Mishap on SWR replacement buses - too large for the road

maxbarnish

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3 Oct 2017
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SWR were running replacement buses yesterday - Exeter to Yeovil Junction a semi-fast and a stopper. This comment relates to the stopper. Reports came to me via the bus co-ordinator that there'd been damage to several buses during the day - and that unsuitable vehicles were supplied. I've Tweeted SWR to alert for future planning if it helps at all. The issue was the choice of bus. Usually minibuses or small single deck service buses are used for the stopper. But yesterday it was a 59 seater large coach.

The problem - well there are a lot of single track - not single carriageway, I mean one lane shared by both directions - lanes in the area between Cranbrook and Honiton. It's not easy to drive in a car... The driver on the bus I was one was doing it for first time - he asked me for some advice re the route, and I offered - but he also dropped us at a much more sensible place in the centre of Cranbrook not the remotely located station saving 20 minutes walk so all good. I basically said there's no chance he could get down the access road to Whimple station - will have to park at road end and walk down it to see if any customers - never going to get a full size bus back out of that side road, it's very tight in a mini bus.

Whimple to Feniton will be really hard in a coach, via Talaton is so winding, the alternative is maybe out via A30 and then in via Fenny Bridges, but still not easy. I wished him all the best as I departed. Hoping drivers will report back to management about this - pretty dangerous. Any other traffic will just have to get out of the way.

Never seen these large coaches on that route before only the semi-fast which just runs up the A30 from Exeter to Honiton.
 
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Belperpete

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A similar thing happened on the bus replacement service on the Cambrian recently. Although a small minibus had been specified for the "stopping" service to the halts due to the roads it would need to negotiate, a much larger vehicle was sent by the bus company.
 

Clip

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This will be all down to the company SWR hire to provide the buses. They really should know their routes and the size of buses that those routes can accomodate
 

Domeyhead

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Remember when Robin Gisby promised us that thanks to new signalling, and track capacity improvements rail replacement buses would be a thing of the past? How come we now have more of them than ever and the DfT and Network Rail are not being called to account?
 

Belperpete

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Remember when Robin Gisby promised us that thanks to new signalling, and track capacity improvements rail replacement buses would be a thing of the past? How come we now have more of them than ever and the DfT and Network Rail are not being called to account?
Because we need the rail replacement buses to implement the new signalling and capacity improvements? These things don't appear overnight, they take decades.
 

_toommm_

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Last time I was on a replacement bus from Millom to Whitehaven due to engineering works, they provided a full sized Volvo B10M in the middle of the day which was a bit of a challenge.

Great bit of heritage, but it was certainly not needed as I was the only passenger, and an Optare Solo or minibus would have sufficed for the tight roads and lacklustre passenger count.
 

tsr

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I very much doubt replacement buses will be a “thing of the past” for the foreseeable future of the railway as a whole - by which I mean decades and not months or years.

They are heard about more and more now because of the rise of “blockades” - major work programmes where a certain area is “blitzed” with full renewals of signals and track - and publicity about them. These blockades are very necessary to bring infrastructure and operating conditions up to scratch. They will continue to be needed for a very long time yet. Probably indefinitely.

Of course, different areas will be affected each time, but often on the same line of route - leading to accusations of disruption “every bank holiday on this route” or whatever. Yes, there may be disruption, but it isn’t like everything is always falling to bits in the same place. Not usually, anyway. And often one local area will actually be completely closed (and therefore only one set of shorter local journeys, which are most disproportionately affected by an extended journey time).

It has to be said that NR and the TOCs are actually becoming reasonably proficient in organising information and replacement transport for blockades, with the odd exception (Finsbury Park a few years ago springs to mind - something which put the boot up the proverbial of many involved in such works).

With these blockades come unfathomable hordes of buses, with fleets commandeered from all over the country. Inevitably this means the service by bus is actually more frequent than the train service, although usually longer and definitely more inconvenient by means of changing trains.

In my experience - of which I have a fair amount! - the major replacement bus issues come with the smaller planned works on individual Sundays or weekday evenings. This is because there are fewer political ramifications if they go wrong, so the “quality control” is generally more sketchy. Things get overlooked unless local teams are properly consulted; unless the routes are driven with each size of bus beforehand; and so on. The problem of oversized buses is not a new one and is probably repeated several times each weekend around the UK. Eventually the bus operators will start moaning about cosmetic damage and force the route to be changed, but this can mean considerable inconvenience - I know of bus stops changed to locations up to a mile and a half from stations specifically because of this. This is a particular issue in terms of getting information to passengers at the bus stops in the event of a delay, safeguarding their welfare and so on. An unsheltered A-road bus stop is a very grim place to wait on a winter’s night. Been there, done that!

It would be much better to just have such-and-such a size of buses all day, be that a small single-decker or a traditional minibus, but demand for smaller buses often means they will be booked up months in advance. The large companies, which can swallow demand, are often the massive city operations with full-size double and single deckers taken from a large pool. If a minibus can be sourced then it will usually be limited to running a shuttle between the main route and an inaccessible station, which tends not to be well-used, although convenient for one or two locals. So eventually you get back to just having buses on the indirect route.

Some replacement bus organisers are also under the impression that because of the relative capacity of trains, a large bus is the one which is most appropriate. The fact is that on rural routes in particular, Sunday buses to small stations are often not very well loaded and there is also no point in sending a bus which doesn’t serve any of the places it’s supposed to go. Better to have small vehicles which can go everywhere. Unfortunately, arranging small vehicles consistently, then making the case for the routes to be maintained to smaller stations, takes absolutely ages - it tends to come into focus each time a specific rail route is closed and someone directly complains the buses have gone wrong, which isn’t generally as often as people think.

It’s a massive challenge to get it right, serve all the smaller and more inaccessible stations and serve the larger ones with enough capacity (which I haven’t even touched on). If it goes well, there’s not a lot to be said, but if not, someone will be badly inconvenienced very quickly. Eventually a stable strategy for each route is worked out, but I think it will still be a while before we’re in that position across the whole country!
 

Domeyhead

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Because we need the rail replacement buses to implement the new signalling and capacity improvements? These things don't appear overnight, they take decades.
Yes, thanks, for that, duh. I would never have known. However what he "promised" was the funding to deploy signalling renewals in the upcoming Control Period (CP5), but it didn't materialise, because that is down to the Treasury and the DfT, and signalling ambitions ever since were cut back to make do and mend, and now we are into CP6 and it is still the same. Many closures and RR buses laid on only to maintain not to improve or expand overall capacity or reliability, and even looking at plans for CP7 where is the finance to make a sea change so we don't need endless RR buses forever more just to stay where we are?
 

Belperpete

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what he "promised" was the funding to deploy signalling renewals in the upcoming Control Period (CP5), but it didn't materialise
Even if the budget hadn't been cut-back, there was never a hope-in-hell that we would have eliminated replacement buses by now. It will take decades of significant investment, significantly more than just a couple of CPs worth. The proposed ERTMS programme starting in CP7 goes on until CP12 (the mid 2050s), and IMHO even that is hopelessly optimistic, even if the funding miraculously materialises.
 

PHILIPE

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There was an instance this morning affecting TFW passengers. This week the Milford Haven route from Clarbeston Rd is closed and people were left stranded at Clunderwen due to a larger bus than should have been was provided and unable to access the station.
As a side issue, Network Rail, on Friday, decided to close the route for 5 weeks for tree and vegetation clearance giving 3 days notice with the obvious confusion with travel arrangements until systems could be updated at such short notice. The Fishguard route had been closed for the reason but as the occupation finished early on Friday so it seems to have been an impromptu decision..
 

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