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.
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 There were proposals for the service to be withdrawn but obviously, these were objected to, so the service survives on a reduced frequency.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 This routing started in the Dudley revisions of 2008, when the 261 was finally withdrawn (though it’s later years had seen frequent changes, including an extension from Wallheath-Wolverhampton for a while) and replaced by an extension of the 205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 dosen’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.
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 E400s to Platinum specification.
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!
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, then having replaced the withdrawn 240 down Grange Road some years back. 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 D9s (which would only last for around another eight months) 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 estate’s 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, not generating the heaviest loads. 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 244Es 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 Hasbury 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 2s, 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 soon 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.
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 wandering 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 (I’m sure you’ve noticed that 242 is one of several numbers used for quite different services at different times around these parts!) 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 saloons are substituted on occasions…..including the journey I caught, which was operated by 2097;
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; 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 time, 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 on 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!