Road User Voice – December 2015 – South of the border

30 November 2015

The Transport Focus Board meeting in Newcastle on 12 November gave the road user team an opportunity to travel along the A1 up to Berwick – one of two Anglo-Scottish routes on England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN).

Road user managers Emma Emery and Lee Rowbotham, non-executive board member Isabel Liu and I caught Arriva’s X15 bus from Newcastle. The front seats on the top deck gave an excellent view of this part of the network on a glorious autumn afternoon. Good quality bus – one of the Max vehicles with free Wi-Fi and high-backed leather seats. Good value? It takes an age, yes. But 63 miles for £6.60 on a high-quality vehicle with free internet – pretty good, I’d say. Going by train takes only 45 minutes but would cost £25.70, unless you can snap up an Advance ticket – and interesting to see that CrossCountry (also an Arriva company!) was offering £8.50 single fares on this route the same evening with its ‘advance purchase on the day’ system.

Isabel Liu, Board member and Lee Rowbotham, road user manager

We got onto the A1 trunk road at North Brunton/Gosforth Park. This part of Highways England’s network was in pretty good condition – both surface-wise and in terms of cutting back vegetation, so road users can actually see the road signs! However, there were some signs where line of sight needed to be improved and we’ve sent those in for Highways England to address. Also, although the road surface was generally ok, the cycle/pedestrian path alongside didn’t look too clever at points. Warning road users about roadworks is an area Highways England needs to improve. Small orange signs state that ‘this road will be closed 20:00-06:00’ and gives the dates. See the picture below. It is easy to miss and doesn’t tell you why or what to do instead – not even totally clear if it’s referring to the A1 or the exit slip road into Morpeth.

Orange sign warning of overnight closure that evening

The X15 diverted off the A1 a number of times, sometimes for villages but also to serve Morpeth and Alnwick – our party snapped the castle for its Harry Potter links. Leaving and rejoining the A1, waiting for gaps in the traffic to cross over the other carriageway, highlighted the challenges of running a punctual bus service along the SRN. Does Highways England do enough to understand the needs of bus operators who use its roads?

The challenges of re-joining the A1 – waiting in the central reservation for a gap in the traffic

On the Newcastle to Ellingham stretch – to be ‘dualled’ in the government’s current Road Investment Strategy (RIS) where not already – the surface seemed to be in pretty good order. But north of Ellingham, which isn’t currently planned for dualling, it was noticeably less so. Every time the bus turned off the SRN to serve a village the gulf between surface quality on the Highways England network and the local roads was stark – at times it was a struggle to stay in the high-backed leather seats!

The X15 was bang on time leaving Alnwick and we thought we’d have a trouble-free last 10 miles or so into Berwick and a stress-free transfer to the Virgin Trains departure back to Newcastle. I knew from Google Maps that there were roadworks near Beal, the turn off for Lindisfarne. It was good to see a mobile display telling road users the distance and time to Berwick before the works site. What my phone didn’t tell me was that the temporary traffic lights through the roadworks were stuck on red! Gradually, cars in front of the bus cottoned on to the fact that the lights never turned green and, with some encouraging beeps from behind, decided that there was nothing coming the other way and they’d risk it. We phoned it in to the Highways England customer line, but it made us think how much chaos an equipment fault like this causes before the company gets to hear about it. Also, we knew the number to call, but I bet we’re in a very small minority.

Traffic queuing at the faulty temporary traffic lights near Beal

Now dark and starting to rain, despite the delay the bus drew into Berwick station forecourt just four minutes late – an insightful trip and good for the 17:11 after all! 

Arrived at Berwick station


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