Friday, 10 December 2010

Line 4: From Baby Blues to Cadbury Blue.

Until July 2010 Line 4 served Stanley Park - like its predecessor service 16. 266 waits at the Park Gates stop
The 4 has its direct origins in two minibus services introduced by Fylde Borough in 1987/8 and linked in 1994. Since then it has become the Fylde Coast's first low floor bus and been simplified as part of the Metro network. Its more distant origins will be the subject of a further blog post in due course.

At deregulation Blackpool Transport revised its bus network on a commercial basis. Some of its more lightly used services were withdrawn or heavily revised. Route 16 to Great Marton via Stanley Park was replaced by new service 4 which ran from the Bus Station via Park Road, South Park Drive and then picking up the 16 route via Preston Old Road, St Leonard's Road, Worcester Road, Lancaster Road and Preston Old Road to terminate at Wordsworth Avenue by Stanley School. A half hourly daytime service was provided with one per hour evenings and Sundays - a reduction from the 15-20 minute daytime service of the 16.

Route 3 to Cleveleys via Claremont, Queens Promenade and Norbreck was cut back to terminate at Bispham and diverted along Warbreck Drive to partially replace the 7/7A. Blackpool won a Lancashire County Council contract for service 33 which started at Cleveleys and ran every 30 minutes over the former 3 route via Little Bispham, Norbreck Road to Bispham then served Devonshire Road, Warbreck Hill, Dickson Road and the Town Centre with one bus per hour carrying on via Stanley Park, Great Marton, Paddock Drive and Mereside to the Hypermarket, replacing parts of the 16.

Fylde's Baby Blue minibuses were used on the 5A and 5B to Cleveleys Park in this attractive two tone blue and yellow scheme. This is 111 with an experimental dot matrix destination display
Fylde, meanwhile, was busy expanding and started some competing services in 1987. One was a Promenade minibus service from Pontns to Gynn Square which at the end of the season was revised to run from Starr Gate to Little Bispham, serving Holmfield Road and Norbreck Road and in January 1988 was further revised to run from Blackpool Town Hall to Cleveleys Park, competing with Ribble's minibus services from Cleveleys to Cleveleys Park. Numbered 5 the service ran just inland from the tramway and provided alternatives to the many local who then used to walk to the trams.

April 1988 saw the 5 doubled from half hourly to every 15 minutes and split as the 5A/5B with a two direction terminal loop at Cleveleys Park. 4 minibuses were now required. Both routes saw various revisions with the 5B using Warbreck Drive instead of Holmfield Road from June 1988. In August 1988 Blackpool's 33 was withdrawn, Fylde winning a partial off peak replacement (the 44) which ran to Lytham via Victoria Hospital.

143 was one of the last batch of Renault's purchased by Fylde. All had bodies form their normal supplier - Northern Counties. 143 is heading for Cleveleys Park - an area traditionally served by Ribble but without a direct bus to Blackpool until the 5 started.
February 1989 saw the 5A/5B become 55A/55B. Evidence of their success had been the deployment of an extra bus for timekeeping purposes towards the end of 1988. An evening service was tried for a few months in 1990 and the 55B also served Claremont. Having seen off the 33, Blackpool's long established service 3 was also withdrawn in 1990, replaced by an enhancement of minibus service 7/7A which had been reinstated to compete with Fylde in 1988.

The 1991 route map for the 55A and 55B show some of their route variations. Others included use of Warbreck Drive by the 55A and Claremont by the 55B
May 1992 saw the 55A/55B joined by the 55C to make a ten minute service, the 55C served Sevenoakes and terminated in Cleveleys Centre. The previous pattern was reinstated the following May however.
Fastlink 4 ran into the Marton Mere Caravan Park serving the Entertainments Centre, though it was later cut back to terminate at the main entrance as the 20 does today
Meanwhile Fylde had turned its attention to Great Marton. The failing of both the 16 and its 1986 replacement is that they didn't serve the local shopping centres on Whitegate Drive. Fylde address this from 13 April with "Fastlink F4" a half hourly service from the Town Hall - closer to the shops than the 4 - via Devonshire Square, Whitegate Drive, Preston Old Road, Halifax Street, Goldsboro Avenue, Worcester Road, Lancaster Road, Preston Old Road, Wordsworth Avenue, Kipling Drive, Paddock Drive, Preston New Road and Mythop Road to Marton Mere Caravan Park - reinstating buses to Halifax Street for the first time since the 16B in the 1970s. Blackpool - having replaced the 4 with an hourly 3A diverted from Penrose Avenue in 1988 was now being outperformed by the new cheap to run minibus and this also allowed the 33 to be withdrawn.

The F4 was frequently tweaked, serving Mereside Shops once the Caravan Park closed for the winter and in February 1989 it became route 44 and was extended to Marton Hypermarket (the current Asda). For winter 1989 the 44 became a circular, linked to route 33 (which was killing off the 3/3A between Mereside and Blackpool along Park Road) and the frequency was increased to every 20 minutes. This lasted until March 1990 when the two routes were split with the 44 now running to Mereside turning circle. Summer services to Marton Mere were now separate with the X33 providing the daytime link and the X44 the evening link, both running direct from Marton Mere via Preston New Road to the Oxford and then picking up their namesake routes to Town.

Bristol REs replaced minibuses on the 44 from September 1992 to March 1993 - which was their swansong as they were retired that summer. 15 - originally 38 - heads off to Mereside from the Corporation Street terminus (photo Keith West)
Victory was achieved in April 1990 when the 3/3A were withdrawn and Fylde now had the monopoly of the Great Marton corridor and also Park Road. Competition returned in September 1992 when Blackpool introduced a new service 4 along Park Road to Mereside via Penrose Avenue whcih prompted Fylde to increase the 44 to every 15 minutes using single deckers - normally the 1975 vintage Bristol REs - to increase their share of the lucrative Whitegate Drive market. Blackpool's efforts ceased in spring 1993; the 44 once again became a minibus service but with two termini - route 44A running to Tesco and the 44B to Marton Mere.

This summer 1990 map shows the main "Fastlink" routes - the 33 via Park Road and Newhouse Road and 44 via Whitegate Drive and Great Marton. Both terminated at Tesco with the extra X33 (daytime) and X44 (evenings) to Marton Mere
February 1994 saw a major revision to the Fylde network with minibus services linked across town. The 44A/B and 55A/B were linked running from Clevelsy Park via Cleveleys Square, North Drive (A) or Lyddesdale Avenue (B), Norbreck Road, Bispham, Warbreck Drive (A) or Holmfield Road (B), Dickson Road, Town Centre, Whitegate Drive, Preston Old Road, Worcester Road, Kipling Drive and either to Tesco (A) or Marton Mere (B). Buses ran every 15 minutes and 8 minibuses were needed.

Evening and Sunday services on the corridor were provided by Fylde on behalf of Lancashire County Council. Initially they ran Blackpool's service 3 (Gynn to Mereside) but in 1989 this became the 333 and 444 running via Claremont, Town Centre and Park Road to the Oxford then in a loop via Penrose Avenue, Mereside Shops and Great Marton with the 333 one way and the 444 the other. In 1993 the routes were extended to Cleveleys commercially and later the 333 ran through to Fleetwood thanks to another LCC contract.

1994 saw the extended 44A converted to single deckers and this high floor Tiger 13 (B43UCK) was occasionally used alongside more familiar Deltas and the Paladin single decker Atlanteans (photo Keith West)
The harmonisation of the Blackpool and Fylde networks in November 1994 after the takeover of the latter by the former barely affected the 44s - the 44B was diverted via Stanley Park between Mere Road and Knowsley Avenue leaving Whitegate Drive to the 44A (and Blackpool's 26). The 44A was upgraded to single deckers - usually Deltas and the rebodied single deck Atlanteans but sometimes Tiger 13. May 30th 1995 saw Deltas 2/3 (H2/3FBT), 8 (G101NBV) and Paldin 6 (TKU466K) on the 44A with minibuses 121/3/4/5 (F141/3/4/5UFR) on the 44B.
The 44A and 44B originally ran round Cleveleys Park in opposite directions and 203 is seen here on the now discontinued anti-clockwise circuit.
June 1996 saw the conversion of the 44A/44B and associated 333/444 to low floor operation - the first such route in the area. Eight of the first production Optare Excels were purchased, which did not allow for any spares so only 3 of the 4 workings per hour were advertised as low floor allowing Deltas to substitute on two workings - and they often did as Excel reliability was poor. 4 Excels stayed out into the evening to work the 333/444 route. The 44B was the first to be converted in June with Excels 201-4 entered service, 205-8 made their debut in July to allow the 44A to be converted.  One of the poorer days for the Excels was 5 August 1998 when Deltas 127, 129, 131 and 132 were out alongside 203, 207, 208 and demonstrator P447SWX. December 28th 1998 was a red letter day with all eight Excels out for the first time that month -a feat repeated on New Years Eve.

Excel 202 poses opposite the former Marton Tram Depot on Whitegate Drive - note the route branding 'sash' applied to the Excels when new
Blackpool absorbed Fylde shortly after - Excel 208 only working for 9 days with Fylde and the 44A/B remained at Squires Gate depot until its closure in April 1999. The original Excels were replaced by nine new ones during summer 1999 (210-218) and these took-over the 44A/B duties. In September the route was cut back to terminate at Cleveleys Town Centre with route 33 covering Cleveleys Park instead - this allowed an increase in running time to address unreliability.
Several Excel demonstrators were provided by Optare to allow them to rectify the legion of defects on the original batch. P447SWX leaves Marton Mere in September 1998. Excels 201-204 and the three new to Fylde Deltas 131-133 made up the allocation on this day.
The Excels received support from the new Solos from January 2000, useful as the route once once again extended to Cleveleys Park so all nine Excels were required Monday to Saturday. Marton Mere was no longer served with both the 44A and 44B now running to Tesco.

The replacement Excels featured the full Handybus livery with a black skirt. 210 approaches Red Bank Road in Bispham
The Metro network saw the 44A/44B combined into a single Line 4 which took the 44A route from Cleveleys Park to Blackpool - via Warbreck Drive - leaving the parallel Holmfield Road unserved. From Blackpool to Mereside it followed the 44B route via Stanley Park. Frequency was reduced to every 20 minutes using seven Excels. An hourly evening service was introduced, replacing the 444 and this used Solos interworked with Line 3. This interworking soon ceased and the Excels ran into the evening once again.

In January 2003 the 4 was diverted via Claremont using the previously unserved Carshalton Road and was converted to Solos. 265-269, 271/2 gradually received Line 4 livery - Cadbury Blue and yellow between January 2003 and November 2004. Minor changes to the service followed - from May 2007 the route in Claremont was standardised with that of Line 3 to offer a combined ten minute service. Finally in July 2010 the route was diverted via Whitegate Drive instead of Stanley Park and lost its route branding with long wheelbase Solos now more common as the 4 is the prime service along this corridor.

Route branded Solo 266 heads for Cleveleys as a sister bus swings from Red Bank Road into Warbreck Drive
The 4 has also had more than its fair share of diversions - frequently affected by Town Centre disruptions but on two occasions shuttle services have been called for. In 2006 a shuttle bus ran from The Saddle to Wordsworth Avenue as the service bus was diverted via Preston New Road; and for much of 2009 a shuttle service ran from Wordsworth Avenue to Tesco via Marton Mere Park as the 4 was diverted to terminate at Mereside Shops. In both cases service 4A was displayed.

Today the 4 survives as a testimony to the innovation of Fylde in the early deregulation period. Rationalisation since then has seen it replace many of the services it once competed with - with Line 3 it is the main provider of services between Blackpool and Bispham via Gynn Square; it has now usurped the former 26 along Whitegate Drive and seen off Ribble in Cleveleys Park.