Some brief transport stuff from this week

A post in an occasional series wrapping up a few brief transporty things from the last week or two.

The new train design

This might be the least crowded train I’ve ever caught. That’s because it’s a pretend train, a mock-up of a carriage and a half, somewhere in a warehouse in outer-suburban Melbourne. I got to see it last week on behalf of PTUA — we’ve been included in stakeholder consultations this year on the design.

New train mock-up

It looks pretty good, and has more places standees can hold on than the current Siemens and Comeng fleet, but could do with more still.

There’s photos of the mock-up over on the PTUA web site — take a look (and please consider joining if you’re not already a member — the PTUA’s work is only possible thanks to member subscriptions).

Busway knocked back

A few weeks ago The Age reported on Transdev’s plan for a busway from Doncaster to CBD.

  • Dedicated bus lanes along middle of Eastern Freeway (in the median originally designed for rail), with stations at interchanges, including pedestrian access from overpasses
  • Busway would continue along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street, to a new terminus underneath Southern Cross Station
  • Double-articulated buses with doors on both sides to allow centre platform stops along Hoddle Street in a centre median
  • Every 3 minutes in peak, every 5-6 minutes off-peak
  • $500 million build cost
  • Transdev wanted it to run as a PPP for 30 years, effectively locking them in as the operator for that time
  • Off-board payment with Myki readers on platform stops, to speed up dwell times

It would have been cheaper/more achievable than Doncaster rail, remembering that a lot of benefits of Doncaster rail would be gained by first doing the cheap easy bit: rail to Bulleen, and feeding all the buses into there.

The plan has officially been knocked back.

The question is: can the problems of greater capacity (to cope with crowding) and speed (to encourage more people out of cars) be resolved another way?

Better traffic priority along Hoddle Street, Victoria Parade and Lonsdale Street is the key: both bus lanes where missing, and traffic light priority.

More articulated buses would help with capacity. There seem to have a handful now, but not many.

Skyrail under construction near Murrumbeena station

Can Skyrail carry freight?

I’ve been asked about this twice this week alone, once online, once in the barber shop this morning.

Can the Skyrail (under construction from Caulfield to Dandenong) handle freight and V/Line trains? The rumour that it can’t persists.

It’s not an entirely silly question. Freight trains in particular can be heavier than passenger trains, and the diesel locomotives used for freight and long distance V/Line services to Bairnsdale are heavy beasts.

The answer is an emphatic yes, they will run on the Skyrail — just as they run on the 1970s era viaduct between Flinders Street and Spencer Street stations.

Here’s the official answer from the Level Crossing Removal Authority:

WILL YOU CONTINUE TO RUN DIESEL TRAINS ON THE OLD TRACKS UNDERNEATH THE NEW RAIL LINE?

The new elevated structure will be designed to safely carry both Metro passenger trains and diesel freight trains. Just as passenger and freight trains share tracks currently, they would continue to share tracks in the elevated design. The tracks underneath the elevated structure will be removed to create new community spaces.

It’s fascinating that this rumour continues to do the rounds.

And it’s certainly not helped that this completely discredited Railpage article from five months ago has never been corrected.

By the way, now that construction is in full swing, the photo above, and the one below show just how close the elevated rail will be to some people’s homes/gardens. It’s not hard to see why some residents aren’t too happy about it.

Proposed Tucker Road bus would fill a gap, but…

Bentleigh state MP Nick Staikos has released a map of a proposed new bus route, from Moorabbin via Bentleigh and Hughesdale to Chadstone:

As I see them, the pluses:

  • A route along the southern end of Tucker Road, filling a current north-south gap
  • Ditto a gap filled along part of East Boundary Road, close to a lot of new houses and the Virginia Park re-development
  • If timetabled smartly with route 767, improves overall frequency along Poath Road feeding into Hughesdale station
  • Also improves frequency along South Road from Moorabbin Station to Holmesglen Moorabbin campus and new private hospital, alongside routes 811/812 and 824.
  • …as well as providing a service to the Holmesglen campus from the north, currently difficult to get to for some local residents
  • Makes Chadstone more reachable from parts of Bentleigh that currently don’t have a direct public transport connection
  • Serves Tucker Road Primary School

But it’s not perfect:

  • Runs close to McKinnon Secondary College, but doesn’t greatly enhance connections to the school from within its zone, which is predominantly to the east and west of the campus — and may stretch further east if the new (additional) campus is at Virginia Park
  • In fact it won’t connect the proposed new campus with the existing one; it falls short by a few hundred metres
  • Zig zag route is difficult to memorise and understand (a problem shared by the existing neighbouring routes 701 and 626)
  • Zig zag routes also mean that trips that are very logical and quick by car or bicycle are very slow by bus, for instance from the southern end of Tucker Road to the northern end is only a few minutes in a car, but would involve two buses (and we know how appalling connections between infrequent buses can be)

The problem is that, apart from filling a couple of gaps, this new route hasn’t really been designed within the broader context of the existing routes.

I’m told there will be consultation, which is good, but so far it hasn’t shown up on PTV’s Get Involved web site — which I hope it would.

Here’s what I’d do

For a moment, let’s leave aside the question of whether the 822 should be moved to East Boundary Road (yes it should, alongside other changes as part of a broader plan).

And let’s assume the funding for this new route has it operating at the same sad frequency as most existing local routes: every 30-60 minutes (there are no service frequency or operating hours details yet).

Here’s what I’d do:

Bentleigh bus proposals
(View on Google Maps. I’ve deliberately drawn most of the lines not precisely on the roads, to keep them separate for legibility.)

I’d swap the eastern part of 626 with the northern part of this new route.

  • Both routes would have some of the kinks ironed out, and be more logical and easier to remember.
  • This means the 626 would become an east-west route from Brighton to East Bentleigh, then up to Chadstone.
  • This connects residents in McKinnon with Duncan Mackinnon Reserve and GESAC – not just a theoretical benefit, this was explicitly requested by local residents at a local bus forum last year.
  • It also connects the two campuses of McKinnon Secondary College, and makes the main campus more reachable from more locations within the school zone
  • And it means a quicker/more logical train connection for residents at the eastern end of McKinnon Road; handy if they are going to Southland or other destinations on the Frankston line, or for that matter towards the City
  • The New Route would become a north-south route from Moorabbin, direct up Tucker Road and Koornang Road to Carnegie, then to Chadstone. Again, more direct, easier to remember.
  • From McKinnon and Carnegie, better access to the Holmesglen campus, which is currently very easy by car, but really difficult by public transport
  • Existing 626 users from Carnegie and areas north of McKinnon Road would simply see a route number change, but would gain easy access to Moorabbin Station at the southern end of their bus route.
  • Both routes would still go to Chadstone at the northern end, so no practical change for most users from the western end of 626

Bus 822 navigating a side street in Bentleigh East

Also: the 822

Another positive change would be to divert the 822 off Marlborough Street to East Boundary Road for a quicker, more direct run, and have the 626 run around GESAC to Marlborough Street and provide the service there. The northbound turn from Marlborough Street right into North Road could be problematic however if the intersection isn’t signalised, and there might be other minor changes needed on East Boundary Road.

(As you can see from the map, the 626 is already quite a squiggly route at the Brighton end, thanks to Brighton’s NIMBYs having campaigned to get the buses removed from Union Street and Landcox Street, and Vicroads’ reluctance to alter Nepean Highway to allow westbound buses to use Union Street. The 822 in contrast has the potential to be a good quick direct service. Marlborough Street is the route’s only current very slow section.)

Any thoughts?

Some have made the point that the area may not need a new route; that we do need increased frequencies and operating hours on the existing routes — this is certainly true. The 703 is overcrowded at times, and has a very poor evening service after 7pm, and on weekends. Other routes are mostly the bog standard 30 minutes weekdays/hourly on weekends and evenings — the 822 and 767 in particular are worthy of upgrades to cut waiting times and get more users.

This proposed route? Good, but with some tweaks, could be better.

Thoughts? Post them here, and/or get involved in the public consultation — details to come.

Update: Public meeting at St John’s Church (corner Tucker and Centre Roads), 7pm Wednesday 27th September.

See London by bus

(Backdated. Posted 21/10/2017)

Our second last day on London. While the others had breakfast, I ducked out of the flat to try and find a post office, as I’d neglected to give one of my relatives a souvineer from Australia, and thought it best to mail it while we were still in England.

The nearest post office was embedded in a kind of supermarket/newsagent, a not unfamiliar scenario that occurs in Australia, but it did throw me somewhat that I had to buy the envelope first, then buy the stamps separately. Okay, whatever.

By finding the post office, down the high street in the direction we hadn’t explored, I also discovered the reason we’d seen so many police vehicles screaming through the streets wasn’t that Chiswick is a deadly crime-infested suburb, it’s just that down there was where the police station was.

We wouldn’t be making it to Birmingham to visit old friends Ian and Louise, so they had come to London to stay for a couple of days – a stone’s throw from where we were staying in Chiswick.

Unbelievably, I’ve known Ian for almost 20 years, having met him via blogging (or to be precise, posting to Usenet) my 1998 trip to England, Scotland, Belgium and Holland.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

So after breakfast, we met up with them at Turnham Green tube station and we all hopped on a train towards central London, alighting at Victoria and walking up towards Buckingham Palace. The flag was up. They were home.

Crowds were gathering for the Changing of the Guard, a grand spectacle indeed, even if it’s just a glorified shift change.

There were plenty of police around, and I noticed them eyeing off one bloke in the crowd who had brought a large suitcase with him. Without being aggressive, they told him he couldn’t stay here with it, and moved him on. Given the security situation, it’s hardly surprising they wouldn’t want him hanging about in a big crowd.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

A community support policeman (I don’t quite understand why they have the role, but they seem to have limited duties, in a similar way to Victorian Protective Service Officers) was doing both crowd control and running commentary, which was handy, as he knew exactly when and where and in which direction the next soldiers would be marching at each stage of the ceremony.

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace

The sun was beating down, but watching it was proof that nobody does ceremony like the Brits.

One minor hiccup – a mounted policewoman had to get off her horse at one point, and couldn’t get back up on it. She brought the horse over to us in the crowd and climbed up the fence to get back on, giving us a close equine encounter.

Police horse at Buckingham Palace

Cleaning up after the Changing Of The Guards, Buckingham Palace, London

When it was finished, the Queen’s Own Royal Poo Cleaning Truck rolled through, and the crowds dispersed.

New Zealand War Memorial, London

We headed up towards Hyde Park Corner, and up towards the war memorials, including those for NZ and Australia. The latter is made up of granite slabs inscribed with thousands of names of towns where Australian soldiers were born, with larger letters forming the names of battles.

Australian War Memorial, London

In the hustle of bustle of busy London, it was good to stop and pause and reflect.

We found a nearby bus stop. Ian, being a tour guide and transport nerd, would give us a quick tour of central London by bus. It’s much larger than somewhere like Melbourne’s central business district, which you can walk across in about 20 minutes.

One thing that’s notable is that London buses are still using canvas destination rolls, not digital LEDs as seen in many parts of the world (including Melbourne). Ian tells me that’s a deliberate decision from Transport For London, who believe they are more readable. They’re right of course, though it comes at a cost. More flexible LEDs are catching up; the resolution has improved a lot in recent years.

London bus near Trafalgar Square

Piccadilly, London

The bus network, especially in central London, is a myriad of routes, and with a lack of a grid street pattern as in central Melbourne, it’s quite confusing. The development of Google Maps and other smartphone journey planners has made it a lot easier to navigate — though Ian knew precisely where he was going without having to resort to an app.

We caught a number 9 bus along busy Piccadilly, past St James Palace and Trafalgar Square.

These blokes spotted along the way seemed to be doing a remake of The Plank. With more high-vis.

The Plank remake? London

We hopped off to look for some lunch, which we found at a burger place. Next we headed back to the bus stop to catch a… wait. Ian had left his camera behind.

Cue mad panic back to the restaurant. He came back, triumphant – it had been recovered.

We thought we’d catch a number 15 bus. Why route 15? It’s the only remaining “heritage” route running the classic London Routemaster buses — not on all of its services, but some.

Unlike Melbourne’s City Circle, which is free, this is a paid route, with a conductor… of sorts. The difference is, this conductor just makes sure you’ve paid – they can’t sell you a ticket.

There’s a catch. While most of us had been happily wandering the London transport system using our credit cards, the heritage 15s only accept an actual Oyster card for fare payment.

We only discovered this when we tried to board. The conductor, spotting our credit cards in hand, looked rather pleased with himself to be able to tell us they weren’t valid for payment. We hopped off again and the bus rumbled away, almost empty. Good customer service? No.

Routemaster bus, London

And so we downgraded to a regular bus, towards St Paul’s Cathedral.

From there we walked down towards the river, pausing at the spot where the Cybermen famously walked with the Cathedral in the background, in the classic Doctor Who story The Invasion.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

Not far away, Ian reckoned, was the manhole from the same story, that a Cyberman had come out of the drains. Alas, on this day, it was underneath a parked coach.

London Bridge

We walked down to the Millennium Bridge, which is adjacent to the Tate Modern, where we’d been the day before.

A lovely view of the river, then we headed east along the north bank, passing underneath London Bridge, and in view of Tower Bridge, doing its thing again.

Tower Bridge, London

Monument Underground station, London

The Monument to the Fire Of London

We found the Monument – the Monument to the Great Fire of London, that is.

It’s possible to climb up the stairs inside it, but we decided to keep moving, Ian leading us on an exploration of some of London’s more obscure streets and laneways, with a stop along the way at Leadenhall Market for a snack.

Leadenhall Market, London

Beside Mansion House, we found a Police Post – a kind of budget-cut version of a Police Box. If it is used for time travel, hopefully it’s bigger on the inside.

Police Post at Mansion House, London

Then we headed for St Paul’s Cathedral, where the evensong was due.

As it turned out, the choir was on holiday (!) so no evensong for us, but the inside of the building is rather stunning.

The sun was still up and shining, and there were major delays on the District Line, so rather than head back towards Chiswick, we decided to head back for a proper look at Trafalgar Square – passing by Australia House along the way.

Australia House, London

Note these traffic signal designs near Trafalgar Square.

Traffic lights at Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Eventually it seemed like the Tube had returned to normal, and we headed back.

Sam Schwartz’s book has a reference to tuxedos on the subway being a sign that public transport is used by the broad population, not just those who can’t afford to drive. I’ve seen the occasional person in a tuxedo on Melbourne PT, but on this occasion in London, managed to snap a photo.

Embankment station, London

In Chiswick we found an Italian restaurant to have a great dinner and a very good chat.

We had to head back home the next day, but at least our last full day was a good one.

Epic bus ride to the end of the land

(Backdated. Posted 22/8/2017.)

Unlike the budget hotel in Bath, this hotel in Penzance included a full English breakfast, of which we availed ourselves. Very tasty.

We’d be spending the day in and around Penzance, but leaving in the evening, so we had to check-out. The hotel initially seemed a bit iffy about having the space to keep all our bags for the day. The station doesn’t offer left luggage, but the taxi depot across the street does, at UKP 2 per bag per day. After I’d arranged this, it turned out the hotel manager was in fact happy to mind the bags, but the taxi depot seemed more logical as it was much closer to the station.

The taxi depot seems to be linked to the gym next door, and we were instructed to knock there for admittance.

Okay, bags dropped, let’s explore.

The bus from Penzance to Lands End, Cornwall

Epic bus ride

We headed for the bus station. I had in mind two things for the day: St Michael’s Mount, a castle on an island just offshore, and Land’s End, the very western tip of Britain.

Various other buses depart from the bus station, including one to Mousehole, which apparently isn’t pronounced “Mousehole”, but “mowz ull”. Most of the buses on that route have a mouse logo.

The bus from Penzance to Mousehole, Cornwall

The bus to Land’s End was leaving first. In the tradition of the privatised bus companies with poor online information, the fare bore no resemblance to what was hinted at on their web site, but no matter, this turned out to be possibly the most fun bus ride I’ve ever taken.

As you leave Penzance, there’s a glorious view out the back window as the road climbs up the hill heading southwest, similar to an old travel poster that I’d bought as a tea towel the day before in a tourist shop.

View over Penzance

Between Penzance and Lands End, Cornwall

The road from Penzance to Lands End is about 10 miles of mostly narrow lanes. At least, Australians would call them lanes. The Brits call it a B road.

It would be tricky enough to drive a double-decker bus along this route if the roads were empty. But they were full of other traffic – cyclists, locals in their cars, bewildered tourists (some in left-hand drive vehicles from continental Europe), trucks, other buses…

It was epic. Many of the passengers sat in the open section of the top deck, watching with amazement as we drove along, each carefully orchestrated dance with the oncoming vehicles seeming more complex than the next.

On the bus from Penzance to Lands End, Cornwall

On the bus from Penzance to Lands End, Cornwall

Traffic from Penzance to Lands End, Cornwall

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Cars squeezed past us. Trucks had to find a slightly less-narrow section of road to get past.

At one point in a super narrow section we came across another bus from the same company – that driver reversed his bus back up the road to find a wider spot where we could pass.

Check this short video. I almost edited in a dramatic sting at the 30 second mark.

As we drove through villages, many with narrow or nonexistent footpaths, there was also the odd feeling for us on the top deck of rolling past people’s upstairs windows.

And I haven’t mentioned the low branches. Some sections of the route had a tree canopy over the road. I’m guessing the local authorities never trim the trees; they just let the buses do the job.

We noticed protective bars on the top front of the bus, designed to deflect the trees away from the front windscreen. Many London double-deckers seemed to have them too. Makes sense.

One passenger on the bus brought his dog, whom he said was happy to explore the local buses and trains. The dog sat happily in a seat, taking in the breeze, and would try and snap at low-hanging tree branches as they came past.

The trip was scheduled to take an hour – I’m not sure what fantasy land the timetablers are living in, as it ended up being closer to 90 minutes. Note for later: the bus back probably wouldn’t be on time. But it was all highly entertaining, and I can’t recommend this bus ride highly enough.

End of the Land

Lands End is the westernmost point of Britain. Unlike the geographically similar Cape Leeuwin in Western Australia, there’s a kind of mini theme park, with restaurants, tourist shops, attractions (Shaun The Sheep was the current resident side show) and so on. Given it was Cornwall, we decided to have Cornish pasties for lunch, then went to explore.

There’s a very nice view off the coast, and we had a look around. Plenty of other tourists around. One bloke and his (possibly long-suffering) partner was lugging a drone around, then getting it to take photos of himself from off the clifftop.

Lands End, Cornwall

Dangerous cliffs, Lands End, Cornwall

Occasionally some brave soul/Darwin Award nominee would climb over the low fence and gingerly head out among the “Dangerous cliffs” sign to take photos.

A sign pointing to various locations around the world had a customisable arm on it – for a fee (and if you were willing to wait in the queue) you could add your name, or place of origin, or some other message onto it and have your photo taken.

Dalek at Lands End, Cornwall

Non-accessible path, Lands End, Cornwall

Some of the footpaths around the site were marked as “Red” (for able-bodied walkers) or “Green” (more accessible) routes – though it seemed some of the sealed Green routes were far steeper than the unsealed Red ones. I wonder how people with mobility difficulties actually find them.

I was able to set up this comedy pose.

Lands End, Cornwall

Lands End, Cornwall

Lands End, Cornwall

One building doubling as a tourist trap shop and ice-cream parlour looked inviting, and it was certainly warm enough for an ice-cream. Then we walked along the coast for a bit to take in some more views.

We got back to the bus stop, and it turned up (late) and we headed back to Penzance. Cue more traffic adventures.

On the way we got a better view of a stone circle I’d spotted along the way — I can’t quite figure out which one it was. There are no less than 17 around Cornwall, but this was right next to the south side of the road the bus passed along.

Stone circle, near Penzance

The castle

Back in Penzance, we then changed onto a bus to Marazion Beach, further east along the coast from the centre of town.

From there you can walk to St Michael’s Mount – a castle on a hill out in the bay – if the tide is out, but it was coming in, so rather than swim, we hopped onto a small motorboat to the castle instead.

St Michael's Mount, near Penzance

The boat operator (captain?) let us know the castle would be closing before too long, and rather than rush through, we opted instead to explore the grounds at the base, and have some afternoon tea.

It all brought to mind the The Goodies classic episode “Bunfight at the O.K. Tea Rooms“, where Graeme suggests they head to the “wild and woolly west” (Cornwall) looking for gold, but find cream, scones and jam instead.

The final scene is a bun fight using various foods, apparently actually filmed in Cornwall, with a great Bill Oddie composition providing the soundtrack.

Three brave men went searching
For a fortune in the west
Now they face each other in the dawn

The finale of their dream
In the land of clotted cream
Turned against their fellows
Who had a lust for jam and scones …. scOnes!

As we enjoyed our tea and scones, jam and clotted cream, we noticed a huge seagull nearby, drinking from others’ leftover milk jugs. A little bit freaky.

Seagull has afternoon tea, Cornwall

We boarded another motor boat back to land – ending up in a different spot due to the incoming tide.

St Michael's Mount, near Penzance

Marazion Beach, near Penzance

Rather than another bus ride back to Penzance, we decided to walk along the beach. It didn’t seem like too far, though 5 kilometres is actually quite a distance in the heat. Very picturesque though, and good to stretch the legs.

Trainspotters may enjoy the walk, as part of it is parallel to the railway line, including a GWR maintenance depot.

Shunting train near Penzance

Level crossing near Penzance

Penzance

Railway crossing warning sign, Penzance

High Speed Train at Penzance

Railtrack sign near Penzance

This Railtrack (defunct) sign intrigued me. I wonder if it’s a way of saying that eventually the railways might claim back the path?

Back in the centre of town, I noticed just how many shops have Poldark-inspired displays and products. Fair enough, might as well milk these things while you can.

Cornwall: Poldark country

The pub crawl

We started pondering dinner before catching our sleeper train.

Pub 1 was very close to the station, so super convenient. But there was a 50-60 min wait on food, they said. I didn’t mind this, but we decided to try elsewhere.

At Pub 2 we bought some drinks to cool down, then asked about food. Sorry, they said, they were booked out for food. Booked out? Yep.

On to Pub 3. Menu looks good. In we went. The kitchen already closed. Out we went.

Turks Head, Penzance

Pub 4. It was now 8pm, and after this impromptu pub crawl, I felt like we were in a hurry, as we needed to be at the station by about 9:30 as the train leaves at 9:45pm.

I mentioned that we were in a hurry to the barman, who said there were plenty of seats in the garden and he’d send someone down to take our order, as he couldn’t do it.

We read the menus and waited. And waited. I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to ask if this must be why they call them wait staff… because you have to wait.

I went back up to the bar to buy some drinks and asked again if they could send someone to take our orders.

Eventually they did indeed take our orders, and we waited some more. Then the waitress came out and said the chef is not entirely happy with the way one of the meals has come out, but they won’t be long.

Have I mentioned we’re in a hurry?

At this point it becomes clear that we should have just bought our meals at the first pub, wait or no wait.

Honestly, I hate being in a rush like this, and my stress was no doubt starting show to my travel companions. When the food eventually came out, I’d actually lost much of my appetite, and I’m sure it was very nice, but I only ate half of it. The others ate their meals, we paid and then we legged it. It was 9:13pm.

Fortunately the walk back to the station isn’t too far, but wait! — first we needed to get the bags from the taxi office.

We knocked on the door. No answer. Tried the associated gym next door. Nope. FFS.

It was now 9:20 and the train was due to depart at 9:45. I found a phone number and rang. See, I told you I need a functioning phone when I’m on holiday.

While they were sending someone down, I went over to the station to pick up the train tickets from ticket machine (at least that went smoothly).

The bags were released and we went to find our carriage on the train. I was calm again.

The Night Riviera sleeper train at Penzance

The Night Riviera

The Night Riviera is one of only two sleeper trains left in Britain.

I used the other one, the Caledonian Sleeper, from Inverness to London way back in 1998. It was such good fun that I thought it’d be great to do it again, and drag everyone else along for the ride.

To be perfectly honest, this was the main reason we’d come to Penzance: to catch the sleeper train back. Given that it’s subsidised to encourage tourism to Cornwall, from that point of view, it certainly worked.

The conductor greeted us and showed us to our compartments, and explained how the various bits and bobs work. I’d booked two adjacent compartments for the four of us. They’ve got bunk beds, and, it has to be said, not a lot of space for anything else.

The toilet was at the end of the carriage (but proved to be nicer than the average British train toilet – Vileroy and Bosch porcelain!) and there was a lounge car elsewhere on the train.

We had a choice of breakfast: a croissant, muesli (which the Brits often call Alpen, which confused I+J a bit) or cornflakes. And we could nominate the time for it to be served (doubling as our wake-up call). Given in the morning we had to make a connection to Eurostar, we opted for 5:30am, which is appalling early for a holiday, but oh well.

The train was scheduled to arrive in London at 5:23am. You can sleep in later than that, but you have to vacate the train by 7am — after that, presumably they need the platform for peak hour.

The conductor noted that the power points in the cabins are really for shavers; for charging phones she recommended trying seats in one of the other carriages. Mind you, from the sounds of it you can actually use the cabin power points for phones if you have the right adaptor.

Cabin on board The Night Riviera sleeper train

The cabins aren’t very roomy, as you’d expect. Perhaps a little cramped for two people, and I wondered if I should have paid the extra and booked a cabin for each person (they have connecting doors so they can be paired up), but my travelling companions didn’t seem to mind – it was something new and different, after all.

The fares for the four of us? £168.20 (£42.05 each with various discounts including GroupSave) for the trip itself, plus £180 (£45 each) sleeper supplements for the twin-share cabins. If we’d wanted a full cabin each, it the supplement would have been another £100 – a total of £280 (£70 each). Maybe next time.

The train rolled out of Penzance on-time at 9:45pm. Normally by train it’s about 6 hours to London; the fact that it takes 7.5 on the sleeper train probably means they either run slowly, or perhaps they park it somewhere along the way.

I spent some time in a seat elsewhere in the train charging my phone enough to get us to Brussels the next day, catching up with the world via WiFi, and watching the darkening scenery of Cornwall passing by. The seats in that carriage started to fill up as we made stops along the way.

Then I headed back to the cabin and drifted off to sleep.

Battling the buses

(Backdated. Posted 4/8/2017.)

We’d be leaving Cardiff the next day, so before heading out we decided to get some laundry done. This is one of the benefits of Air B’n’B over hotels – at least if you’ve booked somewhere with a washing machine.

Then, what excursion today? We’d considered trying to get to Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch, which as many would know has the longest place name in the world, though it’s known as the far snappier Llanfairpwllgwyngyll for short. (Disappointingly the long version was made up for promotional purposes in the 1860s.)

Unfortunately, this is right across the other side of Wales, it was almost 5 hours by train to get there. Even driving takes over 4 hours.

Instead we decided on St Fagans museum, just outside Cardiff, which is a kind of multi-timezone Sovereign Hill (but without the gold). On a huge property they have 40-odd buildings from lots of different periods of history, from the Iron Age to the 20th century.

The bus to Pengham Green via Splott

We didn’t catch the bus. I blame Margaret Thatcher.

St Fagans is about 7km from the centre of Cardiff, and the only public transport mode serving the site is local buses.

Most bus services in Britain were privatised in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher — with London being a notable exception — they have private operators but planned and controlled centrally.

In most of the bigger cities, the network is split into multiple bus operators, and they all do their own thing. In most cases they do not have common fares or ticketing, and in some cities they’ve had disputes to try and compete for customers. As recently as last decade, some bus company managers were jailed due to related unsafe practices as part of their battles with other operators.

Consistent with this model of deregulation, Cardiff has numerous bus operators, and they all have different tickets and fares.

This works against public transport patronage. Can you imagine if every highway and freeway was run by a different toll company, with different incompatible payment options? Or if you could only send SMS messages to people on the same phone network as you? (Actually this was the case before April 2000)

Planning and operating a common network makes it easier for users to use the service, encourages more patronage, and more income for all the operators.

In this case, we wanted to get from Cardiff Bay to St Fagans. Frequent bus route 6 (“Baycar”) run by Cardiff Bus goes to the station (fare £1.80), and connects (in the spatial sense only) with buses to St Fagans run by Easyway. But they are run by different operators, so you pay two fares.

Depending on which bus you catch back, you could be using a third operator (New Adventure Travel), with another separate fare.

Timetable information is easy to find online via Google Maps and the official site Traveline Crymru. But for two of those three operators, fare and ticket information isn’t available (though Traveline are apparently working on it). I had no idea what I’d need to pay. Perhaps about £2, but was it cash only? Did they accept cards? Probably not. Did they give change? Did they accept large notes? What cash did I have on me, anyway?

So the prospect was trying to pay multiple fares with cash (awkward) and times four people (expensive) on a two-bus trip (time-consuming)…

(Later on I found there is a £8.30 Network Rider Ticket that’s valid on multiple operators… but not all of them. It covers all the operators I mentioned above, but not all their routes… confusing much? And if the plan was for three trips at about £2 each, then that’s not actually a very good deal. And where do I buy this ticket? On the buses, or elsewhere? Oh and by the way, at least one bus operator lists this at the old £8.00 price.)

And the clincher was we were late getting out of the house… so I gave up and called an Uber. It came a couple of minutes after we called it, took about 20 minutes, and cost £16.30, direct off my credit card. For the four of us, not much more expensive than the, perhaps, £14 in bus fares, but also quicker and more convenient.

Iron Age round houses, St Fagans Museum, Cardiff

St Fagans Museum, Cardiff

St Fagans, to rhyme with Baggins

We saw various parts of suburban Cardiff on the way to the museum (including, up close, for the first time since our trip started, a British railway crossing – rare in urban areas, but there are a few on the less busy lines in regional areas).

On arrival at the museum, our Uber driver remarked that he’d lived there for 20 years, but “I’ve never heard of this place.”

It was pretty warm, and we did a lot of walking around the museum looking at the various buildings, as well as some amusing placement of (fake, presumably) dinosaur tails.

St Fagans Museum: Dinosaur tail

It was kind of interesting. But it’s very widely spaced out. Admittedly this does give each site a nice sense of isolation, but it also means you have to walk a long way to see anything.

I may be a total philistine, but I have to confess, even though the museum was free, and parts of it were interesting, I’m not sure I’d go back. (Which you could interpret as: if you’re in the area, don’t bother trekking out there unless you’re super-keen and there’s nothing else to do.)

Plymouth Arms pub, St Fagans, near Cardiff

On the recommendation of some neighbourly builders, lunch was at the Plymouth Arms, a rather lovely pub just outside the eastern gate of the museum. Tasty. Mushy peas is a UK tradition I think we should adopt in pub meals here.

I thought we’d catch a bus back to the city centre. The buses from St Fagans back to central Cardiff are theoretically every 20-30 minutes, but I discovered that during school terms, there’s no bus between about 2pm and 4:30. Evidently the buses go off and do school runs.

This is perhaps understandable from a purely economic point of view. But it’s poor service to museum patrons.

Another bus runs from nearby, but only about every 2 hours. It was due in an hour.

I tried to call an Uber. A driver accepted (12 minutes away) then cancelled on me. I tried for a few minutes, but no others responded. Hmmmm. Could it be that, 7km from Cardiff City Centre, we were just too remote for Uber?

I had no idea what the local phone number was for a cab… nor whether they’d take a credit card. This of course is the benefit of Uber in an unfamiliar city.

So we decided to look around the museum gardens and mansion house a bit more (it’s all very Downton Abbey), then catch the bus.

The bus – assuming I’d read the timetable correctly – rocked up 5 minutes early – thankfully we’d reached the stop early. The bus driver seemed surprised to be getting any passengers :-/ Oh well, at least the fare was an even £2 each.

On the bus from St Fagans to Cardiff

War memorial, Cardiff

It took us into central Cardiff pretty quickly and we had another look around the shops to find a cold drink.

Then we walked up to the National Museum. Somehow the day had got away from us, and we only had about half-an-hour before closing time – only had time for a quick look around.

Doctor Who fans might recognise the museum as one of those used for The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang, the final episode of Matt Smith’s first season.

National Museum, Cardiff

In fact, there are Doctor Who and Torchwood shooting sites all over Cardiff and the surrounding area. Turns out there’s a web site tracking them all: Doctor Who Locations.

As we continued to wander the streets, we spotted another location: the University of Cardiff, which doubled for Bristol University in the most recent Doctor Who season.

Walking past the Cardiff Police headquarters we noticed a film crew packing up their equipment, including uncovering the “Cardiff Police” sign, which had been disguised as “Bristol Police”.

I’m not sure what had been filmed, but a number of productions are based in Cardiff apart from Doctor Who, such as Sherlock and hospital drama Casualty.

Police station, Bristol. No, actually Cardiff.

A little more exploring of the city centre, and grabbing a takeaway dinner along the way, we headed back to our accommodation to relax for the evening and prepare to head for our next destination.