Ryde.


Sunday 11 April 2010

Where were all the best dressed people today?

Probably at the last Cobham Open Day in its current format which started 37 years ago.

I remember the first ones, informal affairs at the Museum where people and buses were plucked out of nowhere to run to and from Weybridge Station. Over the years the event has grown to several thousand people and is now occupying nearby Wisley Airfield as well as the Museum site itself.

It's a big friendly event where people from the industry in its widest sense come together for, probably, the first opportunity of the year. It is easy not to see everything as the chance to catch up with old friends and browse at the sales stands can soon mean it is already time to head home.

As for the Museum itself there was a time when, perhaps, the Open Day was tolerated by the regulars, rather than welcomed. Then it gained in popularity and became an annual good reason to tidy up, paint the fence, and get organised. I was close to the event for a few years in the late 1970s, working through Saturday and overnight. One year it rained to hard we were still bailing out in the early hours of Sunday. Nevertheless most years it earned a reasonable amount of money and somehow each year the free bus service gained in popularity until the offer of vehicles and crews from third parties was critical.

Since then there have become the need to observe more stringent regulations, licence the bus services to full PSV standards, and provide attractions and facilities for the wider audience.

This year a great event with good weather and many interesting vehicles. It is slightly tinged with sadness as it probably marks the last ever using the old Museum building and site at Redhill Road which was bought, freehold, thanks to the generosity of the Allmey family and others who were founders of the London bus preservation movenent. The building is, it is understood, time expired. And of course, after nearly 40 years, there are many more exhibits needing space. So the current management team has put in place a deal which sells the site and creates enough cash to invest in a new purpose-built facility at the nearby Brooklands site already the home to interesting motor vehicles and aircraft.

A far cry from the primitive conditions at the Redhill Road site, which itself has historic connections from the Barnes Wallis research of World War II. Moving from there was probably the last thing in the minds of the first generation preservationists. But then again many of the vehicles now preserved have been there very many more years than they were ever in service. Their designers didn't envisage such longevity either!

Amongst the best dressed people - Peter Hendy, Ray Stenning, Noel Millier, Alan Millar, Mike Dryhurst all celebrating being another year older!


Thursday 8 April 2010

A quick one

Alice and I are overwhelmed with the contributions to the Justgiving website for the Bristol 10K run. Nicola Shaw and several of my colleagues are running in aid of the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research charity on 9th May.

We aimed for £5,000, so far we have £13,120 and donations are there from our friends, colleagues and people in the industry.

See for yourself:


Thank you.

A medical bulletin: Alice has had her bone marrow transplant and so far is free from rejection, infection and is well enough to be released from isolation at the Bristol Royal Infirmary. So far so good and we all hope that this continues.

You have all been so kind and generous so use this blog to send our appreciation out to you all.


Sunday 4 April 2010


Now you know I like technology when it helps us make improvements so I am really pleased to see NextBuses as an application for the iPhone.

Powered by Traveline, NextBuses knows where you are, zooms into that location and then gives you the nearest bus stops. Click onto any of them and there are the next departures for all of the routes which serve it. Information is scheduled time or real time where available.

We already have it for air travel and for rail so it is really good now to have it for bus as well. People often say what we need is good information about buses, where they go, and at what time. Now here it is in the palm of your hand.

It's 59p at the Apple iTunes Store.

If you want to see other good applications from Malcolm Barclay check in at his website which is http://mbarclay.net/.