Adventures in North Wales 2017-Part Two-Arriva Eastwards-4/9/17

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These two books were essential holiday reading for me. Originally published in 1948, “The Sowing And The Harvest” was the story of the growth of the Crosville bus company, written by W J Crosland Taylor, the youngest son of it’s original founder, George Crosland Taylor. The company was originally a Chester based car importing company that decided to improve it’s fortunes in 1911 (motor cars then being merely a rich man’s toy) by commencing a bus service between Chester & Ellesmere Port, taking advantage of the fact that a journey by train between the two involved a change (as indeed, it still does, though both train services are now much more frequent). The car business would subsequently be ditched and the bus network expanded rapidly to cover a large portion of Cheshire, reaching into neighbouring Lancashire in Warrington, Widnes & Liverpool, and an even greater chunk of North Wales, including becoming the main bus company on the all important North Wales coast corridor, heading west from Chester, out through Rhyl, Llandudno, Bangor and onto Anglesey.

From 31st May 1929, the company sold out to the London Midland Scottish Railway which, like all of the big four railway companies, was actively buying into the bus industry, recognising that it was a significant new competitor for the rail industry that needed to be controlled. By this time, W.J Crosland Taylor was high up in the management structure, with his Father having passed away and the company controlled by W.J’s (William James) older brother Claude, who himself passed away tragically young in 1935, leaving W.J in the top spot. The Railways had also invested in the larger bus owning groups and it was felt prudent for the railways to place all their bus interests into these groups whilst, of course, retaining a profitable shareholding large enough to retain an influence! So Crosville soon found itself part of the British Automobile Traction group, which itself was a combination of companies owned jointly by British Electric Traction and Tilling. In 1942, BAT was disbanded, with the companies concerned passing to either one or the other of the two groups, Crosville passing to Tilling, who would latter sell out to the state formed British Transport Commission in 1948. Following this, like the other former Tilling fleets, Crosville standardised on Bristol/ECW bodied buses.

“The Sowing And The Harvest” was published just before nationalisation and W.J is full of gloom over this. But things initially didn’t turn out so bad, with the state placing very little interference into the running of the company. This persuaded W.J to write a sequal to his first book, which would be entitled “State Owned Without Tears” published in 1953 and thus providing a very detailed account over those four years. Both books were republished in 1987, which is how I obtained my two copies. I haven’t read these since first purchasing them in the early nineties, so it’s been interesting reading the perspective of a manager from the forties & fifties within the territory that his company once operated.

Since the books were written, Crosville would subsequently become part of the National Bus Company, by which time the good times for the bus industry had well and truly past. 1986 saw the company split into two in time for deregulation. The privatisation of the two companies followed a complex course, which I’ll refer to throughout this blog but basically, the vast majority of both companies have become part of Arriva, ironically a company formed from a car dealership (Cowie) who spread into buses (by the acquisition of coach company Grey Green with the purchase of the George Ewer group) and found them to be more viable than the highly competitive world of selling cars. Shades of Crosville’s origins?

The 12

Being already fairly familiar with Crosville’s former English territory, I thought it was time to get to know the Welsh side a little better, a task made easier with Arriva’s excellent value £5.50 Day Ticket, valid on all Arriva services throughout Wales and the North West, surely the cheapest priced ticket in the UK valid over such a large area?  So it was that on the first Monday of my holiday, I found myself rising bright and early and walking around the corner to the Gloddaeth Street bus stop to wait for the next number 12, which soon turned up in the shape of Sapphire branded Enviro 400 4543;

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Rhyl Bus Station

Sapphire is Arriva’s luxury brand, featuring leather seats, good legroom and wifi (though the later feature appears on most of the Wales based fleet) and the Wales version of Sapphire is the most luxurious of them all;KODAK Digital Still Camera

I managed to bag the front seat to enjoy the views of the long route ahead. As I’ve explained in Part One, the 12 roughly follows the route of the former Llandudno & Colwyn Bay Tramway on it’s first section, heading out of Llandudno along the busy Mostyn Street but, whilst the former tramway headed over Bodofan fields on it’s private right of way, the 12 headed onto the Promenade, passing a rather delightful children’s paddling pool and the towns new Lifeboat Station before heading over the Little Orme. Heading through Penrhyn Bay, this area had become increasingly suburbanised since the demise of the tramway. Also present was the local college, which saw several of our mostly young passengers alight. We then briefly headed onto Rhos On Sea Promenade before heading inland again to serve the town of Colwyn Bay. Onwards to Abegele, we then passed into the caravan land of Towyn before reaching the outskirts of Rhyl, passing the miniature railway around the marine lake before heading into the town, where we terminated at the Bus Station, handily sited next to the Railway station.

Rhyl

I’ve visited Rhyl on day trips on several occasions throughout my life! The first time would have been in 1975, with my Mom on a Manns Coaches of Smethwick excursion. It was a nice day in what was then a vibrant resort but sadly, we didn’t have time to sample what was then the M87 open top bus service along the front (operated by Bristol Lodekka’s). Second visit was with two branches of the family in a hired minibus in 1980. It was a blissfully sunny day, which was mainly spent on the beach in the western side of town. All good fun with the added bonus of watching Class 40 & 47 hauled trains passing nearby on the North Wales Mainline. But again, no chance to ride on the open toppers. Following this, the Lodekka’s were replaced by one man operated ex Southdown Daimler Fleetlines, with the service extended over what’s now the 12 route to Llandudno. This lengthy run would cease after deregulation, with the open top service truncated back to Abegele, the Fleetlines having being replaced by ECW bodied Bristol VR’s. This was how the open topper looked upon my next visit, with my then new wife Lynn on a daytrip in 1997. Unfortunately, upon hitting Wales, it seemed to rain incessantly during our stay, so heading into the new seafront cinema to see Rowan Atkinson in “Bean” overtook my desire to sample the open toppers. Finally, those who’ve read my “Rhyl & Llandudno 2015” blog will realise that I once again failed to find the open toppers in Rhyl! So I badly wanted to ride on a Rhyl Open Topper!

But this year, now a bit more experienced with the internet, I’d done my research! Arriva run open top route 1 eastward through Prestatyn to a point called Talacre. It was a good job that I had done my research because, once again, publicity for the service was virtually non existent! The only reference to the route was on a “Where to find your bus” list, which pointed to the stand where the 11 to Chester started from. I made my way to the stand but only the 11 and the local services to Prestatyn featured on the stops timetable case! It’s a pity really, as Arriva’s publicity of it’s other services from the Bus Station was absolutely exemplary;100_0488.JPG100_0487.JPG 100_0486.JPG

Fortunately though, I had my smart phone with me and looked up the service. The 1 run’s hourly during the school summer holidays, reducing to two hourly at the shoulders of the season, which I was now in. And I was on the wrong hour! I considered dropping my plans to ride the service, maybe coming back for it latter in the holiday but today was such a nice day that an open top bus ride was positively irresistible! So I decided to have a little wander around Rhyl, still sadly as run down as I described in the 2015 blog with some salubrious individuals supping from white lightening cider bottles not exactly adding to the seaside charm. A shame as the town had once been so nice!

“State Owned Without Tears” states that it’s a close run thing between Rhyl & Brighton as to which resort introduced a sea front bus service first (note I said bus service, as both Blackpool and Weston Super Mare both already had seafront tramways, and there were probably other’s), the Rhyl service having been started by one Joe Brookes around 1928, an operator subsequently acquired by Crosville.

I arrived back at the Bus station in good time for the departure of open top Alexander ALX400 bodied DAF 3990, it’s staircase position betraying it’s origin’s as a former dual door Arriva London bus;100_0489.JPG

I made my way to the back seat upstairs for maximum fresh air effects and settled down to enjoy the two hour round trip! Despite the route heading eastwards, the bus actually turned out of the Bus Station in a westward direction, enabling the route to complete a full run of Rhyl’s Promenade. The funfair that once existed at the far end of the Prom has now sadly gone, replaced by new flats. The various amusement arcades were gradually opening up for the day, hoping to attract the custom of day trippers. Some rather pleasant children’s amusements near to the cinema where Lynn and I had seen “Bean” all those years ago, were doing likewise. At the end of the Prom, we joined the bungalow clad main road to Prestatyn, where we did a double run around the Town Centre to serve the Bus station, passing the Scrappy Doo Dog Grooming parlour, named after the irritating pup that bought to an end the glory days of “Scooby Doo!” I’d been alone up until this point but was now joined an elderly lady who was taking her two young (presumably) Grand Children for an open top ride, something that they took to with innocent enthusiasm! Surely this is the sort of thing that makes such ventures worthwhile!

We left Prestatyn to serve the Pontins camp, followed by a series of caravan parks, not dissimilar to Towyn though, of course, these parks lacked the convenience of a ten minute frequency trunk route such as the 12, making the need for a more dedicated bus service on this side more of a necessity, hence the demise of the open top service on Rhyl’s western fringes.  Many of the caravan parks were owned by a firm called Lyons, including a particularly large one called Robin Hood Holiday Park. The final section of the route included a fast stretch along the A55 dual carriageway, the bus being put through it’s paces on this stretch, meaning the ride certainly lived up to it’s “Roller Coaster” branding! We turned off the A55 to reach the village of Talacre which, without the presence of various caravan parks, could barely be said to exist!100_0491.JPG

We picked up a fair number of families with young children (older children, of course, being at school) for the run into the fleshpots of Rhyl. It’s been very good to hear this year that the open top seafront service is enjoying a renaissance in places such as Southend and Torbay but also good to see that the long established service in Rhyl is still going. (Unfortunately no longer, as Arriva put the open top DAF’s up for sale the following year. Great shame.)

The 51 & X51

Returning to Rhyl, I was slightly disappointed to just miss a Sapphire Enviro 400 on the 51 to Denbigh, my next planned route. However, this is a twenty minute service, so I didn’t have to wait to long for the next one, although that was a single decker, Wright bodied VDL 2654, upgraded to MAX specification, basically Sapphire (although the seats are more akin to the slightly less luxurious English Sapphire specification) though without the UCB charging sockets. Despite it’s MAX spec, the bus has been recently repainted in the latest Arriva livery. 2654 dates from 2007, which means the leather seats and wifi were fitted latter. 2654 was a pleasant bus to travel on, leaving Rhyl over the Railway bridge and heading inland, past a typically identikit retail park and calling at the area’s main hospital. The countryside on this route seemed to be constantly interrupted by retail and business park’s before we arrived at Denbigh. Considering it’s the county town of Denbighshire, the town was smaller than I expected but so quintessentially Welsh, nothing indicating this more than the rather quaint little bus terminus being situated outside the Welsh Language Centre;100_0492.JPG

I waited twenty minutes for the arrival of the next X51 to Wrexham. To be honest, I’m unsure as to whether that X51 had actually ran through from Rhyl as a 51, as I’d seen a Sapphire Enviro 400 heading into Rhyl as I’d left on 2654 and an identical bus now arrived on the X51, in the form of bus 4407, one of the Wrexham allocated Sapphire E400’s originally allocated there for route 1 to Chester. Anyhow, I boarded 4407 for a delightful run through gorgeous countryside, passing through towns with names that I couldn’t pronounce. Hill’s lingered in the distance, all so quintessentially Welsh!

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Passing the Welsh Language Centre in Denbigh.

The sight of an Arriva Bus Garage hidden behind a clutch of tree’s signalled that the rural ride was over and that we were entering the outskirts of Wrexham. Soon, we were at the recently constructed Bus Station, well, more recently than when I was last in the town some ten years ago! That was when my old friend John Batchelor and I had rode the railway line from Bidston, on the Wirral, to Wrexham Central. We’d briefly had some chips from a chippy by the original, more basic bus station before making our way to General station for a train to Chester. Before that, I’d visited the town around 1999, on a Midland Red North bash via Telford, Shrewsbury, Oswestry & Wrexham, continuing on the trunk number 1 to Chester, then recently upgraded with brand new Northern Counties bodied Volvo Olympians, though I was lucky enough to travel on an older ECW bodied Leyland Olympian. I then returned to the West Midlands via Crewe, Hanley & Stafford (must blog that bash up sometime!). The reign of the Northern Counties Olympians on the 1 was relatively short, with low floor single deckers replacing them in the early years of this century. That was until Sapphire happened around 2009, when 4407 and it’s sisters saw double deckers return to the 1 with a previously unknown level of luxury!

Now, the 1 has been upgraded again, with a batch of MMC Enviro 400 City’s, which I was keen to sample, this basically being my main purpose in visiting Wrexham;KODAK Digital Still CameraSo it was that I joined a brace of home going College students and boarded 1005 (as seen above). The bus was quite full and I sat in an available seat but felt that the legroom wasn’t a patch on the buses they had replaced. This seemed to be to accommodate a few table seats, which seem to be a popular trend at the moment. I therefore decided to sample one of the tables at the back, which was still free. Don’t get me wrong, the general ambiance of the bus was very impressive, I’m just not convinced that this table thing (Blackpool’s latest City’s have a similar feature-see blog “Blackpool with Phil”) is necessarily the way to go, particularly if it means sacrificing leg room;100_0497.JPG  The 1 is another traditional Crosville trunk route, though originally, two routes provided a combined Chester-Wrexham frequency, with the D1 then carrying on to Llangollen, whilst the D2 nipped back into England to terminate at Oswestry. The through services were split in the seventies and the outer sections are now covered by Arriva routes 5 & 2 respectively. A very healthy fifteen minute service is still maintained on the 1 though, with the loadings appearing to justify this, although most of our young passengers had alighted in the Wrexham suburbs. Then it was a brief rural interlude before serving the Chester Business Park, close to which is one of the Chester Park & Ride’s, currently operated by Stagecoach using new MMC Enviro 200’s;100_0498.JPG Perhaps now would be a good time to explain what happened to Crosville post deregulation. The two 1986 created companies both passed into privatisation, with Crosville Wales passing to a management buy out which sold out to National Express in 1989. Crosville England, meanwhile, was sold to the ATL group, which also owned Yelloways Coaches. This group was very troubled and 1989 saw Crosville England sold to the Drawlane group, who said that Crosville had a bright future with them….and promptly split the company up! Crewe passed to fellow Drawlane subsidiary Midland Red North, whilst Winsford, Runcorn & Warrington went to North Western, another subsidiary. Macclesfield passed to the groups Manchester based Beeline operation. The remaining rump, centred around Chester and the Wirral, was sold to Potteries based company PMT, who adopted the Crosville name.

Late 1992 would see a complex share exchange between Drawlane and National Express, which saw the later company return to coaching whilst Crosville Wales passed to the new British Bus Group, along with the former Drawlane subsidiaries, bringing much of Crosville back into the same group! British Bus would latter sell out to Cowie who would then rebrand themselves as Arriva.

PMT meanwhile, sold out to Badgerline, which in turn merged with GRT to create First Bus, latter known as First. Recent years have seen First rid itself of some of it’s operations, including Chester and the Wirral which have now passed to Stagecoach. This also includes the former Chester City Transport operations, which had previously sold out to First. Hence Stagecoach was now the dominant operator in Chester, although Arriva also have a garage there, where some local former Crosville Wales routes are based, as well as routes like the 84 to Crewe (where Arriva closed the garage some years back). In addition, a battle emerged between Arriva and First for Chester City Transport, which resulted in both operators ending up competing with each other on the Blacon corridor, CCT’s busiest route, serving the city’s largest council estate. The competition continues today!

I alighted from the 1 in the City Centre, before the route’s ultimate terminus at the railway station. I then attempted to search for the new Bus Station, the previous Bus Exchange having been closed. After a brief search, I was successful, finding a modern facility rather similar to Wrexham, only larger!KODAK Digital Still Camera

As can be seen above, the new facility is known as the Chester Bus interchange and, although completely new, the block of flats that can be seen to the right of the photo gives away the fact that the new station is virtually on the site of the former Crosville Bus Station that opened in the early seventies and closed some years back! Close by is a chip shop known as “Chip A Dee” (the Dee being the river through Chester-get it?) so I treated myself to battered sausage and chips before my next bus!

The direct service back to Rhyl is the 11, operated by Wright Gemini bodied VDL double decker’s branded Cymru Coastliner (a name once used for a Crosville Limited Stop service from Chester-Caernarfan). I’d done that route on my 2015 bash. Therefore, I decided to leave Chester on the 10A to Hollywell, where I could transfer onto the 11. The 10A and it’s 10 sister service to Connah’s Quay are operated with Sapphire E400’s and serve areas to the south of the main road. It was now the middle of the evening peak and a good queue had formed for the next departure, which I joined. In front of me was a girl who was busy watching something on her I Pad. I could see American actor Ron Perlman on her screen, which told me that this was an episode of the Biker drama “Sons of Anarchy”. As soon as E400 4638 appeared, we all boarded, the girl in front flashing her weekly pass at the driver and instantly connecting into the bus’s wifi, with barely a flicker of the picture she was watching! Such is the importance of wifi in this hi tech world!

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Hollywell Bus Station

We left the city and soon found ourselves in a heavy traffic jam close to a retail park. Once free of this, we were treated to some serious fast running but we were unable to make up time. So we arrived at Holywell, the driver clearly frustrated by the fact that motorists wouldn’t let him out of the junction needed to gain access to the small Bus station. Unfortunately, this delay caused me to miss an 11G (what the 11 changes to when reaching this point! More pointless EU rules!) so I was forced to wait half an hour for the next one, which turned out to be Wright Gemini/VDL 4488;100_0503.JPG Although not as luxurious as the Sapphire spec, these are also quite comfortable. I suppose the 11 will be upgraded to Sapphire at some point, but these are just fine until then. I decided to alight at Prestatyn, in order to get route 13 in the book. This takes the back roads to Llandudno and getting it in the book now would save me a trip latter in the holiday. During the day, the forty minute frequency route uses full size Wright/VDL saloon’s but the basic evening service (this was the last but one journey to venture further east than Llanwrst) is home to an Optare Solo, 665 tonight, that is making it’s way from it’s Rhyl home to Arriva’s Llandudno out station at Alpine Coaches premises, where it would then spend a few days operating Llandudno local service 26. Here’s a photo of 665 on that route taken on the Great Orme;

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The first stretch of the route is quite rural and this evening journey was poorly loaded, though it looked a lifeline to the two other passengers on board. We then hit the Hospital that I’d passed on the 51 earlier, where we picked up more passengers, making the service viable. It then began to go dark and I failed to see too much of the route through Colwyn Bay and around the back of Llandudno. I alighted at the Glodeath Street terminus and went into the Palladium, a Weatherspoons converted from a theatre of the same name, treating myself to a pint of “I Am Froot” a local raspberry scented beer named in honour of the character of Root from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films! A civilised end to an interesting day!

 

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Blackpool-June 1995-A Time of Transition!

I’ve always been fascinated by what happens when one operator is taken over by another. I suppose this fascination stems from my childhood, particularly after December 1973, when West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive took over Midland Red’s services in it’s area, which meant buses from the PTE’s former constituent fleets popping up at ex Midland Red garages like my then local garage at Oldbury.

So when I heard, in 1994, that Blackpool Transport had acquired it’s near neighbour, the former municipal but recently (end of 1993) privatised Fylde Blue Bus, I was fascinated to find out how integration between the two operators would take place, particularly since competition had been fairly intense between the two operators since deregulation. November 1994 (conveniently after the summer season had come to an end) saw a new, integrated network introduced, along with two new liveries that would allow an easy change from one to the other in the case of vehicle transfers between Blackpool Transport’s Rigby Road depot and Fylde’s garage at Squires Gate. The new livery was mostly cream based, with either a green or blue skirt around the bus’s lower area, dependent on allocation to Rigby Road or Squires Gate respectively and this could easily be repainted the other colour if a transfer occurred! Other changes occurred to the operators ticket ranges.

The separate tickets offered by each operator were replaced by a new zone system, with a central zone covering the area through Blackpool from St Annes-Cleveleys, with a north area covering Cleveleys-Fleetwood (basically involving just the Tramway and the 14/14A from Thornton-Fleetwood, although Fylde ran the evening & Sunday tendered minibus 333 through from Mereside-Fleetwood, the main operator in this area then being Stagecoach, through inheriting the former Ribble operation), a south area covering St Annes & Lytham and a rural area, which basically covered the Fylde (joint with Stagecoach) 193 from St Annes-Wesham and Fylde’s 190/191/192 tenders from Blackpool-Poulton and onto the Great Ecclestone/Kirkham areas. An all zone ticket was also availible. Like Blackpool’s previous resident club tickets, the zone tickets were only available to local residents, with the tourist oriented Travelcard being available for everyone else! This slightly more expensive ticket (with 1, 3, 5 & 7 day validity) had previously been valid on all Blackpool Transport services (which meant some nice bashes in 1988 on the 180/182 from Poulton-Preston!) but, with the inclusion of the former Fylde network, this must have been considered too much of a bargain, as the Travelcard’s area of validity was revised to be that of the Central, North & South zones, with no validity in the Rural zone.

In June 1995, I went for a weeks holiday in Blackpool with my Grandparents and this blog is the story of what I found there! We travelled up by train from Birmingham New Street (Class 86 hauled Mk 2’s) and changed at Preston onto an incredibly wedged two car 150 139, a trip which unfortunately put my Grandparents off travelling to the resort by train, something they would never do again! Upon arrival at Blackpool North station, I popped over to the enquiry office at Talbot Road Bus Station and bought a 7 day Travelcard, as well as picking up a selection of recent timetables. I then rejoined my Grandparents at the station, as they wanted to get a taxi to the digs (if it had been down to me, we’d have got the bus!)

We were staying in holiday flats on Carlin Gate, just to the north of Uncle Toms Cabin on North Shore. The flat was on the corner of the Promenade, so the tramway could clearly be seen! But as we were unpacking, I soon realised that Carlin Gate held another transport treat! Whilst sorting myself out, I heard the distinct, deep, roaring sound of a Leyland 680 engine, so I looked out of the window to see a Fylde Leyland Atlantean take the turn from Carlin Gate onto the Promenade and terminate at the bus stop outside the Castle Casino (which was immediately opposite our flat, it’s castle like appearance giving it the name). This was the terminus of Fylde’s 1 sea front service, only extended up from it’s previous Gynn Square terminus since 1993. I hadn’t travelled on the route up to the Cabin, so was unaware that it used Carlin Gate as part of it’s terminal loop!

I soon made my excuses to my Grandparents (who were used to me by now!) and went out bashing, the 1 being the perfect start to the weeks exploits! I walked around to the bus stop by the casino and was particularly pleased to find Fylde 51 turn up next! 51 was then Fylde’s oldest Atlantean, a Roe bodied example originally delivered to Salford City Transport in 1965. Passing to SELNEC then Greater Manchester PTE, the bus was one of several sold to Lancaster City Transport in 1979 and converted to open top for the Morecambe sea front service. It was then sold to Fylde Borough Transport in 1984 for use on an ultimately unsuccessful sea front service from Lytham-St Annes (the third time such a service was attempted, though the first one only ran between St Annes & Fairhaven Lake, using Shelvoke & Drewry Toastracks in the late twenties. The second attempt would see Leyland TD7’s converted to open top in 1960. Then, after 51’s abortive enterprise, Classic Bus North West would run Sea Front 12 with open top and other heritage buses on summer Sundays-and Saturdays in the first year-before the funding for this ceased)

After this, 51 was used for private hire and occasional service work after deregulation. My first ride on the bus was in 1988, on a Friday when Fylde first introduced the 1, originally as a market day service from St Annes-Fleetwood via Blackpool Promenade. That version of the 1 didn’t last, the 1995 version having evolved from Fylde’s 55 Beachcomber minibus, which started in 1987 between Gynn Square & Squires Gate Pontins, competing directly with Blackpool’s trams! 1988 would see the service back, only this time Blackpool responded by buying an extra six ex London Transport Routemasters (becoming 527-531/533, following those bought in 1986-521-526, which were bought for route 12, that remained RM operated until 1991) to use on Beachroamer 55! 1990 saw the Fylde service evolve into the Leyland Atlantean operated 1 (with Blackpool’s 55 becoming the 40), with several ex Hull Roe bodied Atlanteans converted to semi open top to join 51 on the route. In 1995, Blackpool withdrew the 40, leaving just the 1 to run alongside the trams on the prom. I suppose Blackpool could have withdrawn both sea front services but that would have left the trams vulnerable to competition from someone else.

By 1995, the 1 was running every 7/8 minutes from Cabin-Pontins, with alternate journeys providing a 15 minute service onto St Annes (Pleasure Island). 51 was on a Pontins short, so I alighted there and caught one of Blackpool’s standard East Lancs bodied Atlanteans on a 22 into St Annes, returning to Blackpool on another East Lancs/Atlantean on either the 14 or 14A (can’t remember which, as there was only a slight variation in the route, on leaving St Annes). The 14 was traditionally the Blackpool-Fleetwood route, with the 14A being a Thornton short working that had disappeared in the seventies, only to return in November 1987 when the through Fleetwood journeys had been reduced in frequency from 15 to 30 minutes. The November 1994 integration revisions had seen all 14 journeys revert to running through to Fleetwood and all were extended from the Blackpool end, replacing the 11C back route to St Annes, where competition had broke out between Blackpool & Fylde in 1988 (see blog “Blackpool Deregulated”), though each operator took a different route into St Annes (a legacy of the Fylde 11C replacing the Spring Gardens section of the 193), which accounts for the use of the 14A for those journeys. The 14/14A were now the only Blackpool Transport bus route to feature conductor operation (most of the trams also needing them) and tended to use the newer Atlanteans in the fleet. I enjoyed the usual sprint and exercise of the Leyland 680 engine along the Queensway, the fast dual carriageway that links the outskirts of St Annes with that of Blackpool at the rear of Blackpool Airport and then headed through the suburbs onto the Prom, alighting at the Tower, where I then went to play on the Tramway for most of the rest of the evening.

This was early in the season, with the full summer timetable having not long started, all scheduled cars at this time being single deckers. The through Starr Gate-Fleetwood service ran every 15 minutes, with alternate trams being operated by the Centenary One Man operated cars and crewed trams (either Brush cars or the three ex Towing Cars 678-680, which were the three Twin Cars never permanently attached to their Traillers and thus running as single Railcoaches). The crew single deckers were also used on a fifteen minute Pleasure Beach-Cleveleys service that ran between the through cars during the day. A few double deckers were also out on specials (running to inspectors instruction with no Time Card), consisting of a few Balloon cars plus the two Jubilee cars (761 & 762). I interrupted my tram riding session to have a ride on one of Blackpool’s newest buses, six Northern Counties Palatine 2 bodied Volvo Olympians (374-379) delivered the previous year. Initially used on the 6 (Grange Park-Mereside) they were soon transferred to the 22/22A (Cleveleys-St Annes/Lytham) following upper deck vandalism on the 6. I caught one on a 22A out to Cleveleys, returning to Blackpool on a Brush car.

Sunday morning saw me riding Blackpool’s newest attraction, the Pepsi Max Big One rollercoaster at the Pleasure Beach! Needless to say, I reached the amusement park by tram, travelling on a Centenary car. I figured that Sunday morning would be a quiet time to ride the rollercoaster but there was still quite a queue! A single seat became available right at the front and I found myself sharing a car with a very serious faced rollercoaster enthusiast! Whilst I was screaming my head off all the way round (stunning view on the way up, with about 1.5 seconds to spot any trams on the Pleasure Beach loop before the big drop!) my companion just gave a stern smile! His verdict as we came to a halt?

“Not as good as the one at Alton Towers, is it?” he said in a voice reminiscent of then Prime Minister John Major!

Afterwards, I caught a tram down to Manchester Square, had a view of Rigby Road Depot, then walked over to Central Drive, where I got my second ride on one of the new Olympians. Apart from these, all other Rigby Road Sunday services were in the hands of Blackpool’s then standard full size single decker, the Optare Delta, and it was on one of these that I would take my next ride, albeit on a route that was then Delta operated throughout the week. I alighted from the 22 at Starr Gate, in time for the next number 12 on it’s way from St Annes, which I would take through to Cleveleys. The 12 was a 1991 made combination of the previously Routemaster operated 12 from St Annes-Blackpool with the minibus 9 from Blackpool-Cleveleys. It was started in conjunction with Fylde withdrawing their 66B minibus (which competed with the 9) and replacing it with an extension of their Atlantean operated 11A from Lytham over the same route as the 12. The integration had seen the 12’s Monday-Saturday daytime service reduced from a fifteen to thirty minute frequency but integrated into a ten minute frequency with Fylde’s 11A and 11 via Warbreck Drive. Evenings & Sundays saw the 11 & 11A venture no further north than Talbot Road Bus Station, with the 12 having the Cleveleys stretch to itself. That autumn, the 12 would be converted from Delta to double deck operation, usually with four of the six 1989 vintage East Lancs bodied Leyland Olympians that were previously mostly used alongside their newer Northern Counties/Volvo sisters on the 22/22A.

I travelled on the 12 right through to Cleveleys, catching a tram back to the flat for Sunday dinner! Afterwards, I walked down to Warbreck Drive and caught a Fylde Dodge minibus on tendered service 333. This evening & Sunday only service ran from Mereside-Fleetwood, covering bits of daytime 33, 44A/44B and Stagecoach’s F3 from Cleveleys-Fleetwood, a twisty route in the extreme! As I arrived in Fleetwood, I noticed Balloon car 716 on Fleetwood service, as opposed to the normal single decker, operating top deck closed with one conductor (Balloons needed two conductors with both decks open, to enable the manual doors to be opened/closed). I took this to Cabin, where I decided to have another ride on the 1.

The first bus to appear was one of the ex Hull partial open toppers, on a through run to St Annes. As we headed past Talbot Square, I noticed that the next through 1 to St Annes would be 58, the original Lytham St Annes Corporation 77, the last survivor of Fylde’s predecessor’s original batch of three Northern Counties bodied Leyland Atalnteans, dating from 1970. This one had survived the withdrawal of the other two before deregulation and had now returned to prominence as one of the fleet used on the 1! The last time I’d ridden on the bus was in 1988, on Fylde’s competing service on the 6 (Grange Park-Mereside). Deciding it was time for another ride, I got off the open topper at the Pleasure Island terminus and hung around for 58 to appear. I’d never been around this part of St Annes before, so I had a little walk around the pleasant gardens around the sea front, with the small, Pleasure Island fun fair being a delightfully discreet contrast to the large Pleasure Beach at it’s more brash neighbour! 58 soon appeared and then it was back past the sand dunes and along Blackpool Prom to the Cabin. I took to the bus so much that I made a few more rides on it over the course of the week! I then spent the next few hours bashing the four Balloons that were out on specials, alongside the other Atlanteans that were running on the 1, these including the original Fylde 1975 vintage Atlantean 80, now renumbered 50 and a near identical example that originally came from independent Clyde Coast, which was the new 70!

The rest of the afternoon, I spent riding the few Balloons on specials but decided to have a break from them by riding the 15 to Staining. This is a fair sized village just beyond the Blackpool boundary to the north of the town. The village has been traditionally served by Blackpool Corporation since that organisation took over the services of independent operator William Smith (actually a Blackpool Councillor). Staining was originally served by a double run on Smith’s Poulton via Hardhorn service, which became Blackpool’s 2 but, after the takeover, Blackpool rerouted this to run direct, with the 15 starting as a separate service to the village. 1980 saw the 15 integrated with it’s sister service, the 15A from Victoria Hospital-Bispham via Town Centre, with the 15 running hourly through to Bispham and a new 15B running from Bispham-Victoria Hospital and then onto the nearby Grange Park Estate. The 15A, meanwhile, became the evening & Sunday service from Bispham-Staining via Victoria Hospital. Deregulation saw the 15A/15B discontinued but the 15 was rerouted to follow the 15A route through the Hospital (with a brief rerouting via Warbreck Drive in lieu of Warbreck Hill Road on the Bispham leg, at first) on an hourly headway. Post deregulation developments saw the 15 extended from Bispham to a new Safeways store at Cleveleys, first with Optare Deltas, then Optare City Pacer minibuses but this was ultimately unsuccessful and the 15 cutback to terminate at Gynn Square.

The 2 and it’s 2A variant, meanwhile, had been converted into a high frequency minibus service (this route also being rerouted via the hospital at deregulation) with a degree of success but, unfortunately, this had abstracted Hospital & Newton Drive passengers from the 15, to the extent that Blackpool Transport deregistered the service but Lancashire County Council subsidised a replacement 15 from Talbot Road Bus Station-Staining, which was won by Fylde Blue Bus just before the Blackpool takeover. The main reason that I’d decided to ride the route is that the regular bus Fylde used was one of four ex Bradford Leyland Atlanteans, purchased by Fylde from Hull and rebodied with brand new Northern Counties Paladin single deck bodywork. I’d travelled on a couple of these when Fylde was still separate and I must say that I was quite smitten! The first time, I had boarded one at Talbot Road Bus Station on an 11 (this being the route that Fylde had initially used them on, although over crowding would subsequently see them transferred onto lighter work like the 15) Sitting down with the bus’s engine off, it was quite easy to imagine that this was a state of the art Dennis Dart, this style of bodywork being common on the successful midibus but you were left in no doubt that you were on board a Leyland product when that magnificent, deep sounding engine was started! Absolutely marvellous!

Being a Sunday evening, loadings were very light as we followed the 2 route up Newton Drive, diverting briefly into the Hospital, then back onto Newton Drive, surrounded by large, attractive houses. The 15 turns off the route of the 2 at Normoss (home of Seniors Fish Bar, one of my favourite Blackpool chippies!) and headed along a twisty lane with fields on one side and houses on another. We also passed the Newton Hall Holiday Park, once served by 15B short workings in the fifties! We entered the large, sleepy village and traversed the main street through it, reaching a turning circle on the very edge, which the bus turned into. I had intended to return immediately to Blackpool but, as it was a very pleasant, sunny evening, I decided to get off and have a wander around the local country lanes! I soon found a nice spot next to a stream and sat down there to chill for a bit, watching the sun go down beyond the distant view of Blackpool Tower, though the building that contained Ernie, the Premium Bond computer, on Preston New Road, being closer, loomed larger on the horizon! The hour soon passed and I made my way back to the 15 terminus, buying a bar of chocolate from a little shop opposite before the bus arrived. What an extremely idyllic hour, far away from the hustle and bustle of Blackpool’s Promenade!

Monday saw me making my usual trip to Preston (usual on a week’s holiday in Blackpool, anyhow) on this occasion by means of the Blackpool South-Kirkham branch line. To reach Blackpool South, I used the tram. As it was quite early in the morning, I was expecting either a Centenary car or one of the crewed single deckers on the Fleetwood-Starr Gate service. It was a crewed car but I was quite flabbergasted to see Balloon 701 heading towards me! This was the first morning of the peak summer service, the same timetable as the early summer service but the crewed single decks on the Starr Gate-Fleetwood service were replaced by Balloons. This was in stark contrast to the previous two years, when the Pleasure Beach-Cleveleys service has been upgraded to double deck operation. Before that, double deckers had been only used on specials since 1987! These early morning journeys ran top deck closed but a crew change at Manchester Square bought two conductors, meaning the top deck was opened up, so I decided to go upstairs and take 701 all the way to Starr Gate, catching a Fylde Northern Counties Atlantean from there back down Lytham Road on the 11, alighting at the Royal Oak for the short walk up Waterloo Road to Blackpool South station.

Back in 1976, my Mom took me to a model railway exhibition in the buildings at Blackpool South station! By that time, the branch was host to an hourly, paytrain Diesel Multiple Unit service to Kirkham and the buildings were otherwise disused. By 1980, the buildings had been demolished and a single platform with a shelter sufficing for the hourly service. The former railway land all around the station had been converted into car parking for cars and coaches coming off the Yeadon Way from the M55, this being the former direct Marton line to Kirkham (which carried onwards from Blackpool South to Blackpool Central, closed in 1964), an indication of how the role of the railway in bringing in holidaymakers had declined in this period.

1987 saw the elderly DMUs replaced by Class 142 Pacers, a change which also saw the lines service change from that of a one unit shuttle to Kirkham & Wesham, ideal for connections onto Manchester or London trains originating from Blackpool North but for very little else! The new service carried on into Preston, then heading along the East Lancashire line to Blackburn, Burnley & Colne. This gave the service a great boast, giving the folk of East Lancashire the opportunity to reach the Blackpool fleshpots without changing trains! Helping this was the opening of a new station at Blackpool Pleasure Beach, at the back of the great pleasure complex! All this has given the line a new lease of life. I’d travelled the line once before, in 1993, the first time I travelled on a Class 142. The 142s have a somewhat bad press but the Blackpool South line’s future may have been somewhat bleak without them! They still appear on the Blackpool South-Colne service, though share the line with 150’s now and are due to disappear in the next couple of years but they’ve served the line well! After Pleasure Beach, the single track makes it’s way through the South Shore suburbs before calling at Squires Gate station on the towns border, then it was out past the Airport on one side and the Pontins camp on the other (both now gone! Well, the Airports sort of hanging on!) before heading past the Sand dunes into St Annes on Sea, the first of three stations in affluent Lytham St Annes, the other two being Ansdell & Fairhaven and Lytham before heading out to rural Moss Side and onto the junction with the Blackpool North line at Kirkham & Wesham. Here, we passed the next 142 heading down the branch. From now on, the 142’s deficiencies became apparent, as the line speed increases meaning the bouncy ride the 142’s are known for became really noticeable! Still, they were economical to operate which, at a time of declining railway use and an unsympathetic government in charge, meant that at least the line, and others like it, survived!

At Preston, I rode on a Preston Buses East Lancs bodied Atlantean on the 11 to Gamull Lane, treating myself to a Hollands steak pie and chips from a chippie by the terminus before returning on the next 11, which was a Leyland Lynx (really must write a blog on Preston some time!), then heading to the station to catch the next pacer back to Blackpool South. I walked onto Lytham Road and found myself waiting for the next bus, which turned out to be a Blue Bus 11 to Cleveleys….being operated by a bus that hadn’t been a Blue Bus for long! Upon the Fylde takeover, Blackpool had found itself owner of a further fifty two Atlanteans, adding to the forty one surviving Blackpool East Lancs bodied examples. The new acquisitions were a motley bunch, consisting of Northern Counties bodied examples (some of which were finished by Willowbrook) bought by Fylde themselves, dating from 1975-1984 (not, of course, forgetting the earlier 58-or 77 as it originally was), some of those dating from 1976/77 having been given a major refurb by Northern Counties in the early nineties. Alongside these were the various second hand examples, mostly Roe bodied buses from Hull but also some more Northern Counties examples purchased from Greater Manchester Buses in 1989.

With the savings made by the November 1994 service integration, plus the arrival of the six new Olympians, Blackpool were able to transfer it’s nine oldest Atlanteans (322-330) to Squires Gate, with them being repainted into the new cream livery with blue skirts. These joined the newer Fylde Atalnteans operating the 11 & 11A and it was on one of these (324) that I then caught on the 11 to Cleveleys. But these weren’t the only Blackpool Atlanteans transferred to Squires Gate, as the two newest examples, coach seated 363 & 364, were transferred to the Seagull Coach’s unit (a Blackpool coach firm taken over by Fylde in 1988) becoming 46 & 47 alongside Fyldes last two Atlanteans, 44 & 45, and used on Private Hire and excursions to the likes of Fleetwood Market and the Granada Studio Tours in Manchester.

At Cleveleys, I decided to take a ride on Blue Bus route 44A. Along with the 44B, this was a cross town minibus route formed the previous year from the combination of two services, the Blackpool-Mereside/Marton Mere Holiday Village 44A/44B with the 55A/55B Blackpool-Cleveleys services. The November 1994 revisions saw the 44A converted to Optare Delta operation (the 44B would remain minibus operated), with Blackpool’s 101 & 102 transferred to Squires Gate as 8 & 9 to back up Fylde’s Delta’s 1, 2 & 3. These had previously been used alongside the single deck Atlanteans on the 11 but over crowding lead to this returning to double deckers. I boarded bus 8 (or 101) on the 44A, which was an interesting route, leaving Cleveleys via the bungalow’s of the Norbreck area, once served by Blackpool’s 25A, latter replaced by an extended 3/3A, with tendered service 33 serving the area after deregulation, until Fylde decided to start the commercial 55A/55B. At Bispham, the routes split up, the 44B serving the otherwise unserved Holmfield Road, whilst the 44A joins Fyldes 11 and Blackpool’s 2/2A/2B (cross town minibus services to Poulton) along Warbreck Drive. Heading through Blackpool Town Centre, the routes travel out via Whitegate Drive, where under Fylde, the routes competed with Blackpool’s 26 minibus (formerly the Marton tramway) before heading into the Wordsworth Avenue area once served by Blackpool’s route 16 before crossing onto Preston New Road, in pre deregulated times a corridor that was considered Ribble territory but these restrictions mattered not now! Whilst the 44B continued to the Marton Mere Holiday Park, the 44A crossed onto Mereside, one of Blackpool’s two main council estates (the other being Grange Park, both then linked to each other by the 6-which now does so again!), where it terminated by Tesco.

From Mereside, I caught another Blackpool Delta on the 6 into Blackpool Town Centre, this route being very much the traditional route to Mereside. Once double deck, problems with vandalism on the new Northern Counties Olympians having seen Atlanteans return briefly before it was decided to allocate the Optare Delta single decks to the route. Very much seen as the first rival to Leyland’s new standard rear engine single decker, the Leyland Lynx, the Delta was considerably better built and Blackpool was one of several fleets to standardise on them during this time, buying twenty six between 1990 & 1993. I always quite liked them and Blackpool would eventually become the last original operator of the type to run them, the last one going in 2010.

When we hit the Promenade, I spotted open top single deck Boat car 607 trundling along the tramway, so I alighted from the Delta and caught 607 for a delightful trundle to the Pleasure Beach, a perfect end to a perfect day!

Tuesday saw me doing the usual move and concentrating on the specials operating on the tramway to Fleetwood Market as, despite this popular attraction being open on Mondays, Thursdays & Fridays as well, everyone traditionally goes on a Tuesday! As was my usual custom, I decided to reach Fleetwood first on a 14, missing the crowds queuing for trams but being in Fleetwood in good time for the first of the specials to reach Fleetwood and allowing me an almost empty tram ride back to Blackpool! Of course, as the 14 now started from St Annes, I made my way there on a Northern Counties Atlantean on the 11, then doing the extended 14 throughout!

Wednesday saw me embarking on a traditional Ribble territory bash, which I’ll probably blog up separately at some point, though I will say that the day ended in Fleetwood, after taking the 182 on an Alexander Dash/Volvo B6 from Preston and, after fish & chips at Danson’s fish bar, I caught Brush car 625 back into Blackpool, then played on the tramway for the rest of the evening. Latter on, I spotted one of the single deck Atlanteans on the 11, so I decided to ride on this to St Annes, catching the last number 1 from Pleasure Island back to the digs at Cabin. Semi open top Atlantean 53 was the bus concerned and I was the sole passenger in the open section, sitting at the back and soaking in that sea breeze and smell! This was the latest I’d ever travelled on an open top bus, being around 23.30 and is a trip that I’ll always remember!

The final two days saw me soaking up more of the scene! Thursday morning saw me take a trip to Morecambe on Stagecoach Ribble’s X42, heading out on prototype ECW bodied Leyland Olympian 2100 and returning on a 1992 vintage Stagecoach standard Leyland Olympian. The afternoon saw me take a trip out to Lytham, from where I had a ride on a Fylde turn on the 193 to Kirkham (this service being joint with Stagecoach, a legacy from 1978, when Ribble’s Wesham-Lytham service was merged with Fylde’s 3 from Lytham-St Annes (Spring Gardens), creating the 193), with Fylde at this time using the single deck Atlanteans (yes, I was truly in love with these splendidly noisy, four little buses!) Unfortunately, the changes made to Travelcard availability meant that I had to pay, hence me taking the bus from Lytham rather than it’s St Annes Square (the Spring Gardens section having been replaced by Fyldes 11C in 1988) terminus. From Kirkham, I caught a former Ribble Leyland National 2 on the 158 back into Blackpool. Evenings & Sundays had seen Fylde replace the 193 (no Stagecoach operation at this time) with an extended 11A from Blackpool and that evening offered me the opportunity to take one 11A out from Blackpool-Lytham, returning on it’s opposite number returning from Wesham, both being standard Fylde Atlanteans.

Friday saw me have a general final fling on everything, enjoying the scene for one final day. Saturday would see us leaving Blackpool on a Class 142 Liverpool train as far as Preston for our connection to Birmingham. 1996 would see the Fylde Blue Bus fleet become absorbed into the main Blackpool fleet, with the blue livery abandoned (though it took a few years to disappear totally) and the fleet renumbered into a 4xx series. I visited the town on a daytrip, using National Express’s overnight 421 and found that the whole of the Starr Gate-Fleetwood tram service operated by Balloons (with the Centenary’s spending most of the day on specials-sadly, this was a pattern that wouldn’t continue beyond 1996 but that’s another story), whilst the 1 was extended to Little Bispham! Whilst 1997 saw it return to it’s Cabin terminal, 1998 saw the route extended to Cleveleys, where it terminated for a number of years before finally making its way to Fleetwood in 2007! 1999 would see Squires Gate Garage close down, all operations now concentrated at Rigby Road. There have been many changes since but I’m sure you’ll agree that the network that I found in 1995 was a fine example of a time of transition!

The Ribble Bashes-Part Four-October 1999.

Part Four of “The Ribble Bashes” covers a trip taken in 1999.

Buses for fun!

This part’s quite a rare one, in that this Ribble bash didn’t start from Blackpool! (Though I do end up there!) but instead started from home and involved a trip from Wolverhampton (reaching there on the then brand new Midland Metro!) on what was then a rare First North Western train service from Birmingham New Street-Manchester, operated by former “Clacton” line Class 309 units. This train left Wolverhampton around 06.50, in the days when you could get a reasonable fare at that time (Cross Country would change all that years latter, off peak fares strictly not starting now until 09.30!) and also meaning, despite the trains semi fast nature, an arrival time in Manchester of just before 09.00! I used the service on several occasions (the last time featuring a Class 323 after the elderly 309’s had been withdrawn) and mourn both it’s, and the more liberal off peak fares…

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My Wanderings Begin-Part Two

Part Two of the story of how my wanderings began looks at the implications for the bus network following the change of political control bought to West Midlands County Council in May 1981.

Buses for fun!

Buses, especially their fares, were a major campaigning issue in the May 1981 West Midlands County Council elections. In control of the council since May 1977, the Conservative Party had set great store in reducing the subsidy paid by ratepayers to the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive. This resulted in fairly heavy fare increases most years, with a consequent loss of passengers, forcing the PTE into making cutbacks, most notably in October 1980. Labour, on the other hand, proposed increasing the subsidy to enable fare cuts to take place, citing the example of South Yorkshire PTE, where fares had been frozen since 1975, resulting in ever increasing passenger numbers. Possibly as a result of this but I suspect more likely to be due to the increasing unpopularity of Margaret Thatcher’s government during it’s first term of office, Labour won the election, mirroring the more heavily publicised result in the Greater London elections, which resulted in Ken Livingstone’s “Fares…

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More New Dudley Routes!-6/11/18

 

KODAK Digital Still Camera

One of the aims of the day was to photograph this beauty, so job done! Wright/Volvo B7 2102, one of several buses that NXWM are currently painting into Heritage liveries (hopefully, they’ll be a few more) in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, which will occur on the 1st October 2019. This is the livery used by the PTE for the Dual Purpose Leyland Nationals bought in 1977 & 1978.

In a fund conserving mood at the moment (though a few big trips are planned) so what better than to spend a free day using my National Express West Midlands staff pass to get a few more of the new/renumbered routes introduced in the recent Dudley area revisions (2nd September) in the book!

First though, I had a quick task to perform, heading into nearby Great Bridge on NXWM Enviro 400 4980 to see if the optician at ASDA could repair the arm on my spare pair of glasses! He could but he said it wouldn’t last long, so they will remain a spare pair for now!

Right, that’s the domestic stuff out of the way, so it was back to the 74 bus stop to get E400 4972 to the 74’s terminus at Dudley Bus Station.

The 5

Upon arriving at Dudley, I noticed Platinum standard MMC E400 6717, a Pensnett allocated bus normally used on the X10 (Birmingham-Merry Hill/Gornal Wood), was making it’s way to the number 5 stop, so I did as fast a sprint as I can manage these days to get it! Luckily, I’m not quite so decrepit that I managed to catch it, though this was mainly because it was waiting time! So I gratefully boarded!

The 5 is the former 205 to kingswinford, which the recent revision saw reduced from a half hourly headway to hourly, losing it’s occasional extensions to Wallheath at the same time. There were proposals for the service to be withdrawn but obviously, these were objected to, so the service survives on a reduced frequency. Loadings were very light today, so I suspect the route’s future in far from secure! This illustrates just how much Dudley area routes that don’t serve the magnet that is the large Merry Hill shopping centre have declined in the thirty odd years since that centre opened, as the 5 follows what used to be the route of the old Midland Red 261, this having replaced the main part of the Dudley-Brettell Lane tram route of the Dudley, Stourbridge & District Tramway Company.

The route leaves Dudley along the narrow backwater that is the terraced house clad Wellington Road (not part of the tram route and I’m unsure exactly when Midland Red rerouted the 261 down this way) where we dropped off two passengers. Just before Wellington Road came to it’s end, with a junction onto the main Stourbridge Road, the 5 now turns off to access the Russells Hall Estate. This routing started in the Dudley revisions of 2008, when the 261 was finally withdrawn (though it’s later years had seen frequent changes, including an extension from Wallheath-Wolverhampton for a while) and replaced by an extension of the 205 (Blackheath-Dudley) to Wallheath, which was routed through Russells Hall to replace part of the withdrawn 264/265 Dudley-Ashwood Park Circulars. The main route through the late sixties/early seventies Russells Hall Estate is the 2/2A, the former 222 which featured in the last “Dudley New Routes” blog that I wrote, so the 5 serves some roads that the 2/2A don’t.

Soon, we headed out of the estate and used the gate controlled bus only road to access Russells Hall Hospital. Then it was through Pensnett, with a brief diversion through the Pensnett Trading Estate, home of the Garage where 6717 is based, though only the X10 passes this. Then it was around a road called Manor Park, which is a long established terminus for buses that terminate at Kingswinford, this being the Bus Stop at the end , right by the small town’s High Street on the Wolverhampton-Stourbridge Road.100_1574.JPG

I then headed around the corner to catch the next bus to Stourbridge, this being Wolverhampton based Dennis Trident 4316 on the 17, the former 257 from Dudley-Stourbridge via Gornal Wood. Whilst waiting, I struck up a conversation with a couple of old ladies who held no truck with the new routenumbers;

“Cowin’ waste a time this is, these bus people just change for changes sak! They aye got no common sense!” Such are the challenges of introducing change to the bus network!

The journey through Wordsley & Amblecote to Stourbridge was straight forward enough but the queue of traffic from Amblecote into Stourbridge now seems never ending! How long can we go on suffering such crippling traffic congestion?

Arriving in Stourbridge’s modern Transport Interchange, I spotted MMC E400 6111 waiting time on the 9 to Birmingham. Although I didn’t want to travel on this, I decided to photograph it, as it’s recently been announced that these buses are to be displaced from the 9 in favour of brand new MMC E400’s to Platinum specification.100_1576.JPG

Ten of these buses (6101-6110) are to remain at Pensnett Garage for the 14 & 126, but the remainder are planned to be transferred to Acocks Green to operate on the 11A/11C Birmingham Outer Circle, including 6111, so this will soon be an historic shot!

The 28

But I now intended to travel on a route that was even newer than those introduced in the 2nd September changes! Tender changes from Sunday 28th October have seen NXWM be quite successful in winning some tendered services from other operators. Two of these wins have been merged into new service 28, which replaces the former Diamond 287 from Stourbridge-Merry Hill, running every half hour Monday-Saturday daytime (as there’s no Sunday service, the 28 started on Monday the 29th,) with hourly journeys carrying onto Halesowen replacing Diamond’s 14.

I happened to stumble upon the Merry Hill shortworking,  operated by Enviro 200 829 but no matter, I’ll have a half hour break at Merry Hill! The 28 heads out of town via Stourbridge Junction Railway Station, then heads down Hungary Hill. This suburban road was originally served by Midland Red’s 236, a roundabout route from Stourbridge-Wordsley via Lye & Brierley Hill. This was withdrawn in West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive’s December 1976 Dudley area revisions, with Hungary Hill then being served by the rerouted 242 from Stourbridge-Cradley Heath. I’ve happy memories of riding ex Midland Red Leyland Nationals on the route in the mid eighties, then on DAF re-engine National’s in the nineties.

But from February 1987, Hungary Hill would have a second, more frequent bus service, in the form of new, twenty minute minibus service 292 from Stourbridge-Brockmoor via Merry Hill, and it’s this route that the 28 is now a descendent of. The 242 would eventually disappear in the late nineties, although I noticed on the bus stop flags that Hungary Hill has a second bus service again, as the Diamond operated 298/299 have been rerouted this way in lieu of the main road between Stourbridge & Lye. After Hungary Hill, we crossed over the main Stourbridge-Lye road, served by the frequent 9 to Birmingham and headed into the Amblecote Bank area. The blog “On The Way Out-Part Six-The 2xx number series” mentions this area when I travelled on the X96, which covers the former route of the ex Midland Red 258, which was an unlikely convert to crew operated BMMO D9 double deck operation in the December 1976 revisions, using buses and conductors made redundant from the 9’s predecessor, the 130. Then, the area largely consisted of industrial spoil, meaning those D9’s (which would only last for around another eight month’s) were empty pretty much all of the time! But development eventually came, with lots of new houses springing up in the eighties. The 258 would be replaced by the 231 in October 1980, followed by the rerouted 266 at deregulation in October 1986, before new minibus services 291 (directly replacing the former 258/231/266 route) & 292 served the area more thoroughly.

We crossed over what is now the 8 (old X96) route and went into the eighties Wythymore Estate, where a large Sainsbury’s exists at the estates centre. The conversion of the Stourbridge Town services from minibus to DAF re-engine Leyland National operation in early 1992 saw the 291/292 merged into a cross town 298/299 service from Pedmore Fields. The closure of Hartshill Garage on 2nd October 1993 saw the 298/299 transfer to Quinton Garage but this was relatively short lived, as the services would pass to the West Midlands Travel owned Metrowest operation, who split the services up again, with the Brockmoor side becoming the 296 & 297, and these would return to West Midlands Travel operation when Metrowest was closed down latter in the year (see blog “West Midlands 1994”) eventually passing to the new Pensnett Garage when it opened in early 1998.

Whilst the 2008 Dudley revisions saw the 296 replaced by the X96, which became the 8 in the latest changes, the 297 would be extended to Dudley via Gornal Wood but 2009 would see the Stourbridge-Merry Hill section withdrawn (and eventually the rest of the route would wither away) and be replaced by Diamond’s tendered 287.

The last time I travelled on this section of route was on a Volvo B10B on the 297 just after the 2008 revisions, travelling all the way through to Dudley. Because this was ten years ago, I’d forgotten that the route passed the Vine, known locally as the Bull & Bladder, the brewery pub for Bathams, which, in my totally biased opinion, brews the best beer in the world! So, rather than spend half an hour at Merry Hill, I got off here for a pint of Bathams Bitter which beautifully washed down a pork pie! The marvels of technology meant that I was able to keep tabs on when the next 28 was due from the nearby stop thanks to NXWM’s phone App! All very civilised!

So, beer and pork pie consumed, I made my way around to the bus stop in good time to catch short E200 760 on the Halesowen journey on the 28. We served Merry Hill and headed out to Quarry Bank, where we passed the next Stourbridge bound journey, operated by short E200 732, one of two such buses transferred to Pensnett specifically for the 28 from NX’s Explore Dundee. 732 is in the former NX Bus red & white livery but the other example, 731, was painted in Dundee’s new green livery, so is having to be repainted into NXWM’s current crimson livery.

The 14 was one of three tendered services that linked Merry Hill with Halesowen via Fatherless Barn, the other two being the 13 & 17 and are still operated by Diamond. These were the first examples of Dudley area local services gaining two digit numbers, starting around three years ago to replace the former 210/212/213, as well as a section of the 240 Stourbridge-Cradley Heath service. The 28 follows the main 4M to West Bromwich & Walsall and the X10 to Birmingham through Quarry Bank to Cradley Heath Transport Interchange. From here, we weave our way through the Cradley district-not exactly the same place as Cradley Heath! Bus service provision has never been particularly strong around these parts, with little pockets of low density development present between Cradley Heath and the Halesowen-Stourbridge Road, as served by the 9. I suppose the main routes today through this area are NXWM’s 18, the former 243 that was traditionally the Dudley-Cradley Heath service but in recent years has been extended through Timbertree  & Lyde Green to Merry Hill, and Diamond’s 002, the former Ludlows service from Merry Hill, through Halesowen, to the West Birmingham suburb of Weoley Castle. Otherwise, the 28 and it’s Diamond operated sisters, the 13 & 17, provide hourly services through the territory. As we wondered around, I recognised a section of route as part of the former 240 from Cradley Heath-Stourbridge, bringing back memories of Sunday afternoon rides on empty ex Midland Red Leyland Nationals in 1985 & 1986 (see blog “Lazy Sunday Afternoons”). This meant that we came out onto the 9 route at the top of the steep climb of Drews Holloway, leading us into the Coley Gate district.

We then headed into Fatherless Barn, one of several rather isolated council estates in the Black Country (other examples are Timbertree, Lodge Farm & Brickhouse Farm) where demand for bus services obviously exists but the low population density means they are only able to support relatively low frequency services. Fatherless Barn was first served by Midland Red’s 238 to Dudley, which would have started in the early fifties. This would soon be joined by the 283, running largely over the same route but with several variations. The late sixties would see the 283 renumbered 239 but otherwise, the routes would remain unaltered for many years, being single deck operated due to a low bridge just to the south of Cradley Heath, which also kept the 240/242 Stourbridge-Cradley Heath services single deck. But the major WMPTE Dudley & Sandwell revisions of November 1983 (see blog “Dudley & Sandwell Revisions-November 1983”) saw the end of the 238 and the 239 cutback to run between Dudley & Cradley Heath, using double deckers from Dudley Garage (the 238 & 239 having been transferred to Hartshill Garage in 1980 when Dudley lost it’s Leyland National single deckers, meaning it became a double deck only Garage until some Nationals returned in December 1985).

The Fatherless Barn section was replaced by the extension of the direct Dudley-Cradley Heath service, the 244 (Wednesbury-Cradley Heath), avoiding the low bridge to enable double deckers to continue being used on the route. The same revision would see the end of the use of 243 for Dudley-Cradley Heath shorts, the peak and Saturday journeys between these points becoming 244E’s but the 243 would return in September 1985 when the 244 was split at Dudley, with 243 being used for the Dudley-Fatherless Barn section. Deregulation would see the 243 cutback to run from Dudley-Cradley Heath again, with Fatherless Barn being served by new circular minibus services 210 & 211, part of the new Hartshill operated Cradley Heath minibus network. This was a network which largely broke up in early 1987 but the 210 survived as a single route, extended from Cradley Heath-Brierley Hill via Merry Hill. 1989 would see the twenty minute 210 extended from Fatherless Barn-Halesowen as three hourly services, the 210, 211 & 212, with the tendered evening & Sunday service over the original Brierley Hill-Fatherless Barn route becoming the 213, which would latter be operated by Midland Red West’s Kidderminster Garage. The 211 would soon cease but the 210 & 212 would continue to provide a half hourly service for many years, passing from Hartshill to Metrowest, then West Bromwich Garage before settling at Pensnett! The early 21st Century would see Travel West Midlands deregister them, with Diamond taking them over on tender before their replacement by the 13, 14 & 17.

After serving Fatherless Barn, we headed back onto the Stourbridge-Halesowen Road before branching off again into the Hasbury area, a fairly affluent suburb of Halesowen. Bus services around here have a complex history, with Midland Red’s 234 & 235 services running through Halesowen to Cradley Heath providing the main daytime services (single deck operated due to a low bridge in Old Hill), whilst peak services 134 & 135 ran to Bearwood, for onward connections to Birmingham and the factories of Smethwick. In the late sixties, the 135 was replaced by the peak Limited Stop X2 through to Birmingham, which WMPTE would subsequently renumber the 902 in 1975, and eventually absorb the 134, following an extension around the new Portsdown Estate in 1980. Another local service to the estate was the 205, which served Bassnage Road, then headed via Halesowen to Blackheath, being merged with the 242 through to Dudley in the late sixties. October 1980 would see the 234 & 235 withdrawn and replaced by the 242 from Cradley Heath & Stourbridge around the estate, which interworked with a new 131 from Hasbury into Halesowen via Hagley Road and on to Birmingham. As the 242 operated via the Old Hill low bridge, Leyland National saloons, mainly brand new National 2’s, were used.

November 1983 would see the 205 cutback to Halesowen, the Hasbury section replaced by the extension of the 445 from Smethwick, which carried on through to Hayley Green. The 242 would also be curtailed at Halesowen, with the Hasbury stretch replaced by a new 132 from Birmingham, operated by Hartshill using double deckers and interworking with the 131 as a circular. Also introduced onto the estate was a rerouted 297 from Dudley-Stourbridge via Halesowen, which would become part of the 247/248 Circular in September 1985.

Deregulation would see the 131, 132 & 902 replaced by the extension of the Coventry-Halesowen 900 Timesaver service to Hasbury, following the 902 route, whilst the 445 would be replaced by the tendered 218 local service to Halesowen, operated by Midland Red West. September 1988 saw the 900 split in Birmingham, with the Hasbury side being replaced by the Quinton Garage operated 19. 1989 saw Halesowen independent Ludlows start to serve the area with the 003 to Hayley Green and, more significantly, the 417 to West Bromwich. The 003 would partially replace the 218, with the rest being covered by the new 212 minibus route. 1998 would see the 19 replaced by the peak only 919, although this would soon become the all stop 19 again, before it’s final withdrawal in 2006. The off peak service was initially replaced by minibus 619, though this would soon be replaced by an extension of the Dudley-Halesowen 241. Latter, the Hasbury section would be replaced by an extension of the less direct 244 from Dudley but more recently, this has now been replaced by the 4H from Walsall & West Bromwich, competing with Diamonds 4H which had replaced the 417. Whilst Diamond’s 4H does a one way loop, heading from Hasbury via the Hagley Road into Halesowen, the NXWM 4H returns to Halesowen via it’s outward route.

The 247/248, meanwhile, would cease in the 2008 Dudley scheme, with service 242 replacing the Dudley-Stourbridge via Halesowen section. The Halesowen-Stourbridge section would soo be withdrawn and replaced by the Diamond operated 142. This would latter be reduced to hourly and taken over by Central Buses before Diamond’s takeover of this operator saw the 142 return to the Diamond fold. The 28 effectively supplements the 142, heading through Hasbury to reach the Hagley Road, which we followed into Halesowen.

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Halesowen Bus Station

The 14

It’s interesting that the 28 replaced a route 14, as the September Dudley changes saw NXWM introduce another 14 to the Dudley area which, for a short period, clashed with the Diamond 14 at Halesowen Bus Station!

There have traditionally been two routes between Halesowen & Dudley, the more direct route being via the main road through Old Hill & Netherton that was originally Midland Red’s 226 through to Bilston, which gained a 225 variant in 1980. The November 1983 revisions saw this split, with the Halesowen side being covered by the aforementioned 297, which would become the 247/248 and then the 242 before being replaced by the 244, a route prone to wondering a bit from the main road. Extended in 2017 from Halesowen-Queen Elizabeth Hospital in West Birmingham (replacing the 99) , this became the 19 in the recent revisions.

The other route commenced in the late sixties, and was a result of the 205 from Hasbury being extended from it’s previous Blackheath terminus onto Dudley via Whiteheath & Portway, replacing the previous 242. November 1985 saw this service cutback to run from Dudley-Blackheath, with the Halesowen section (as previously mentioned, the Hasbury section went in the November 1983 revisions) being replaced by the new 241, which followed the direct path between Blackheath & Dudley taken by the 140 from Birmingham, the two routes now providing a fifteen minute service between Dudley & Quinton (Stag). The recent revisions saw the 140 replaced by the twenty minute X8 through from Wolverhampton, meaning that the 241 wasn’t needed over it’s main core. Proposals were given to actually drop the service altogether, but obviously this met with opposition, so the 14 was created, replacing the 241 from Halesowen-Blackheath and then the 127 from Blackheath-Dudley via Whiteheath & Portway…..yep, basically the old 205 route!

The 14 interworks in Dudley with the truncated 126 to Birmingham, meaning that double deckers are still the mainstay on the route. However, Pensnett Garage doesn’t seem to have quite enough double deckers to go around the new network, meaning Wright bodied Volvo B7 saloon’s are substituted on occasions…..including the journey I caught, which was operated by 2097;

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The filling in an NXWM E400/Igo Plaxton Prisma Sandwich is 2097 at journey’s end, at Dudley Bus Station, with it’s blinds changed for it’s next 126 journey.

Leaving Halesowen, the 14 follows the 9 route along the dual carriageway Manor Way, then heading through the semi detached filled suburb of Lapal, where we leave the 9 behind and head up Kent Road. The 14 is the only service up this road, and several elderly passengers alighted on this stretch, illustrating the need for a bus service along here, as they probably wouldn’t have been able to walk either down to the 9 or up to the 19, X8 & X10 routes at the Stag. From this point, we crossed over onto Long Lane and followed the X8 route into Blackheath before heading onto the former 127 route. The first stretch differs from the former 205 route in that it serves the Bell End district once served by the 129. Then it was through Whiteheath and up Throne Road to Portway, where we were joined by Igo’s (Diamond evening & Sunday) 208 service from Merry Hill, which is today’s descendent of the former 238/239. We climbed the steep hill, up into the Oakham area where the main bus route was traditionally the 120, now the 12/12A. Where as those two routes take a direct course into Dudley via Oakham Road, the 14 heads through the Tividale Hall Estate, down to the Birmingham New Road, which it traverses for a short distance before turning left onto Watsons Green Road. This stretch wasn’t originally part of the 205 route, being served by the 238/283 when they replaced the original Watsons Green D3 Town Service in the fifties. The 205 would run direct to this point via the 126’s Castle Hill & Burnt Tree route until 1979, when the 205 was rerouted to follow the 238/239 route into Dudley, doubling the service to this area of council housing. Soon, we arrived at Dudley Bus Station.

2102 & Chips!

After I’d took the photo of 2097, WMPTE Dual Purpose National liveried 2102 turned up off a 126 and changed to become the next 14, so I took the photo at the head of this blog, as well as this photo;100_1578.JPG Then, I caught E400 4969 on the 74 in a homeward direction, as I didn’t intend to travel all the way home just yet, as I intended to sample the Port Fish Bar in Dudley Port, as I’d been hearing good things about it. So I got off 4969 at a conveniently located bus stop alongside the chip shop and went inside. I was offered the choice of plan or battered chips to go with my cod. I chose plain as I sometimes find battered chips to be a bit dry but I’d have gone for them had I seen the blackboard saying the battered chips are cooked in beef dripping! Next tine, I’ll sample these, as there definitely will be a next time as my plain chips and cod were quite excellent! Then, it was onto E400 4975 on the 74 for the journey home.

“Buses For Fun” Finale!

Sadly, this will be the last “Buses For Fun” blog!

Dear loyal, regular readers, fear not, as I will still be writing about buses! But I’ve reached the maximum capacity on the “Buses For Fun” site for photo storage and therefore, will be launching a new blog called “Tram, Train & Buscapades” very soon! In addition, I’ll still be regularly revisiting the “Buses For Fun” archive to repost in Facebook & Twitter, as well as the occasional republishing.

So to all my regular readers, a big thank you for your kind words and thoughts and I look forward to you joining me for new “Buscapades” ahead!

 

 

Fleetline Farewell!-1/11/97

We bus enthusiasts are defined by the era and the area that we grow up in, with the buses of that era and area often becoming our favourites for the rest of our lives! Therefore, as a resident of the West Midlands County during the seventies (despite a move to Telford in 1977, frequent visits to my Smethwick based Grandparents and other family members meant that the area was always home to me, so much so that I moved back to my Grandparents house in 1985) means that the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive’s standard double decker bus of the decade, the Daimler, latter Leyland Fleetline, with Metro Cammell, Park Royal or, in the case of examples ordered by Coventry City Transport, East Lancs bodywork, has become my favourite bus.

The Daimler Fleetline was introduced to the market in 1960, as a rival to the pioneer rear engine double decker bus, the 1958 introduced Leyland Atlantean. In it’s early years, the Fleetline scored over it’s rival in reliability but would pass into Leyland’s hands when Daimler’s Jaguar owner sold out to the newly formed British Leyland Group in the sixties. A third Leyland group rear engine double decker would be introduced in 1966 with the Bristol VR. The early seventies upgrading of the Atlantean to AN68 status saw the model’s early reliability problems left behind, causing the Fleetline to be left behind somewhat, especially after the Bristol VR was upgraded to Series 3 status slightly latter. The Fleetline, badged as a Leyland after production transferred from Daimler’s Coventry factory to Leyland, would finally cease production in 1980.

The Fleetline was an obvious choice for WMPTE to standardise on, as all but one of the fleets that it would absorb had purchased Fleetlines (the exception, Wolverhampton, had twenty five thirty three foot long Park Royal bodied examples on order, which were early enough into their build for the PTE to ask for an identical specification to the one hundred similar buses on order from Birmingham City Transport, these becoming known as Jumbos on account of their length.)  Following the delivery of those Fleetlines on order (as well as the Birmingham & Wolverhampton examples, both Walsall & West Bromwich had Northern Counties bodied examples on order), the PTE introduced a specification, loosely based on that of the Jumbos but reverting to a single door, thirty foot length bus, which would become the PTEs standard bus until 1979, after which the operator turned to the locally built MCW Metrobus.

The acquired examples (which would be joined by ex Midland Red Alexander bodied examples of it’s D11/D12/D13 class after the December 1973 takeover of that Company’s West Midlands services) would be replaced by Metrobuses by 1983, apart from Coventry East Lancs bodied examples (Coventry being the last operator to be absorbed into the PTE, on 1st April 1974) which survived until deregulation on 26th October 1986. By this date, large inroads had also been made into the earlier PTE bought examples, including the demise of the earlier, yellow ceilinged examples (up to 4235, buses from 4243 onwards featuring white ceilings). Deregulation would also see the official withdrawal of all Fleetlines numbered below 6301 (fleetnumbers had jumped from 4799-a Leyland National-to 6300-the one Foden double decker-in 1976 to accommodate the fleetnumbers of various ex Midland Red buses in between), although some of the 45xx & 46xx series Fleetlines survived past deregulation, both operationally and in West Midlands Travel’s (the operational company that replaced the PTEs bus operations) reserved fleet, several of which would return to service briefly in 1987. Yardley Wood’s 4561 would be the oldest of these survivors, which would all be gone by 1988.

Despite these withdrawals, the lack of new buses ordered after deregulation meant that withdrawal rates of the survivors would slow down considerably. Early 1988 would see a start made on withdrawing 63xx examples but large scale withdrawals wouldn’t begin until the first of the final batch of Metrobuses, 150 in number to the Mk 2A specification, began to arrive in September 1988, this being stepped up in 1989 following the conversion of a large number of the reserved fleets Leyland Nationals to DAF engines, these then being allocated to several garages (Dudley & Hockley briefly-National 2’s replacing those at Hockley-then Hartshill, Lea Hall, Yardley Wood & Wolverhampton) replacing Fleetlines at these garages, as well as the first of an eventual batch of 250 new Leyland Lynxes all seeing the single deck content of the West Midlands Travel fleet increase dramatically. Then the arrival of 40 Alexander bodied Scania double deckers at the Metrobus only Birmingham Central (mainly for the 50) in September 1990, would see Metrobuses cascade elsewhere to replace more Fleetlines.

Again though, most of the survivors of the 1988-1990 cull would have a stay of execution, as fleet replacement took a back seat whilst West Midlands Travel concentrated on repaying the finance it had raised to effect it’s Employee Share Ownership Plan privatisation. In fact, the loaning of Metrobuses to other fleets would see Fleetlines from the reserve fleet re-enter service from 1993 onwards, signalling the start of a Fleetline Indian summer! Transfer of eleven examples from Acocks Green would see the Fleetline return to Yardley Wood in 1994 (their last example previously, 6921, was withdrawn in early 1990) whilst Walsall, which, apart from a brief allocation of 63xx numbered Fleetlines in 1987, had last been allocated Fleetlines in 1983, saw the arrival of the surviving East Lancs bodied Fleetlines from Coventry (some of the 1977 batch that had been ordered by Coventry City Transport)

But 1995 would see the beginning of the final end, with Metrobuses being returned from a period of hire to other operators saw the demise of Fleetlines from Lea Hall, Acocks Green (although single deck Fleetline 1956 would arrive there latter-more on that latter) & Wolverhampton (where six Alexander Strider bodied Volvo B10B saloons had entered service, a precursor for a larger fleet of Wright bodied Volvo B10Bs to come). Then early 1996 saw fleet replacement begin in earnest with the first of 65 Volvo B10B’s, which replaced Nationals at Wolverhampton, Walsall & Acocks Green. That order was originally 150 strong though 100 of these would be changed to the low floor B10L design (an extra 25 B10Bs would be ordered to make up the 65) which started to arrive in 1997. This added to fifty Wright bodied Volvo B6 midibuses that had began to arrive in 1996, all of which would allow Fleetlines to be replaced, including those at Walsall & Yardley Wood. Perry Barr would lose it’s final Fleetlines following the allocation of the first large allocation of B10L’s to the garage for the conversion of “Line 33” to low floor “Showcase” operation, following the construction of Bus Lanes and state of the art, modern shelters along the route of the 33 from Birmingham City Centre-Pheasey in February 1997, whilst over the next few months, West Bromwich and Coventry Garages would all lose their Fleetlines, meaning that, by Easter, only Quinton & Washwood Heath Garages would have an allocation.

I would last ride on Quinton’s last two Fleetlines on Good Friday 1997 when, travelling into Birmingham on a Hockley Metrobus on the 129, I spotted 6923 heading out on the 21A to Bartley Green. As this was an indirect service, I jumped off the 129 and caught the next Metrobus on the more direct 22 Kitwell service as far as Bartley Green, where I was able to await 6923’s arrival and catch it back to Birmingham through Bangham Pit, Weoley Castle and the Queen Elizabeth Hospital complex. As we headed down Broad Street, I spotted Quinton’s other surviving Fleetline, 6902, on the 9, just in front of us. Therefore, I got off 6923 at Great Charles Street, then walked past the Town Hall and down Hill Street and caught 6902 on it’s way out for a nice long run out to Stourbridge. Quinton closed on 18th June 1997 (the day I moved into my present house!) and the two Fleetlines would go with it.

Washwood Heath’s allocation was slightly larger but was now largely restricted to Monday-Friday operation, meaning I was unable to travel on them much, as I was working on those days. The last time I would travel on one in normal circumstances was on Friday 2nd May, the day after Tony Blair had become the British Prime Minister. My friend Steve from Leicester was coming over to stay at my Grandparents (where I then lived) for the Bank Holiday weekend, so I had travelled into Birmingham on the 101 (the nearest route to my then workplace at Averys, on the borders of Smethwick & Birmingham) to meet Steve off the Midland Fox X66 from his home city. Before heading back to Smethwick, we decided to see if we could get a Washwood Heath Fleetline in the book, so we headed to Lower Bull Street, the main terminus for Washwood Heath’s routes, and caught 6952 on a 590E to Coleshill, returning on a Metrobus.

The 26 & 27

Saturday 1st November was decided to be the final day of Travel West Midlands Fleetline operation, with Travel West Midlands (the name adopted by West Midlands Travel in 1996) deciding to commemorate the even with an Open Day at Washwood Heath Garage and the remaining Fleetlines (both those allocated to Washwood Heath and some recent withdrawals from elsewhere) would run duplicate journeys on route 27 from the City Centre-Bromford Bridge Estate. This was quite an odd number in Birmingham for double deck operation, as it was traditionally used for the South Birmingham inter suburban service from Kings Heath-West Heath, extended at deregulation to Cotteridge and rerouted as the 27A/27C South Circular in 1990. This route had to be single deck operated due to the low Railway bridge at Bourneville Station but the service was withdrawn in 1994, following it’s merger with the Leyland Lynx operated 35 (City-Hawkesley) to form a figure six shaped route from City-Kings Heath via Kings Heath & Hawkesley.

This allowed off peak journeys on the 26 Bromford Bridge service to use the number 27 to distinguish an extension at those times to the Bull Ring Markets on Edgbaston Street, including all daytime Saturday journeys, thus the Fleetline operated duplicates would all be 27’s. The 26 started on 11th September 1967, running from the new Bromford Bridge Estate to Highfield Road, Alum Rock, where connections were available with services 14 & 55 into City. One of several One Man operated feeder services developed in the sixties by Birmingham City Transport to serve new, outlying housing estates, the 26 was initially operated by 1950 vintage underfloor engine MCW bodied Leyland Olympics 2263-2265 until their withdrawal at the end of April 1968, when they were replaced by 1965 vintage single deck Fleetlines, a batch of buses that had proved most useful for starting up these feeder services. This started an association between the Fleetline and the 26 that would last until 1st November 1997. The single deck Fleetlines were short lived on the route, as one man double deck Fleetlines took over from 5th May 1968, the regular allocation eventually becoming dual door Fleetlines 3879 & 3880, the last two buses to enter service with Birmingham City Transport, before WMPTE took over.

The 5th August 1974 saw the 26 extended into City, by which time Washwood Heath Garage would be completely one man, so any allocated Fleetline could turn up on the 26, with 3879 & 3880 having been transferred to Harborne (mainly for the 2 from Selly Oak-Kings Heath) in the early seventies. Metrobuses would join the Washwood Heath allocation from 1980 onwards but, although these could be found on the 26, the route would continue to feature regular Fleetline operation. I first rode on the route in 1985 when, having moved from Telford back to Smethwick, I discovered that Fleetlines featured regularly on late night duties on the 26, so I sampled these on several occasions before deregulation, when Metrobuses would permanently takeover at these times. Nevertheless, regular daytime operation of Fleetlines would continue on the 26, so I became quite familiar with the route, particularly as Fleetline operation gradually reduced elsewhere.

The Final Day

And so the final day dawned! Steve had come over from Leicester again for the weekend, this time staying with my wife Lynn and myself at our house in West Bromwich, us having got married the preceding July. So that Saturday morning, we caught a Metrobus on the 79 into Birmingham and almost immediately came across 7000, the highest numbered Fleetline in the fleet, though it wasn’t the last one, as that honour fell to withdrawn former Acocks Green Park Royal bodied example 6690, as the last Park Royal bodied examples had been delayed in arrival, entering service after the final Metro Cammell bodied examples, of which 7000 was the last. Originally allocated to Walsall in 1979, 7000 would be transferred to Oldbury Garage fairly early on, where I would get to know it on the various local routes around Smethwick, including the 87 from Birmingham-Dudley. The arrival of ten Leyland National 2’s following Stourbridge’s closure on 26th January 1985, saw Oldbury’s Fleetlines gradually move out, with 7000 transferring to Dudley (allowing a return to the 87 on occasions when the route was transferred to Dudley following Oldbury’s closure on 25th January 1986), where it stayed until 1989 when, following the allocation of new Mk 2A Metrobuses and Leyland Lynxes to the Black Country Garage, 7000 was one of several Fleetlines transferred to Perry Barr, where it would remain until the end of Fleetline operation there in February 1997, then passing into store. Interestingly, June 1995 saw the bus spend a brief time on loan to Hockley (which had lost it’s regular Fleetline allocation in 1990) and was allocated to the 87 one Friday, when I managed to get a ride on it over the full route from Dudley-Birmingham, then back as far as Dudley Road Hospital, as I had to visit a friend who was then a patient there.

7000 was by now painted in the blue roofed livery that was the TWM standard by then and the bus had been adorned with transfers that morning commemorating that it was the Fleetline’s last day. Driving 7000 was Richard Kirk, then working in management at Birmingham Central Garage, now a Director with First Travel Solutions! Once on board, we headed out of City and through the Vauxhall district. This section of the 26/27 was then relatively recent, the route having been rerouted that way in 1993, to replace the 55, which had been rerouted onto a more direct route out of City via Jennens Road & Nechells Middleway to match the competing Claraibels X55 on the route to Chelmsley wood via Shard End. The two routes now matching would see Claraibels renumber their service the 55 to match TWM.

Actually, the 55 had an even older association with the Fleetline than the 26, as it was a very early convert to the type, with Washwood Heath receiving a proportion of the first large batch of Fleetlines delivered to BCT in 1963. With the earlier, ten Prototype Fleetlines, delivered alongside ten Leyland Atlanteans for comparison in 1962 being allocated to Liverpool Street (what’s now Birmingham Central) and Hockley for use on the 43 (Nechells) & 96 (Winson Green) respectively, routes that would disappear in 1992 & 1986 respectively, whilst other recipients of the 1963 batch were Perry Barr for the 39 (Witton-withdrawn in October 1980) and Coventry Road for the 58 & 60 (Sheldon & Cranes Park respectively), routes that would transfer to Liverpool Street upon Coventry Road’s October 1985 closure and that Garage, renamed Birmingham Central, losing all it’s Fleetlines at deregulation, means that the 55 was the Birmingham bus route to have been continuously operated via Daimler/Leyland Fleetlines for the longest period of time! In fact, as only Walsall of the other PTE constituents had Fleetlines earlier than 1963 (prototype short Fleetline number 1 entering service in 1962) and the fact that Walsall would initially lose it’s Fleetlines in 1983 (apart from semi preserved ex Walsall 116, which survived until deregulation and is now preserved at the Wythall Transport Museum), means that the 55 was the longest running Fleetline operated PTE route too! In fact, could any other route in the UK beat it?

Although the Fleetlines were operating duplicates on the 27, the service buses on the route were altogether rather more colourful. That’s because it had been arranged to operate these with the Metrobuses that had been painted into the previous liveries of PTE (and hence Travel West Midlands) constituents in 1996, so Washwood Heath’s Birmingham City Transport liveried 3050 (one of eight in that livery, allocated to each surviving ex BCT Garage at the time) was joined on the 27 by Coventry’s 2867, Walsall’s 2888, Wolverhampton’s 2989 and West Bromwich’s 3033. Ironically, with all the Fleetlines being in either the then current blue roof livery or the earlier West Midlands Travel blue & grey (6898), the general, non enthusiast public probably thought that the Heritage liveried Metrobuses were the main attraction!

We re-joined the traditional 26 route at Saltley, then heading up the crowded Alum Rock Road to the original 26 terminus at the junction with Highfield Road, onto which we turned left. This fairly narrow, terraced house clad road leads onto Washwood Heath Road just before that road reaches Washwood Heath Garage, where Steve & I got off and went into the Garage to view the Open Day.

Here, we met my old mate John Batchelor, then a Perry Barr Traffic Clerk who was rostered to drive 6967 latter in the day but was free to have a ride up to Bromford Bridge first so, along with then Perry Barr driver Bram Osborne, we all headed over the main road to catch 1956, the former 6956 (a Washwood Heath bus) that had been converted to single deck in 1994. This rather eccentric bus was a possible prototype for more conversions but this wasn’t followed through (more details in my blog “West Midlands 1994”) and 1956 remained unique. It was initially allocated to West Bromwich (I would ride it on it’s first day in service, on route 242 from Cradley Heath-Kinver) then Quinton and finally settling at Acocks Green to operate alongside ex Your Bus Dennis Dart’s and Leyland Lynxes on the 42 (Solihull-Baldwins Lane) before all of these were replaced by low floor Volvo B6’s on the route. This made 1956 the last Fleetline to operate at Acocks Green.

From the Garage, the 27 made it’s way further down Washwood Heath Road to the junction of Drews Lane, where we turned left and headed past the DAF van factory that had formerly been the home of Sherpa vans. Crossing the Outer Circle at Bromford Lane, we were soon running along the straight Hyperion Road that was the main road through the late sixties constructed Bromford Bridge Estate, built on the site of the former Bromford Racecourse. Multi Storey Tower blocks mingled along here with low rise housing that had largely come after the blocks, once these had began to become unpopular in the early seventies. On the other side of Hyperion Road stood the concrete stilts that carry the M6 Motorway out of Birmingham, with the Railway Line to Derby & Leicester passing on the other side of this. Hyperion Road ends as a cul de sac, with a turning circle for the 26 & 27 forming out of this. Just on the other side of the Motorway at this point is the distinctive Fort Dunlop building. Riding 1956 up to Bromford Bridge felt like a connection with the 26’s early days of BCT single deck Fleetline operation!

We then headed back to the Garage on 1956, where we all got off. Bram was due to takeover on 1745, not a Fleetline but then the oldest bus in the TWM fleet. 1745 was an ex Ribble Leyland National that the company had acquired when it purchased the competing company Tame Valley Travel in 1992. Like most of that fleet, it was initially placed into the Reserved fleet but came into service in 1994 and fitted with a new Volvo engine. Steve and I however, joined John on 6967. This was a former Coventry bus that had been withdrawn when that Garage ceased Fleetline operation earlier in the year but kept in reserve. It was one of only two Fleetlines in service that day (the other being 6898) that retained it’s original red PVC seat covering, the others all featuring WMT standard blue mocquette that many Fleetlines (especially those that came out of the Reserved fleet) received in the early nineties. John took over in the Bromford Bridge direction, so we headed back to the Estate, followed by a trip into City, including the Bull Ring loop that distinguished the 27 from the then evening & Sunday 26.

We then headed back out, with Steve and I saying farewell to John and getting off at the Garage. Steve then went to have a proper look at the Open Day, which featured a display of preserved buses from both the Midland Bus Museum at Wythall and the Aston Manor Transport Museum at Witton. I, on the other hand, was determined to ride on the other Fleetlines operating this afternoon, knowing full well that this was my last chance to ride a West Midlands Fleetline in normal service. The other buses running were 6477, one of the Fleetlines returned to service from the Reserved fleet in the 1992/1993 period, with 6477 being allocated to Quinton (it’s original Garage) then spending time at West Bromwich  and Yardley Wood. Like 6967, 6477 was resurrected especially for the final day! Also running was  6898, a former Perry Barr Fleetline transferred to Washwood Heath a few years previously. It was also the last surviving Fleetline to wear WMTs blue & grey livery before the much more pleasant blue roof livery was adopted around 1990. The other two buses were 6932, transferred to Washwood Heath from Lea Hall when that Garage lost it’s Fleetlines and 6952, a bus that had been allocated to Washwood Heath since it’s previous Garage, Coventry Road closed in October 1985.

So I kept myself busy transferring from bus to bus! One highlight I remember was on board 6898, where I had my last chat with my old friend Mark Dawson, a Civil Servant with the Foreign Office who was based in London. I would only ever meet him once again, on New Years Day 1999. I was a Perry Barr driver by this time and was driving a Volvo B10L on the 33 on this day when I briefly chatted to him at Pheasey Terminus. A year latter, he passed away from cancer. RIP old friend.

I managed to get all seven (including 1956) Fleetlines in the book for one last time, and I made sure I was in position for the final trip, which took place on 7000, driven by Robert Handford, who carried a full load featuring virtually every West Midlands bus enthusiast that I knew! Once back at the Garage, the time honoured ritual of pulling a bus into Garage manually, (usually occurring when a driver retired, with his colleagues manually pulling his bus into Garage with a tow rope) was enacted with 7000, and I had the honour of being one of those pulling the rope! Then, 7000 was officially handed over by then TWM Managing Director David Leeder  to Mac Marshall of the Aston Manor Transport Museum, bringing proceedings to a close.

But that wasn’t the end of the day for me! After the event, all the Fleetlines were to be taken to Walsall, for storage in the former North Division Works next to Walsall Garage. John was allocated 6898 to take and he invited Steve and I along for the ride! So off we went, through the North Birmingham suburbs in the darkening winter evening, then heading into Walsall along the A34, ten around the Walsall Ring Road to reach the Garage at Birchills. Already present in store was Open Top Fleetline 4069 and it was an eerie sight seeing todays Fleetlines parked up alongside it! All but one, that is, as the oldest of todays operational Fleetlines, 1976 vintage 6477, had been chosen to take us all back to Washwood Heath! And so we all sat in a contemplative mood as we took one last ride on a Travel West Midlands owned Fleetline! An important part of my life had now come to an end!

But, true to form of many of these “final days” at the time (many other operators were retiring their first generation rear engine double deckers) the 1st November 1997 wasn’t quite the end! For a couple of Fleetlines, 6960 and 6965, were still allocated to Travel Merry Hill’s (the former Merry Hill Minibuses, which Travel West Midlands took over in 1995) Merry Hill base (soon to be transferred to the new Pensnett Garage) for Car Park Shuttle work, with the Fleetlines lasting into 1998.

The 26 would return full time around a year latter, allowing the 27 to latter return to it’s South Birmingham roots, following it’s split from the 35.

As for me, I would become a bus driver in January 1998, shifting my enthusiasm into a different realm, inside the industry that I had followed for so long. So a new era had dawned, one that had seen me say goodbye to my favourite bus type but also one that saw me taking a more active role in the bus industry.

Coventry & Warwickshire Deregulated

The first week or so of the new, deregulated era of bus services didn’t start well in Coventry! Namely because there wasn’t one! Well, nothing from the main operator West Midlands Travel anyhow, as they were on strike! In order to survive the commercial pressures of the new era, certain drivers conditions were changed, namely the out of factory hours payments that drivers at evenings and weekends were paid. The new, arms length company felt that this was no longer affordable now that the company was forced to pay it’s way….the driver’s thought differently!

Not knowing the extent of the strike, I travelled to Coventry on the Birmingham Central Garage operated 900, on the Wednesday of that first week, only to find that it was terminating at Allesley, on the edge of the city, so I had no choice but to get on the bus in front, enjoying a much extended dropback, for the journey back to Birmingham!

When the strike was resolved, a streamlined network began, which saw the end of the remaining ex Coventry City Transport East Lancs bodied Daimler Fleetlines (those renumbered  in the 1xxx series in 1982) as well as those ordered by CCT but delivered to the Passenger Transport Executive in 1974 (those numbered in a 44xx series). The oldest survivors were the latter East Lancs bodied Leyland Fleetlines (also ordered by CCT but not delivered until 1977, illustrating just how long it took for buses to get built back then!) which were numbered in the 67xx series and were identifiable from their older sisters by virtue of the various PTE features that had been incorporated into the design, most notably the front, upper deck opening ventilator’s but also the use of the red PVC and formica in various shades of blue that were identical to that used in the PTEs Metro Cammell  & Park Royal bodied Fleetlines (those delivered from 1973-or bus 4243-onwards.), as well as Metro Cammell bodied Bristol VR’s and Alexander bodied Volvo Ailsa’s. Coventry’s only batch of standard PTE Metro Cammell bodied Fleetlines, 1979 vintage 69xx series examples, remained largely intact (some went into the reserve fleet, returning to service at other garages, i’e 6962 would resurface at Quinton and 6963 at Washwood Heath.) and were joined by Park Royal bodied Fleetline 6598. The Metrobus fleet was also largely unaffected.

Sandy Lane Garage closed on the last day of the regulated era, on Saturday 25th October 1986, leaving just the brand new Wheatley Street Garage that had opened very recently, having replaced the City’s oldest Garage at Harnell Lane. Being in the shadow of Pool Meadow Bus Station, Wheatley Street couldn’t have been more conveniently sited operationally!

Despite the slimmed down operations, WMT had some luck winning tenders, which provided a degree of extra work for the Garage. The main service won was the two hourly 735 from Coventry to the North Warwickshire village of Ansley. This replaced former Midland Red South service 737, which ran through to Nuneaton, this section still being covered commercially by Midland Red South’s 740. The regular buses on the 735 were usually Dual Purpose Leyland Nationals 1854 & 1856, with other member’s of Coventry’s small fleet of Leyland National’s also appearing. In common with the company’s other tendered services that ventured outside the former (abolished in 1986) West Midlands County (see blog “Tendering Afar”), as well as the few commercial services that did so (including the 20 & peak 50 from Coventry-Bedworth), WMT’s Travelcard was valid over the whole route, meaning I had the opportunity for several round trips on the service, before the tender was lost to Vanguard Coaches (more on them latter) and extended into Nuneaton around 1988.

Less regular was the 537 from Burton Green-Kenilworth, which WMT had also ran, again using National’s. I’m not sure how long this service lasted. More prominent was the return of the 192/192A/193/194/194A Coventry-Solihull services to West Midlands operation. As explained in the blog “Sent To Coventry” WMPTE had started these routes in 1984, integrating the Solihull-Balsall Common via Hampton In Arden services of the failed Mid Warwickshire Motorways company with the PTE’s 24/34/44 Coventry-Balsall Common services. They had suffered a topsy turvy two years, with Mid Warwickshire Motors successor Heart Of England Tours winning the right to run services over the corridor in 1985-before failing themselves signalling the return of the PTE routes! Then, having not been registered commercially by WMT to continue beyond deregulation, the routes had been chosen by the PTE  to be the prototype for the new tendering regime, with the services being won by Birmingham Digbeth based Midland Red Coaches. who bought some Ex Fife Scottish Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines to run the services alongside the 1982 vintage Willowbrook bodied Leyland Leopards that the company already possessed.

Having become incredibly fond of the ex Fife Fleetlines during their brief stay, I was rather disappointed to see the WMT Metrobuses return! The previous three bus allocation of two Coventry buses and one Acocks Green bus was reinstated.

Midland Red South

Probably the only notable deregulation cutback by WMT was the withdrawal of several services on Sunday, including the 5 to Coundon, the 7 to Brownshill Green and the 27 to Wyken, which Midland Red South won on tender and ran for several years, using Leyland Nationals from Nuneaton & Leamington Garages.

Unlike WMTs Coventry network, Midland Red South made considerable changes to their network. The company had been the only ex Midland Red fleet to have not adopted the minibus for local Town services but this changed at deregulation, with a fleet of Rootes & Carlyle bodied Sherpas introduced onto Town services in Leamington, Rugby, Nuneaton. Banbury (in Oxford) & Stratford On Avon, the later restoring the Stratford Blue name to the town, after the former Midland Red subsidiary that operated from the town until it’s absorption into the main fleet on 1st January 1971.  In latter years, more reliable Iveco’s and Mercedes would be purchased.

The main trunk network was also modified. The 512/513 Coventry-Warwick services were cutback to terminate at the Kenilworth Estate’s and transferred from Leamington to Nuneaton Garage, interworking in Coventry with the new 651/656 services to Hinckley, which had replaced the 658 through to Leicester, which had been joint with Midland Fox, that company running the 158 from Hinckley-Leicester.

Of the other two joint services with Midland Fox, the two companies registered a joint agreement with the Office of Fair Trading to continue running the X40 (Rugby-Leicester) on the existing two hourly, one bus each service, whilst the X67 (Leicester-Stratford Via Coventry) became solely operated by Midland Fox, being rerouted via Kenilworth in lieu of the previous route through Stoneleigh. This provided competition for Midland Red South’s new X16 from Coventry-Stratford via Kenilworth & Leamington, which replaced the Coventry-Leamington section of the long established 517 which had been running through to the Leamington suburb of Whitnash since the introduction of the Leamington & Warwick Market Analysis Project by Midland Red on 31st May 1980, Whitnash now being served by one of the new minibus routes, as was Sydenham, the terminus of the 516, the other Coventry-Leamington route, which was cutback to run from Coventry-Leamington Town Centre (ironically, the original route of the 517). The X16 also served the village of Snitterfield between Warwick & Stratford, replacing the withdrawn 519 from Leamington-Stratford via Hampton Lacey through that village. The 1984 & 1985 vintage Dual Purpose ECW bodied Leyland Olympians were the mainstay of the X16 which, despite it’s number, observed all stops along it’s route!

Warwickshire County Council filled the gaps left by the X67’s rerouting through Kenilworth and the 512/513’s Kenilworth-Warwick section with new services 539 & 540. Won by Midland Red South, these services were regularly operated by ex Trent Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines 950 & 951, which had been transferred from Stratford to Leamington Garages and I would have several trips on them , plus the ex Greater Manchester Northern Counties bodied Fleetlines that the company bought in 1988. Sadly, though probably sensibly, minibuses would takeover from the double deckers from 1990 onwards.

But the main Coventry-Leamington corridor would soon have competition from two Leamington coach operators! Central Coaches (not to be confused with the then Walsall based, West Midlands Travel owned Central Coachways) used quite rare ex Lincoln City Transport Alexander bodied Bristol REs, who would not last that long, and G&G, which used ex London Metropolitans and various second hand sinlge deckers, these latter being supplemented by new Leyland Lynxes. Late 1987 would see Midland Red South respond to this by increasing the Coventry-Leamington service to every twenty minutes. The X16 remained unchanged but the 516 was replaced by two new, hourly services. The X18 was simply a Coventry extension to the 518 Stratford-Leamington via Wellesbourne, in effect recreating the 518 of earlier Midland Red days, which ran through to Coventry before the Leamington & Warwick MAP project (the 516 replacing this), whilst the third service was the X17, which ran through Leamington to the delightful village of Bishops Tachbrook, probably most famous to Midland Red enthusiasts for the photograph on the cover of Mike Greenwood’s early eighties book “Midland Red Buses” of a BMMO D9 passing the villages church.

Ultimately, Midland Red South’s solution was to buy G&G in 1989, by which time MRS had been bought out itself, by the Western Travel, the holding company of former National Bus Company subsidiary Cheltenham & Gloucester on 10th December 1987. 1989 would also see Midland Red South buy Bedworth based subsidiary Vanguard.

Vanguard

This Bedworth based coach company first got involved in local bus service operation in April 1987, winning Warwickshire County Council service 775 from Coventry-Nuneaton via Bulkington, which replaced that section of Midland Red North’s X76 that had been running from Birmingham via Tamworth & Nuneaton to Coventry since deregulation (replacing the Tamworth-Coventry 776, which started with the Mercian (Tamworth) MAP network on 1st September 1989, replacing the long established Midland Red 765/766 Coventry-Lichfield services)

The company would then expand quite quickly, firstly with Warwickshire tender wins, such as replacing Midland Red South’s X65 Nuneaton-Birmingham service, which also saw the company running a short lived West Midlands PTE tendered rather irregular Birmingham Centrebus service, numbered 100. Another tender win was new two hourly service 778 from Nuneaton, through Bedworth and around the East Coventry suburbs to serve Walsgrave Hospital before heading into Coventry City Centre. The company’s initial use of coaches on these services were soon supplemented by Alexander bodied Leyland Leopard service buses bought second hand from various operators. Soon, the company adopted what was rapidly becoming the standard West Midlands independent bus, the Leyland National. The Western Travel takeover would see the company introduce services in Coventry that competed with West Midlands Travel;

24-Ernesford Grange

26-Henley Green

49-Coundon (the later would see West Midlands Travel start a competing service, initially with  Metrorider minibuses and latter Leyland Lynxes)

1989

Western Travel must have felt that Midland Red South’s finances weren’t very strong, as this year saw several cutbacks take place. Most services were renumbered into a two digit series at this time. The more frequent Coventry-Leamington services had seriously effected the viability of the 512/513 Kenilworth services and these were withdrawn, with Vanguard Travel introducing local services in Kenilworth to cover the Estates. But the Coventry-Leamington services were altered too, with the X18 reverting to a Leamington-Stratford service, numbered 18, whilst the X17 was curtailed to terminate at Leamington, a new minibus service replacing the Bishops Tachbrook section.

The Coventry-Nuneaton corridor was also revised, with the hourly Limited Stop X77 from Coventry-Atherstone reduced to a peak hourly X47 (matching the X57 from Coventry-Earl Shilton, which had been reduced from a regular hourly service to a peak service at deregulation), the train service that had been restored to the Coventry-Nuneaton line in 1988, obviously having an effect on this services loadings. Replacing the Atherstone section was new service 47, which followed the Ash Green route of the Earl Shilton 657 (renumbered 57) out of Coventry, on a new half hourly frequency, bringing competition to Midland Red North’s X76 between Nuneaton & Atherstone, as well as providing a fifteen minute service between Coventry & Nuneaton via Ash Green, bringing competition to WMT’s 3 (Holbrooks) 4 (Hen Lane) & 13 (Whitmore Park).

Alternate journeys on the 57 became the 157, running through to Leicester, with Midland Fox alternating this with an hourly 158 between Nuneaton & Leicester. This restored a through service between the two places, that had been lost with the withdrawal of Midland Fox’s X32 via the M69, which had been replaced with a shortlived X57 from Leicester-Coventry via Hinckley & M69 in 1988, this then being replaced by the even shorter lived 157, which avoided the M69 but was withdrawn in 1990. I remember my friend Joe Moriarty and I making a very early morning journey on WMT’s 900 from Birmingham-Coventry in early 1990, following this with a ride as far as Nuneaton on a MRS Leyland Olympian on the 157, then waiting there half an hour for the Midland Fox 158, which turned up in the form of one of their ex London Transport DMS class Fleetlines.

The previous 651/656 services that ran direct between Coventry & Bedworth, following WMTs 20 service between these points, were replaced by new 58, running hourly through to Hinckley (maintaining a fifteen minute Nuneaton-Hinckley with the 57, 157 & 158) with another hourly journey being a short to Nuneaton.

Stratford On Avon Garage seemed to be the garage which suffered the most from cutbacks! Most notably, the X50 from Birmingham-Oxford, which in it’s final months suffered the indignity of Leyland National operation for such a long run, after the demise of the company’s final S28 Marshall bodied Leyland Leopards, which tended to dominate the service post deregulation, was withdrawn and the X20 from Birmingham-Stratford, previously the garages flagship route with late evening journeys for the benefit of attendees of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s theatres, was cutback, including the demise of the evening service.

In the summer of 1988, my friend John Batchelor got a job as a barman in Stratford’s Falcon Hotel, living in and I joined him on the day he moved down, catching a DP Olympian on the X20, then staying there until late in the evening, sampling various pubs in the town and, after leaving John to return to his new abode, caught an S28 on a late evening X20, enjoying a lovely run through the encroaching darkness of a late June evening. Sadly, this would no longer be possible a year latter (though John had moved on by then, anyhow). Most of Stratford’s Olympians moved to Leamington, with the X20 becoming mainly National operated, with ex Stevensons ex London DMS Fleetlines being bought for the garages few remaining double deck duties.

Also going was Stratford’s oldest bus, 6197, which was the last survivor of Midland Red’s large D13 class of Alexander bodied Daimler Fleetlines. It was another bus that I’d last sampled in the summer of 1988, finishing a Midland Red South bash in the town on a glorious afternoon and, after eating fish & chips from Barnaby’s chip shop, I spied 6197 operating a school journey, virtually all that was left of the 212 to Broome & Alcester. Despite the presence of a large number of school kids, I had a great journey through some deeply rural territory to Alcester. From Alcester, 6197 returned to Stratford direct as a 208, so I naturally rode it. There, an S28 was waiting to depart on the X50 to Oxford, so I caught this to Shipston On Stour, where I had around forty five minutes for an X50 to appear in the Birmingham direction, so I visited a pub for a pint of Bass before catching another S28 back to Brum. A truly halcyon day which was sadly unrepeatable from the next summer, as the 212 was another route that bit the dust in 1989.

The only bright spot for Stratford was the adoption of the Stratford Blue name for the whole fleet allocated there, with a blue version of the new Midland Red South red with white relief livery.

G & G

With G & G passing into Western Travel’s hands, the company’s direct Coventry-Leamington service was rerouted via the University Of Warwick (actually on the outskirts of Coventry) leaving the direct route to Kenilworth in the hands of Midland Red South’s X16 & X17. Now numbered X12 (not sure if the original route had a number!) the service competed with WMT’s 12 from Coventry to the University. In addition, the company was successful at winning a few tenders in Coventry off WMT, including the hourly 42 to the rather low density housing estate at Cannon Park, with a few journeys on this extended out to rural Berkswell, replacing the former WMT operated tendered 46. The company’s Metropolitan’s had gone by then, there place being taken by ex Merseyside Willowbrook bodied Leyland Atlanteans and, ironically given who they were competing against, ex West Midlands Travel Leyland Fleetlines! I managed to ride one of the later on the Berkswell extension, joining the WMT 193/194 at that point. I also rode both types on the X12 as far as the University quite regularly. In 1990, the X12 was joined by an X11 via Coundon, initially operated with Sherpa minibuses but soon gaining double deckers. This was quite short lived, with extra X12 journeys replacing it.

June 1990 saw a new, combined G & G/Midland Red South Garage open on Station Approach, Leamington, replacing both G & G’s former premises and Midland Red South’s Myton Road Garage, although problems with the new Garage would see Myton Road re-open, not finally closing until 27th January 1991. Despite it’s relative newness, the Station Approach premises themselves would be closed in 2017, being replaced by a new facility on an industrial estate in the Town.

West Midlands Travel Developments

1989 would see other new tendered minibus services start in Coventry, including the WMT won peak 44 from Coventry Railway Station-Binley, for which MCW Metroriders were moved into the City.

Commercially, the company began to buy new full size buses again, beginning with 150 Metrobuses to the Mk 2A specification (which, due to the failure of MCW, would end up being the last Metrobuses to enter service in the West Midlands) which were delivered between 1988 & 1990, of which a few were allocated to Coventry but more noticeable was the order of what would turn out to be 250 Leyland Lynx single deckers from 1989 onwards. Coventry received it’s batch in late 1989 and these were used on Lentons Lane Circular services 31A/31C and sister services 41 & new 51 (which served a new ASDA store, which was also served by the rerouted 31A/31C) to the Victoria Farm Estate. These new buses would see the transfer into reserve fleet of a number of East Lancs Fleetline’s, some of which resurfaced at other garages temporarily, with 6758 & 6759 spending a spell at Quinton and 6728 & 6734 being allocated to Dudley for a while in 1990, the first time East Lancs Fleetlines had been allocated outside Coventry since the allocation of the first twenty when brand new to Acocks Green in 1977 (one had also been loaned to Perry Barr at this point!)

Metro

Western Travel seemed determined to strengthen it’s Warwickshire operations by attacking West Midlands Travel in Coventry, creating a strong, urban base. This was added to in 1990 with the commencement of the Metro minibus network, operated from a new base in the south of the City at Rowley Drive. Metro was the brand name used by Western Travel’s Cheltenham & Gloucester parent company for the minibus operations it had started in preparation for deregulation. A fleet of Ford Transits made redundant by newer buses, was dispatched to Coventry to operate new services C to Cheylesmore and F to Finham, competing with WMT’s 14 & 15 services respectively, on a higher frequency.

The C & F were sufficiently successful to see further Ford Transits added the following year to start route H to Holbrooks, competing with WMTs 2 to Radford and E to Eastern Green, competing with WMTs 10.

Coventry-Solihull Developments

1992 saw the Acocks Green turn on this corridor withdrawn, with the remaining two Coventry turns providing a ninety minute service over a simplified network. All buses would now follow the formerly peak hour only 192 route via Eastcotes (as opposed to Templer Avenue) between Coventry & Tile Hill, meaning that the 193 number disappeared with journeys routed via Burton Green now being all numbered 192. The 194 via Carol Green remained but was rerouted via Eastcotes. The 192A & 194A journeys which ran direct via the A452 between Balsall Common & Hampton In Arden, missing out Berkswell & Meriden, were withdrawn.

Midland Red South’s Wright Bodied Mercedes Benz, Bristol VR’s & Leyland National 3’s!

Midland Red South’s only major new vehicle purchase during the Western Travel years was a batch of Wright bodied Mercedes Benz minibuses that were delivered in 1992. These were larger than the company’s earlier minibuses, having seating capacities in the twenty’s. Notable allocations of these were several with (rather uncomfortable) coach type seats to Stratford, painted in Stratford Blue livery and taking over many of that garages less remunerative journeys, including the X20, which was now struggling to remain viable.

Nuneaton’s bus seated allocation meanwhile, was used to commence new service 48 from Coventry-Atherstone via Foleshill Road, replacing the 58 along the direct route from Coventry-Bedworth where the route competed with WMT’s 20, then replacing the 47 to Atherstone (the peak X47 now gaining it’s third number, the X48!) The fifteen minute service via Ash Green was retained by introducing extra Coventry-Nuneaton shorts on the 57.

For journeys that needed double deck capacity, several ECW bodied Bristol VR’s were bought from City Of Oxford and fellow Western Travel subsidiary Red & White (with newer, 1984 vintage ECW bodied Leyland Olympians 908 & 909 passing in the opposite direction), all of these entering service in their original livery. The VR’s replaced the various second hand Fleetlines that the company had bought over the years and, frankly, gave the company a rather scruffy image!

A smarter image was given by the refurbishment of several newer Leyland Nationals, mainly at Nuneaton, into what Western Travel called the Leyland National 3 after Cheltenham & Gloucester pioneered the approach. This involved fitting a new DAF engine and a recovering of the seats in a new red mocquitte, producing an attractive, modernised bus within that nearly indestructible National body!

West Midlands Travel Fights Back!

1993 saw West Midlands Travel take the fight back to Western Travel, making two extensions out of the City into Midland Red South territory.

The cross city 3 from Binley-Holbrooks was extended north of the City via Ash Green to Bedworth, competing with Midland Red South’s 57 & 157 that had been increased in 1989 to compete with the 3 and it’s sister route 4 to Hen Lane. The 4 was rerouted into a loop terminus at this time, to cover for the 3 now heading directly to the City Boundary and beyond.

More notable however, was the extension of alternate 12 journeys from Warwick University to Leamington via Kenilworth, competing with G & G’s X12, even down to that services cross Leamington extension to Gainsborough Drive in Sydenham, an area where a lot of students rent accommodation.

Coaching At Wheels 

I simply must mention this independent,  set up by former Midland Red employee and enthusiast Ashley Wakelin. Although it’s most notable bus was BMMO D9 5418, used for vintage private hire, the company also won several tenders in the mid nineties, using early seventies vintage ECW bodied Bristol REs, quite a rare sight by this time! I travelled on one on service 685, what had previously been Midland Red South’s 585 from Coventry-Rugby via Brinklow, not registered commercially at deregulation and passing amongst tendered operators since then.

Wheels tendered services didn’t last long and the company reverted to private hire operation, eventually rebranding itself as Midland Red Coaches (having purchased the name) before Ashley Wakelin decided to retire.

Stagecoach

December 1993 saw the Western Travel Group purchased by the expanding Stagecoach Group. On the negative side, Stagecoach’s, in my opinion bland, white based livery swept away all the colour (if sometimes rather scruffy) of the three Warwickshire fleets of the group but the positives overtook this, as the new owners began to take a more positive outlook over it’s acquisition!

Almost immediately, ticketing between Midland Red South, G & G and Vanguard was integrated. Back in 1992, I knew a guy who used to commute from Kenilworth-Birmingham using a Midland Red South season ticket as far as Coventry, then a Centrocard for the rest of his journey. Bizarrely, he was unable to use his MRS Season Ticket on the evening G & G service that covered the route at night, despite being part of the same group! Anomalies like this were soon eliminated!

More Bristol VR’s would find their way into the fleet, coming from other Stagecoach subsidiaries and often in Stagecoach’s livery, although I once rode a Nuneaton allocated example on the 67 in Cheltenham & Gloucester’s dark blue City Of Gloucester livery. Incidentally, I’d reached Nuneaton on this occasion on a Vanguard Leyland National on the 775 from Coventry via Bulkington, taking advantage of the fact that the Midland Red South Explorer ticket was now valid on both Vanguard and G & G services. Soon, both of these subsidiaries would be fully merged into the business.

But this was a curtain raiser to more investment in the fleet in 1994 and beyond! Stagecoach’s standard minibus, the Alexander bodied Mercedes 0709, would be allocated to Coventry Metro service H, whilst the groups new standard midibus, the Alexander Sprint bodied Volvo B6 (although more of this body would appear more successfully on Dennis Dart’s in other parts of the group) would be allocated to the G & G side of Leamington for the X12. These would be relatively short lived on here, as the growth of  Warwickshire University at this time would see the need for double deckers, eventually culminating in the delivery of a batch of Alexander bodied Volvo Olympians to Leamington for the route in 1997, the only batch of step entrance double deckers to be delivered to the Stagecoach owned Midland Red South. More Mercedes 0409 minibuses would be added to Nuneaton, Rugby, Leamington and the company’s one Oxfordshire Garage, in Banbury.

1995 would see the Stagecoach standard full size single decker, the Alexander bodied Volvo B10M allocated to the fleet, the first batch being dual purpose examples allocated to Nuneaton for the 57 & 157. Further, bus seated examples were also allocated to Nuneaton, these enabling the first three of the DP examples, 201-203, to be transferred to Stratford, as well as the reallocation of many of the National 3 conversions to other garages to replace older Nationals

Despite the investment in new buses, the rural nature of the company meant that it was more economical in places to use depreciated, second hand buses, particularly double deckers that were needed to cope with school traffic. 1996 saw a fleet of ex Tyne & Wear Busways (by this time, a Stagecoach subsidiary) Alexander bodied Leyland Atlanteans, in full yellow and white Busways livery, allocated to Stratford, Leamington & Rugby. As they were mainly allocated to school time workings, I only ever got the chance to travel on two of them. One Saturday in late 1996, I was wondering about my native West Midlands with my friend Steve Hutchinson from Leicester and we spotted one on the X20. We took this from Birmingham-Hall Green, despite the fact that the service shouldn’t have carried local passengers within the City of Birmingham! Despite this, the driver didn’t seem to mind dropping us off!

The second time was much latter, towards the end of the type’s lives, around 2000. I’d travelled from Leamington-Rugby on a Leyland National on the 63 and, upon arrival in Rugby, I noticed the next 63 in the Leamington direction was an Atlantean! By now in full Stagecoach livery, I couldn’t resist a ride, despite being inundated with school kids, obviously the reason a double decker was allocated to this journey.

West Midlands Travel’s 1994 Revisions

The main Coventry network had been unusually stable since deregulation but that would change in 1994 when a major rationalisation took place, almost ten years to the day since the big 1984 revisions, which were the main reason why the network didn’t need any major reworking at deregulation itself! Interestingly, since then, the Coventry network has had major revisions at roughly ten year intervals!

The revisions had the effect of reducing the total fleet based at Coventry, allowing the transfer of the remaining East Lancs bodied Fleetlines to Walsall, where they would remain for the rest of their lives! (see blog “West Midlands 1994”)

Many early morning, evening & Sunday services would be rationalised, combining several daytime routes. Unfortunately, this had a negative effect as, although being more economical to operate, the revised routings were confusing to passengers.

Main features would see WMT expand the competition with Stagecoach, rerouting the 14 & 15 to more closely follow the F & C Metro service, whilst the 2 was extended from Radford to Lythalls Lane to parallel the C and new route 9 was formed alongside the 10 & 11 Eastern Green services, to serve some of the roads on the E.

WMT would also send more services outside of the City, with a new 112 service following the more direct route out of Coventry along Kenilworth Road and the A45 to Warwick University that had been adopted by most G & G’s X12 after WMT had extended the original 12 to Leamington, with the 12 via Earlsdon only heading for Leamington on evenings & Sundays. The 112 would be short lived as both it and the X12 reverted to the Earlsdon route after a time.

Complementing the 3’s 1993 Bedworth extension, the route was extended at the other end from Binley-Brandon, competing with Midland Red South’s 86 Rugby service. I would come to Coventry to ride the new network on a beautiful summers day a few weeks after it’s commencement. First off I wanted to sample the 3’s new Brandon extension but decided to reach the village on the incumbent Midland Red South 86. I paid a fare on one of the routes standard Leyland Nationals, leaving the City behind at the Binley boundary that was the former 3 terminus (and where the 4 still terminated), then passing the outlying suburban housing at Binley Woods before entering a brief stretch of countryside that lead into the sleepy village of Brandon. I must admit, the village seemed such an unlikely place for an urban bus route to turn around and the fact that I couldn’t find a stop with any West Midlands Travel publicity on it arouse my suspicion. I headed back towards the edge of the village but still nothing. So I walked over the half mile or so of country road that bought me to Binley Woods, where I found a bus stop with a West Midlands Travel sticker and 3 timetable attached to it, so I waited there. Fair enough, this outlying area of semi detached suburban development was a more suitable terminus for the 3 than the village of Brandon but why didn’t they simply call the new terminus Binley Woods? A Metrobus soon turned up and I travelled the route all the way through to Bedworth, returning to Coventry from there on the longer established 20.

After this, I travelled on a Fleetline on the 2 to it’s new Lythall Lane terminus, returning back to the city on a brand new Stagecoach Mercedes Benz 0709 on the H. I also travelled on a few more Fleetlines on the revised routes, included the extended Kingsbury Road 6, which replaced the 8 to the late eighties built Park Farm Estate on the edge of the A45. I also rode one of Stagecoach’s new Volvo B6 midibuses on the X12 to the University, the only one of these that I would get to travel on, as the growth in the University would see the need for double deckers to return.

Coventry-Solihull Developments.

1995 would see the 192/194 transfer from Coventry Garage to the company’s Travel Your Bus subsidiary, based at the former Miller Street Garage in Birmingham. I’ve heard the reason for this is that the company wanted to reduce the running times on the route to enable the two buses used to provide an hourly service, as opposed to the ninety minute headway then operating. Coventry’s Trade Union objected, saying the schedules were too tight for this, so the company transferred the routes to it’s low cost operating unit!

As was Your Bus fashion, the routes were re-numbered 192Y & 194Y, with a new 193Y variant serving Warwick University. 1990 vintage Plaxton Derwent bodied Volvo B10M’s that had started their lives on the A6Y/C6Y South Birmingham Circular service. It was soon found out that the two bus, hourly frequency was too tightly timed! Bus company’s really need to listen to their drivers occasionally! The timetable was soon altered to provide a one hour, fifteen minute headway. The merger of West Midlands Travel with National Express in 1996 enabled the B10Ms to be replaced by two Plaxton Premiere bodied Volvo B10M coaches to National Express’s Expressliner 2 specification, these having been relegated from National Express work. These survived for around a year on the service, with the cascading of Leyland Lynxes from the main Travel West Midlands fleet enabling their replacement. December 1997 would see the 192Y & 194Y (the new 193Y hadn’t lasted) extended to Birmingham along the Warwick Road (the 194Y almost recreating Midland Red’s former 158, which lost it’s Coventry section in 1971), forming part of a fifteen minute frequency with services 37Y (Birmingham-Solihull) & 39Y (Birmingham-Northfield via Solihull), all integrated with TWM Acocks Green Garage’s 37.

I travelled throughout on this service once but it was short lived, with changes to other Your Bus services seeing the 192 & 194 return to Acocks Green Garage, with the service being cutback to terminate in Acocks Green. Latter, it would return to it’s Solihull terminus and the Lynxes would eventually be replaced by Volvo B10Ls. Double Deckers, in the form of Wright Gemini bodied Volvo B7’s, would return to the routes around 2008 but 2009 would see the routes replaced by the Coventry operated 19W (using Dennis Tridents) which would soon become the 82. But again, this would be short lived, as NX Coventry would deregister the route around 2010, when two tendered services would replace it. Diamond won a more direct 82, running direct from Meriden-Coventry, whilst Balsall Common would be served by Johnson’s 87, which then headed to Solihull via Temple Balsall & Knowle. Both these services survive to this day.

Latter Developments

WMT’s battle with Stagecoach would be short lived, the only competitive service surviving long term being the 12 to Leamington. This would survive despite Stagecoach pulling off the X12 onto Coventry, apart from on evenings & Sundays (when the X17 doesen’t run), with this eventually being renumbered University Link U1 (with the evening & Sunday Coventry journeys becoming the U2). Still going strong today, the National Express Coventry service to Leamington is now the 11, whilst 12X is used for a fast service between Coventry and the University.

The remaining Metro Ford Transits would be replaced in December 1995 by Iveco minibuses made redundant by Stagecoach’s London subsidiary Selkent losing it’s Roundabout minibus tenders in Orpington to First Centrewest but the system would only have around another five years before the network was closed down. This was mainly due to staff shortages then effecting the industry, meaning pay rates had to be raised to the level were minibus operation was less viable. The former Vanguard operation was also closed down, with the competitive services in Coventry coming to an end and most of the Warwickshire services passing on tender to DeCourcey’s, who have become the main operator of tendered services to the north of Warwickshire (as well as several services in Coventry) whilst Henley In Arden based Johnson’s run a large number of tenders to the south of the County.

Today, despite it’s cutting back around 2000, Stagecoach Warwickshire (as Midland Red South is now known) is a thriving company, investing steadily and prudently in a challenging rural area.

2002 saw what had become Travel West Midlands rebranded it’s Coventry operations as Travel Coventry, adopting a sky blue version of it’s red, dark blue & white livery. This was done mainly due to Coventry City Council expressing an interest in franchising, then, as now being suggested as a possible alternative way to run buses by the Government of the day! The franchising never happened but the local image sat well in a City that is quite separate geographically from the rest of Travel West Midlands territory. Today, the City’s operation is known as National Express Coventry and a two tone sky blue livery, applied in the same style as National Express West Midlands current crimson livery, is gradually being spread across the fleet.

So that is basically how the Coventry & Warwickshire bus network has evolved since being deregulated in October 1986.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Routes Around Dudley-22/10/18

 

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Not in Dudley, nor is it a bus that features in this blog but here’s a shot of Dennis Trident 4440 on the 13A, the now Pensnett operated replacement for the formerly West Bromwich operated 127 (though West Brom still do the 13A Evenings & Sundays)

One of the advantages of being a bus driver is that, every now and then, you can find yourself rostered off for a long weekend (Friday-Monday), which means four whole days away from work! They can be very useful for going away without using any holiday entitlement, though I can’t always afford to do that. This weekend’s a case in point but I’ve managed to get a fair bit of stuff done! Friday saw me taking a trip that became the “Riding The X7” blog, whilst Saturday saw my wife Lynn & I heading for Blackpool to see the lights (see the last “Blackpool” blog.) Not arriving back until late on Saturday night, we decided to stay in for a lazy day on Sunday, which saw us mainly watching “Doctor Who”, as digital channel Watch showed five episodes of Matt Smith’s last full series, whilst that evening saw BBC1 show the latest episode of the show, an episode (“Rosa Parks”) that I feel will be talked about for a long time! And it had a bus in it!

So Monday came around and I decided to carry on what I’d started on the Friday, continuing to ride on some of the new or renumbered routes introduced in the Dudley/Sandwell revisions that started on 2nd September. Therefore, I walked to the end of our road to catch a 74 to Dudley. I cursed inwardly as I crossed over the Black Country Route Dual Carriageway to see a 74 heading in the Dudley direction, doubly cursing because it wasn’t one of the routes usual 2014 vintage Enviro 400’s but 4270, one of the 2001 vintage Alexander ALX400 bodied Volvo B7’s that are now almost the oldest buses in the fleet, and a type that regular readers of this blog (as well as friends on Facebook) will know is my favourite in the current National Express West Midlands fleet! Fortunately, the bus stopped at the bus stop and I made a mad sprint! Fortunately, the driver saw me and fortunately, he decided to wait for me! All hail to that man!

So I rode 4270 to Dudley Bus Station;100_1564.JPG

Almost immediately, I spotted another of my “beloved ALX400 bodied Volvo B7s on one of the routes that I was aiming to ride on, the 12A, so I quickly made my way to the stand….just as the driver was closing the doors! Fortunately, he was another sympathetic driver, as he opened them, enabling me to board 4273 and make my way upstairs to enjoy the twisty run to Birmingham!

The 12A

The 12A is a sister service to the Pensnett operated 12, which is a direct renumbering of the 120 (see blog “On The Way Out-Part Five-1xx services”) a long established service to Birmingham. Both routes now provide a ten minute service throughout, leaving Dudley via Oakham. From here, whilst the 12 follows the 120 route down City Road, the 12A turns off to serve Darbys Hill Road, replacing the former 121 minibus route, although that took advantage of the small buses used on it (latterly short Enviro 200s) and ran around some narrow roads before venturing onto Darbys Hill Road further along. But going a bit further back, the 12A isn’t the first route to serve the whole length of Darbys Hill Road! That was the short lived 206, introduced with deregulation on Monday 27th October (as there was no Sunday service), an hourly local service that interworked with the 207 which also linked Dudley with the Tividale Hall Estate, replacing part of the 239 to Cradley Heath (which Midland Red West’s 209 covered more in full) and the reduced 205 to Blackheath (which would become the 127A, 88, 205 again, 127 and is now covered by the 14!), with both services being short enough to run with just one bus! On the day I rode the 206, it was Leyland National 1807 which, with sisters 1806 & 1808, had been transferred to Dudley from Selly Oak Garage when it closed in August 1986. The 206 was withdrawn in June 1987, when the 207 was extended across Dudley to the Wrens Nest Estate. Darbys Hill Road is very high, at the very top of Rowley Hill, with houses on one side and a field containing a TV aerial of some kind on the other.

At the end of Darbys Hill Road, we crossed over the 12 route down City Road and proceeded onto the parallel Tower Road, also part of the former 121 route. This routes history goes back to 1990, when Stevensons won a tender for a new minibus service from Dudley to new housing in Tividale, just off West Midlands Travel’s 87 route. The new service was therefore numbered 687. Being an operator that was always on the lookout for opportunities, Stevensons extended the 687 commercially into a Circular, crossing the Birmingham New Road and heading up Tower Road, then running through some narrow roads in the Tividale Hall Estate before emerging by the Hangmans Tree pub (now a COOP, this is just before the 12A joins Darbys Hill Road) and following WMT’s 120 into Dudley. 687 was used for Clockwise journeys with 688 being used for anti clockwise. After a year in this format, Stevensons revamped the route totally. The tendered section was abandoned (with Centro not funding a replacement, obviously not a success) whilst the Dudley-Tower Road section was extended via Rounds Green into Oldbury, then headed straight into West Bromwich. The revamped service was numbered the 688.

West Midlands Travel took over most of Stevensons operations in 1994 and the 688 was one of the few services to have a long term future with it’s new operator! The 688 was renumbered 121 in the October 2012 Sandwell revisions. This is definitely the first time that double deckers have operated along Tower Road! At the bottom of that thoroughfare, we re-joined the Birmingham New Road for a very short distance before heading into Rounds Green. From here in, we follow the route of the 12 exactly.

Before it’s renumbering, the 120 had largely been single deck operated, this having largely been the case since 1989, when the route was converted to Leyland Lynx operation. Before that, the period from around 1970 (when the route was one manned) until Dudley Garage’s first delivery of WMPTE Standard Fleetlines in 1976, the route was a mixture of saloons and double deckers but was mainly double deck throughout at other times since the war.  The transfer of the route to Hockley Garage upon the 28th August 1993 closure of Dudley, saw a degree of fluctuation with the allocation, which became a mix of Lynxes and Metrobuses but the arrival of some of the second batch of low floor Mercedes Benz 0405s at Hockley in 1999, would see single deckers return more fully, this continuing with the 2002 transfer of the route to West Bromwich and latter transfer to Pensnett, where the Mercedes would eventually be replaced by Wright bodied Volvo B7 saloons. But in recent years, double deckers have returned on Sundays and NXWM made a promise in the consultation documents for the recent revisions to operate the 12 & 12A with double deckers. In practice, both Pensnett on the 12 and West Bromwich on the 12A don’t appear to have enough double deckers to convert the routes fully, with several Volvo B7 saloons appearing on the 12 and Scanias on the 12A during the course of my journey. In addition, several newer, Enviro 400 double deckers supplemented the ALX400/Volvo B7s on the 12A, which probably explains why some of the older buses have been allocated to the 74 recently.

And so from Oldbury, we headed through the factories of Langley before passing Langley Green Station and heading into the suburbia of Londonderry & Bearwood, where we crossed over the Birmingham City boundary to head along Sandon Road, passing the Willow Avenue terminus of the former Birmingham City Transport service 6 (withdrawn in the September 1980 Warley revisions) then joining the Hagley Road for the rest of the run towards the City Centre. The closure of much of Paradise Circus to enable the construction of the Midland Metro to the International Convention Centre has seen the Hagley Road services rerouted from the top of Broad Street along Sheepcote Street (the late eighties reconstruction of the Broad Street junction with this street means the bus actually passes over the former sight of Midland Red’s Sheepcote Street Bus Garage, which opened on 19th August 1951 and was closed by West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive on 15th November 1975, although the PTE kept the building for storing withdrawn buses until the early eighties.) and Cambridge Street before heading down Great Charles Street and up Snow Hill to head to the routes terminus at Colmore Row.

The 12A interworks with the 13 to Oldbury via Warley (the former 128) at this point, hence the number on this photo of 4273;100_1565.JPG

The use of single deck Wright bodied Volvo B7 saloons to supplement Pensnett’s double deckers is illustrated by this picture of 2096 on the 126 to Dudley;100_1566.JPG

Complementing the 12A’s interworking with the 13, Pensnett buses on the 12 interwork with the 13A & 13B to Blackheath and it was on the hourly 13B that I would be travelling next, on board Pensnett Dennis Trident 4427. Although the ALX400 body was seemingly identical to that on 4273, a sign that this is a newer bus is it’s more recent NXWM crimson livery. The bus was built in 2004 and originally allocated to Birmingham Central Garage for the 900 from Birmingham-Coventry.

The 13B

We headed back out of the City Centre, along the Cambridge Street/Sheepcote Street diversion, then onto the Hagley Road. Unlike the 12/12A however, the 13 group head up Portland Road, a road full of large, Victorian and Edwardian houses that now suffer from faded grandeur! Many have been split into flats or student dwellings and I vividly recall attending a party in one, for my year’s final night at the Birmingham Theatre School (I aspired to be an actor many years ago!), a beautiful July summer evening, most of which was spent getting very drunk in the garden!

Until deregulation, Portland Road was served by the ex BCT 7, which ran cross city from Perry Common and terminated at the boundary with Smethwick. Deregulation saw the 7 curtailed to run City-Perry Common (as it still does) with the 428 from West Bromwich replacing the 7 over the full length of Portland Road, supplemented by the 128 from Oldbury & Blackheath, rerouted from Sandon Road, down City Road (the 11A/11C Outer Circle route) to it’s crossroads with Portland Road, then joining the 428 for the run to City (and originally Hockley) September 1988 saw the 428 replaced by the 129 to Blackheath which more or less would remain intact until 10th July 2010, when the 129 was withdrawn. The far end of Portland Road was now served by the 80 from West Bromwich, which then turned down City Road in the other direction, then heading into City towards Ladywood. The ten minute service on the Hagley Road side of Portland Road was maintained by new service 127, which followed a more direct route to Blackheath than the 128, replacing part of the 258 to Merry Hill which served the direct route along Sandon Road.  More revisions came in October 2012, when the 128 was cutback to terminate at Oldbury, and both routes would be reduced from every twenty minutes to half hourly, the remaining two buses an hour becoming a new 129 to West Bromwich. The 127 would latter be extended to Dudley via Portway and the 129 rerouted from West Bromwich-Merry Hill, transferring from West Bromwich Garage to Pensnett at the same time.

So we were soon turning off up City Road and re-joining the 12/12A on Sandon Road for the run into Bearwood and out along Three Shires Oak Road, with the 12/12A soon splitting off again to head towards Londonderry. The 13 group, on the other hand, pass the delightful Warley Woods and head around to the George Hotel (one of those pubs where the hotel name is a complete misnomer!) where the routes begin to split up. The original plans in the consultation were for the 127 & 128 to revert to a twenty minute headway as routes 13A & 13 respectively, with the 127s Blackheath-Dudley section passing to new service 14 and the 129 being withdrawn. Obviously though, complaints were made about the 129’s demise, so the plans were slightly modified. The twenty minute headway on the 13 would happen but the 13A would run twice an hour, at twenty and forty minute intervals, with the third journey per hour becoming a 13B, following the old 129 route to Blackheath. So at The George, the 13A heads off up Bleakhouse Road towards Brandhall,  whilst the 13B heads down George Road with the 13 to Bristnal Fields. Whilst the 13 then heads up Bristnal Hall Road on it’s way to Oldbury, we headed down Pound Road, past the Warley Academy (possibly the reason the 13B was created) into Causeway Green, then up semi detached clad Grafton Road, the main route along which is the 49 to West Bromwich, to Hurst Green, where we re-joined the 13A.

Heading into Blackheath, the 127 & 129 diverged into two different routes. The 129 headed along Masters Lane, first served in September 1989 by Midland Red West’s 123 & 124, of which this section of the 129 is a direct descendent, whilst the 127 headed via Rowley Regis Railway Station, a routing introduced in 1998, at a time when National Express owned Travel West Midlands were trying to integrate better with National Express owned Central Trains, with rerouting the 258 via Rowley Regis Station seeming a good idea at the time! The diversion certainly stood the test of time but whether it developed the bus/rail connections that were envisaged, I don’t know! But one thing it did was throw the route into traffic chaos, as the route now entered Blackheath via the busy Oldbury Road. The 13A & 13B now follow a route which combines sections of both routings…..and is exactly the routing taken by the 258 and it’s predecessors! (The 138, before that the 127 and before that, the 123 & 124, route numbers in this area often being reused!)

Upon entering Blackheath, I spotted Platinum MMC E400 6787 on the X8, showing the new branding for the new X7/X8 Birmingham-Wolverhampton routes (see blog “Riding The X7”) so I took a photo of it!44526649_1522457361231324_2277631782817890304_o

We then headed around to the 13B terminus by Sainsbury’s, where I got off. (This would be the only time I would travel on the 13B, as it was withdrawn in July 2019, with the 13A becoming every twenty minutes in replacement.)

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The 13B interworks with the 13A here, hence the blind.

The 3

Almost immediately, West Bromwich based Scania saloon 1912 on the 3 towards Merry Hill turned up, so I boarded. Like the 12A, the 3 is a route that has it’s origins with Stevensons. In 1993, that innovative operator started route 238, that ran all the way from West Bromwich-Stourbridge via Oldbury, Lion Farm, Brickhouse Farm, Old Hill, Cradley Heath, Merry Hill, Brierley Hill, Amblecote & Wollaston Farm. It was soon rerouted via Blackheath. Originally operated by minibuses (usually MCW Metroriders) the 1994 WMT takeover saw larger buses (usually Leyland Nationals or Leyland Fleetlines) used on the route, which was rerouted to run direct from Amblecote-Stourbridge, then terminate at Wollaston Farm (replacing two journeys per hour on the 293 Wollaston Farm local service) but this was short lived, as the service was soon curtailed to run West Bromwich-Merry Hill.

The service would then have a long life, being renumbered 289 in the October 2012 revisions to match the 89 Birmingham-Oldbury service which had been extended to Blackheath via Lion Farm, and integrated into a combined fifteen minute with the 289 between Oldbury & Blackheath. For a while, the 289 was cutback to terminate at Old Hill but the loss of the Merry Hill passengers was detrimental to the route’s well being, so the 289 was extended back to Merry Hill. The integrated frequency between the 89 & 289 ceased when the 89 was rerouted from Smethwick-West Bromwich and the Blackheath section replaced by the new, twenty minute 120A from Birmingham in 2016. The recent changes have seen the 120A withdrawn (with the 12A replacing between Birmingham & Oldbury) and the 289 renumbered 3, although it has been rerouted via the former 120A route through Portway, with the previous route via Stuarts Road being covered by the new 3A to Blackheath, providing a fifteen minute headway with the 3 between West Bromwich & Blackheath.

Both the 238 & 289 had a tendency to periodically swap garages between West Bromwich & Pensnett (with a spell of being operated jointly by both!) with Pensnett being the home of the 289 in it’s final days but the 3 & 3A have seen another swap back to West Bromwich!

We headed down the steep Powke Lane and then onto the Brickhouse Farm council estate, somewhere that I’ve always thought should warrant a better bus service than it has! Built in the fifties, the estate was originally served by the 223 to Blackheath and the 238/283 (the later latter renumbered 239) Dudley-Fatherless Barn services passed through. Soon, the 223 was replaced by the extension of the 123 Birmingham-Blackheath service, whilst the late sixties saw the 123 become an evening & Sunday service, with buses at other times now being provided by the extended 124 via Warley. The September 1980 revisions saw the 123 & 124 withdrawn and replaced by the more direct 127 to Birmingham via Brandhall, which also continued from the Estate into Cradley Heath. November 1983 would see the 238 withdrawn and the 239, now double deck operated, curtailed to terminate at Cradley Heath. Deregulation would see the 239 replaced by Midland Red West’s 209, latter being joined by sister service 208, which would ultimately replace the 209 and survives today, operated by Diamond. The 127, meanwhile, would be replaced by the 138 through to Merry Hill in September 1992, which would be rerouted away from Cradley Heath in September 1993 (prompting the tendered evening & Sunday service, then operated by Midland Red West, to be renumbered back to 127, as the route continued to terminate at Cradley Heath, being extended from here to Merry Hill in 1994 when the tender passed to City Buslines) the 138 then being replaced by the 258 through to Wolverhampton in December 1993, though 1996 would see the 258 cutback to terminate at Merry Hill again. Of course, 1993 had seen Stevensons 238 added to the Estate’s services.

More recently, 10th July 2010 would see the 258 (the 127 having been replaced by evening & Sunday 258’s by this time) replaced by the new 141 via Quinton to Birmingham, although this was soon rerouted via Halesowen, leaving Brickhouse Farm to the 208 & 238.

After Brickhouse Farm, we passed the factories in the Cox Lane area of Old Hill before passing through the centre of that small town, then headed down Reddal Hill Road towards Cradley Heath. As it was now dinner time, I got off along here to visit Ivans, one of the best Fish & Chip shops in the Black Country! I bought cod & chips, ate them on the wall opposite, then went for the next bus in the Merry Hill direction, which turned out to be Scania 1936 on the next 3;100_1571.JPG

The 2A & 6

Pondering my next move, this was decided when Enviro 200 826, resplendent in what looks like a recent repaint into NXWMs Crimson livery, on the 2A to Dudley appeared. As I stated in “On The Way Out-Part Six-The 2xx” the 2A is an off peak variant of the 2, which was previously the 222 from Merry Hill-Dudley via Brierley Hill, Upper Pensnett, Russells Hall Hospital & Russells Hall Estate. We left Merry Hill with a nearly full load, and headed into Brierley Hill. Where as the 2 heads along the direct route to Pensnett, the 2A continues along the Dudley Road for a bit and then turns into Wallows Road, the point of the variation, that has been requested by a local councillor. My friend Phil Tonks, who lives not too far away in Wordsley, reckons a far less frequent service went down Wallows Road in the past, though I can’t remember anything, and I certainly don’t remember travelling down it before. Perhaps it was served by one of the Merry Hill Mini services (a company formed in 1988 to develop minibus services to the Merry Hill Shopping Centre, that sold out to Travel West Midlands around 1995, spawning the short lived Travel Merry Hill subsidiary), if anybody knows, can they post in the comments?

Wallows Road itself is quite narrow in parts but passable. Despite our full bus, no one got off here, although we did pick up one passenger. Most of our passengers got off on the Upper Pensnett Estate, which we then passed through before reaching Russells Hall Hospital where, having covered the new section of route, I decided to get off.100_1573.JPG

I then decided to get the more direct 6 into Dudley, that service having formerly being the long established 246 from Stourbridge-Dudley via Brierley Hill, traditionally the main trunk route in the area going back to tram days, and known by crews at the old Midland Red Hartshill Garage (closed by West Midlands Travel on 2nd October 1993) as “the D & S” after the Dudley, Stourbridge & District Tramway Company, whose Main Line the route was. One of the oldest buses in the fleet, 2001 vintage Dennis Trident 4180 soon turned up to whisk me towards Dudley. The reason I wanted to get the 6 was that I fancied a pint of Bathams Bitter in the Lamp Tavern, just outside Dudley Town Centre, which the 6 passes. I therefore got off at the relevant stop…44519457_1522458331231227_1012768797523705856_o …..and popped into the Lamp for said pint, which helped to wash down a bag of Dry Roasted Peanuts! Then, I caught Trident 4330 on the 6 for the short run to the Bus Station then, having done all that I intended for today, I caught E400 4957 on the 74 home.