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;
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 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;
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;
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.
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!
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.)
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;
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.
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… …..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.