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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Into our second year together

Well since we are a year in we are getting into events which I also wrote about in 2009. Last night was one of them - the annual London Transport Museum fundraising dinner and auction at the Royal Opera House.

Again we were lucky to have Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, as guest speaker and once again he impressed the audience with his sparkling wit. He reminded us that with the final vestiges of the PPP laid to rest he had become the first Conservative politician in decades to renationalise part of the railway network and discussed his plans for a cable car across the Thames from the O2 site. He said he was sure it would be supported by Government having named it after the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills!

(I will let you work that out).

Again the charity auction raised tens of thousands of pounds for the Museum including the ever popular 'Peter Hendy will drive you somewhere in a bus' which reached £10,000 in the auction.

And lastly whilst writing this note I had been reading one of the leading trade magazines today and found the piece on Sir Moir Lockhead's retirement rather familiar. That was because it was quoting directly from this very blog! So we now know it is read by the editors of the press as well. The announcement of Sir Moir's retirement also gave this site its biggest ever number of 'hits' by internet users worldwide.

I know I have said it before but for all those of you who, like me, had been agonising about the jump from Windows PC to Mac, a quite update just to say I am three months in now and every bit of data is just where I put it, the machine starts first time every time, and I've never seen a blue screen or had a system freeze.

I am a convert and can thoroughly recommend it.


Saturday, 25 September 2010

On a train at Aldwych again

Did you know it is a year since I started this blog? Looking back over the stories we’ve covered lots of ground together – literally in terms of distance but also in time. Sometimes very up-to-the-minute stories – literally as the events unfolded – and also the occasional historical or anniversary one. 

So now we have our own anniversary – one year of blogs and some very nice comments from people on the way. Also a bit of debate, too, which is good. 

So then a dip into history in a way as this weekend - the Mayor of London whas been staging a unique event at Aldwych Underground station in partnership with the LT Museum and TfL. 

Aldwych station was last used by passengers in 1994. Having opened (as Strand) in 1907 it was never developed as planned and none of the proposed extensions south of the river, or interchange with other new lines east/west such as the Fleet Line were ever completed. 

It has been used for other purposes, including for filming but this year it has joined the 70 year Blitz commemoration. 

I joined the trip last night – one of the three days it is on. Back inside the ticket hall it was amazing to remember it was 16 years since it closed. As if we were shelterers we were briefed by an APR warden and led down the 160 stairs to platform level where the Museum’s preserved 1938 Tube stock train was parked in an otherwise dimly-lit platform. We moved in groups between cars each hosted by an actor/actress delivering some stories of the time in period costume. One car ran a continuous loop of aural history from a survivor of the time.

Once all this was done we were back on the platform to hear, see and feel the effects of the bombing before, inevitably, the all-clear siren sounded.

As did the Londoners of the time, we climbed back up those 160 steps to see what was outside. Of course we were reasonably certain of what it was going to be like, unlike the sheltering residents of the time.

There was an interesting retail opportunity as we left through a door outside which was parked RT8 in its wartime partial-blackout garb.

Needless to say this event was sold out within a very short time of tickets going on sale so it is hoped it can be repeated. Meantime the mainstream Blitz exhibition at the LT Museum continues with LT165 in residence as well.

In better days the front entrance to Aldwych Station which survives more or less intact, and a view inside the old ticket hall last night complete with period posters - a couple partially disguising the old home of the automatic ticket machines of the early 1990s.

For the full story of this interesting branch get a copy of The Aldwych Branch by Antony Badsey-Ellis and Mike Horne (Capital Transport).


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Sir Moir to retire

Today we have announced the retirement of our Chief Executive Sir Moir Lockhead. 

Moir has been the ‘father of the industry’ for some considerable time having led the organisation to be the largest international surface public transport operator in the world.

He left school at 15 to become an apprentice mechanic in Darlington. He spent a short time with Tamac before rejoining the bus industry, rising to become General Manager of Grampian Regional Transport in 1985.

In 1989 he led a management buy-out of the company and subsequently made further acquisitions. Ultimately, in 1995, it merged with Badgerline Group to become FirstBus – a name which would last only a couple of years but which has stuck in the minds of many. It became FirstGroup in 1997 and has stayed like that ever since.

Moir led us into many new markets – rail franchises, an Airport, business in the Far East, Europe and to a significant extent in the USA. As a result the organisation has revenues of over £6bn, with over 2.5bm passengers a year. As he retires he leaves us the largest bus operator in the UK, the largest rail operator in the UK, and the largest single operator of yellow school buses in America.

He has had without doubt a lasting influence on the business and the industry. It is amazing to consider the size of the organisation now from its origins and even since Moir acquired my own business in 1998 for the Group.

We both tell the same story to new people we meet – he asked me to stay six months and that was over twelve years ago! Throughout that time he remained totally in touch with everything that we were doing and it is true to say at the end of any time with Moir you always came away feeling strongly about some things which needed to be done – not because he wanted it, but because you did. A special talent that few people have of sowing a couple of seeds in your mind and leaving them to grow.

A new chapter for FirstGroup indeed, and knowing Moir’s boundless energy, the industry will still see plenty of him in the future. 


Saturday, 18 September 2010

By bus to Imber

Well I might be the first person to get their Imber story on the internet but given the familiar faces in Wiltshire today there will be plenty more very soon.

Imber is a Wiltshire village with a difference: at its height no more than 500 people worked the land and look their goods to the local market town. By 1931 only 152 people were resident in the village.

However in 1943 it was evacuated and commandeered by the Ministry of Defence. As with a number of sites on Salisbury Plain vast swathes of countryside were used for training, target practice etc.

Imber was never given back and remains closed – except for the occasional day when access to the metalled roads and village is allowed. On this day the church is open, people can visit the graves of relatives buried there, and when possible a church service is held.

Today is the only day this year when Imber was opened, so following a precedent sent in 2009, a one day bus service comprising red Routemaster buses was provided. It is only the second time since 1943 that Imber has had a bus service.

The service, pioneered by London's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy and registered by Martin Curtis at Bath Bus Company, ran from Warminster Station, across the wilderness to Imber, then on to Tilshead. For the first time the service was further extended to the Bustard Inn – a pub and a few mobile homes near Shrewton and accessed across the plains rather than the conventional way from the A360.

Several senior transport figures again joined in the day – driving, conducting and supervising – and everyone had an exceptionally good time.

I had the great fortune to drive the first journey beyond Tilshead to the Bustard Inn with RM613 and so popular was it as a destination that additional capacity was needed during the day.

We seem to miss the tanks and unexploded shells so I hope that means we might repeat the whole exercise again next year. Watch for dates as the opening of Imber is determined by the MoD and not always with much notice!

TOP  The absence of traffic allowed to us have an impromptu line-up across the road. A high-powered delegation including Peter Hendy attend to a small coolant problem on his RM1005.

BOTTOM Quite a lot of buses for a village that has no population!


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Birthday celebrations on the Epping-Ongar Railway

For the third decade in a row I have been spending this day in the year celebrating a major birthday of my great friend Nick Agnew who has spent, I think, his entire adult working life with TfL and its predecessors.

For his 40th we were on a barge, for his 50th we were somewhere in Essex, and today for his 60th we were (all fifty of us!) at a lunch which melted into a visit to the Epping-Ongar Railway at North Weald.

At EOR they are making progress into returning it to a fully operating railway for the first time since about 2004 (although it had ceased being part of the London Underground in 1994).
Guests included Lord Tunnicliffe and numerous former London Transport people and their wives/partners some of whom only see each other on occasions like this, especially those now retired.

Organisations need a clever mix of new talent and great experience and needless to say TfL is no exception. But also very obvious today was the huge wealth of talent and knowledge that grew up thanks to the comprehensive training and career development efforts of London Transport which took young people and gave them opportunities in bus, rail and overseas, in both engineering, operating and technical fields.

It is more difficult in these times for the larger transport organisations to maintain such programmes and I think we all aspire to do more and grow talent where we can.

Getting back to today RM613, which I think you probably know I co-own with Nick and two others, provided the transport between Epping Station, lunch and North Weald Station. It was on this occasion expertly driven by Roger Wright whose London Bus and Truck organisation did much of the restoration work a few years ago.

You have another chance to see RM613 and other Routemasters in action when the second annual pilgrimage to Imber takes place next Saturday. Imber is a Wiltshire village which was seized by the MoD during World War II and never given back. On Saturday 18th September it is being opened for one day only which will permit a service to take place at the Church. Various Routemasters will be running a bus service from Warminster for that day only. This is a chance to travel on some roads which are normally closed to all traffic, as well as 'see the sights' in this forgotten village.

Nick and Carole pose with RM613 at our lunch venue and later we are parked at North Weald Station.


Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Another anniversary

Over at the Omnibuses blog there is a good story today about critical dates for bus route changes. I was so focused on writing about the Blitz I nearly forgot another important anniversary - namely 42 years since the start of the Reshaping of London's Bus Services which commenced on 7th September 1968.

On that date the first single-manned flat fare routes in Wood Green and Walthamstow, the new Red Arrow network, and other major bus service changes were all introduced. This heralded a conversion programme every few weeks although nothing again ever as large as this one. Long overdue due to protracted negotiations with the Trade Union it was further postponed for a week to capture the new 25% bus grant being offered by Government to speed up one-man operation.

Some of us will remember where we were then and it heralded what was to become a growing problem for many years to follow. The buses were unreliable, the fare collection system frequently defective, and journey times protracted giving a less attractive service. The shorter routes should have helped reliability but the 'satellite' flat fare routes broke many traditional links and were not welcomed by passengers. Lastly the revenue from the flat fare routes was disappointing and added to the financial troubles.

In time the major changes were scaled back and in due course the "Reshaping Plan" gave way to the "one-man conversion plan" with simpler fare collection regimes and slightly better buses (but still as unreliable as ever). There are hardly any remnants of the major schemes - route 507 still exists more or less in its original form, as does the W3 from the Wood Green scheme. Parts of the Ealing network also remain, not least the E3 which was a simple conversion from the existing route 55 and so had rather less to cope with in terms of disruption.

The full story of this is contained in Capital Transport's excellent book "Reshaping London's Buses" by Barry Arnold and Mike Harris - now long out of print but often available at events*.  I hope neither Capital Transport nor Colin Brown the photographer mind me using his picture of MBA19 here at Victoria Bus Station from another of that publisher's tremendous library of books - this is from "London Buses in the 1960s" by the late Ken Glazier

Incidentally I use the phrase "one-manned" not out of chauvinism but as it was the phrase widely used at the time.

* I see three copies of this book listed by alone for sale, secondhand and in good condition.


Monday, 6 September 2010

The Blitz

It is exactly 70 years since the first bombs fell on London in the Blitz.

So tonight we were at the London Transport Museum for the Mayor Boris Johnson to formally open the new Blitz exhibition, along with the German Ambassador and the Mayor of Dresden.

The exhibition has been developed in partnership with Coventry Transport Museum and the Verkehrsmuseum Dresden. It also commemorates the 65th anniversary of the Dresden bombing.

It demonstrates the consequences of the continuous bombing of London and the efforts made by the population as a whole and London Transport staff in particular.

LT165 has displaced DMS1 from the Museum and now resides between RM1737 (in DMS1's place) and the TF Green Line coach in support of this excellent new exhibition which runs until March 2011. It is well worth a visit, especially if you haven't been to Covent Garden for a while.

LT165 on its outing to the Brighton rally earlier this year and the leaflet promoting the new exhibition. LT165 has gained some blinds for route 11 to sit alongside RM1737!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Crowd control

This week I've been at the UK School Games - an event bringing 1800 junior athletes to Gateshead for a four day event run on 'Olympic' lines with the competitors, trainers and marshalls all in an athletes village and events like swimming, volleyball and cycling taking place at various locations in the Newcastle area.

First is of course the exclusive transport provider for the UK School Games - but this year it has been a new experience as, after Bath and Cardiff, we are in the north east where we do not have a handy local subsidiary to help deliver the transport.

We are, therefore, working closely with our good friends Classic Coaches of Annfield Plain who have great experience of major events - indeed they have only recently finished the Tall Ships Race which required some 90 vehicles.

Sponsored by Sainsbury's, the UKSG brings teams and their support groups from all over the UK - by road, rail and air. All of them have to be brought to the athlete's village, transported to and from the opening ceremony in a short space of time and brought back again even quicker. After that there is just a constant stream of groups of varying sizes, with and without wheelchairs, with and without equipment, to and from locations in the area.

Not surprisingly then we have our clever co-ordinating staff working backstage and on site marshalling the groups and getting them underway.

A big job and again this year being delivered expertly - in something of a record all the athletes and their support groups were out of the Gateshead Stadium and on their way within 17 minutes of the end of the opening ceremony.

A much wider variety of vehicles this year - not only from Classic but also from Arriva, and a group of local independent operators who provided coaches and double-deckers.

We are used to rising to the logistical challenge of moving large groups of people and major events - whether planned or not! And as the sun sets in the north east over another successful UK School Games we start to prepare for next year - back on our own turf of Sheffield this time. 

Lined up and ready for the off a selection of buses and coaches from around the north east are ready to be called forward for the opening ceremony boarding. Somewhere in the middle of that group is Classic Coaches MD Ian Shipley rapidly ageing! And a glimpse of the athletes gathering in the pre-board area. If you look closely you will see me discussing the next move with First's Group Public Affairs and Communications Director Paul Moore.