Epsom and The Derby

June 4, 2010

Its that time of year again when Epsom goes a bit weird as the entire world descends on the town. I was born in Epsom and lived most of my life there, so The Derby has always been a big thing for me.

When I was young we used to get a half day off school  on Derby Day, which was a Wednesday in those days. The excuse given was traffic, but the real reason was probably that only half the school would have turned up anyway – the rest would be up on the Downs watching the big race. In the sixties Epsom used to get a bit wild on Derby Day as drunken race goers swept through the town after the race and turned all of the pubs into riots. I think in the seventies all the pubs in town would close on Derby Day afternoon.

We didn’t always go up to see the big race. The other big Epsom thing to do was to go down to Hook Road and wait respectfully on the roadside for a glimpse of The Queen as she swept through on her way home. (She would always arrive by train at Tattenham Corner and depart by car.) Only once, in her Jubilee Year did she stop in Epsom High Street to meet various dignitaries. Yes, I was there.

The Derby is unique. It is the one horse race YOU must see before you die. To start with the course is unique, with its notorious tight left hand bend at Tattenham Corner and its steep ascent and then descent, it is still one of the fastest flat courses in the world. Significantly, the race is held on publicly accessible land – Epsom Downs. This means that the centre of the track (“The Hill”) has open access and is free. As a result the crowds at Epsom are huge, up to 300,000 in the past but now still well over 100,000 people. The striking thing is that everyone is there. The entire town of Epsom. The hoi polloi on The Hill. The gypsies, for who The Derby is a major annual meeting. The city folk in their corporate open top double decker buses which line the final straight. The tic tac men in the stands and the bookies from all over the country competing for your pound each way. And the toffs from her majesty downwards in the Grandstand. Also, of course, The Derby is one of the oldest races in the world.

Derby Day at Epsom Downs - 6th June 2009

The best way up to the Downs from Epsom is to walk. Its about a mile up hill from Epsom Station but you join a growing throng as you wend your way past the stationary traffic on Ashley Road. Bus operators draft in every sort of bus imaginable to take people on the trip up from the station. Bizarrely many of the buses are Red Arrows from London, especially now the race is on a Saturday.

Your next problem is to get on to The Hill. There is a foot tunnel under the track which you reach at the left hand end of the Grandstand (or at least you used to, it might have changed). The tunnel gets really crowded and you just have to follow the crowd.

Sitting on The Hill with a bottle of beer and a picnic on Derby Day is a memorable experience. The Hill has become a vast market with stalls selling tat and beer tents, plus the buses and the gypsies. When each race is about to start the Downs falls quiet until the off when there is an excited gasp from the 100,000 people present. This changes to a quiet roar as the horses quickly reach Tattenham Corner and then a huge cacophony of noise as they charge down the final straight. You will hear the hear the thunder of the hooves as they pass by, but probably all you will see of the race is the caps of the riders over the heads of the people in front of you. Then the place erupts as winners cheer and losers shout.

Add to all of this a busy heliport, buskers, pick pockets, drunkards, ladies in magnificent dresses, Roll Royces in the car park, burger stalls, live music in the evening, and stunning views of London and you can see why I try to go at least every second year.

But before I finish, there is some sad news this year. A huge part of Derby Week for Epsom people was the gigantic funfair on the Downs. This year it is not being held because the organisers decided that the site would be better used as a car park. Thats a travesty, and a break with tradition.


Public Transport – Not Always Easy!

October 1, 2009

First a quick apology as I haven’t blogged since my holiday.

In common with most of my friends and family, I pride myself on using public transport whenever possible. But I sometimes wish it could be easier.

My journey: The Trafford Centre to Manchester Piccadilly. I did my research. I knew that Metrolink is closed in the city centre and so doesn’t serve Piccadilly station directly. I knew that there was a frequent bus 250 direct from the Trafford Centre to Manchester Piccadilly.

I found the bus station at the Trafford Centre. IT has 15 nicely designed stands. It has a roof but is otherwise open to the elements. It does NOT have a simple list of destinations, the routes that serve them, and the stand where you catch those buses. So all you can do is walk down each stand and read the timetables. I found the 250 stand and the Metrolink shuttle stand. That was how I found that the 250 doesn’t serve Piccadilly Station – it goes to Piccadilly Gardens. Silly me? Hard to decide whether to use the 250 and make my own way to the station, or the shuttle service then tram then replacement bus to the station.

This decision was not made easier by the complete lack of real time information at the bus station. The 250 arrived very late, and at the same timer as the ML1 shuttle. I opted for the shuttle.

Next annoyance: the shuttle whisks you out of the Trafford Centre then several minutes later it serves another stop somewhere else around the centre. Then several minutes after that it serves a third stop. This might be convenient but it effectively doubles the journey time.

Next annoyance: get to Stretford to change to the tram. Would you believe there is no real time information on the tram station? I hope this is being rectified during the current renewals and expansion.

Next annoyance: the replacement bus is a few minutes walk from the tram stop at St. Peters Square. Not a particular hassle, but it was raining. The bus is supposed to be every 12 minutes. I waited 20.

Then I arrived at Piccadilly having just missed the London train. That was when I remembered the good news: London trains now run 3 times an hour, so I effectively got straight on the next train.

I know I am sounding like a grumpy old man, and maybe I am spoilt because I work in London where the bus information is superb. But even in my home town of Crawley most stops have real time information – I can even see how my bus is running using the internet before I leave home.

GMPTE has a reputation of operating a world class public transport system. But information is certainly lacking, and that detracts from the whole experience.

Journey to Work

July 31, 2009

How should I travel from Three Bridges to my office near Oxford Circus each day? There are lots of options:

1: Three Bridges to Victoria then Victoria line to Oxford Circus then walk.

  • Three Bridges – Victoria = 40 minutes
  • Victoria – Wells Street = 16 minutes including 5 minute walk
  • Two trains per hour from Three Bridges
  • BUT Victoria line horribly crowded – you have to wait for several trains to pass before you can squeeze on. Coming home is just as bad – see my last post!
  • Walking along Oxford Street in the morning is pleasant. Walking along Oxford Street in the afternoon is hell.

2: Three Bridges to City Thameslink then bus – Wardour Street then a short walk

  • Three Bridges – City Thameslink = 52 minutes
  • City Thameslink – Wells Street = 25 minutes including 5 minute walk
  • BUT only one suitable train from Three Bridges
  • Bus trip much nicer than tube
  • Walking across Oxford Street much easier

3: Three Bridges to London Bridge then tube and walk

  • Three Bridges – London Bridge = 39 minutes
  • London Bridge – Wells Street = 25 minutes including 15 minute walk
  • 2 trains per hour from Three Bridges
  • Jubilee line pretty busy
  • Walking along Oxford Street in the morning is OK

So, what to do? Pick and mix at the moment. Victoria is fine in the mornings, but really difficult in the evenings from Oxford Circus. I tend to go home via City Thameslink as I like the bus trip and the longer train journey gives me more time to read the new paper.

Welcome to Oxford Street

July 17, 2009

My journey home last night . . . .

Oxford Circus Station - 15th July 2009

Oxford Circus Station - 15th July 2009

I could not even get in to Oxford Street Station. After a wait in the crowd I took a slow bus to Charing Cross, a train to London Bridge and then crammed on to the most crowded Thameslink train I have ever seen. The guy in front of me started shouting really loud at passengers to move up. It was exceptionally hot, and took ages to crawl to Three Bridges.

Fortunately I have a huge variety of alternative routes to and from my new office. Victoria to Oxford Circus in the morning is survivable, but I think I will have to find a better way home!

A Coach Trip!

April 21, 2009

The exclamation mark is because it is years since I have been on a coach. I had a meeting at Heathrow last week, and coach is the obvious way to get back to Crawley (because of Gatwick Airport).

The first obstacle was finding out about coach schedules and fares. The Heathrow website has a lot of detail on local buses but little on longer distance coaches. There is no easy way of finding out who the operator might be, although, of course, I know that is is likely to be National Express. So, over to the National Express website. This does not provide any traditional timetables. Instead you have to click on the Book Now sidebar. Type “Heathrow” in the “From” box and you get an extensive drop down list of places in Heathrow. I was travelling from Terminal 1 so I put that in and put Gatwick in the “To” box.  Oh dear “We were unable to find any journeys using the locations and dates that you entered.”. That can’t be right? A little more research showed that you HAVE to put Heathrow Central Bus Terminal in the “From” box. This way I found out, as expected, that there are several buses an hour, so no worries.  

Once I was en route things improved. The bus terminal now includes a comfortable waiting concourse complete with information screens and retail units. I bought the ticket (£20!!!) using an easy to use self service ticket machine. But even at this full price I had to choose a coach to travel on. (No walk on fares with Natex!)

The coach was three years old and very comfortable. Only four other people on board. Leather seats and plenty of legroom. We called to pick up at Terminal 5. The journey to Gatwick was scheduled for 1 hour 15 minutes and, despite heavy traffic, we arrived exactly on time.

The sensation on the journey is a lot better than a bus. A sort of quiet rolling swaying feeling, rather than being flung around. But it did make me feel travel sick and so I didn’t read while we were travelling.

All in all I think the services was very good – except for the difficulty in finding information.

Oh, I nearly forgot. The transfer from coach to bus at Gatwick is horrible. I will post in detail another time!

¡Vixca Valencia!

February 24, 2009

I spent the last four days in Valencia. What a wonderful city! Gorgeous architecture, blue skies, good food, and a vibrant and slightly mad culture.

Their public transport sustem is pretty good too. Four metro lines, a tram line, and a decent bus service. Reasonable fares, good access to information, and, like the rest of the city, spotlessly clean. Presently, a down side is that the city centre is only penetrated by a couple of bus services. This is not such a bad thing in a city where walking is a real pleasure, but after four days I did get blisters!

Construction has already started on Metro Line 2. This will pass right through the historic core of Valencia, and the huge hole that will be the location of the Mercado Centrale station is much in evidence. It will link the city centre to the rather isolated Oceanografic – surely one of the best aquariums in the world – and the vibrant Carmen district. I shall make a note to return in 2012 or 2013 when the line should be open.

The Case For The KGB

February 11, 2009

Naturally I mean Kerb Guided Buses! I intend to devote a few posts over the coming weeks to Kerb Guided Buses, focussed on Fastway, my local KGB network. To provide some structure to my thoughts, I am trying to find out what the benefits of KGB are intended to be. A useful source has been a debate in Focus, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport which was prompted by an article by Ted Gibbins in July 2008. (If you are a member you can read the article in full.)

Ted’s article was really just a series of criticisms of guided buses. Coming from a railwayman it did not go down very well with some of the people involved in KGB development! It was the responses in the August issue of Focus that I found most useful in summarising the intended benefits of KGB.

Dr. Bob Tebb (chair of BRT UK) points out that KGB is not a mode, it is a technique – one of a vast range of techniques open to the bus industry. He suggests that, in the right circumstances KGB can offer:

  • A narrow path
  • Self enforcement
  • Perfect accessibility at stops

Where these factors are less apropriate other techniques may be  as, or more, appropriate.

Nick Richardson makes a similar horses for courses point, and adds that an advantage of KGB is its ability to run on normal roads to access areas which would otherwise remain detatched.

In a full page letter John Carr again points out that KGB is a tool – he calls it heavyweight bus priority, not a complete system.  He says that in certain circumstances KGB is a useful technique to help buses to avoid queueing traffic at near normal running speeds, or to give access by routes not normally granted to general traffic. He makes the point that KGB is “self enforcing”. So, from this debate I will test Crawley Fastway on the criteria of:

  • Is the path narrower than a traditional bus lane?
  • Can buses avoid traffic at near normal running speeds any better than a traditional bus lane?
  • Is the self enforcing segregation useful?
  • Are the stops any more accessible than stops for non guided buses?

Your suggestions for any other criteria would be very welcome.

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