If you wanted me to define ‘boredom’ in a couple of words, I would suggest ‘Rail Replacement’. I was offered two more days’ work, driving a modern coach on contract to First Great Western last week. I will tell you more later in this post.
But first, my new venture will be to drive a Leyland Tiger PS1 right here in Torbay. After another short lived encounter with Local Link (formerly known as Dial-a-Bus) I have agreed to drive for Greenway Ferry Ltd. They run a fleet of pleasure boats across the Bay and up the River Dart, one of which is an historic Fairmile launch. This ex-Royal Navy Rescue Motor Launch (RML497) used to ply between Torquay and Brixham, along with its sister, under the banner of ‘Western Lady’. Keen to capitalise on the nostalgia surrounding Agatha Christie, they also run a vintage bus service to Greenway House which was once Dame Agatha’s summer residence. Now owned by the National Trust, the house and gardens are open throughout the tourist season and the PS1 links the house with Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.
Earlier this year I started working for Local Link but, after spending a few days learning two of their many routes, decided that full time Local Bus Service work was not for me so I jumped ship and headed for Greenway Quay instead. You already know that I prefer to drive half-cabs!
I will be one of two regular drivers, supplemented – if all goes well – by a relief driver who is a frequent visitor to this blog! I start this coming weekend so I will post news of this later on, with more pics.
I did two days of Rail Replacement work last week, as I mentioned at the top of this post. The duty was the same each day, standby bus at Bristol Parkway station. This meant turning up at the Crosville depot at 07:15 (ugh) to prepare the coach, a Scania K114EB4, Irizar PB (C49Ft) that was new to National Express in 2005.
After topping up the fuel tank I set off up the M5 and reported to the First Great Western marshals at Parkway station. I was told to stand by at the nearby depot of South Gloucester Bus & Coach (SGB). Unfortunately I drove straight past it and found myself in Filton before I could turn around. The signage at the depot wasn’t very clear, that’s my excuse!
The coach, although showing signs of wear and tear, is very luxurious and full of gadgets. As well as having automatic transmission, almost everything adjustable is electric. I had fun and games finding out what all the switches did – even the enormous luggage locker doors either side are power operated!
As well as all the regular SGB buses and coaches, all the other Rail Replacement coaches based at Parkway use the SGB depot to layover between duties so it was a busy place.
At about noon I got a call on my mobile to say that my services were required so I fired up the coach and drove the half mile or so up to the station where I was directed to the station’s main exit where a knot of people had gathered beneath a ‘Shuttle Bus’ sign. About 12 of them were ushered aboard and I was told to take them Exeter St David’s Station. It was a journey of about an hour and a half, during which time the interior warmed up nicely. It was a freezing cold day and a stationary vehicle doesn’t keep warm for very long! I know my way around Exeter very well but it was odd driving a 10 metre coach along such familiar streets. I dropped my passengers at the station and waited while the marshals called their colleagues to find out if I’d have any passengers for the return journey. There were none so I returned to the SGB depot empty. I waited on standby until the end of the duty at 21:15, sitting in the coach reading, punctuated now and then with a wander round the depot to get my circulation going again – I was frozen to the marrow!
As I was staying with relatives in Bristol overnight I arranged to leave the coach at the SGB depot, which meant I got my evening meal a bit sooner and didn’t need to get up at 05:30 the next morning! When I got to the depot the next morning I found that the coach had been moved from where I left it – I had to go searching all over the vast, cavernous building for it! After wandering past long lines of yellow school buses and Hertz Rental cars, I eventually found it right at the back with its nose pointed into a workshop area.
When all my daily checks had been done I drove back up to the station and reported to the marshals, returning again to the SGB depot to await further orders. There was a growing line of other coaches on rail duty so I took a shunter on board and we did a couple of circuits around the depot buildings before he parked beside a fence next to the adjoining Rolls-Royce factory. I asked him if there was somewhere warm that I could wait on standby so he led me to a customer reception area which was part of a garage and MOT Testing Station, part of the SGB complex. It was nice and warm in there, with sofas and a library of books and magazines to help me while away the long hours. And boy, were they long. I didn’t get a single call all day so, with a few breaks to stretch my legs and to buy some lunch from the ‘greasy spoon’ shack outside, I immersed myself in a novel.
Eventually I was booked off and was able to return the coach to the Crosville depot in Weston-super-Mare. Not the most rewarding of days perhaps but at least I will get paid for all those hours!