Thursday, 28 October 2010

Early observations of Route 26

First Hants & Dorset's route 26 has just been upgraded and lengthened. It is now operated by Optare Solos, recently acquired from Devon & Cornwall, a fellow First South Coast company, and has been extended to Hamble replacing the previous 16A extension from Hamble and Southampton.

Route 26 was cut to Hedge End by First back in Autumn 2005, with the introduction of BlueStar 3. The previous 26 route ran in conjunction with Solent Blue Line's 27, operated between First Hants & Dorset and Solent Blue Line from Southampton, Bitterne, Thornhill, Hedge End, Botley, Park Gate and Fareham. BlueStar Trident 743 (T743JPO) is pictured in Fareham bus station back in February 2004. BlueStar no longer operate this far east - terminating at Swanmore and Botley. [There are still some old Solent Blue Line stickers up along the 26 route, though!]. The 26 and 27 from Southampton to Hedge End were combined into the 3, with First keeping the old tendered end of the route from Fareham to Botley and Hedge End as the 26, at a lower frequency. The 3 has since been extended to Botley.

The new route 26 operates the old Fareham-Highlands-Park Gate-Botley-Hedge End route, but now extends to Lowford, Netley and Hamble. This extension to route 26 is the third option from First in two and a half years in attempting to replace BlueStar's old Red Rocket A service to Hamble from Hedge End - with firstly route 15 and then 16A from Southampton now replaced.

My observations from today show that some passengers still use the service in the form of two services - both arrivals from Hamble and Fareham saw the bus nearly empty, and then refill with new passengers for the next leg. The majority of passengers were eligable for free bus passes also, suggesting one reason for why the frequency was reduced. Pictured to the top left is 53001 (V801KAF), and 53013 (W813PAF) bottom left, both pictured at Hedge End superstores where the service was previously split.

Monday, 25 October 2010

(Late!) Anniversary of the X42

First Hants & Dorset have been operating route X42 (Portsmouth Hard - South Downs College, via City Centre, M275, QA Hospital, Crookhorn and Waterlooville) for a year now, with the X42's birthday on 29th September. Naturally, I completely missed this date last month but a photo I took of an X42 today prompted my memory.

The cynical amongst us saw the X42 as a route introduced only to compete with Stagecoach's then recently introduced route 20, connecting Portsmouth Hard with the QA Hospital and Havant, using the M275. Also, in a time where cutting services is more popular than introducing them, some of us thought the X42 may go the way of the X41 or the X57 when introduced - originally high frequency services now cut back to peak journeys.

Instead, the X42 has gone from strength to strength. Apart from a few early morning Saturday journeys being withdrawn, the service has retained its half-hourly frequency and apparently seen steady ridership growth according to sources within First Hants and Dorset. An early morning X43 extension from Clanfield has even been introduced as the route developed to serve this new demand.

The X42 interworks with route 17 and 18 from The Hard, which means that the usual allocation are Scania Omicities based at Hoeford depot. The 17 and 18 also see Volvo B10BLEs and Dart SLFs - so you can find this type of bus on the X42 also. Before the introduction of the X42, Darts were very rare in Waterlooville and Crookhorn - the odd 40C or 138/145 into Waterlooville but that was it.

So here to to my photo taken today on the X42 - one of only two photos I took today as the sun got the better of me in both Havant and Portsmouth (It was a very frustrating day!). I hope the route continues to grow - more buses on the road operating on more routes are always welcome!

First image: 65011 (YN54NZG) pictured in Crookhorn. The X42 arrives in Waterlooville, does a loop of Crookhorn and South Downs College before returning to Crookhorn.
Second Image: Another Omnicity on the X42 - this time 65022 (YN54NZW) pictured in Waterlooville town centre. 65022 is instantly noticeable as the only Omnicity with a repainted front, having suffered front end damage in an RTA.
Third Image: I was very pleased to get this photo as former First Glasgow 40822 (R642DUS) has just been repainted. I've only got this photo of the X42 operated by a low floor Dart although it is fairly common.
Last Image: Another Scania Omicity - this time 65009 (YN54NZE) pictured today in Portsmouth along Queen St, having just left Portsmouth Hard. As the X42 interworks with the 17 and 18, each working is operated by a different bus, meaning each half hour arrival will throw up something new!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Portchester Flea Market

In Portchester today, was the Provincial Society's annual flea market in the Community Hall. It is located about a minutes walk from the town centre, and about five minutes from the rail station. There was a good number of stalls which were all very interesting, and although slightly quiet, a good number of people came and had a look around. If you were one, thank you for your support.

On a Saturday, Portchester only has 3 main bus services in the town. The 1A connects Fareham with Portsmouth and Southsea, and is the half-hourly extension of route 1 beyond Paulsgrove. The 5 connects Fareham also with Portsmouth and Southsea, but also serves Stamshaw, The Hard and Clarence Pier. These run at a 15 minute frequency between Paulsgrove/Cosham and Fareham. The 57 also operates on a Saturday at an hourly frequency, connecting the small village of Warsash on the river Hamble to Portsmouth City Centre, and is a relic of the old Southdown 347 route. Once upon a time it operated at every 15 minutes in the days of Red Admiral, but now it just sees hourly Darts. Portchester also sees 4 round trips of route 63 on a Saturday, connecting Fareham with Leigh Park and Havant. When the tender was proposed, I remember Stagecoach actually submitted the lowest tender, but First kept it as they operated the weekday service, and it was seen as preferable for the passenger for First to keep Saturdays. First operate route 52 (Fareham to Southdowns, 1 journey each way), route X57 (Portsmouth - Fareham via M275) at peak times and route 63 at an hourly frequency on weekdays.

With only 3 main routes operating, the bus variety was at best limited. The majority of the 1A/5 workings were Scania Omnicity single deckers - as illustrated to the right by 65015 (YN54NZM). A couple of B10BLEs were also out. Route 57 was mainly Dart SLFs - I observed 42124 and sister 42111 (R611YCR), pictured above. The one 63 journey I noticed was also a low floor Dart - 42123. Limited variety then!

As a younger, less mobile enthusiast, I frequently visted Portchester on a Saturday to visit the model shop, Wicor Models. Back then the variety was far increased:
* Route 25A operated hourly from Fareham to Cosham and Highbury
* Route 57 was every 30 minutes, and operated from Hilsea, using Ivecos such as 185 (M185XTR) as illustrated to the left
* Route 63 operated every hour, and extended to Whiteley meaning a higher PVR. How times change!

Here's to next year (assuming there will be a flea market next year) - thank you to the Provincial Society for organising it, all the stall holders for their efforts, and everyone who came in on the day.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Last of the Southern National Mercedes Minibuses

A little piece of history has occured this week that has largely gone unnoticed. The last Mercedes-Benz minibus new to Southern National in service with the Hants & Dorset part of the company has been withdrawn.

Mercedes-Benz 709D 51281 (M281UYD) was transferred up to Hilsea depot back in 2007 as a replacement for Iveco Turo-Daily minibuses. It out lived three younger Mercedes-Benz Varios (R501/2/5CPR) also transferred west. However, last week it was withdrawn following minibus shuffles with the introduction of Solo minibuses at Hoeford depot. She is seen here looking extremely smart Southsea, at South Parade Pier, having received a recent repaint when this photo was taken. She lasted on some mainstream routes to her end - this shot shows her on Overground route 6 in May this year. 51281 was the only 709D at Hilsea to have Alexander bodywork.

Minibus fans will be glad to hear Taunton and Bridgwater still operate a number acquired with the Southern National takeover by First. However, further Solo and Dart cascades along with service changes is seeing this number dwindle further. I'm not particularly nostaglic for the van-derived minibus, but it has played an important role in the history of privatisation and subsequent development of particularly urban bus networks. Certainly they add variety for the enthusiast when visiting towns where these are still in service, although the usually bumpy ride doesn't do too much for the passenger. Here is 51682 (P182LYB), seen in Taunton town centre.

Just to end, a quick summary of the remaining 709Ds in First H&D show...
* Hilsea - 7 still in service (50206, 50215, 51710, 51723, 51726, 51727, 51728)
* Hoeford - 4 still in service (51711, 51713, 51714, 51716)
* Portswood, Weymouth and Bridport - nil

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Visit to Romsey

Today, as I had a few hours free in the middle of the day, I visited the west Hampshire town of Romsey. Romsey is a very interesting town bus wise. Although service frequencies are low, there are many interesting routes and various companies operating these -BlueStar, Wilts & Dorset, Stagecoach Hampshire, and even First Hants & Dorset on an Asda contract.

The main operator in Romsey is Wilts & Dorset. Wilts & Dorset operate route 65 to Eastleigh, and routes 34 / 36 to Salisbury, along with many infrequent or selected day small town and village services (routes 30, 35 and 39). These services were often worked by Optare Solos in days gone by, but here former Southern Vectis Volvo Olympian 745 (M745HDL) operates route 30. Route 30 is a circular route serving Halterworth, operating for four journeys in weekday and Saturday mornings. 

Route 65 is an hourly weekday service to Eastleigh (on Saturdays, route 34 extends at Romsey, from Salisbury, to Eastleigh at a lower frequency). It is scheduled to be operated by low floor double deckers when they are available, but due to a variety of reasons, these have been limited recently. Therefore, Romsey resembled more a town on the Isle of Wight today! Another former Southern Vectis Volvo Olympian - this time 752 (R752GDL), about to depart for Eastleigh.

Stagecoach Hampshire operate town services 32 and 33 in Romsey, which were won on tender from Wilts & Dorset. They interwork with route 66 from Winchester, allowing a swap over of buses every 2 hours, as far as I am aware. Here is former Portsmouth & Hong Kong Dennis Dart SLF 33034 (P434AYJ) which was recently transferred to Winchester depot. Seen departing the bus station on route 33 for Woodley.
It isn't often Stagecoach Hampshire operate a low floor bus into Romsey these days, so I was presently surprised and happy to see Volvo B10M/Alexander 20313 (M313YSC) turn up on a 66 from Winchester. My latest records show 20313 as allocated to Andover, so I assume there has been a very recent transfer or the journeys that don't interwork with the 32/33 are worked from Andover.

My final bus company to illustrate is BlueStar. BlueStar operate route 4 into Romsey from Southampton City Centre every half hour, using Mercedes-Benz Citaros. As far as I am aware, the 4 interworks with route 12 to Calmore in Southampton, meaning 6 buses operate the 4/12 diagram. The Citaros used are from the '06' batch new to Solent Blue Line, which are presently receiving repaints into the new dark blue livery. Here is 445 (HX06EZE).

Note: Apologies for the lack of updates recently - I've been very busy with other business. From now on I'll try and post 3 or 4 updates a week (Sun, Tue, Thur, Fri or Sat if possible).

Friday, 8 October 2010

Devon & Cornwall Imports

I've finally managed to capture some of the former First Devon & Cornwall Optare Solos in service in Hampshire!
Here is 53006 (W806PAF) pictured in Gosport Bus Station on the 87A. These Solos often operate the 87/87A circuit (Fareham - West End - Rowner - Gosport - Rowner - Lee on Solent - Stubbington).

Another common route working for the Solos appears to be the Gosport circulars - route 29/30 connecting the town centre with Alverstoke and Haslar. These routes were previously operated by Mercedes-Benz 709Ds so it makes sense. Here is 53013 (W813PAF) pictured leaving Gosport bus station on the 29.

From the 24th October, these Solos will become the main type allocated of the extended route 26. Route 26 will extend from Hedge End superstores, to Hedge End village centre, Windhover Tesco, Lowford, Netley, Butlocks Heath and Hamble at a varied frequency of about every 2 hours. Route 26 will do a loop of Netley and Butlocks Heath before arriving in Hamble, and leave Hamble directly along Hamble Lane rather than do the loop again. Through tickets will be available. 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Truro Cuts

First Devon & Cornwall's cutting and consolidation of routes has extended to some more former Truronian services in Truro. After the withdrawal of route 7 in Plymouth was announced, with changes made to routes 84/86 to compensate for this, three further routes have been cut in Truro.

The routes being withdrawn by FDC, due to cuts in Cornwall County Council's funding, are the 93/94/95 Truro City Services. The 93 operates between Truro and Feock, formerly the T16 with Truronian, illustrated to the left. Solo YK05CDN is now 53826 following the First take over. The 94 is a bi-hourly service connecting Truro city centre and rail station with Carrine Rd, and the 95 is again a bi-hourly service connecting Truro city centre with Tregurra.

I am no expert on the workings of FDC, but I think the 3 services contribute to a one-bus working throughout the day. FDC obviously consider the costs to outweigh the benefits of running the service, following the withrawal of council funding. I am not one to criticise bus companies - they do a fantastic job in the economic climate and would extend their services if they made more money - but the withdrawal of the 93/94/95 seem to illustrate a case of "if you don't use it, you may lose it". It appears the services are to be picked up by another operator or a dial-a-bus system (For further information on replacement services please contact CCC), but is a shame that First are one further bus fewer and three further services fewer in Devon & Cornwall.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

When Not to take a Photo

As a bus enthusiast, everyone will have some sort of experience at some point which shakes the foundations of their photographing interest, either with the public or a bus driver/company employee. My only (touch wood) incident of such ferocity came in Barnstaple during the summer. While I was innocently taking a photo of former Truronian First Devon & Cornwall Dart MPD 48312 (T12TRU), I attracted the attention of some of Barnstaple's finest residence. I had been before, and had no incidents so I was rather surprised. A gang of about 4 or 5 people came over and threatened me (physically, as well as verbally) after I took the photo, as they mistakenly thought that I was taking photos of them/their children. I was very shaken and left Barnstaple instantly. I should have called the police really - it was very scary and having studied law, could be classed as low level assault.

This has caused me to think regarding the Health and Safety issues of our hobby. All responsible enthusiasts adhere to the common 'rules' such as...
* not photographing near schools.
* not photographing on private property.
* not photographing on areas of path/road considered unsafe.
* not using the flash in inappropriate circumstances.

Despite me showing the members of the public shots from Lyme Regis, they did not accept I was a bus photographer. I came up with further ideas/trends which may help the safety of enthusiasts...
* from common experience, I find the public highway safer than bus stations, in terms of attention from drivers and the public alike.
* use street furniture. Although not always easy, using benches, lamp-posts, signs or walking away quickly after you have taken a photo often avoids issues.
* photograph a stationary bus (out of service) without the driver around, or seek permission.
* carry either the law regarding photography in public places, or something to make it clear you are a bus enthusiast or that is all. I have said I'm an employee for the bus company and have been asked to go and take photos of the buses for forthcoming publications a couple of times- this obviously works best away from the bus station.
* or follow a structured verbal exchange - address their concerns and make it clear that you have listened, say that you are not doing anything illegal and that it perfectly acceptable and that they have misinterpreted your actions, and I suggest politely leaving their prescience and carrying on.
* offer to call the police for them, if necessary.

Everyone will have their own strategy with how they will deal with their own incident. I've found the worst incidents you simply cannot prepare for - especially with members of the public. I will end this blog entry by wishing every photographer safety when hobbying - which this activity simply is, after all.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Railway Gallery

Although I wouldn't class myself as a railway or train enthusiast, I love the railway. I have more of a nostaligic love for railways - the history of railway stations, the history of old and closed railway lines, different routes and different operators. I don't particularly know the classes of trains - a few mind, such as the Portsmouth-Cardiff 158s, for example - but I enjoy the variety, the noise and the atmosphere of railways. I also feel the train is the best way to see the countryside - anyone who has caught the Weymouth-Southampton line, or alongside the River Avon in the Avon Valley will see the appeal. This post documents some of my photos of buses alongside the railway...

First up, here is Stagecoach South 34528 (GX04EYA) in Chichester, heading over the rail crossing next to the station. The photo was taken from the rail station bridge.

Former First Hants & Dorset Dart MPD 43845 (SN55CXH), pictured turning into Brockenhurst rail station in the New Forest on a Sunday 56C, one of two special summer routes operated by FHD in the New Forest last summer.

There is something special about Swanage railway station - it really does feel as if you are stepping back in time when you visit the town. Here is former Wilts & Dorset 3157 (M645RCP) standing outside Swanage rail station, which of course is preserved. I'd love for the line to be connected to Wareham one day with the preserved locos - I wonder if it will ever happen.

Something a little bit different here - here is First Hants & Dorset 51723 (P723KCR) pictured having just passed under one of the former Meon Valley Line bridges in Funtley, just north of Fareham. The line from Fareham to Eastleigh, and previously Alton, had a tunnel between Fareham and the former junction at Knowle, which suffered from subsidence. Hence, a 2mile loop was constructed to bypass the tunnel, and the bridge is on of its remnants. If you Google Maps the route, looking at the satellite image, you can still see the old loop marked out by trees.

Finally for today, is Stagecoach Hampshire 16269 (P269VPN) arriving at Petersfield railway station on a 67 from Winchester. The 67 doesn't receive the ex-Coastliner Tridents, one of the Winchester country routes to retain Olympians, Darts and B10Ms. The fantastically preserved signal box at Petersfield can be seen on the right, and Petersfield station is on the left.