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Failing Ferries


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There are three threads on here about services not running as they should be IOW ferries, Condor ferries and Calmac, what is going on with these companies that they can't keep their services running properly?  I don't use any of them but I feel sorry for the people and businesses that rely on them.  Do they all think they have a captive market, is it bad management or lack of investment, although even where there's been investment there seems to be problems.

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Can’t speak for Calmac, but in the case of Condor, in my opinion, getting rid of Rapide was probably done too quickly.  NEX/Voyager was laid up for a long time, did BF stretch her legs at all while she was in lay up, she spent an awful lot of time doing nothing.  Normally after her normal seasonal lay ups, how much work do BF do with her to prepare her for her new season after roughly half a year of inactivity?  Has this been left to Condor?  She did her sea trials ok, but obviously there is more going on with her than meets the eye.  She is not a happy bunny by the sounds of it, yet she has always slipped back into her seasons with BF without a hitch.  Rapide can hardly come to the rescue now, can she, she should have been kept in service to allow the newbie to bed in.  I think this is to do with NEX’s long lay up.  How much did BF do with her before handing her to Condor?  That is my hunch.  I would guess when they eventually pull Barfleur out of lay up, she will be gone over with a fine tooth comb, and guess she won’t play silly beggars.

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…and to add further comment, it is a coincidence that Libby travelled all the way from the Philippines without trouble, yet the minute she entered service she started messing about.  People blamed her - but was all the abuse directed at her really to do with any shortcomings she had or was it more to do with her new operators?  It just seems a coincidence, that is all, not laying any blame on Condor but Libby was impeccable on a very long delivery journey.  Don’t want to cast aspersions but is very coincidental.  

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Ships do break down, especially the modern ones crammed with electronics. Ferries are worked hard usually. The problem comes with lack of resilience in the service. If St Clare or VoW go out of service then capacity on the route is immediately halved and an instant backlog is generated. It then takes time to mobilise St Faith so the backlog grows and St Faith has only limited capacity to clear it at busy times so you get an ongoing knock on effect until the situation can be stabilised. When there were four Saints on the route and one broke down, the chances were that the other three could rapidly compensate with extra sailings if necessary.

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23 minutes ago, Khaines said:

…and to add further comment, it is a coincidence that Libby travelled all the way from the Philippines without trouble, yet the minute she entered service she started messing about.  People blamed her - but was all the abuse directed at her really to do with any shortcomings she had or was it more to do with her new operators?  It just seems a coincidence, that is all, not laying any blame on Condor but Libby was impeccable on a very long delivery journey.  Don’t want to cast aspersions but is very coincidental.  

I can just hear the phone calls to Condor in a few years "Were you been miss sold a high speed ferry". In all seriousness though,NEX was laid up for so long only moved a couple of ship lengths to allow the other members of the BF fleet to access to "Lockdown ship hotel". When she went to Cherbourg, she never made it above 36 knots, the same when she went to Dunkirk for her 2019 refit. She hasn't operated in passenger service at her full 42 knots for a number of years, she has had a nice easy life of plodding to and from Portsmouth/Cherbourg at 9 knots off her full speed. Condor come along and immediately push her to her 42 knots again (although from what I've seen shes only ever made 40.8knots). To do that straight out of her not doing anything is bound to leave to troubles. It's like a bus company leaving a bus to stand for a year and then a driver taking it into service and thrashing it, it's going to break easily. 

What Condor should have done, is run her at 33 knots to begin with, then increase her to 36 knots and then if she was comfortable, push her to her 42 maximum. They need to remember that she isn't a brand new HSC like they wanted. She is only three years younger than Rapide.. Like Paul Luxon said on an interview one day "The company didn't invest enough time into sea trials with Liberation. There were tests that could have been completed but wern't. Our next ship will have more time invested in sea trials and we wont make as much hype as we did with Liberation." They haven't learnt by this. NEX wasn't given enough time to trial the Islands ports. They immediately went out and posted that she was faster than Rapide and that journey times would be shorter. They still caused a hype with all the info they posted and look whats happened! It has to be a Condor thing... Express, Vitessse and Rapide all had issues in her first year. Lets not mention Liberation and her problems. NEX comes along and shock she has problems as well!

Edited by tecnosam6
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4 minutes ago, cvabishop said:

Ships do break down, especially the modern ones crammed with electronics. Ferries are worked hard usually. The problem comes with lack of resilience in the service.

Sad that we say modern ships breakdown more, same as cars, I think it's more a case that when something goes wrong it needs a computer engineer instead of a man with a spanner.  Lack of resilience comes from having less larger vessels, which cuts down the frequency of service as well but looks good on paper, less running expenses.

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It is amazing how modern transport is susceptible to technology problems, how many container ships have wiped out cranes while trying to dock and the problem has been explained as a computer failure or software problem. In my honest opinion it all boils down to virtually every company being run with the main aim of maximising profit for shareholders. Prior to the 1980's so much was state owned, not just the UK but most of the world was the same, and the focus was service. Then came the great mantra ' Private ownership is better than state. Nations cannot afford investment but shareholders can.' The pendulum has swung too far towards profit and accountability, and now need to move back with the aim of balancing profit with service.

It is like the armed forces, all the non-combat vehicles were sold to hire companies and the next time we go to fight the private companies will have to support them. So no Army buses that can act as emergency ambulances and staff cars driven by civilians, will they join in any combat?

Sorry, I'm an old codger who cam remember the 60's with happy memories.

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1 hour ago, Barry Thomas said:

It is amazing how modern transport is susceptible to technology problems, how many container ships have wiped out cranes while trying to dock and the problem has been explained as a computer failure or software problem. In my honest opinion it all boils down to virtually every company being run with the main aim of maximising profit for shareholders. Prior to the 1980's so much was state owned, not just the UK but most of the world was the same, and the focus was service. Then came the great mantra ' Private ownership is better than state. Nations cannot afford investment but shareholders can.' The pendulum has swung too far towards profit and accountability, and now need to move back with the aim of balancing profit with service.

It is like the armed forces, all the non-combat vehicles were sold to hire companies and the next time we go to fight the private companies will have to support them. So no Army buses that can act as emergency ambulances and staff cars driven by civilians, will they join in any combat?

Sorry, I'm an old codger who cam remember the 60's with happy memories.

I agree with much of what you say Barry, the only thing when the state ran things service also gradually went, the Workers and the Management all thought I'm alright there was no incentive to improve.  With privatisation it's gradually gone the same way, a few mega "services" firms, Serco etc, get all the contracts there's no real competition and they squeeze the smaller firms who actually do the work, like Supermarkets squeeze suppliers.

As for the armed forces it's only when something goes wrong that people realise that they need them, example when that dam was collapsing a couple of years ago who was called in? The Army Engineers.

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2 hours ago, Barry Thomas said:

.So no Army buses that can act as emergency ambulances and staff cars driven by civilians, will they join in any combat?

 

Although not having been able to sit on a ferry awaiting departure from Millbay for nearly a year, it did seem a waste to see a row of several white minibuses parked up at Stonehouse, which would never go to battle. It would be far cheaper for the Royal Marines MTO (don't ever forget to add the "Royal"!) to pick up the phone and hire a double decker from Citybus. Out of hours a troop carrying 4 tonner could do the job just as well. 

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3 hours ago, cvabishop said:

Ships do break down, especially the modern ones crammed with electronics. Ferries are worked hard usually. The problem comes with lack of resilience in the service. If St Clare or VoW go out of service then capacity on the route is immediately halved and an instant backlog is generated. It then takes time to mobilise St Faith so the backlog grows and St Faith has only limited capacity to clear it at busy times so you get an ongoing knock on effect until the situation can be stabilised. When there were four Saints on the route and one broke down, the chances were that the other three could rapidly compensate with extra sailings if necessary.

This is absolutely right. And the problem is compounded by ferry operators’ current policy of running ferries as near capacity as they can manage (‘sweating the assets’) by cutting out the less lucrative crossings. This means that when cancellations do happen it takes a very long time for the remaining ship or ships to deal with the backlog. When VoW was off with its engine trouble, people with bookings at reasonable times of day found themselves transferred to sailings at totally impractical sailings in the early hours.
 

The policy of course allows them to charge high fares (very few cheap promotional offers are available these days), but also has the very harmful consequence, at least as far as the IW and its residents are concerned, that for large parts of the time it becomes impossible to book a crossing at all, at any price, except for a long time ahead.

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With regard to cars, I often see supercars outside the nearby Hilton.  Every day there is a Lamborghini or a Ferrari parked outside or nearby.  They do nothing for me, much rather see a mint condition classic/vintage vehicle.  Watched today as some bloke came out of the hotel, lifted the bonnet of a white McLaren and put his cases in it - under the BONNET, those cars have spaces for the golf clubs don’t they?  Bet that takes more than a spanner if it goes wrong.

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10 hours ago, tecnosam6 said:

They immediately went out and posted that she was faster than Rapide and that journey times would be shorter.

When Rapide replaced Condor 10 from St Malo to Jersey I asked one of the onboard team why she was called Rapide when in fact she took around 10 minutes longer to do the run. Her answer was that I should ask head office for an explanation and suggested that I wasn't the first person to pose the question. Hence perhaps Liberation as there was no underlying message in her name.

Ed

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12 hours ago, cvabishop said:

Ships do break down, especially the modern ones crammed with electronics. Ferries are worked hard usually. The problem comes with lack of resilience in the service. If St Clare or VoW go out of service then capacity on the route is immediately halved and an instant backlog is generated. It then takes time to mobilise St Faith so the backlog grows and St Faith has only limited capacity to clear it at busy times so you get an ongoing knock on effect until the situation can be stabilised. When there were four Saints on the route and one broke down, the chances were that the other three could rapidly compensate with extra sailings if necessary.

Calmac has no resilience in the fleet and the RMT scuppered a recent attempt to charter Pentalina.

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12 hours ago, Barry Thomas said:

 Prior to the 1980's so much was state owned, not just the UK but most of the world was the same, and the focus was service. Then came the great mantra ' Private ownership is better than state. Nations cannot afford investment but shareholders can.' The pendulum has swung too far towards profit and accountability, and now need to move back with the aim of balancing profit with service.

It is like the armed forces, all the non-combat vehicles were sold to hire companies and the next time we go to fight the private companies will have to support them. So no Army buses that can act as emergency ambulances and staff cars driven by civilians, will they join in any combat?

Sorry, I'm an old codger who cam remember the 60's with happy memories.

Calmac is owned by the Scottish Government.

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Calmac may be owned by the Scottish Government but it is a hands off unit. I must admit that when it was David Macbrayne it operated some slow and elderly vessels, the current fleet is an altogether different type and style of ship. Increases in population and demands for both food and consumer goods means that the modern ships are pushed to their operational limits. 

I can recall the ships not moving on a Sunday and the Barra and South Uist crossings were combined; out of Oban to Castlebay the on to Lochboisdale.  The North Uist ship did not move on a Sunday, neither did the Stornoway vessel. In fact the current Hebridean Princess is the old Columba, which was the winter relief and summer excursion boat. She had a gentle life with Macbraynes and is still toddling around the UK with her original Crossley engines. My memory is a bit hazy but I think she spent almost 20 years with Macbraynes but has been cruising for the best part of 35 years! Built in Scotland by Hall Russell.

The modern 'pre fabricated' ships work much longer hours seven days a week, but there is no relief or standby vessel when one of them runs into trouble. Looking at recent reports about Loch Seaforth her engine failure was down to failure of components which should have been replaced during a maintenance period/docking some time earlier. The catastrophic failure of one engine meant a long period under repair, but more importantly for Calmac because of her capacity they needed to divert TWO ships to cope with traffic, and that was not in the peak holiday season.

BF have had similar problems, if you remember when Pont Aven had an engine fire which led to the total replacement of one engine; luckily she was able to continue in service while the replacement engine was procured, (I love that word) but that was because of her multi-engine design. But she still had to go out of service for several weeks while the engine was replaced, but BF were able to do the work at a quiet time of the year.

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Same on the railways. Modern trains are packed full of electronic whereas old 1960s Southern Region electric trains were very simple and reliable electro-mechanical things. A classic new safety system with unforeseen consequences is the Interference Current Monitoring Unit which, if it detects that the train's motors are generating currents that might interfere with modern electronic signalling systems simply shut the train down. Game over.  So a simple arc-and-spark as the train picks up a new section of electrification supply  is almost guaranteed, amongst the white noise of the arc, to generate the voltage frequency to do just that.  When they did the press launch run for Eurostar back in 1994, the ICMU tripped on multiple occasions but they had a technician in the rear cab pressing the reset button every time it happened.  Oh, and power operated passenger doors are another modern classic source of unreliability compared to the old slam doors.

And Network Rail love their customers to run diesel trains with on-board signalling equipment because it reduces their own exposure to contractual penalties when their own kit failures (electrification supply and lineside signalling) result in train delays. Funny old world.

But at least on the railways, s substantial fleet size gives you the opportunity to have a sensible spares float - these days an operator will typically order 5-10% more trains than they actually need to run the daily peak service.  The only stress points that then occur tend to be when major overhaul programmes occur, typically three times during the lifetime of the fleet, when a number of units at a time will be down for weeks. A bit off-topic, but it hopefully demonstrates that we're dealing with universal themes

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Software provides the ultimate in flexibility and control and provides far more options if designed, written and implemented properly. Most of the issues results from ill defined initial specifications and constant re-specification due to siloing and not thinking thoroughly about complexity / all use cases (why was arcing not dealt with thoroughly in the design brief of the signalling software ... obvious to anyone working on electrified rail systems) and poor testing regimes. The most recent high profile direct comparison of well written and poorly written software is SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner capsule, where SpaceX was and is very successful and Boeing's mission had to be aborted within minutes of launch due to very poor software, endemic in the company with the unfortunate Boeing 737 MAX as well.

There is too much asset sweating and JIT extremes now instead of the goal being optimal operations. Nor is there an understanding of operating parameters are just that and limits do not mean all the time, they are limits, except to shortsighted MBAs and accountants who have no real world understanding but seem to inhabit a lot of decision making processes. You can see the thought process now, 42 knots means ... with no allowance for error or exception. There should always be contingency, better to arrive early than always late.

NEX should have been worked up over a period of days or even weeks to establish new operating parameters if needed and produce a longer term running plan. As for the IoW, the ferry companies and their behaviour seems to be increasing support for the IoW tunnel again, I wonder if it will become an inevitability?

As for private or public sector is better, when there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few, state, private sector or unions, more often than not leads to the consequent degradation of service for users / customers. CalMac is a dogs breakfast of state ownership of assets / control combined with a tendered private operator. 

We were involved in a study a while back looking at the optimum between higher capacity, service levels, costs and the influence of new technology combined with demand and public expectation, fewer and fewer larger vessels has many downsides especially on high cost long service life mobile infrastructure including providing less long term security against market changes. There are several scenarios which show smaller and more often across the channel would be better than bigger and less frequent.

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There are several scenarios which show smaller and more often across the channel would be better than bigger and less frequent.

Yes I agree but I suspect that a big factor is that one ship = 1 crew, two ships =2 crews etc. Staff costs loom large in these scenarios.

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