Cycle-Rail forum for the North

A quick report from the CRFN which met at the Velodrome, Manchester today:
Please note that in this I’m just reporting on what was said – don’t shoot the messenger!

Both companies (Northern & TPEX) wished to apologise for the standard of service they  had been providing in recent times, which they both accepted had been well under par and they wished to encourage people whose journey had been affected to apply for a refund.
One issue is that it takes 10 days to train staff to operate the new trains and obviously during that time they are not available to drive the old ones.
On the Sheffield – Manchester route, software problems have meant they are can’t operate 6-carriage trains without an extra member of staff in the trailing unit.
However, they also wished to point to improvements that they believed were starting make themselves felt:-

The new trains are finally getting bedded in, technical problems resolved and existing stock getting refurbished with the Pacers going off to the scrapyard.
The Network Rail projects that got so far behind are finally getting completed.
The Industrial dispute over guard’s duties looks to be getting resolved.
The timetable change in December was pretty bad but not the out-&-out disaster that the previous one had been.
With these problems being overcome, the TOC’s are able to spend a bit more time on things like integrated transport and cycling rather than fire-fighting all the time.
Trans-Pennine reported back on the impact of their compulsory reservation system, which is resulting in a lot more reservations being made.
There are 5 different ways of making bike reservations and WhatsApp is the most popular. Once their new fleet is fully bedded in they will
be able to switch on the new reservations system they’ve been working on.

We had a presentation from (Anna Butler, Project Manager, Cycling and Walking TfGM).on the Bee Network and Cycle Hire in Greater Manchester Manchester is developing its network on Dutch lines and looking at new bike hire scheme, the Mobike and Ofo schemes having failed.

David Hibbs, the co-ordinator for the Cycle-Rail Working Group, the national consultative group that was at risk of failing under the previous administration but was rescued by Sustrans, talked about the work of the group including cycle parking standards and the Cycle-Rail Awards that were held in London last week, with Chris Heaton-Harris, Minister of State handing out the awards and also announcing £2.5 million funding for cycle-rail with the promise of more in the pipeline.

None of the awards were for projects in the North although I jokingly thought that Northern could have won one for running a service that was so bad that people would prefer to cycle instead,

With this business over it only remained for me to make my way home, and that went like this:-

I cycled route 60 Velodrome – Reddish North, which uses the Ashton Canal and then veers off onto what appears to be a disused railway, petering out at Hyde Rd. The route continues onto the Fallowfield Loop. There was litter & fly-tipping throughout which I’ve reported via FixMyStreet.

The canal tow path is “a walking and cycling route” in the true sense, I.e. even if cycling you have to walk sometimes (unless you are on an MTB)

The information board at Reddish North was on the blink (see video)

As I arrived at the station the westbound train was about to leave and the guard held on to make sure I didn’t want to leap on his train, which was nice of him.

Reddish North eastbound has a Harrington Hump (raised area so a wheelchair user can board the train) but no disabled access to the platform itself. How does that work?

The westbound train was a Class 156 with room for everyone to sit down but there were still people standing in the bike space, which would otherwise have had space for 4 bikes easily. Not a problem for me as I just folded the Brompton and stuck it in the corner.

The display screen on the train got stuck at New Mills and didn’t catch up until we got to Grindleford.

Altogether a trouble-free journey.

Open Letter to Grant Shapps

Along with my Sustrans Ranger colleague John Kirkwood, we wrote to Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, to ask him to trial the carriage of bikes on buses. The text of the message we sent him is below

Dear Grant

Congratulations on your re-election.

At a recent Active Travel conference in Chelmsford, not far from your constituency, we made a presentation that highlighted some of the successes that the USA has made in promoting Active Travel. You can view this presentation here:-

One of the key points we highlighted was the carriage of bikes on buses. In a country where bike-carrying commuter rail is sparse, the carriage of bikes using racks fitted to the front of buses has become ubiquitous. We urge you to trial this in the UK. 

Who would use such a service? Let us take the example of your constituency of Welwyn Garden City. I mentioned that Chelmsford is not far away from Welwyn and indeed the county town of Hertford is even closer. Should I wish to leave my car at home and go there by public transport, I could take the 724 bus. Should I wish to take my bike with me, so I can use it to travel the last mile to my final destination,  however, I would need to travel in and out of London being careful to avoid peak hours, a journey of about 2 hours which few people would undertake. I’m sure you see my point. 

We are told that carrying bikes on the front of buses is not possible in the UK because (i) it is dangerous (ii) EU Regulations don’t allow it (iii) the Bus Commissioners won’t allow it. In response to point (i) how is it that US buses have travelled millions of miles with bike racks fitted with no known casualties, on (ii) as we are on the verge of leaving the EU it is time to leave unnecessarily restrictive EU regulations behind and on (iii) given points (i) & (ii) perhaps it is time to over-rule the Bus Commissioners. 

We urge you therefore to set up a trial of bike carriage using the Sportsworks carriers used in the US. The type of bus service for which this would be ideal are the longer-distance services such as the 724 Heathrow  – Harlow Bus Station, or the 59 Harlow – Chelmsford – services that run for longer distances for which no alternative rail service is available, or that run into National Parks. Providing this service on intensive inner-city bus services where the distance travelled can easily be cycled would not be appropriate, except perhaps in our hillier towns and cities such as Sheffield. 

We are told that in the wake of Brexit we will be able to scrap unnecessary regulation and the overly bureaucratic approach of the EU and it seems to us that this would be an excellent opportunity to put this into practice. 

More importantly however it would drive up bus usage, assist towards the UK’s air quality and carbon footprint goals and provide new journey opportunities for people who don’t have, or choose not to use cars. We urge you to consider this request. 

Simon Geller

John Kirkwood.