diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rail Replacement Safari - epilogue
(and then I'll shut up, honest)

After posting about my weekend adventures I've received an email from somebody very high up in one of the companies that run rail replacement buses. One of the people contracted by London Underground to do the Hammersmith run, or the Barking run or whatever, and whose buses we ride around town in lieu of trains. Blimey. "Interesting read this morning about your experiences over the weekend," he begins. "I could perhaps pick up on a couple of points;"
"Destination Boards: For long running jobs such as the Jubilee line we try to fit buses with destination blinds. Unfortunately with the numerous variations the railway require, its pretty difficult to second guess potential displays when ordering blinds. Nonetheless we do have most Northern, Jubilee & Metropolitan line displays, plus the Hammersmith – Paddington Blinds. For a large operator like Metroline or First to do this, it would invariably lead to the potential loss of display space for their own routes."
So there you go. If the replacement bus's blind doesn't already include "Canning Town" then, sorry, "Canning Town" can't be displayed. Which brings me onto the so-called solution, my bête noire...
"So the window cards – there is currently a review underway to look at alternative ways of displaying this information. I agree in part with your point about the route lettering. Although it might seem a bit academic, but it does help drivers with route directions as this information is then repeated along the route in various places. The window cards are designed for special holders. Unfortunately to do this effectively every bus in London (around 7,000) would need to be fitted so as to eliminate the problem. Sadly supplies have now run out and the ones we have are slowly detaching themselves from the screen. With the limitations of supply on the window holders, this might well be the time to consider the actual shape and design to eliminate the hidden text as you describe."
Those window cards were being flagrantly abused by many of the drivers I saw over the weekend, from all companies. Some shoved them on the left, some on the right, some straight, some at an angle. One attached it to his fare stage box, one unintentionally hid it behind a map, another had thrown what looked like a used tissue in front of it down the gap behind the windscreen. Several drivers didn't seem to have checked it was legible, others weren't displaying it at all. After dark it didn't matter where the card was, the destination was unclear. My photo shows a typical example from Sunday afternoon, taken outside Mile End station. The card is so badly designed that the final destination has disappeared out of sight off the bottom of the list. That's one stop short of Barking. These cards are surely no longer fit for purpose.
"Routeing: a major issue. LUL require buses to serve designated stops, in part due to safety or disability reasons, but mostly because passengers might not be able to find their way between the station and the stop. In addition passengers travelling to an intermediate stop might not recognise the locality and thereby miss their stop."
It seems that rail replacement bus routes are a case of contractual 'join the dots', requested from on high, and if that means taking a convoluted twisty route from one station to the next then so be it.

Elsewhere on the net, inspired by my lunatic safari, a post has appeared from mysterious insider 'Another London Blog'. Here he/she details the reasons we need these rail replacement buses in the first place, and explains why the public doesn't like any of the possible options.
"Every weekend for months, and in some cases years, part of the line is closed. With the line closed for 50 hours, the engineers and labourers move in. Two hours are wasted setting everything up at the beginning. Two hours are wasted dismantling everything at the end. For working overnight, some of them are paid extra. For working at the weekend, some of them are paid extra. For working overnight at the weekend, some of them are paid extra. Although some ordering in bulk is possible, it’s not possible to buy everything the work will require over the whole year because warehouse space for that much stuff for that length of time is just too expensive. Economies of scale are lost. With the line closed for 50 hours, people who have been working all week now can’t leave the house to go and play. Gigs are missed. Pub gatherings are postponed to a weekend when the Tube’s working. Those who do venture out end up spending ages trying to work out which bus to get, and even longer on the damned thing. Businesses along the line are hard hit on every weekend of the year."
Sounds familiar. Those of you who are members of the London Underground Railway Society might be interested in their next meeting but one, which will be on this very subject. Bus Replacement Services: Theory and Practice is the title, and it takes place on 8th March. The talk will be led by Dean Sullivan of Sullivan Buses (I rode a few of his at the weekend) and Phil Thornton of London Buses. How are routes determined? Who provides the buses? What does it all cost? Messrs Sullivan and Thornton will explain all (members only, but send a cheque or postal order and you too can be). And the good news - that's a Tuesday, so you won't have to arrive by rail replacement bus.

» My entire rail replacement safari on one page (for sadists)

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