Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bath Time

Last weekend, I travelled to Bath to grab some photos from one of my favourite cities. Despite a rather awful trip up in one of FGW's class 150s where we resembled sardines in a tin, I had a very productive and successful day. To view all of my photos from the day, please click here.

First are the dominant operator in Bath, and are trialling a Wright Streetlite at present, in view of taking a batch of similar buses to upgrade route X39 (Bath - Bristol) later this year. 47404 (LK62HJX) is seen on the X39, which was a mis-match of Darts (both smaller and larger examples), Volvo B7RLEs and B10BLEs and even a low floor Dennis Lance on Saturday. Standard allocation cannot come quick enough for this route, which is very strange, as on my last visit...

... the X39 was wall to wall Volvo B7RLEs wearing branding for the route. The Volvo B7RLEs were conspicuous by their absence on Saturday - I didn't see a single Mk2 example on the 173 from Wells, and the later "55" batch of buses were not on their main route of the 264/265 to Warminster. Have they been transferred away on the sly? Here's 66728 (WX54XCN) heading along Corn St in Bath, for Bristol. This batch of buses will presumably move on by the end of 2013 and it will be interesting to see if they leave Bath or not. One would think in another age they would fit perfectly on the Taunton - Bridgewater 21 service - but with potential sales in the air, maybe First will want to keep hold of them.

Wessex Connect have taken delivery of brand new Volvos though for their U18 route branded "Uni Connect". Here is one of their very impressive vehicles - BX62FBF - seen in the same location as above.

Bath has recently taken delivery of two batches of buses - Enviro400s for Park & Ride and seven Enviro200s primarily for route 13. Here is one such bus, 44524 (YX62DXC). I'm not sure what these really replaced, as L and M reg Darts still were around in the city on Saturday. If Bath is an area First want to keep, I am not sure why they are transferring the young-mid life stock away to Bristol all the time.

For instance, the 56-plate Volvo B7TLs that were previously on P&R services have not been put on Bath services, but moved to Weston & Bristol to upgrade other services. Enviro400s Hybrids are now the main allocation, as illustrated here by 39134 (SN62AWF).

I always thought my local First depot, Hoeford, was the home to step Darts. After all, Hoeford have had every model except East Lancs bodied Darts. I was wrong - half a year after Hoeford lost their last step-Dart, Bath still cling onto a handful of step-Darts, as illustrated here by 46225 (L225VHU), a relic from Badgerline days. Still, the enthusiast in me is glad to have these around, especially as I missed most of these in my younger years.

Bath is also home to the remaining former First Mainline (Sheffield) Dennis Dart SPDs, which have proved troublesome since the Yorkshire company wanted to part with them. Here is 40534 (S529UAK), gleaming in the May sunshine. 

Another long lost Dart that has found home in Bath is 42633 (P633YUM). I believe this was new to Yorkshire Pullman, and has since operated in First Cymru (whose branding it still carries above the window). Again, for an old Dart it was immaculately turned out, albeit for the redundant branding.

My fourth and final First Dart - here is 42553 (WX05UAK), part of a large order of Solos, Darts, Volvo B7RLEs and Volvo B7LA artics introduced in 2005 to modernise Bath city services. It has just entered St James's Parade as it heads for Bath bus station.

Bath Bus Company are no longer just running open top tours in Bath - they now operate the 'Air Decker' services to Bristol Airport. Here is A501 (SK52URX) heading along Broad Quay, a Volvo B7TL new to fellow RATP company, London United.

In another strange move, the majority of Bath's 2003-batch of Volvo B7TLs have moved out of the city. According to Steve White's site, only 5 of these buses are now in service in Bath. Back in 2009, when they were transferred in from Bristol, nearly the entire batch was in service from Bath. Heading for Keynsham and Bristol is 32283 (WR03YZS).

Wessex Connect's Royal Blue branded Darts are still in service in the city following their introduction two years ago. Here is 1653 (V653HEC), heading for Whiteway on route 5.

Finally, here is one of the smallest buses in service on the streets of Bath. This Enterprise/Plaxton Primo was new to Truronian, who in turn were purchased by First in 2006. 57000 (MX56AEB) has since transferred to Bath, and is pictured on route 10.

As always, Bath was a pleasure to photograph in, and offered a huge amount of variety. I am a little confused about First's stance in Bath - the recent restructuring has put Bath in the same control as Bristol depots, so presumably is not one asset the company are specifically looking to sell. Maybe the investment in Bath city services later this year will give a clearer indication of how important First sees Bath. Seven Enviro200s and a small batch of Enviro400s that are required by the conditions of the P&R contract is not a lot of investment in eight years - but time will tell if these buses are just the start of First creating something greater in Bath.

To view all of my photos from the day, please click here.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A rural Hampshire village...

Today, I'm going to focus on Boorley Green, near Botley in Hampshire. Boorley Green is a small place, with a pub, some fields, some houses and not a lot else. It's been a rather confusing location for the local Hampshire bus companies to serve, and only served because of a Hampshire County Council tender. This post will focus on the recent history of bus services. Please note these are more rambles of what I remember, rather than facts set in stone. Having said that, regular readers will know vague rambles are quite a regular occurrence!

Back when BlueStar services were first introduced, Boorley Green was served by Solent Blue Line's route 6. Back in 2006(ish), BlueStar 3 was a circular route from Southampton, via Bitterne, to Hedge End and back, operated by minibuses at a frequency of every 20 minutes, I seem to remember. Route 6 was then an hourly addition to this, extended to Botley and Boorley Green. The route was operated by primarily a variety of ex-Wilts & Dorset stock - initially Metroriders in a variety of colours or former Southern Vectis Iveco Turbo-Dailys in blue - and then the first Solos transferred to Solent Blue Line in 2007. Thanks to Ant Poulton for the photo link - his website is well worth a look if you've got some time on your hands.

Following a BlueStar network review, First took over the Boorley Green contract in 2007 using former London and Berkshire Darts. Route 25 was a strange route that seemed more of a shuttle to get passengers to the trunk routes or railway station than anything else. It operated at about an hourly frequency (except an hourly lunch break) from Hedge End superstores, to Hedge End railway station, Botley and Boorley Green. There was also a peak service AM from Southampton to Boorley Green, and a return trip in the evenings. 41165 (R165TLM) was one of the regular buses on the route, and is pictured at Hedge End railway station back in August 2007.

The 25 disappeared a few years later, and was replaced by an hourly Velvet route A. This connected Boorley Green with Eastleigh this time, via Botley and Hedge End. The connection to railway station at Hedge End was lost, but the bus did travel directly to both Southampton Airport Parkway and Eastleigh railway stations.  The route, at this point in time, was primarily operated by Velvet's DAFs, as illustrated here by V14GMT. This arrangement carried on until late last year, when Velvet reviewed route A and re-routed it into Southampton city centre.

Full circle. Now Solent Blue Line are back on the route, and Boorley Green has never had it so good! The hourly frequency remains, but also now on Sundays. Boorley Green has lost the Eastleigh connection, but regained the direct Southampton link. BlueStar's hourly route 3 does the honours, and a variety of Citaros, Volvo B7TLs, or Omnidekkas, such as former Reading 1012 (YN06JWE) do the honours. 1012 is pictured at Boorley Green yesterday. Incidentally, BlueStar do the opposite loop to that of Velvet, which makes photography far easier for the sun. (I'm sure that isn't why they did reverse the loop, however!)

I suppose the most damning statistic of them all, is that in three or four photography trips to Boorley Green no passengers have been on the bus at any time. Presumably the weekday passenger flow is greater - especially to Hedge End village, the superstores and Southampton city centre itself. I also am aware that certain trips in the day are essential to convey school children to or from school. However, I wonder what the future of the Boorley Green route holds in these cost-cutting times...

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 26th May

Today we look back to an old, unique friend...

First Hampshire 800 - H523CTR - Portsmouth (The Hard) - Spring 2003

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were many brand new buses being tested by different operators as potential replacements to the Bristol RE / Leyland National as primarily purchased by the NBC. People's Provincial took on a wide variety of these buses, and in the early days one potential bus was the ACE Cougar, bodied locally by Wadham Stringer (later developed into UVG and Caetano, I believe). Only one of this variant was ever made (there was another Cougar, bodied by Willowbrook Warrior), and thankfully, this tiny piece of history has been preserved.

The Cougar saw regular service around the south coast with People's Provincial. When the company was bought by First in 1995, it received the red and cream local livery. It remained at Hoeford for all of its life. It tended to be allocated on any of the big bus routes along with the Nationals - thus was a regular site on routes such as the 5, 34, 72, 80 and 88. 

H523CTR is now preserved with the Provincial Society, and is booked into this year's Stokes Bay rally in service. Click here if you would like any further details about the rally, that will take place on Sunday 4th August.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Portsmouth Update - Mon to Sat

This is the second instalment of my exploration of Portsmouth's city services. The first documented the operations on a Sunday or bank holiday - you can click here if you missed the first part. All shots are taken from last Saturday and again in Portsmouth City Centre - along Edinburgh Road Bishop Crispian Road - renamed back in 2011 apparently.

During Monday to Saturday, Hoeford's fleet of Scania Omnicitys are a much more regular sight, being the regular bus of choice on routes 1 and 3, with some workings onto the 2. Route 2 connects The Hard with Paulsgrove at a frequency of every 10 minutes. This route is operated by Hilsea and Hoeford depots, realistically meaning that any single decker bus from either of the two depots can appear on the route (except the Eclipses). This is 65013 (YN54NZJ), which has received a slightly different front end modification following an accident. Rumour has it that 8 of these buses will be refurbished and branded for the Solent Ranger in the near-mid term future.

And here is the Solent Ranger! Presently operated by Hoeford's youngest 8 native Dart SLFs, the Solent Ranger is the only route into Portsmouth that actually is branded using the new livery. This version of the livery we on the FHD forum affectionately call "marmite" has gone down well in enthusiast circles, and these Darts are regularly full. Hopefully the increased branding and route awareness has helped it to grow. This is 42142 (S642XCR), having just set of from The Hard on its trip to Southampton. 

Stagecoach have just launched their new SmartCard across the South region. Therefore, a number of buses across the region have been branded to advertise this. Here is 15586 (GX59JYT), the former Jubilee bus, heading for Brighton on the 700.

On Saturdays, First operate PR1 at a frequency of every 10 minutes in Portsmouth. This is Portsmouth's only P&R route, connecting Gunwharf Quays/the Historic Dockyard & the city centre with Northarbour car park. This is due to be improved in 2014, with a new car park and junction to the M275 being built at Tipner. The adverse effect of this, is that routes such as the X4, X9 and PR1 are held in a 40mph contraflow... Former Sheffield Volvo B10BLE 66199 (S799RWG) does the honours here.

Stagecoach's route 20 and 21 are usually operated by the formerly Sail-branded Dart SLFs. However, recently a SPuD has returned to Portsmouth in the shape of 33058 (X958VAP), and is pictured heading for Havant here. Apparently, 33058 is not destined to stay in Portsmouth for too long, so grab it while you can.

The Monday-Saturday X9 is operated by Hilsea's 5 Optare Solos, which are freed up to work city services on a Sunday. Here 53151 (YN03ZVW) heads for the small village of Hambledon, looking very smart in it's 10-year old coat and original of paint. 

Former London Dennis Dart SLF/Marshall Capitals are harder to find in Portsmouth city centre during the week. These buses are usually kept on the 17 and 18 out of town, but usually a couple sneak onto the 7, 8, 13, 14 or 15. Here "DML"41387 (X387HLR) heads for Hayling Ferry, having just set off from The Hard.

Finally, I'll post the only non-Solent Ranger bus in the new livery at Hoeford depot. 40792 (R296GHS) is a former Glasgow Dart, that was acquired by Southampton's Portswood depot in late 2005. No one is quite sure why this bus was chosen for a repaint, but its appearance is exemplary. To be fair to Hoeford and Hilsea, the external appearance of their buses improved greatly around late 2007-2008, and they have not let their standards drop since (apart from the odd one or two, or on snow/grit days!).

I really recommend Portsmouth for bus photography on a sunny day. It is one of the easiest cities I know where you can consistently get great photos, and there are many many locations with fantastic backdrops. Also, with First probably introducing 26 new Wright Streetlites onto the 7/8 soon, and Stagecoach introducing some new Enviros by the end of the year, the bus scene will have changed by the time we get to 2014.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sunday Lost Scenes - Sunday 12th May 2013

Today we reminisce about to the first form of the Selsey Link branding...

Stagecoach South 20832 - P832FVU - Chichester Bus Station - 16th July 2008

The Link is one of Chichester's premier city routes. Numbered 51, this route connects Chichester city centre and railway station with Selsey on the coast. In 2006, Stagecoach branded some of its former-Manchester Volvo B10Ms with "The Selsey to Chichester Link", operating the route at every 15 minutes. 20832 was one of those buses, and is pictured in the rather simple branding that it carries.

These buses were replaced with SPDs in 2008, and then in March of this year, the 51 received Stagecoach Gold branding, along with a brand new fleet of leather-seated, Wi-fi equipped Enviro300s. The route has come a long way in 7 years! I've realised I haven't actually posted my Stagecoach Gold photos on the blog yet, so these will hopefully come over the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Portsmouth on a Sunday

From time to time, I like to update my readers about the bus scene in my local city of Portsmouth. This is the first of a two part post - the first surveying a Sunday/bank holiday service, the second on an every day Mon-Sat operation.

Firstly, a look at Stagecoach. Stagecoach South operate four routes into Portsmouth on a Sunday. The 700 is one of those, which has seen its frequency doubled recently to every half an hour on a Sunday. Coastliner branded Enviro400s tend to operate the route throughout, with the odd non-branded Enviro400 from Chichester, or single decker Enviro300 from Chichester or Worthing. The standard fare to Southsea are these Scania/E400s though, as illustrated here by 15594 (GX10HBC) passing Portsmouth's cathedral in the city centre.

On a Sunday, route 21 and route 23 provide five buses an hour between Portsmouth City Centre and The Hard. For the 23, this is a Sunday only variation. The 21 seems to be operated by Enviros on Sundays rather than the standard Darts, although this is only based on my observations. Here's 27562 (GX58GNJ), which has recently been repainted out of the Sail23 branding.

The daily Hoverbus service is usually operated by former Tellings Golden Millar Dart 33156 (LK55KZZ). Here is the specially branded bus, heading for Portsmouth city centre on bank holiday Monday.

Over to First, whose Sunday Portsmouth operations seem to be primarily operated by Hilsea depot. The recent route changes means that, for the first time in nearly a decade, Fareham and Portchester see regular Hilsea-based buses on route 3. Here is former Hong Kong, Edinburgh and Devon Dart 40959 (S335TJX), heading down the appropriately named Edinburgh Road! Apart from the Volvo B7RLEs on routes 7 and 8, and the odd Scania or Volvo B10BLE out on route 1, 2 and 3, this is about the biggest First bus in service in Portsmouth on a Sunday.

Hilsea's former London Dennis Dart SLFs operate on the main city routes on a Sunday, being primarily allocated to the peripheral routes (13, 14, 15, 17, 18) on a weekday or Saturday. Here is 41346 (V346DLH) heading for Paulsgrove last Bank Holiday Monday.

In addition to the shorter Dart SLFs, the Solos come out to play on the main city services on a Sunday or Bank Holiday. Usually allocated to route X9 on a Monday-Saturday operation, here is Portsmouth's youngest and only native Solo, 53140 (YJ05XOP), heading for Southsea on Portsmouth circular route 1. 

As a final note, all photos were taken along Edinburgh Road, just up from the city centre. With the high sun and shorter shadows, this is an excellent photography location in the summer. Photos, such as those posted above, are available from around 0900 until about 1230ish. Traffic is at a minimum - the main problem is other buses or the occasional taxi getting in the way. Pedestrian foot-flow is also not a problem, so if you want an easy, comfortable location to photograph in Portsmouth with an excellent backdrop, this is your place!