I recently travelled from my home in Lichfield to Gatehouse of Fleet in Galloway. The journey involved three trains (Lichfield to Crewe, Crewe to Carlisle, and Carlisle to Dumfries) and one bus journey (Stagecoach 500 from Dumfries to Gatehouse). The journey in both directions was, apart from some minor late running, pretty much without incident, and all the connections were made comfortably. The trains were comfortable and, as required for the moment, suitably socially distanced. The bus legs were similarly comfortable, with rather plush coaches and helpful drivers. That being said, the journey reinforced thoughts I often have when making journeys of this sort, that the weak links are the interchange between train and bus, and also the physical infrastructure of the bus pick up and set down points. I will consider each of these in turn with regard to my recent journey, but the same or similar points could be made for other journeys of this type.
The problem of train / bus interchange begins well before the journey itself, when journeys are being planned and fares considered. Finding the bus timetable is easy enough, even with current Covid related restrictions, but nonetheless required searching different web sites for the information, and making some sort of assessment of suitable connection times. No information at all was available on the fares, and I had to enquire of the bus driver on the outward leg as to whether returns were available or not. They were, at a very reasonable price, but it would have been good to know beforehand. On the journey itself, having alighted at the quite delightful Dumfries station, we found the rather flimsy bus shelters outside the station, effectively in the middle of a pedestrian thoroughfare. The weather, for both the outward and return journeys, was fine so this mattered little. No information at all was provided on how the bus was running, when it was due etc. But it came on time and all was well.
All the above could so easily be improved – by integrating train and bus timetables and fares; by extending a canopy from the station to serve as a bus waiting area and incorporating the bus area more completely into the station complex, so that toilets, the café etc. are more easily accessible to bus passengers; and developing the passenger information system so that details of both trains and buses were included.
At Gatehouse the facilities are rudimentary – simple bus shelters on the pavement with little by way of information, either on timetables or real time. The latter was not helped by recent Covid related service changes however. Once again this could so easily have been remedied – there is space available for a dedicated bus pick up / drop off point, ideally with more substantial passenger facilities that could act as a transport focus for the town; and the technology is available for real time bus running information to be made available.
Obviously the situation with regard to train / bus interchange and to local bus waiting facilities will be unique to any situation, but it does seem to me that there are two basic areas of improvement as follows.
- Information – the integration of time, price and ticket information and purchase for at least a selection of important bus / coach routes with the train boking systems; and real time passenger information at interchanges and bus stops.
- Infrastructure – at interchange points, the full physical integration of bus waiting facilities into the train station facilities; and the provision of more substantial local bus facilities that are ideally not part of a pedestrian throughfare.
But the question that then arises is who should be responsible for such facilities – it is clear that at the moment these fall into gaps between the train infrastructure and service operators; the bus operators; local authorities and community groups. Much has been said recently of the need for a “guiding mind” to oversee the rail network. I would suggest that this guiding mind, should it ever achieve consciousness, should have a wider role in the overall transport network, and particular in the field of modal interchange. The post-Covid recovery of the public transport network would benefit greatly from this.