Tuesday, 24 January 2023


Focus Transport has now reached the 4 Million page view mark since the launch in 2011 with almost 5,000 postings. Looking back at the postings from 2011 it is amazing how transport technology has taken us to where we are now, where large fleets of electrically powered buses becoming the norm in the battle against emissions.

Although hydrogen powered buses were trialled in the UK some years ago, Hydrogen powered buses and trains are now a reality, with a fleet of Enviro400FCEV hydrogen-fuel cell double decker buses being manufactured in the UK for introduction into Liverpool in early 2023. 

Enviro400FCEV hydrogen-fuel cell bus destined for Liverpool

Hydrogen powered trains are being trialled in the UK and in Germany a fleet of Alstom Coradia iLint hydrogen powered trains are already in successful operation.

Coradia iLint operating in Germany

Following this success in Germany, the Coradia iLint will soon be up and running in Italy, see the press information here
Rail electrification has continued to be adopted on more UK routes, but it could be argued that much more should have been done, the Midland Mainline being one example. Plans to electrify have been delayed and eventually cut back.
Many UK trains are still powered by diesel and further electrification will make a significant impact on decarbonising the transport sector, helping us reach Net Zero.
During rail electrification schemes, skills and working practices are developed which could be re-used on follow on schemes. However, joined up thinking doesn’t exist, so we rarely have a follow on scheme and people with the skills are let go. When the next electrification scheme is given the go ahead the new contractors then have to start all over again, buying equipment and training operatives, adding significantly to overall costs.

In 2010 Hybrid powered buses entered fleets in decent numbers, they served various cities such as Newcastle and Manchester for some time, but now battery technology has moved on and pure electric vehicles have become popular and as mentioned above hydrogen power is being favoured as a realistic alternative.

Hybrids above and below. The ADL version above was very popular, serving a number of UK cities who benefited from lower pollution levels as a result

The Designline hybrids that operated in Gateshead & Newcastle proved to be unreliable
and were scrapped after their short working life of only five years.
See here

Clean air zones have come into being and many more are planned. The only thing is, buses and coaches are being charged heavily to enter the zones if they don’t reach Euro 6 standards, but in many cities cars of all ages and other light vehicles are allowed to enter and continue to create the traffic queues that cause the pollution and delay buses.

The car lobby are very strong and car drivers see it as their right to enter towns and cities regardless of congestion and wouldn’t dream of catching a bus. Likewise the councils are reluctant to give too many priorities to buses as this could be a vote looser.

Trams continue to find favour in the UK, with Edinburgh and West Midlands currently expanding their systems. Birmingham trams operate on battery power in the very centre of the city avoiding the use of overhead wires.

I’ve always been impressed by European tram systems in cities where original tram systems have been retained, expanded and updated

However, I’ve never been a true fan of modern UK tram systems, as the disruption created in order to lay the tracks in city centres is always a long and painful process. Already, many of the original UK 1990’s trams have already been scrapped after a comparatively short working life and rails have worn and need to be replaced, all adding to costs and inconvenience.
The second generation West Midlands CAF Urbos 3 trams suffered serious structural problems during 2022 and whole fleet had to be taken out of service until repair methods were established.

There is a move to introduce VLR systems into the UK, whereby the battery powered Very Light Rail vehicles operate without overhead cables and run on innovative track which is designed to require less extensive foundation works, making installation quicker and less expensive. Development is already underway in Coventry

Guided busways or simple 'bus only' lanes seem a much better bet, with much lower infrastructure costs. Battery powered buses on 'bus only' lanes would, in my opinion be a more sensible and cost effective alternative, but that’s my personal opinion!

I wish Edinburgh well for when their tram extension to Newhaven opens this year. Boy, has it been a long time coming, causing massive upheaval and congestion. Maybe 'bus only' lanes would have been sufficient at a fraction of the price, but who knows?

Edinburgh Trams travel along Princess Street in the city centre

When visiting Edinburgh w
e regularly stay in a hotel in Newhaven and always had the convenience of catching one of the excellent Lothian buses from just outside the hotel. The bus journey into Edinburgh city centre took just over 20 minutes. 

During the years that the tram works have been in place, the bus journey has sometimes taken up to an hour. When the trams do eventually run to and from Newhaven the tram journey time can’t be less than 20 minutes, so where is the gain?. Hopefully our bus route will eventually revert to some kind of normality, serving local areas that the tram can’t reach.

A Lumo train heading south through Alnmouth on the first day of service

Open access operators such as Lumo and Hull Trains are proving that this process works. When an open access operator comes on the scene overall passenger numbers grow significantly due to competition.

The latest service to be given clearance to operate is to be run by Grand Union Trains, between London, Bristol Parkway, Severn Tunnel Junction, Newport, Cardiff, Gowerton, Llanelli and Carmarthen

The services will be run by new hybrid trains, running on overhead power for most of their journey, with the final leg operated by diesel power. See here  

Another subject to mention is the strange issue of some rail operators insisting on compulsory reservations whilst at the same time having coaches that are marked as unreserved. A passenger can go to the station and buy a ticket from the booking office or ticket machine and catch one of these trains and find a vacant seat anywhere on the train. What use is this, passengers who book online are forced to reserve a seat and thereby being discouraged to use train travel.

GWR used to work in this way but now states that reservations are ‘advised’.

LNER and Avanti still insist on this useless rule. Time for change – please take note.

Another problem with the on line rail booking system is that passengers are not always given logical routing choices when faced with advance bookings. A good example is a journey from Oxenholme in Cumbria, on the Avanti West Coast services to Birmingham International. 
I booked a trip out and back to Birmingham International to visit Euro Bus Expo at The National Exhibition Centre in November.

My ‘compulsory reservation’ outbound ticket told me that I should catch an Avanti service to Crewe and then catch a local service to Stafford and finally on to a Cross Country service to Birmingham International.

When boarding the booked Avanti service at Oxenholme the train manager confirmed what I thought, that the stated journey plan was somewhat illogical and that I should travel one stop to Lancaster and then change to another Avanti service which started from Lancaster 15 minutes later. This train would then take me directly to Birmingham International with no hassle or worries about further changes, which it did.

I had been able to research trains and times, so was aware that the computer chosen route was illogical, but anyone who didn’t have this knowledge would just have gone along with the hassle of the stipulated journey,

Thankfully the transport preservation scene is still very active, with restorations hitting the road each year. Sadly a large number of old timers have disappeared and so have their vehicles.

The NEBPT 2022 Metro Centre Rally

Preservation of much more modern buses and trains now takes place, which is encouraging and brings younger people into preservation.

Fewer vehicles from the 40’s,50’s and 60’s are in attendance at rallies and I guess that the skills required to drive such vehicles are now in short supply.

As a trustee of the North East Bus Preservation Trust, I am proud of the fact that the NEBPT continues to increase the number of active preserved vehicles in the fleet. During 2022 the launch of KBB 118D took place. This magnificent restoration of a vehicle that had  more than reached the end of its service life, has resulted in the preservation of a something that has been part of the transport history of North East England.  
The Leyland Atlantean had previously appeared in 1977 in a special livery for the Queen's Silver Jubilee Celebrations and it was very poignant that it finally came back to life, restored in the 1977 livery, in the very year the the Queen died. see here for the story.

KBB 118D at the 2022 NEBPT Seaburn Rally with other NEBPT vehicles

Thanks to a significant lottery grant another NEBPT vehicle will return to the road during 2023. Sunderland Crossley 100 ABR 433 is nearing completion and is now scheduled for completion by the end of March.

ABR 433 Seen here midway during the restoration

During 2022 I had the pleasure of driving preserved vehicles in service at Seaburn and Skipton. It is always a pleasure to take to the wheel again and step back in time. 

Skipton Running Day 2022. My bus for the day was 574 CNW, a 1962 Daimler CVG6 with front entrance 70 seat Roe bodywork 

I miss my 1947 ex Chesterfield Leyland PS1 JRA 635 which I owned until January 2006. Hopefully it is being looked after well and that the gallons of Waxoil that I applied to the restored framework, before re panelling are helping to preserve it!

My 1947 Leyland PS1 JRA 635 with Albion KUP 799 at a NEBPT event at Belsay Hall

So, we have reached 4 million page views since launch in 2011, the problem is, it is not ‘we’ it is ‘me’, running a website single handedly with daily postings being somewhat of a challenge. The number of people visiting the website and the number of daily pageviews is very encouraging and is an excellent reason to continue the daily postings.

There are a small number of valued contributors who send information and photographs and I’m very appreciative of their assistance, so many thanks to them.

I send my best wishes to all who visit the Focus Transport website. Hopefully 2023 will be the start of a more stable period in our lives.

David Gambles - Editor