Friday, 22 February 2013

Exeter in 2006

Earlier this week, I took advantage of the glorious February sunshine to visit Exeter - my first visit in 6 and a half years. While those photos are being catalogued, I thought I'd reminisce about my first visit in 2006. Exeter (along with Plymouth) has always been one of those areas I'd love to photograph in more often as I've always followed the bus scene in these Devonian cities - however, the sheer distance means it is usually impracticable. I've found I can now do Exeter in a day - Plymouth is just that extra hour too far either way.

The Stagecoach Devon fleet was in transition between 2004 and 2006. Out went a whole host of Iveco Turbo-Dailys and ex-London Volvo Olympians, and in came a variety of other buses. They were predominantly brand new Solos, Darts and Tridents, but also a variety of older double deckers joined the fleet - such as Volvo Citybus 15206 (F306MYJ) - pictured arriving in Exeter from Exmouth. F306MYJ was one of a number new to Southdown - a batch of buses I was very familiar with in Portsmouth.

Four elderly Leyland Olympians joined the fleet too. I managed to photograph 3 on the day - and they were all immaculately turned out. 14375 (D125FYM) was a former London and Warwickshire Olympian, pictured here heading for Crediton on route 50.

The Bayline route 12 - once Ivecos, then Volvo Olympians - had just been upgraded to this batch of 2004 plated Tridents. The 12 connected Paignton, Torquay and Brixham, so this one was certainly lost on the day. 18073 (WA04CSX), or Minotaur, is pictured arriving from Dawlish and Teignmouth.

Stagecoach Devon owned very few step entrance Dennis Darts from new - and this one is now exception. L716JUD was one of many buses new to Oxford, a former sister Harry Blundred operation, that found its way to Devon. 32016 is about to depart for Newton Abbot. Incidentally  this Oxford connection is maintained well into 2013, with Enviro400s new to Oxford having just entered service in Devon following the introduction of new routes in North Devon and Cornwall.

Back in 2006, Western Greyhound only had a small presence in the city. The 510 was operated by a couple of coaches, and connected Exeter with Newquay. Today, the 510 operates from Exeter to Wadebridge, with connections to Newquay, either by coach seated Enviro400s, Citaros or Optare Solos. 234 (J234HNC) is pictured having a rest in the lower coach station.

Enthusiasts in Devon are rather fond of these former London Scanias. These were all(?) convertible open toppers, used on the various summer tourist services along the south coast. Here 15326 (J326HMC) takes a break inland, arriving from Crediton on the 50.

One of the then-new order in Exeter - a very smart looking 34869 (WA06HNC), which was then brand new, arrives outside Exeter bus station on city service A. These had recently displaced Volvo B6LEs onto other city routes, as the Ivecos were disposed of.

This green livery is now lost from the streets of Exeter. It was designed to illustrate the service from Digby to the university, via the city centre. Optare Solo 47107 (WA04TXY) does the honours here.

At this point, Exeter was still served by (technically) 4 different First companies. As pictured here, the 92 came in from First Somerset & Avon from Taunton, operated mainly by Darts but the odd Leyland Olympian could sneak onto the route - as pictured here by 34964 (G904TWS). First Hants & Dorset served Exeter on the X53 / X54, the Red Bus operation came into Exeter on the X9 and 315, and the Plymouth operation served Exeter on the Sundays route 82. This was far fewer services than in previous years - but today only the X53 remains...

Finally, here is one of a batch of 4 Volvo Olympians that were native to Stagecoach Devon. 16602 (R902JDV) is pictured here operating service R, heading for Rifford Road. I'm not sure if 16602 is still in the fleet - certainly I didn't see any step entry buses in service in Exeter during my whole visit.

My over riding emotion from these shots is what variety was on offer back then - especially considering that by 2006 the fleets of First and Stagecoach were more standard! My visit this week provided only Enviro400s, Enviro300s, Enviro200s, Darts, Solos and Tridents... the above photos show at least 8 different types of Stagecoach buses. Ah well - then again they don't run fleets for enthusiasts...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Latest observations from Salisbury

For the first time in about a year, I visited Salisbury today with the intention of photographing several of the most recent changes. The weather was perfect, and as I headed towards Salisbury on the A36, the spire of Salisbury Cathedral was glinting in the late-winter sun.

One of the most recent acquisitions in Salisbury has been a number of East Lancs bodied Dennis Tridents, that were new to Solent Blue Line in 1999. The 8 Tridents have been split between Ringwood and Salisbury depots, and have now been in service for a couple of months. Today was the first opportunity I got to photograph them in service, and here is 1744 (T744JPO) heading back to its home city of Southampton on the X7. These buses really suite the Wilts & Dorset 2008 livery in my opinion - could the blue be a little lower on the front or not - I'm not sure what would look better.

The 2008-9 delivery of Scania Omnicitys continue to do sterling work on the X3, X5 and 8. Here is 1120 (HF58GYZ) heading for Bournemouth on the X3. These are due to be replaced during 2013 with brand new Enviro400 double deckers - it is not clear where the remaining Omnicities will be cascaded to, although Lymington has been mentioned.

Since my last visit, Damory have taken over the 183 Salisbury - Blandford and 184 Blandford - Weymouth. 1677 (HJ02WDL) does the honours here as it arrives into Salisbury.

Another recent bus that has changed companies is this VDL/Wright Cadet. 3416 (YJ07JTY) has moved from BlueStar at Eastleigh to Wilts & Dorset at Salisbury. It is pictured here heading for Romsey on route 34.

Stagecoach in Andover have recently received a number of MPD-sized Darts for their local services. 33077 (X253SHH) was recently acquired - I think from Stagecoach Western in Scotland. Unfortunately the LED display has failed to come out here, as 33077 arrives on an 87 from Andover.

Stonehenge to Salisbury city centre, railway station... and now Southampton! 1654 (R154NPR) arrived in Salisbury on an X7 from Southampton. Today's X7 - usually with a PVR of 3 - only saw one of the designated branded Spectras on route.

To end, possibly the largest change to Wilts & Dorset services in Salisbury. These are now branded as Salisbury Reds from Wilts & Dorset, and branding was evident on the LED displays, leaflets and in the bus station. However, the branding on actual buses was limited to the buses on city services - namely the MPDs and Citaros. Here Scania Omnicity 1135 (HF09BJO) arrives into Salisbury bus station from the depot, displaying information about the facebook site. The bus station, too, is also due to close in a few years, which will mean shots like this may not be possible...

Thursday, 14 February 2013

First announces New Bus Order for 2013-4...

FirstGroup, the UK’s leading bus and rail operator, today revealed that its bus division has ordered 464 new vehicles worth £76m for delivery in the 2013/14 financial year.  This order will bring First’s investment in new buses to around £240m in three years.
First also confirmed that more than 95% of its 2013/14 manufacture will be in the UK.  The bulk of the order will be built by Falkirk based Alexander Dennis Limited (222 vehicles) and Ballymena based Wrightbus (179 vehicles).  Volvo Group UK will manage its 37 bus contract from its headquarters in Warwick, while Leeds company Optare will manufacture 18.  A further eight vehicles will be ordered, but as yet no decision has been taken as to the manufacturer.
The interior of each vehicle will be laid out to First’s specification which was designed last year following extensive customer research. This seeks to maximise the flexibility for both buggies and wheelchairs whilst providing additional grab rails for all passengers whether seated or standing.   All vehicles will be fitted with Wi-Fi so that customers can stay connected whilst on the move.
“Investment in our bus division continues apace,” said Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of First UK Bus.
“We are committed to growing our business and encouraging more people to use our services and to use them more often.  These new buses will see our investment reach some £240m in nearly 1500 vehicles over the last three years. This is enabling us to make a step change in the quality of service that we offer.”
He continued: “It’s really important that we provide the very greatest flexibility for those customers using wheelchairs and buggies. Fitting Wi-Fi as standard is also increasingly important for our customers and all the vehicles will have leather or e-leather seating. We are determined to be at the forefront of customer service across the British bus industry.”
Mr Fearnley also said he was delighted that First continues to support British bus manufacturers.  “Our manufacturing partners continue to lead the world in terms of quality and value for money.    I’m pleased that our tradition of supporting the British transport industry remains strong.”
Colin Robertson, Chief Executive of Alexander Dennis Limited, said: “We are delighted to be supplying almost 50% of FirstGroup’s total new vehicle requirement this year. It is an endorsement of our class-leading products and the business relationship we have grown and nurtured with FirstGroup in recent years, working with them to raise the bar for the whole industry. I am particularly pleased that 142 of the 222 buses we will build for them are ultra-fuel efficient, 14-tonne Enviro300 single decks. These are achieving 9 - 10 mpg, which is best-in-class and provides significant whole life fuel savings versus many vehicles in service today.”
Wright Group Managing Director, Mark Nodder, said: “Wrightbus is thrilled to be awarded this substantial order from FirstGroup. It is a huge endorsement of the development of our StreetLite range of lightweight buses, which proved themselves best in class in every category at fuel trials conducted at Millbrook Proving Grounds under the close scrutiny of FirstGroup’s engineers. We look forward to continuing our close working relationship with First, a partnership which has lasted more than 17 years.”
Ian Downie, Project Director at Volvo Bus, said: “It is fantastic news that our partnership with FirstGroup continues with this new tender award, and in particular, with the repeat order for our complete single deck citybus, the Volvo 7900 hybrid. The continued success of the Volvo B7RLE ensures it is the 18 tonne city bus product of FirstGroup’s’ choice.”
Optare’s Deputy CEO, Glenn Saint, said: “I am very pleased that FirstGroup is putting our Versa model into its fleet and I have no doubt that it will meet, and exceed all their expectations.  Versa is a well proven model, renowned for providing the highest standards of passenger and driver comfort, excellent reliability and class-leading fuel efficiency, and I'm sure it will deliver on all of these key points for FirstGroup.”
First’s new buses will be fitted with EURO V engines. The £76m order consists primarily of single decker and midi buses with 42 double deckers. It follows the delivery in 2012 of a very high number of double deckers for First’s Olympic Shuttle services. 

It will be interesting to see which of these buses end up on the South Coast! There are not confirmed announcements for where these will go yet, but I'm sure this won't be far away.
So thats:
  • 222 ADLs
  • 179 Wrightbus
  • 37 Volvo
  • 18 Optare
  • 8 not stated yet

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Focus on Crookhorn

Crookhorn is a small town (large village?) on the road between Waterlooville and Havant in Hampshire. It is served by Stagecoach South and First Hampshire, and is the site of the South Downs College. It is a yearly trip for me, with wide paths, two bus precinct-style bus stops, and excellent for the sun even in deepest darkest winter...

Crookhorn is receiving an upgrade in the quality of bus on Stagecoach services. The 20, 37 and 39 operate through Crookhorn - more details will be given on these services throughout the post. We'll start with the 39, connecting Wecock Farm and Havant at a frequency of every 10 minutes. A brand new batch of Enviro200s are being introduced on the route - operated from Stagecoach's Farlington depot at Portsmouth. Here is 36824 (GX62BAV) pictured en-route for Havant. This shot neatly illustrates the wide views available at Crookhorn.

First's only offering to Crookhorn is route 7 / 7C. The 7 operates every 10minutes Monday - Saturday between Wecock Farm and Southsea, operated by Hilsea's Volvo B7RLEs. 6 have purple branding, as illustrated by 69381 (HY09AKG). The 7C is a college-days only route, operated by Hoeford depot, from Crookhorn to Cosham and Portsmouth. The predecessors to the 7 and 7C were the 40 and 40C, which were removed in last November's Portsmouth network changes.

The 37 connects Havant with Crookhorn, Waterlooville, Clanfield, Petersfield and beyond - with journeys terminating as route 38 at Liss and Alton. Former Manc Trident 18191 (MX54LPY) is pictured returning to Havant. This route operates hourly Mon-Sat.

New buses for Hilsea are due throughout 2013-4, but for now Dennis Dart SLFs sometimes slip out of Hilsea depot onto the 7. Dramatically raising the age profile on the route, here is 40827 (R647DUS) heading for Portsmouth and Southsea. This bus was new to Glasgow, and has seen service at all of FHD's Hampshire depots.

A variety of Dennis Darts from Stagecoach's Portsmouth depot operate regularly in and around Crookhorn, both on routes 20 and 39. Here is former Eastbourne-based 33387 (T927PNV) - heading to Havant on a 39 I think.

Finally, I'll focus on route 20. Route 20 connects Southsea, with Portsmouth, Stamshaw, Cosham, the QA Hospital, Crookhorn, Bedhampton and Havant at every 30 minutes. This route is also seeing the benefits of new Enviro200s, such as 36825 (GX62BBK) here.

For enthusiasts fancying a visit, a few hints / tips...
* The sun is perfect for north bound buses between about 10am and 1230 (winter time) for nearside views, and then again after about 1330 as the sun has moved around, when offside views are possible - south bound shots are never possible, so if you want to maximise this, come on a cloudy day!
* Buses approach the bus layby slowly, but not all enter it if passengers don't want to get off, or if there are none on the stand. Don't assume they will enter the stand.
* Mon-Fri you'll have 6x route 7s an hour, 2x route 20s an hour, 1x route 37 an hour, and 6x route 39s an hour. Stagecoach's Enviros will be regular. The 7C will join at about two an hour on school/college days
* Free Parking by car - 4 miles from Havant, and about 3 miles from Waterlooville. Well worth a visit if you are in the area.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 10th February

Today's Sunday Lost Scenes comes from the summer of 2003...

Southern Vectis 683 - 934BDL (DPX683W) - Shanklin (town centre) - September 2003

The Southern Vectis summer services for the year have been announced. Back come the Needles and Downs Breezers at every 30 minutes, together with the Shanklin Steamer and Island Coaster. It is expected to be the last year of the K reg Leyland Olympians on the Needles Breezer - to be replaced next year possibly by two of the Lymington convertible Volvo B7TLs. Today's post looks back to the previous regime, of Bristol VRs earning their keep.

683 was in service for many years before I was even born - let alone a bus enthusiast. I very much caught 683 on its last duties on the island - I didn't even manage to grab a photo of it in green. 683 was the "spare" VR for the island, which required 2x for route 42 (now Needles Breezer), 2x for route 43 (The Sandown Bay Tour), and the Old Girl (Bristol K) for the newly introduced Downs Tour. The side boards were swapped depending on which route it was allocated to. It was my last VR to capture on the island. 

I've always thought this livery was particularly effective - simple, bright and immediately communicated the service to the travelling public. It was replaced by the Best Impressions Breezers when the VRs were replaced by the Olympians. It has all been lost now, only kept in the memory and on photographs. DPX683W, incidentally, went to York Pullman after service on the island.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 3rd February

Today's Sunday Lost Scenes comes from Weymouth in 2009...

Sureline M460JBA, with L317AUT in the background - 4th September 2009

Sureline operated in Weymouth from 2002 until 2009. They brought a fleet of predominantly minibuses to the seaside town, operating across a number of routes with smaller margins that weren't operated by First. There was some competition across different routes. The fleet was started with 12 Mercedes-Benz 709Ds and one 609D - both of these buses were two of the original 12 709Ds.

M460JBA was new to London & Country and later an Arriva bus, while L317AUT was a former Midland Fox bus. Both were acquired by South West Coaches in 2009, when Sureline was bought out. Now the grey-silver buses of SWC operate in Weymouth. Bus services in Weymouth are in limbo at the moment - both SWC and First don't seem to want to put all their resources into the town, but you get the impression if one of them did, it may just see the other company leave. Maybe the management of Sureline were right to sell on and abandon the town altogether?

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Snow Scenes - January 2013

Today's blog entry will recount some of the snowy scenes around the south from January's snow fall, now two weeks ago. Snow fell throughout Friday 18th and Saturday 19th January. The main disruption was caused as the snow fell through the middle of the day, causing all buses between Southampton and Portsmouth to cease operation for a few hours, or longer. The majority of services were back up and running on the Saturday, after the relevant highways forces had done an excellent job making the roads safe.

My first stop was Cosham. I travelled up on the train - the stopper from Southampton. Under the emergency timetables, Salisbury's  Class 158s and 159s run the Southampton - Portsmouth stopper, which gives the opportunity of riding one of these away from their usual area, or from their peak timetabled operations. The first shot of the day was Stagecoach's 34414 (GX53MWE), pictured on the new route 20 extension to Southsea. Compare this scene to three years ago, and you can see the impact and improvement of the road clearing (we did also have less snow this time!). 

My customary shot from Portchester railway bridge - this shows Dart 46322 (M322YOT) operating staff shuttles. This is the same, now infamous, working that decapitated the double decker last week.

On Portsea Island, the majority of snow had cleared by midday Saturday, and nearly all services were back operating their routes. Indeed, the first First services started up again in Portsmouth at around 2.30 on Friday - the earliest in the South. Stagecoach had their buses off the road for an even shorter time. Here is 27642 (GX10HBU), heading along Southsea seafront for Brighton.

I returned to base and then went west, where the remaining snowfall was heavier. Pictured at Curdridge, here is First Hampshire's 42134 (S634KTP) heading for Fareham on route 26.

One of the last areas to get their regular services back was Hedge End railway station. Here First Southampton Volvo B7TL/Wright 37164 (HY07FSU) waits for passengers, still with a lot of slush on the ground.

This was not the worst snow across the south in recent years - indeed it was beginning to melt on Friday evening. As such, disruption was reduced and the majority of buses were back to normal by Saturday. Let's see what the next snowfal brings...