Saturday, July 31, 2010

Another new mode of public transport

After my riverboat experience on Monday evening, today I went for a practice spin on a couple of Boris Bikes.

I have paid for annual access and, even though there were no usage fees today, I didn't keep either of my bikes for 30 minutes (which is when usage charges will usually kick in).

I picked up my first bike at the Harewood Avenue docking station outside Marylebone station. There were three members of staff on hand and they made a particular point of telling me that there were no usage fees today.

My first trip was up Harewood Avenue, down Lisson Grove, across the Marylebone Road, along through Marylebone and East into Fitzrovia. After entering a wormhole of infinite circling one-way streets I eventually docked the bike at Foley Street before walking down into Soho.

Result? I am still not entirely sure that I have a sensible route planned all the way to work.

Coming back was much better - I picked up my second bike in Soho Square, walked it up to Rathbone Place and then cycled all the way back to Harewood Avenue in 15 minutes, including a slight wrong turn down some narrow streets (I was trying to avoid main roads).

One family exclaimed "Wow! Look!" as I passed them on the inward journey, while someone else commented "Cool Motor!" to me as I passed. All a bit strange really.

Now I will be the first to admit that I am slightly overweight. Nick Ferrari might call me fat. The Boris Bikes are not lightweight racing machines - they are designed to be functional, hard wearing and vandal-proof. This means that they take a bit of effort to use and they will definitely be useful as part of a calorie controlled diet.

I am thinking that my colleagues might not appreciate me using the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme to get to work each day, if you get my drift.

The tfl website has a brilliant map showing all the docking stations. It includes live details of how many bikes are available at each docking station and how many empty spaces are available.

Generally most working docking stations seem to have bikes and spaces available. The exception is that at present the docking station in Soho shows that there are 37 cycles available and no spaces. It might be interesting to see how that changes as time goes by. Managing flows and demand will probably be one of the biggest challenges facing the operators of the scheme.

Boris Bike - My Experience

My first mention of the Boris Bike (sorry.... "Barclays Cycle Hire") was supposed to have been one about ease of use, good bike availability, working docking stations, wind blowing through my hair, fresh air and relaxation.

I was to be an early adopter. My electronic bike key arrived last Tuesday, I was away for 24 hours and then activated the key on-line.

Yesterday was Day 1 though, for various reasons I didn't use a bike. The plan was (and still is) that I am going to go into London today and will have a practice ride or two around central London. I am particularly encouraged by the email that I have received from the Scheme this morning that (a) describes me as a "Barclays Cycle Hire Pioneer" and (b) includes the sentence "As a way of saying thank you for your support we have agreed that no usage charges will be incurred by users today."

Now my real question is 'Can I trust them when they say I won't be charged usage fees today?'. The reason why I say this is that I have just come off the telephone from the Help Line having noticed that I have already been charged twice for my annual access charge to the scheme. If they can mess up with a once a year fee, what chance do they have of getting a Do Not Charge day to work?

So to sum up: I haven't yet used a bike, but if I use one today I can have it for longer than half an hour without paying a usage fee. I've paid forty eight quid twice and am now trying to persuade the Cycle Hire people that I am not fibbing, so that they will give me the money back.

As a public service, I also detail below the top tips for use of the scheme as emailed to me today:
  • When you undock your bike,don’t forget to remove your key from the key slot before you set off.
  • When you return your bike, wait until the light turns green to ensure you have successfully docked your cycle and completed your journey – remember – make sure you get a ‘green light and click at the end of every trip!’
  • If you have yet to activate your key, do remember to go online and click on “sign in” to activate it – otherwise you won’t be able to hire a cycle.
  • Look after the scheme – it belongs to London and Londoners. If you see someone vandalising the bikes or docking stations please report it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A fresh mode of transport

I regularly have to travel out to Canary Wharf, the large office development that has been built over the last quarter of a century in East London on the Isle of Dogs.

Usually I manage to escape before the evening rush hour. Tonight I didn't.

At about 18:10 I got down to the Jubilee Line platforms to head back over to central London. It was horrendous. So far as I could tell, there was nothing wrong with the train service, the problem was that there were simply so many people trying to get on the trains.

After a few minutes I decided that getting on one of those trains was, on that occasion, not for me. I returned to street level and pondered what to do next.

Then I had a brainwave - it was a nice pleasant Summer evening, so what could be better than a trip on the river? It took me a while to find Canary Wharf Pier, but eventually I found myself a Riverboat and had a very pleasant half hour trip up to Embankment, from where I caught the Bakerloo Line up to Marylebone and then a proper train home.

Much nice, most civilised and just £3.55 with a Travelcard.

Door to door the journey took a bit longer than just catching the Jubilee Line, but I could shave some time off the journey because (a) I now know where the pier is and (b) If I were to make the trip regularly I would plan the start of the journey to fit in with the riverboat timetable.

So a new way home, for use in emergencies. Plus we saw Tower bridge in the Up position, something that I don't recall having seen before.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Yesterday I caught the first train of the day to Birmingham Snow Hill.

The train ran to time most of the way. It then left Birmingham Moor Street two minutes early, arriving at Snow Hill seven minutes ahead of the public timetable.

That's good, though I would have preferred a lie in! With that sort of timekeeping, I could have caught a later train.

The trip back to rural Buckinghamshire was hassle free.

Coming back, a huge number of people boarded the train at Bicester North. Most had obviously been to Bicester Village, for their dose of designer retail therapy.

Chiltern Railways must be raking in the dosh on the route between London Marylebone and Bicester North.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Well done Chiltern!

Following a fairly major signal failure in the Beaconsfield area this evening, Chiltern Railways seem to have done a pretty good job at recovering the train service.

There have been some fairly lengthy delays and a small number of relatively short distance services cancelled, but they do now seem to be running most services now, to time.

Not as bad as I (and perhaps many others) feared!

Traveling from Marylebone tonight?

If you are planning to travel home from Marylebone this evening, 19th July 2010, I'd either head over sharpish or simply be prepared for a long trip home.

This is a snapshot of the Live Arrivals Board as of a few minutes ago.

Logic says that pretty soon, Chiltern Railways are going to run out of trains at Marylebone.

Click for live arrivals and departures or here for the Chiltern Railways page.

Oh dear!

A close shave

After my quiet commute in to town today, I later had to travel out to Canary Wharf.

I wandered down to the Bakerloo Line, down to Waterloo and then caught the Jubilee Line out to Docklands.

Coming back, I noticed that the electronic boards at the entrance to the station said that there were severe delays to the Jubilee Line. I whipped out my phone and the Live Departure Board confirmed that this was indeed the case.

I then trogged over to the Docklands Light Railway, caught a train to Bank, the Central Line to Oxford Circus and the Bakerloo Line up to Marylebone. I then had to walk half way to Hampstead (well Platform 4 at Marylebone anyway) to catch my Chiltern Railways train home.

I was dripping (ugh).

I've just noticed that the Jubilee Line is now part suspended with severe delays on the DLR.

Could be a fun journey home for many.

If you are reading this on a normal web page, the Live Service Updates should show to the right.

All quiet on the western front

My journey to work this morning is very quiet. Two reasons. (i) There is hardly anyone on the train - The effect of school holidays, maybe? and (ii) the engines under the carriage of my train are not working, so we are zipping along with only the sound of the air conditioning. It's really quite relaxing on Chiltern Railways just now.

The M25 was exceedingly quiet when we passed over it just now.

Other than an over-run of engineering work on the Victoria Line, all currently appears good on the London Underground.

It all seems to be too good to be true!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Not the best of weeks

Sometimes, despite the best efforts of those involved, things don't go to plan. My experiences with Chiltern Railways over the last couple of days lead me to believe that the management of my local railway company probably want to stop banging their heads against the proverbial Brick Wall...

Wednesday 14th July 2010

The 0629 train from Aylesbury to London usually consists of a four coach 'Clubman', with an empty two coach 165 class unit tacked onto the back. The train usually arrives at High Wycombe where the rear train is de-coupled. The front four coaches then head off for Marylebone at 0702 with the two coach train then forming the 0708 train, calling en-route just at Seer Green & Jordans and Gerrards Cross.

Yesterday the train was 20 minutes late leaving Aylesbury. The departure boards indicated that it was to terminate early at High Wycombe. When the train came round the corner there was clearly something wrong as the front four coaches were missing and the train was made up of just the two rear coaches.

At High Wycombe no announcements were made. Half the passengers got off and the platform was deserted. The platform indicator did however suggest that the train was to be the 0708, due to leave at about 0720.

While we were sat at the red signal a fast train ran through on the 'Down' line, overtaking us. When we got a green signal we then set off, again without so much as a squeak from the driver. The train was almost empty.

Ten minutes later we pulled into Seer Green & Jordans, a very small station in the middle of nowhere. The train almost filled up with all the passengers that got on. Highly unusual.

At Gerrards Cross a shoe horn would have failed to get all the passengers on board.

We eventually got into Marylebone at 0802 - on the approach the driver made the sole announcement of the journey to apologise for the late arrival.

Problem: A cancelled train will inevtably lead to overcrowding. However communication with passengers (and possibly to the driver) was terrible. Must try harder.

Thursday 15th July 2010

The 0733 Wrexham & Shropshire service from Marylebone broke down this morning and the passengers were turfed off at Wembley Stadium.

The 0736 Chiltern Railways from Marylebone was terminated early (I don't know why) at Princes Risborough. This train usually goes another two stations up the line to Bicester North where passengers have 4 - 7 minutes to cross the footbridge to connect with a fast running Birmingham train that zooms up behind it.

The 0750 Chiltern Railways (aforementioned fast running Birmingham train) today picked up the W&S passengers at Wembley Stadium and then ran non-stop but slowly to Bicester North.

Anyone who wanted to have connected at Bicester today would have struggled because the 0839 arrival didn't get there. If you are still with me, that train had stopped several miles south at Princes Risborough, with no imminent connection to the Birmingham services from there.

I was meeting a colleague on the fast service at Bicester North. Fortunately I had caught the preceding Birmingham service, so 'only' had to wait on the platform for 50 minutes for the fast train which was by then running almost half an hour late. We eventually arrived into Birmingham 24 minutes late.

Problems: Passengers from stations outside London who caught the 0736 departure today, and who wanted to connect to the Birmingham service at Bicester couldn't. This was because they were stranded at Princes Risborough. Also not a single announcement was made at Bicester North about the late running of the Birmingham service. Not good.

This Evening

A tree came down on the Metropolitan Line this evening, somewhere near Harrow on the Hill. This meant that all Aylesbury trains had to go via High Wycombe. One such diverted train (possibly the first?) did stop at Wembley Stadium. The train was then to run fast to Aylesbury on the Highy Wycombe line, but the passengers managed to persuade the driver to stop at Beaconsfield (the nearest alternative station to Amersham). A lot of passengers struggled to get home.

The 1812 service to Aylesbury from Marylebone managed to depart before the 1809 departure. The trains have different destinations and stopping patterns. At High Wycombe trains were randoly appearing and disappearing from the departure boards. No non-automated abnnouncements were made and neither staff or train drivers had a clue what was going on.

Things can and do go wrong, but someone at Chiltern needs perhaps to think about passenger experiences at a micro-level. Communications need to improve.

For much of the evening trains were backing up from Princes Risborough, presumably due to the number of trains fighting to get up the single track line from there to Aylesbury.

OK: I've got that off my chest. Boing... Off to bed. Oh and the bacon baguette sandwiches sold at the cafe at Bicester North are superb.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Geeking about Television

If I go to the cinema, I generally like to wait until the end of the production credits before I leave. Sometimes I'm worried that I may miss a bit of extra action, often it's because I am looking for the name of someone I know.

It's the same for television programmes that I watch- very often I have met or know people involved in the production of them.

I have just watched a documentary on Channel 4 about Bruce Forsyth called "Living with Brucie". The nature of such programmes is that they tend to include archive footage - that footage is usually subject to copyright. This means that as well as paying the holder of the copyright for the right to use the material, there is usually an acknowledgment in the credits at the end of the programme.

The programme that I have just watched was produced by RDF Television, part of the RDF Media Group. In the acknowledgments the name of one of the copyright holders of some archive footage was spelt incorrectly. That is just sloppy and careless.

I think I need to get a life!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't wind up the ticket inspectors

Last night the Chiltern Railways' ticket inspectors were out in force at High Wycombe. Tonight was the turn of the the good folk of Beaconsfield.

One guy had traveled with a 'Permit to Travel, that he had paid 5 pence for. The 'Revenue Protection Officers' were not happy. I make no observation as to the right or wrong of the situation, however.....

The passenger did have a bit of an attitude.

Observation No 1: It is rarely sensible to accuse a Chiltern Railways ticket inspector of being rude. They aren't.

Observation No 2: If you do want to try to talk aforesaid ticket inspector out of a £20 Penalty Fare, it is probably best not to refer to him and his colleague as 'Tweedle-Dum' and 'Tweedle-Dee'.

Monday, July 12, 2010

What a waste of time

I regularly have to travel over to Canary Wharf for meetings.

Today's meeting lasted 25 minutes.

I traveled for two hours to get there and it took me two and a half hours to get home.

The Jubilee Line was suspended on the way, which meant that I diverted from Baker Street along the Hammersmith & City Line to Moorgate, then took the Northern Line one stop to Bank and then the DLR out to the East End.

Coming back, I did catch the Jubilee Line, but the gaps in service were such that I missed my train.

I know that dialing in or video conferencing ought to be the name of the game (the meeting room is set up for that), but it isn't, and my boss is rather self centred.

Bottom line - I do as I'm told!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Steaming through the Chilterns

This picture is GWR King Class 4-6-0 no 6024 King Edward I trundling up through the North Western edge of the Chiltern Hills at about a quarter past nine this morning.

The train was due to have a busy day traveling out from Paddington to Worcester and then back to Paddington later, via Reading.

Quite a few people turned out to see the train which is what I would call a 'Proper' steam train.

Interestingly, while cropping the picture just now, I saw another steam train trundling up the valley with just a couple of carriages behind it. Not sure what it was or where it is going to, as I cannot find the movement detailed on any of the usual websites that show such things.

This morning's train was a few minutes late, so held up a Wrexham & Shropshire service along with a couple of Chiltern Railways' trains.

Edit: Thanks to the tip from Anonymous, I've tracked down this video of the Scots Guardsman traveling through Lancaster, on its way to Carnforth.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Confession Time - and a Thank You!

Over the last few days I have been finding it difficult to become motivated to blog. It shouldn't be because I don't have the time (I spend three hours a day comuting and can post from my phone). I have even thought about stopping my blog, but the fact is, I quite enjoy it.

I think the problem is to do with work - too much of it.

I need to snap out of my malaise and find some backbone.

Some bloggers are clearly highly motivated. One such person is Diamond Geezer who (a) posts every day with well written and researched posts and (b) clearly has a large and loyal following.

DG has appeared in my blogroll for a little while now. Every year he (?) publishes a survey of blogroll links that link to Diamond Geezer. The survey was published today and my stats have gone through the roof. It shows you (a) the power of recommendation and (b) that I must try harder to drive my own readership. So that is what I shall attempt to do.

Thank you DG for a well deserved kick up the bottom and do, please, keep up the good work.

Note to self: Must try harder.