Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 28th October

With BlueStar soon to receive brand new double deckers for route 1 (Winchester - Southampton), I thought we'd remember what went before...

Solent Blue Line 732 - H732DDL - Fryern Hill - 29th February 2008

The Scania Omnicity double deckers for route 1 arrived towards the end of the year, but at the start of 2008 route 1 was an eclectic mix of all types of Solent Blue Line buses. The intended operation was to use the Volvo B7TLs, but in reality anything including Tridents, Volvo and Leyland Olympians, Volvo B10B single decks or Mercedes-Benz Citaros could operate on the routes. The sight of 732 trundling between Southampton and Winchester was not a rare sight. 

With BlueStar's allocations now fairly established, I look back to 2008 and realise that I did not make the most of the variety that was on offer to the bus enthusiast. The 7 Scania Omnicities are rarely off route, and you seldom find anything else on route 1. This is excellent for BlueStar's image, meaning that the service is always of consistent quality and reliable for the customer.

I'm not sure what the new deckers for route 1 will be at the turn of they year. I've heard Enviro400s mentioned but that was just a rumour. The 58-plate Scania Omnicities will, apparently, then move onto route 2, cascading the Volvo B7TLs to school services. I'll hope to bring you photos of these buses when they arrive.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 21st October

Today's Sunday Lost Scenes come from Plymouth in summer 2009...

Plymouth Citybus 132 - M132HOD - Plymouth (Brentonside Bus Station) - 10th August 2009

Back in 2009, I made my one and only visit to Plymouth. As I am located in Hampshire, Plymouth is just that bit too far for a day trip, meaning that I haven't been back since. For 2013, Plymouth is high up on my to-do list, especially with the Go Ahead growth and First uncertainty.

We go back to what feels like a quieter year here. Plymouth Citybus were still under the ownership of the council, and First's Ugobus initiative was in its infant stages, run with Darts and Volvo B6BLEs. Citybus still operated a number of Merc 709Ds and step entrance Darts, where First's fleet was actually looking pretty good - with the Olympians tucked away for the summer, the fleet was 95%-ish low floor on the day of my visit. 

How times have changed. Plymouth Citybus have since removed all step entrance buses from regular service work, where First have been developing the age profile of Plymouth's fleet by introducing Leyland Olympians. One wonders what is going on behind the scenes at First in Plymouth, as surely the recently redistributed North Devon Tridents would have gone straight to Plymouth instead of Southampton. Furthermore, Darts are now being repainted in white rather than the new livery. Something appears to be imminent - whether it is, or whether the bus users will have to put up with more Leyland Olympians remains to be seen.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Go Ahead Tridents in new lands

Two of Go Ahead's premier companies - the Oxford Bus Company and Brighton & Hove - have been cascading some of their older Dennis Tridents around the more recently acquired companies. This post specifically focuses in on a couple of Tridents at Thames Travel.

First up, we have former Brighton & Hove 806 - T806RFG - now number 915 with Thames Travel. It is pictured outside Reading railway station - the large scale developments and rebuilding work at the station can be seen in the background. It is one of three Tridents of the same type acquired from the Sussex fleet. 915 is pictured on the X39, an express route connecting Oxford and Reading. The service is hourly and takes just over an hour most of the time. Weekday loadings have steadily increased over the past few years, which brings greater capacity to the corridor.

Secondly, we have 109 (T109DBW) - one of a large batch of Dennis Tridents acquired by the Oxford Bus Company for park and ride routes. These buses have an interestingly coloured interior! 109 retains the two-tone base of the Oxford Park & Ride livery, but has Thames Travel blue at the bottom. It is an example of the two local Go Ahead companies working together. As well as this, four Mercedes-Benz Citaros moved to Thames Travel along with the X2 route. Therefore, the Didcot - Oxford corridor is now operated by Thames Travel - the Citaros look great in this livery too.

Thames Travel is a particularly interesting company. Something changes on every visit to the area. If you would like any more information on Thames Travel or bus services in that area, please visit the excellent Bus Zone website.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Good and The Not-So-Good of First Berkshire

This was the First Berkshire post pulled a few weeks ago. The 41 readers who read it the first time may note there have been some changes to the original wording.

First Berkshire are an interesting company. On the outskirts of London, First Berkshire is the former Beeline operation, operated under management from First London at Paddington. The fleet is a mixture of premier interurban services, and run down local services.

Let us start with an area First Berkshire appear to be very strong in - the GreenLine contract. First operate route 702 from London to Slough, Windsor Legoland and Bracknell, using a variety of Volvo B9TL double deckers and coaches. All of the buses are immaculately turned out. Three brand new Volvo B9TLs also arrived last year. Pictured to the left are two of the double deckers used on the service. Firstly, 37986 (BJ11ECY) in service on the 702 in Windsor. Secondly, we have one of the 2008 delivery of Volvo B9TLs, 37276 (LK58EDL) pictured heading for London as it leaves Slough.

Furthermore, First Berkshire operate the Reading to Heathrow rail air link. The fleet operate a variety of coaches on the route - the eldest being 9 year old coaches and the youngest just a year old. There is also a fleet of Hybrid coaches on order, due to replace the existing stock over the next year. For these two areas of First Berkshire, the future looks bright. One wonders if these high profile routes are earning more of the money for First Berkshire, and therefore almost subsidising the other local routes.

Now for the 7 series. Slough's most high profile set of routes, connecting Heathrow with the towns around Slough. Routes 71, 75, 76 and 77 are operated by a large fleet of these Mercedes-Benz Citaros, which have been acquired between 2003 and 2008. The only problem with them is the appearance. When you start to look at them in detail, you notice glass panels with branding not replaced, and panels without branding replaced. It will be interesting to see the long term future for this route with First. This branding is now nearly 6 years old. A new brand that is slightly more panel-friendly wouldn't go amiss, and possibly would breathe new life into the route.

The 190 between Reading and Bracknell is in the hands of these former London Dennis Tridents. While the appearance of these buses is excellent (not to sure with the red on yellow First logos left over from London though...), Bracknell depot in terms of routes has been run down over the past few years. 
With all of the tendered work moving to Thames Travel, Bracknell depot now only operate town routes 155, 171 and 172, along with the 190 to Reading, 191 to Windsor and the 194 to Camberley. Bracknell depot does also operate buses for Greenline, and is the nearest First depot to the Reading Rail-Air routes. All Bracknell town routes are operated by Scanias or Dennis Tridents.

Finally, we come to the rather run down Slough town services. Dart SLFs new in 2000 and cascaded buses from London form the majority of the fleet (along with a fleet of dedicated Solos). The Marshall bodied Dart SLFs show all the signs of a hard life - certainly the ones I saw still have their original seat cushions. Moreover, the ALX200 bodied Darts new in 2000 now are looking a little bit tired. For example, we have 42344 (X244AMO) below. Some of the interiors look a little bit worn, and panels have not been repainted when they have been replaced. The X---AMO batch of buses would look great in the new livery, and with new style branding for the 58 from Britwell to Uxbridge, would show investment and pride in the fleet. 

Certainly First Berkshire do things very well. The Greenline routes and RailAir services are very well presented. All the buses I saw, regardless of panel condition, had spotless exteriors and looked fantastic. In addition, the fleet have received cascaded Tridents and Citaros from London recently, indicating a desire to improve services. However, the condition of many of the buses lets the side down. A number of panels are due replacement - once a long term problem at FHD's Portswood depot but no longer. Furthermore, the brand on the Mercedes-Benz Citaros seems to be a little worn, with branding not being replaced when altered. Finally, as we write there are no buses in the new fleet livery.

 The common consensus with First at the moment is that any fleets not showing investment could be up for sale... it will be interesting to see if the former Beeline fleet is operated by First in a year's time. 

Monday, 15 October 2012

From Devon, with love

Southampton and Weymouth have been the beneficiaries of a number of buses previously in service at Barnstaple depot. They new arrivals, which are predominantly Dennis Tridents and Dennis Darts, bring up the average age of the fleets around the south coast and add more variety. Details of the transfers are below...

* 32751, 32752, 32753, 32754 (X501 / 2 / 3 / 4BFJ) to Weymouth
* 32755 (WJ52SYE) to Weymouth
* 32764, 32765, 32767, 32768 (WJ55CSO / CSU / CTE / CTF) to Southampton
* 32874 (HIG1524) and 32954 (X954HLT) to Weymouth
* 42457 (R457CCV) to Southampton
* 42925 (SN05EAC) to Weymouth

Confirmed Leyland Olympians 34336 (H136FLX), 34623, 34628 and 34629 (K623 / 8 / 629LAE) to Plymouth
Pending Dennis Dart SLF 40784 / 40787 (R288 / 291GHS) withdrawn from Southampton

Pictured above - one of Southampton's newly acquired Dennis Tridents in service on route 5 in Portswood. The bus is 32768 (WJ55CTF). The four Tridents instantly become the second youngest batch of double deckers with First Southampton.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 14th October

With the launch of First's first commercial route into Hythe this week, I thought I'd take the time to remember an old favourite...

First Hants & Dorset 34990 - E290HRV - Hythe (Ferry Yard) - 14th September 2007

In 1987, Southampton Citybus purchased two East Lancashire bodied Leyland Olympians. Fitted with coach seats, the buses were primarily allocated to the X27/X47 Portsmouth - Southampton service, Redline coach-style services, and standard service work. For their entire history, the two buses - E289HRV and E290HRV - have always been special.

The only time I ever caught one in service was in Hythe on an Asda bus service. It had just been repainted into First livery, from the previous First Southampton red livery. The dot-matrix-style electronic number display had been a feature of the bus since it was new. The coach seats were still in place, and, having ridden one of these, I can say they were very comfortable buses. 

They were two buses I just couldn't photograph. I once found E289HRV heading through Portswood on a route 3 - the only time in all my years in Southampton I saw one - and I couldn't get the camera out quick enough. The sun was perfect, too...

Hythe's new route - the Watersider - brings state of the art Volvo B7RLEs to the Hampshire town. The Watersider Volvo B7RLEs were new to West Yorkshire in 2007, but have also seen service in Plymouth as Ugobuses. I hope to bring you photos of these buses over the next few weeks.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Twilight of the Dennis Darts

With the Fareham and Gosport network changes planned for next month, accompanied by the forthcoming arrival of a batch of brand new Enviro200s for Southampton over the new year, the step entry Dennis Darts may finally be withdrawn at the end of the year.

These buses seem to have been excellent survivors. The first "batch" was culled from the fleet in 2009, when Hilsea received the then brand new Volvo B7RLEs for routes 40 and 41. This saw off all of the Wright bodied Darts, and a large number of the younger L and M reg Darts.

The second large scale withdrawal came at the start of the year, when the Hoeford Eclipse buses were introduced. This left only a handful of step entry Darts in service around First Hampshire. Two examples are the buses illustrated. Firstly we have 46322 (M322YOT), a bus that was initially withdrawn earlier this year, only to be resurrected for Fareham town services. It is pictured heading under the former relief Meon Valley line railway bridge, as it heads for Fareham on route 94. Pictured to the right is 46367 (N467ETR) - all 4 9.8m Pointer bodied Darts that were acquired by Southampton Citybus are still in service, although one has had a holiday in Cornwall.

The new Portsmouth, Fareham and Gosport network sees a reduction in PVR which will see off a couple of the Darts. Following this, the arrival of the new Southampton Enviro200s will see the cascade of a number of SLF Darts to replace those left, if any are left. 

We've said it before, but if you are missing any photos of these buses, get them soon!