On Hire to First Pioneer: Part 2 – The Conclusion.

In my last post, 2 months ago, I posted a rather ‘average’, middle-of-the-road ‘review’ of the Wright StreetLite when it touched it’s 6 wheels down in Dukinfield. Now, 2 months later, I’m ready to conclude and discuss that last post a little more. Mainly because I’ve had the VERY, VERY unfortunate chance of riding these everyday. My view has changed…a lot. And you’d know this if you have been following my Twitter feed – sneaky plug.

I hate them.

I hate them so much infact, I can’t wait to pass my driving test so then I’ll no longer be riddled with the horrible, dreary, monotonous, mediocre, parasite, sloth-like, horrific experience (insert more adjectives here) that is the StreetLite. Now that’s a phrase(s) I never thought I’d have to use. Ever.

The engine is horrible. The seats are too hard. The suspension has paranoia. The lights flicker more than a cafe’s fridge light – or traffic lights’ amber light, you get the idea. The brakes are made out of styrofoam, and the whole vehicle seems to spend most of its day going backwards.

Then, I got the utmost pleasure the other evening when I, by chance, caught a very lovely Volvo B9TL in a nice Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 body. What a god send. The responsiveness of the engine is just refreshing and awesome (bit weird to say it was orgasmic, but it was certainly euphoric when the engine started up and set off from the stop). It likes to go forward. The brakes work very well, no ‘jerky’-ness at all – my neck thanks you, B9! The suspension is very light and ‘swishy’ – a good thing. You’d never of thought it was a double decker at all! The saloon is just an absolute pleasure to be in. The decoration and trimmings are very soft and pleasing on the eye. The heating is nice and warm (with a nice smell to it too, may I add). The lights don’t flicker. There’s enough seats for everyone. Lush. Awesome. Brilliant.

I have one question: why did they even BOTHER with these?

I suspect, and backed up by a very knowledgeable and reliable source, that the maintenance of the B9s was proving very expensive. But, for a company like First – one of the biggest transportation companies in the world, with lots of money, and possibly the biggest in Greater Manchester – does this really matter? Does this really matter for a company with a profit margin bigger than the full length of the A1/M1/A1(M) (combined)? No. This just, to me, makes them look lazy. It’s a disgrace to the engineers at Pioneer/Pennine – who have a history of keeping buses running very well (look at the Darts and Olympians, etc) – who have been made to look lazy. You have to spend money to make money. It’s a simple business principle! But First are known to be very lack luster when it comes to their business sense anyway.

A few years ago they rose the price of FirstWeek and FirstDay tickets to £18 and £4.50 respectively. No prizes for what happened next. Passenger numbers dropped “significantly”, and so with it, I expect, revenue declined. Then someone gained a bit of common sense and decided to drop the tickets back down to £13 and £4. This, unsurprisingly, preceded a huge rise in passenger numbers across the network, bus usage went up; more people were using the bus! Great! Success!

Why did they do that? How comes one minute they can make weeklies jump to £18, then a few months later cut it signifficantly (a whopping 28%) to £13? What were the business reasons behind this? Are First scared to invest in their still relatively ‘new-to-you’ (Pioneer/Pennine) fleet? They’re still running even older (~20 year old) buses in other parts. Why should they be? The B9′s are around 10 years old and they’re running superbly.  In a press release, First said that they’re going to invest “£9m in around 50 brand new single decker buses that will complement the £20m investment in 2012 of 100 new double deckers”. Utter waste of £29 million pounds (I don’t like the Enviro400′s much either – but they’re bearable compared to StreetLite).

I told you First had a lot of money. And they’re wasting it. A lot of questions to be answered. Shame on you, First Greater Manchester. You’ve turned a very happy passenger into a very angry and fed-up customer. Not. Good.

On Hire To First Pioneer: First Manchester’s New Wright StreetLites

To save you reading the full post, the conclusion is: “rubbish”, quite literally too.

First Manchester Wright StreetLite at Oldham Bus Station at 10am on 11.03.2014

First Manchester Wright StreetLite at Oldham Bus Station at 10am on 11.03.2014

Recently, First Manchester made these buses their singledeckers of choice. Either a rival to the Enviro400′s little brother the Enviro200 or a rival to Volvo’s mini version of the B9TL, the B7RL. Pioneer Depot Team have recently received a number of these buses – on hire -to test out. They’re reasonable, but I’m not a fan.


With exception of the rather bulging front, the front of the vehicle is similar to the Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 design. The rest of the vehicle is of a ‘normal’ singledecker design – think of the B7RLE – until we get to the back of the bus, which again comes out slightly but it is curved from side-to-side. The bus is a little longer than the B9TL, coming in at 11.5m. The variant is the door-forward, so unlike buses like the Optare Solo’s, the doors are ahead of the wheels, which is pretty standard.

Rating: 9/10

The pretruding front reminds me of the Optare Solo’s ‘sticky-outy’ curved front screen – but not as much as a Solo. Very quickly, I got used to it. I think the body suits and fits nicely within the current ‘trend’ of bus styles. Top marks! One little nag though, the destination blind at the back is off centre and placed next to a very large First logo.

Interior & Seats

The vehicle contains a very, very, very clinical look. The walls are of a smooth, wood-like, pale purple variety, with a high ceiling containg panels similar to the B7/9. On the side of the ceilings are panels that curve down to the top of the windows. The design is very minimalistic, with purple steel bars everywhere – where the tops don’t match up, which, being me, is very annoying! One curves elegantly, others just curve right at the top, and some bend a little about a 30cm from the top.

The seats are the ones contained in the Enviro400s. Their grey, leather covers are a sad departure for First from the nice dark purple moquette, which has been a staple of all off First’s busses since I can remember. The one advantage of this is, I guess, is for the cleaners. And the high backs, I imagine, are good for a little nap, but I prefer the seats of a B9. The seats aren’t overly comfortable, I just about managed a 1hour journey. Another 15 minutes and I would’ve stood up. The backs aren’t overly helpful to your posture, and I felt what was like a bar going across the seat just below the back of my ribcage, slightly unpleasant. However, the leg room is a bonus, but only adds to the vehicles’ very bare, minimalistic, clinical look. Only able to carry around 45 passengers, as this is the StreetLight ‘Max’ version.

Rating: 3/10

The extra legroom is welcome, the seats aren’t that great. The clinical look is very depressing and hard on the eye. The interior feels very purple-y, very plastic-y, very shiny, and crap-y. An improvement would be the less use of bright purple (bordering on pink) metal handlebars, less purple, and a bit of a designed floor cover (like on the B9s). The height of the vehicle only adds to the horrible look.

Not. A. Fan.


I don’t know much about engines, but I assume the loud knocking-noise that I heard when travelling at slow speeds was something to do with it. The engine is very loud, very vigorous and this is audible inside. The gear changes seem pretty normal. This bus has the 4-cylinder Cummins engine.

Rating: 5/10

Not being mechanically (for buses, anyway) minded, I can’t really comment on the powerplant. It handled the 350 route – possibly the most tetorous for a bus – with ease. Tight turns in Delph on Lodge Lane – not a problem. Up Oldham Road – not a problem. Down Huddersfield Road – not a problem. Well handled.  I do love the sound of the old Dennis Dart SLF Plaxton Pointer, a very lovely engine noise and gearbox. So, to be fair, I gave it an un-biassed ’5′.


Loving the exterior, however the inside is very clinical and I don’t like it. If this had insides similar to the B7s or B9s then I’d be a fan. However, until then, the loud banging noise and the interior put me off it. Utter rubbish.

Overall Rating: 17/30

I wouldn’t mind them ordering more, but it’ll just make me dislike bus journeys ever more. I love riding the B9s, but not the StreetLites. The suspension is very ‘on-edge’, constantly and noticeably adjusting each wheel independently. Going over potholes, waiting on hills, the suspension is constantly being raised/lowered automatically. Just lookout when its going up to Greenfield Station and on to Uppermill. The compressor is also quite loud when it kicks in.

Further Reading: For East of the M60′s review of the Wright StreetLite, click here.

Metrolink Madness: Farewell T68 (partly)

I really, really, really need to stop doing this. Firstly, my last post was in November making this my 4th Metrolink-related blog in a row. But this time, it’s especially..special. It marked the closure of Victoria (as we know it) for 9 months, the end of Ashton-Bury workings, and the end of T68′s running to Altrincham and in the city centre.

22 years after first departing Bury, a T68 left Altrincham for the very last time. This honour fell to 2001, which worked to Victoria only to run the short distance to Queens Road depot. 2003 worked the last full direct route. The fire isn’t completely dead though, as from Monday they’ll be on Bury-Abraham Moss shuttle services (replacing what would go to Ashton) while Victoria is reduced to one-line passthrough. Meaning every working on directs will be doubles, from start of service to the end of service.

The for next 9 months (we hope), the two T68a’s will be running this shuttle service – with some help from their little brothers, the M5000′s – and all services that would go to Bury from Ashton are being diverted to Eccles. It makes sense really as previously to the EML opening three services terminated at Piccadilly: Bury-Piccadilly, Eccles-Piccadilly, MediaCityUK-Piccadilly.

When the EML line opened, I wondered if they’d ever extend the Eccles-Piccadilly line to terminate at Ashton, giving Ashtonians a 6-minute headway service to Piccadilly Gardens. I suppose this is down to the rolling stock they have available, as they’ve somehow managed to get doubles all-day on directs, when they couldn’t (or didn’t bother to, at least) a few months ago. Whether the – I’ve not looked at a map – shorter line to Eccles means that less trams are needed and these units are the ones they’re going to use, or if they’ve miraculously commissioned all of their recent deliveries quickly. But that begs the question, why didn’t they do it earlier and put them into service when they’re ready, instead of launching them all at once. Monday will be a good day to see what units they’ve got and to see if any recent deliveries are in service.

Below are pictures from my day. Quite a few good ones, but – again – I’ve left in the ones that are blurry and ones that I didn’t have time to set the settings on the camera in time.

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Hi-res images are available by clicking here.

Metrolink Madness: Joe’s Epic Tram Ride 2.0

Not that long ago, upon the opening of the Ashton extension and the completion of the East Manchester Line, I went ‘treking’ around the Metrolink network. And that’s what I did again yesterday (Fri 15th Nov). I’ve not posted anything since last time, something I knew I said I’d try and improve upon, but time flies!

My 10 hour day started with a bus ride into Ashton, then a short walk to the tram stop. I briskly paid and got my ticket. Which, to be honest, could’ve been got rid of. I was never asked for my ticket all day! Some chap on the first machine seemed to be in a bit of bother, so I helped him. He wanted a ticket to Bury, and I didn’t quite catch what problem he was having. I think it was because the screen didn’t recognise his finger. That was my first good deed of the day.

Then the tram arrived, and whisked us off towards Bury. I alighted at Piccadilly, had a bit of a browse of the train station – which I’d never been to – and then returned to the depth of the tram stop to go to Cornbrook.

Ah, Cornbrook. The bane of everyone these days. Now, might of you might of said ‘why the hell are you wanting to go to Cornbook?!’, there was a good reason. And that being it’s a good spot for any discerning tram and train spotter.

My aim for the day was to photograph purely T68′s and T68A’s. Which, I shall add, the latter of which produce a beautiful sound when getting up to speed. Fortunately, there wasn’t any ‘signalling problems’ while I was there, and I was there for like 3 hours. More than any regular commuter.

I don’t see where these problems are coming from. The Cornbrook junction is line of sight based, and only has 2 tracks outbound (from City towards East Didsbury/Altrincham and Eccles/MediaCity) and 2 tracks inbound (from East Didsbury/Altrincham and Eccles/MediaCity towards City). In that respect, it’s not more complicated than the Market Street, Piccadilly Gardens and St Peter’s Square delta. If anything, the delta is more complicated than Cornbrook.

TMS on the T68′s was working perfectly, and faultlessly. Surprisingly, there was a minor delay of about a minute in the delta on our M5000 because we arrived a bit late for the traffic lights phase to allow us to pass and the driver forgot to TRTS – according to another driver, who went and helped our driver, said that TRTS “usually speeds it up”.

At Cornbook, I met a spotter, who had just spent the previous day up in Scotland spotting the Edinburgh trains, I didn’t quite catch his name but he was on the look out for the new trams – which are running without ATS, the Poppy tram, and the trams with special name badges. He was also spotting the trains on the train line next to Cornbrook.

After my time at Cornbrook, I decided to pop to Eccles. Returned from Eccles, went to the delta, and then to Victoria. I still didn’t go to East Didsbury or Rochdale, nor MediaCity.

I then had a quick walk around  the Markets, then walked to Piccadilly to go back to Ashton and meet someone. Then went home.

I’m wanting to go back and do it all again, but not focus so much on taking pictures, but becoming a bit of an anorak and spotting. However, I do fancy sometime to make a bit of a The Railway-esque type documentary, but I guess that’s up for TfGM and MRDL to allow!

The photos are below. As you can see, I gave up towards the end and lifted my ban on M5000′s. What a horrible sight they are. The uglyness hurts my eyes. They even sound boring! An utter waste of money.

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Metrolink Madness: A day riding the trams

Nearly a week after I rode the first ever public service tram from Ashton, here is the much anticipated (!) arrival of my photos from later on in the day.

I decided as I was going to buy a £6.50 Travelcard – buying a ticket at 5am counts as Peak – that I might aswell get some use out of it other than going to Victoria and back, so I got my camera, a notepad, printed off a map of the newly extended network, and went off on my travels.

First stop of the day was Victoria, then to Piccadilly for the rush hour, then off to Altrincham, with a stop at both Navigation Road and Sale. Then from Altrincham, it was off to Bury for lunch and to see my friend to have a look at my SD card, as it filled up quickly. Turned out it was formatted incorrectly. Then, with space for something like 5000 pictures, I headed to Cornbrook. If you’re going Cornbrook for any extended periods of time for whatever reason, here’s a JP top tip: TAKE A COAT! It’s quite exposed up there and does get windy from time to time.

There was a bit of ‘hoohah’ on the T68 I was on about some sort of signalling problem. The driver came out and declared boldly “the trams broke, there’s another one on it’s way”. There was a couple on board next to me who were wondering wether to get of or not. Then a man in an orange hi-vis came on and drove us away, which kinda made the driver look silly as the tram wasn’t broke! The driver of the tram behind us seemed cheery about it and was poking fun at his fellow driver friend, so that was fun.

From Cornbrook, I headed to Eccles and back to Cornbrook. There was still a slight delay to all services due to the ‘signalling problem’ I experienced earlier. Then from Cornbrook back to Victoria. One line I didn’t ride was the Rochdale or East Didsbury line, or the spur to MediaCityUK. I could of got off at Harbour City but I couldn’t be bothered walking! How lazy of me.

Then, after a long day (!), riding the trams I headed home on an Ashton bound service. Luckily, for me, it was tram #3054 which was running on the line all day - it seems. And of course, that means FREE WIFI! The connection seemed solid all the way home, but didn’t get to use it much as my phone was running out of charge, but I must remember to test it out ‘fully’ next time I happen to be riding it.

I did hope to gather more pictures, but time flies when you’re having fun! I plan to do the same again when the Oldham Town Centre line opens, and hopefully concentrate on getting a load more pictures!

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Ashton-onthe-Lyne: Trams are back in town

At 5:59am this morning, a small but historic affair was happening. No, it wasn’t an all night rave or some drunken antics. But more rather a tram, on public service, entered the boundaries of Ashton. Yes, a tram. To Bury. On public service. Amazing. The tram, which was 3012, set off from the Old Trafford depot and it’s departure was announced on the PA system at Victoria station; a brilliant but unusual announcement nevertheless.

The launch of the service in Ashton brings to an end years and years of moaning, seemingly never ending battles, road congestion, funding bids, roadworks and nightmare. It also marks the completion of the East Manchester Line which until now terminated at Droylsden. It adds a fourth mode of transportation for people wishing to go to Manchester, the others being trains, buses, car and now trams. There is, however, a bit of negativity about the 30 minute ride to Manchester as the train only takes 9 minutes, it takes a further 40 minutes to trundle into Bury – 70 minutes total. The service will be running every 12 minutes and 15 minutes in the evening but all this is due to be cut in the near future to 6 minutes.

And I’m one of those people. After all, most of the route into Piccadilly is on streets through Ashton and Droylsden, but it’s the speed limit that I don’t understand. Most of the street section is rated at 25. Why couldn’t of they built the new lines to run at much faster speeds that cars whiz past it at? It then, when the tram is in the road with the cars, won’t slow everyone down. After all, there’s a minute section of the Bury line that is rated at 50mph, so it is possible (50mph is the M5000 and T68′s maximum speed).

The tram arrived earlier than everyone expected – it seems they have a 5 minute stop over at Ashton – at around 5:55am. There was a few members of the public awaiting its arrival. There was also some passengers that seemed to be heavily involved in Metrolink in someway. She was a woman. And the woman was talking about keeping one or two T68′s for “shoveling snow, they’re quite good at that” and driver training, after being asked by 2 bearded fellows who had TfGM namebadges on. The bearded chaps were questioning the woman about the T68′s and what to do to commemorate the last T68 being withdrawn, one of the bearded men suggested doing a special ‘VIP’ run of some sort, the woman thought it would be a good idea. I thought to myself when I overheard the conversation that it’d be awesome to run a T68 all over the network – they have both TMS and the old signalling system and the Ashton and Rochdale lines are currently not on TMS, so I wonder if it is possible. It’d be absolutely amazing to see a T68 run on unfamiliar ground on all the new lines. If anyone can enlighten me as to if it’s technically possible, please comment.

I heard during the day that useage of the new line was impressive, which one Metrolink staff member jokingly said there was ‘thousands of pounds of photographic equipment on each tram’. I was unable to ride the line in the rest of the day – apart from going to Bury for dinner and  due to the fact I decided to travel the rest of the network – but each tram I spotted going past me was nearly full! I hope they made use of 3054 ‘WiFi Tram’ which was running on the line that day. I tested it out on the way home and the connection – which repeats the WiFi network in Central Manchester – was solid all the way.

Sorry the pictures of the tram arriving aren’t that clear, the automode on the camera got thrown off with the trams headlights – a problem most people were having – but I fiddled with a few buttons and sorted this out on photos later on in the day when it was still dark at Victoria. Those photos will be uploaded later.

Will you be riding? Do you think it’s useful or useless? Tell me what you think. I’m interested to hear peoples opinions about Metrolink.

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P.S: Metrolink or TfGM, if you’re reading, please would you make my dream come true and let me sit in a tram’s cab and take pictures or something? It would be greatly appreciated! :P. Also, thank you for the very p-unny headline!

(thank you to the awesome East of the M60 for the quote)


Well. My plan to make a post every Monday since starting College hasn’t gone very well so far! Apart from the posts we have to make on Thursday about what we’ve done on our course as part of our qualification – but that’s mandatory.

Now, I don’t wish this to turn into a love/hate relationship displayed publicly on my website but at the moment it really is that way. I’m about 4 weeks into it all and I don’t really know the other students in my course and the course tutor doesn’t think I’m that interested in the subject – how wrong he is! I love it! Why would I pick something I don’t like doing? Why would I waste 3 years of my life to a subject that at the end of I turn round and say ‘I hate this bullcrap’ and jack it in? No. That’d be pointless. And I’m not Alexander Armstrong (Ha!).

Because in class I don’t really ‘engage’ or ‘interact’ with other students as much as others, my course tutor thinks that I’m displaying lack of interest for it. This isn’t true, I love hardware and networking, but I also feel like I’m learning stuff I’ve picked up myself over the years and I spend half my day waiting around on breaks – I’m starting to think that it’s a ploy to get us to buy stuff from their overpriced on-site shop and other students in the class are fooled by this and constantly buy from it – I get bored. I not even managed to get my friends to meet up with me for dinner. How rude of them, so instead I spend my 45 minute dinner breaks waiting for them. I’m a good friend :P.

I keep thinking ways of showing other students and my tutors what I do and deal with but this is turning out to be a bit of a struggle. I could point them to my Facebook, my Flickr gallery of my home weather station and network, or I could do a presentation about what I deal with on a daily basis at work – a radio station. We have to do presentations later in the course, so this is ideal; they’ll probably think it’s huge while I think it’s rather ‘small’. I wasn’t in for the first week – ‘induction’ – so I was never properly introduced to any other class mates (or not at all), so I feel this would show my classmates what I do daily and give a little insight to me – they don’t know anything about me at all, they don’t even know that I volunteer at Tameside Radio! I guess they will if I or they add me on Facebook – all will become clear for them.

I hate being totally contradictory, but this is how I feel about it. I don’t want to give it up, I’m just finding it difficult to express what I actually think about it – I refuse to go in with a huge grin and jump at the bullet on each question in class discussions. I’m not that sort of person. My tutor also wonders why I “stare out the windows” during practical sessions – I don’t like ‘taking over’ I prefer to give other people who I feel need or want the experience to have a go, as this is how I learn(ed) and wish to do the same favour to people I know. I don’t want to come across as over eager, nor do I want to come across as too laid back.

I think this song I found today applies well to this situation.


I’m not creative. Period.

Writing a blog is pretty easy when you’ve got something to go on about like news or recent events but when there’s a slow news day there isn’t much to write about. Personal blogs are much harder because people don’t want to hear about your recent ailments and over dramatised things about you, but people love bitchyness (hence why Big Brother is still alive) and I hate doing that, so I banned myself from doing it.

I don’t have anything to write about, so I’m writing about having nothing to write about. Simple idea but it’s hard to just sit yourself infront of a computer (like I said previously) and write, so I’m trying to pull glass from sand.

Radio producing is pretty easy because if you’ve got an idea, you see if the people around you like it, then you go with it, but with writing about yourself there isn’t that ‘net’ as such because you could end up killing all your sense of ‘cool’ with the public.

Will I ever be able to sit down and write about my day, my life, my thoughts? I can if it’s to friends, I do that alot, but I don’t think being able to write it all down and making some sense out of it will ever happen.


Goodbye Granadaland

I’m not old enough to have seen Granada in it’s ‘heyday’, but I thought this program was a good lookback at what Granada produced and the effects of more and more networking has had. I’m surprised that ITV decided to network this and I think this is why they didn’t show alot more ‘local’ talent that everyone from Manchester and beyond loved so much. They probably couldn’t find any time away from network, which is another downside which is being flipped by YourTV Manchester (if it ever comes around).

This program is hosted by Bolton comedian Peter Kay, who has been working on Channel 4 more then he has ever ITV but I think it’s a respectable program that looks back on the history of Granada Studios on Quay Street, before their move to Salford Quays.

Goodbye Granada.