Kinross

It's been an interesting couple of weeks, which started with the closure of the Forth Road Bridge to all traffic on Friday, December 4th. I'd been gloating a little as, living in Fife and working in Edinburgh, I'd just got home on the Tuesday evening when I heard about restrictions being imposed on the bridge while a defect was investigated. Why gloat? well, I was taking a holiday on the Wednesday, so I missed all the congestion caused by the contraflow due to all traffic being forced to use the Northbound carriageway.

When it became apparent that the restrictions were continuing into Thursday, I simply took another of my holidays (I had a couple left to take before the year end). It started to get a bit more worrying when the bridge closed to all traffic from midnight Thursday, but I was still hopeful that it'd be back to normal after the weekend so I could juggle in another holiday - but I was running out of contingency, and the announcement the next morning that the closure would last until the end of the year capped it off.

Week one

The stories of tailbacks on the obvious alternative route vie Kincardine, the A985, on Friday were a bit depressing, so come Monday morning, I set off at 5:25AM on the recommended diversion route for cars along the A907 through Carnock. Even at that early hour I got held up at the Clackmannanshire bridge, although not too badly. Once on the South side of the Forth the roads were mainly motorway so I could make good speed and I eventually made it into work after a journey that was a fraction over two hours for what would normally have been a 15-mile trip.

Car diversion routes
(c) Traffic Scotland

This became a long day, as I had a one-hour conference call scheduled at 4PM, but that meant I missed the worst of the traffic by the time I got back to the crossings at Kincardine.  The return diversion took me up the A977 to Solsgirth and then via B-roads through Saline before getting back the A907 just outside Dunfermline.  The diversion roads are pleasant enough for a leisurely drive in the summer through rural Fife but they're very tiring to drive on in the dark - you're constantly trying to work out where the next bend is, what speed is reasonable for the next few hundred yards.

The next day I was bit more comfortable with the routes and made better time. so despite getting held up a little more at the Gartarry roundabout in the morning I knocked 20 minutes off the journey to work. The real interest started on the way home, when my front right brake calliper decided to go sticky as approached Saline. It wasn't completely seized but wasn't fully releasing either so I pretty much squealed all the way home (breaking down on some of these roads is not an option when it's now the primary route!) and had a rather hot front wheel by the time I pulled into my drive. No choice but to get it round to the local garage first thing in the morning. Fortunately they could look at it right away, so I left it with them and set off to try the buses.

Monday and Tuesday had sounded like horror stories on the trains; packed carriages, no-one able to get on at Dalgety Bay or Inverkeithing stations, car parks overflowing, etc., so I'd discounted that as an option. Stagecoach have managed to put on extra buses to run shuttle services from the Ferrytoll and Halbeath Park and Rides into Edinburgh and have almost halved the return fare to £3 for the duration of the bridge closure, but were commenting that the buses were far from full. That indeed seemed to be the case and the X58 from Ferrytoll only had a couple of other people on it, and likewise for the return journey. In fact, the service was so underutilised that after the first week the X58 was stopped and the buses moved onto the slightly busier X59 route from Halbeath. That's a slight pity and I don't understand why Ferry toll was being so lightly used - there was plenty of spaces in the car park.

My car was repaired when I got home  (R.A. Auto Services - you guys are stars), but the removal of the stress of driving those rural roads meant that I was happy to keep using the bus.  Besides, the return bus fare is probably a third of what my petrol costs were for the 110 or so mile round trip, and the bus ride is about an hour and a quarter, since it gets to use a "priority route" along the A985. The only downside is that the nearest the bus gets to my office is about one mile away, although I suppose there's a health upside in being forced to have a brisk, 20-minute walk each morning and evening! That is, except when the rain is chucking down and the wind is blowing a hooley.  Thankfully that's only happened on that first Wednesday evening.

Week two

This past week, following the withdrawal of the X58 service, I've been driving up to the Halbeath park and ride and getting the X59. I've seen an interesting array of buses on the route as evidence of Stagecoach's efforts to pull as many buses as possible in to help: One stickered for "Aberdeen - Ellon - Fraserburgh" (I have visions of some little old lady standing in Ellon High Street wondering why the hell her bus hasn't turned up yet), another as the "X4 Capital Express: Merthyr Tydfil - Pontypridd - Cardiff" (I've been on that one at least three times), a Glasgow X19, a Glenton Holidays tour coach, another from Moffat and Williamson...  Clearly, Stagecoach have chartered buses wherever they could to supplement the ones they could provide themselves, and I've seen at least three Moffat and Williamson coaches parked up in the Halbeath P&R ready to start service in the morning.

Pic: broxapdesignandbuild.com

Buses also need drivers and with services starting around 4AM and running until well after 1AM (at 10 minute intervals for a large part of the day) drivers have been shipped in too; a couple of times I've had a driver from Yorkshire and that's in addition to the charter guys. 

The buses from and to Halbeath have certainly been busier than the Ferrytoll ones but there are usually still plenty of seats. In fact the only time I've ever not had a whole seat to myself was the bus I caught on Monday evening, around 6PM outside the Holiday Inn. I really don't understand why they're not being used more, while the trains are still packed.  OK, the trains is a good bit quicker, but you've got to get on one first: A lady I spoke at Ferrytoll had been taking the train but said she'd wait on the platform for hour because the first three trains through Inverkething would be too full to accept anyone else, and at £8.50 return it's a lot more expensive. An additional bonus on the bus is that many of them (Stagecoach's own ones anyway) have free WiFi, so I can do a bit of catching up on things while I ride. 

Having said that, I wasn't much of a fan of the idea of going on the bus so I'll readily acknowledge that if I hadn't had car trouble, I'd probably still be driving myself in and out of Edinburgh.  That is, unless I'd ran off the road and into a wall through sheer exhaustion - after only those first two days, it really was taking it's toll on me.  I don't have the kind of stamina for these long days and long drives that I used to have.

The week to come

Now, I've only got three more days travelling into work before I can forget about it for a couple of weeks and I'll still be on the bus for those days. We've probably missed out on a couple of journeys across the Forth over the weekends as I'm not especially inclined to take that bus journey for non-essential shopping trips, but the diversions have also put a good chunk of Fife and Clackmannanshire effectively "off-limits" , or least put it on the "to be avoided" list, which is a shame.

All in all, I'm sure this is costing Stagecoach a healthy sum between the reduced fares, increased fuel costs relocation of buses and no doubt a healthy premium pay rate for the staff involved. But I'm equally sure that they have high expectations of getting a bit more than a pat on the back from the Scottish Government. And they probably deserve a big "thank you".