Friday, 8 July 2011

One Careful Owner

No less than 27 pre-owned Leyland Olympians have been operated. New to Lothian 415, still in Blackburn colours leads sister buses 414, 417, 413, Ex West Yorkshire 365 and ex Trent 408 at St. Bedes School, Lytham at the start of school term in September 2007
The early months of 1986 saw two landmarks in the history of the Blackpool bus fleet. 8 January saw the entry into service of Routemaster RM1583 on loan from London Bus Sales for a three month evaluation period. Deemed a success, it - and five sisters - were acquired in April. Then on 12 March Leyland National 548 made its debut. This was the first of four purchased from Crosville Motor Services who had fitted them with Gardner engines as part of a conversion process that replaced their original Leyland engines with Gardners from prematurely withdrawn Seddon RUs. So the era of second hand bus operation in the Blackpool fleet was born. Prior to this only three second hand vehicles had been purchased - a Tilling Stevens demonstrator in 1922; a similar chassis in 1924 and a Southampton AEC Swift bought for spares in 1977. 
Curiously the 15 second hand Nationals arrived in Blackpool in all-over grey primer rather their previous operators' liveries. Here three of the Crosville examples (545-547 right to left) await a slot in the paint shop in February 1986
The six Routemasters and four Nationals were joined by three Olympians at the end of October 1986. The month had started with a fire on Atlantean 310 in the depot yard which destroyed it and spread to neighbouring 335 and 342. This was just before deregulation and Blackpool took advantage of an unusual decision by West Yorkshire PTE's bus operating subsidiary not to take on some quite young leased buses. Three of its Olympians (5005, 5011, 5015 UWW5, 11, 15X) were purchased and became Blackpool 365-367 to address the loss of the Atlanteans. They initially ran in West Yorkshire livery and managed extremely long lives lasting over 23 years in the resort before final withdrawal in April 2010.

Blackpool's first Olympian 365 stands amongst an eclectic collection of new colleagues - active PD3 540 and withdrawn Permanent Way bus 434, a cannibalised Swift and the doomed One Man tram 4.
Former demonstrators could be attractive second hand purchases for operators and Blackpool bought three such City Pacers from Optare. 565/6 (D854MUA, D898NUA) arrived in August 1987 to help launch route 26 as the most of its new buses had not yet arrived. Both were then purchased and repainted into black and yellow and lasted until 1996. The third was F934AWW which was on loan in early 1989 and then purchased at the end of the year. It retained its demonstrator livery at first before receiving Handybus livery in the summer. It survived to be the last City Pacer to return to depot on their final day of operation - 29 January 2000.

Former Optare Demonstrator 565 leads a sister bus on the fuel pumps at Rigby Road after a duty on route 26 
Purchases then reverted back to the Routemaster and National mix. A desire to rid the fleet of the 13/14 year old AEC Swifts saw the purchase of 11 eight year old Leyland Nationals from Strathclyde Buses where they had seen little recent use in a predominately double deck fleet. They arrived between December 1987 and January 1988 and were repainted into the new fleet livery from grey primer. Fleet numbers matched their registrations as 156, 158, 161/2/4-167, 170/2/4 (GGE156T etc) and they operated until December 1990 when new Deltas replaced them. The ex Crosville examples had been withdrawn in March 1990. 

Ex Strathclyde 158 passes newly repainted Routemaster 530 in the depot yard in May 1988. The second batch of six Routemasters received this simplified livery for Promenade route 55 before later receiving the fully lined out version applied to 521-6
The Routemaster fleet was doubled by the purchase of 527-531/3 in April 1988 to introduce a Promenade bus service in response to a similar route from Fylde. They were joined in December 1989 by 534. This had been in the town for some time as a promotional bus for Burton's Biscuits and a deal was entered into where Blackpool took on the bus and operated it in Burton's livery. On 9 December 1991 year round Routemaster operation ended and 527-534 joined sisters 521-6 in store - the latter on their winter break following the end of the Promenade route for the year. From 1992 to 1994 half the fleet was reinstated for each summer use, but 534 never ran again and returned to Burtons in 1994. The other 12 spent 1995 in store and ran again in Summer 1996 for the Open Golf tournament before departing for a new life in Reading.

National 158 again in February 1988 shortly before entering service
Perhaps the most unusual second hand purchase was 532 (DHC784E), an open top East Lancs bodied Leyland PD2 swapped with Eastbourne Buses for new to Blackpool PD3 532 (LFR532F). The swap was done in February 1989 and 532 made its debut at Easter in Routemaster red on Zoo route 21. It didn't have a particular role but saw sporadic use on the Promenade route 40, Zoo route 21 and sometimes route 12 to St. Annes as well as various eccentric duties that open toppers tend to suffer. Its saw little use as time went by and was finally sold in March 1999 to Mac Tours in Edinburgh.

PD2 532 on its first weekend in service in Blackpool at Stanley Park
 532's purchase took the second hand fleet to 35 buses, representing 27% of the fleet total. The demise of the Nationals in 1990 dropped this to 20 (13 RMs, 1 open topper, 3 Olympians and 3 City Pacers). The purchase of Fylde in 1994 and its absorption in 1996 then distort the picture. 84 buses joined the Blackpool fleet in July 1996 of which 34 had been purchased second hand by Fylde.

Amongst the collection of Fylde buses acquired in 1996 were these four rebodied single deck Atlanteans. 136 loads at Tower on Promenade service 1.
The Fylde purchase gave Blackpool a headache. Having renewed its single deck fleet in the early 1990s it had a credible average age of 7.5 years at the start of 1994 (excluding the seasonal Routemasters) but the Fylde purchase meant this had risen to 11 years in 1997. Six new double deckers had arrived in 1994 but the need to replace the City Pacers became pressing and new vehicle purchases from 1995 to 1998 were Metrorider minibuses. The fleet was reduced by retrenchment from some school contracts but to replace the older of Fylde's Atlanteans ten 1983/4 vintage Olympians were purchased from Trent Buses. These became 401-410 (XAU701-5Y, XCH706Y, A707-10DAU) and the first pair entered service in February 1997 with the rest following over a six week period. Like 365-7 these have had a long life with the first not withdrawn until October 2010 and six still in service today.

410 was one of the first two Trent Olympians to enter service and is seen here on a rail replacement contract for the South Fylde line in its first few months
Second hand purchases have continued as the opportunity arises. With the disposal of the minibuses and Routemasters, the 13 Olympians were the only second hand buses in the fleet at the start of 2001.Since then several more have arrived:
  • Excels 219-221 from Go North East in December 2004
  • Tridents 333-337 and Olympians 411-417 from Blackburn in August 2007
  • Excels 222-226 from Reading Buses in October 2008
  • Tridents 338-341 from Blue Triangle in October 2008 (338/9) and February 2010 (340/1)
  • Trident 342 from South Lancs in April 2010
  • Volvo 520-524 from Anglian in July 2010 
Excel 219 is one of eight second hand examples of the type purchased from operators who disposed of them prematurely
Finally there is the City Sightseeing fleet. Like the Fylde buses this distorts the story somewhat as most of the Metrobuses were on loan for the franchised operation. When taken in house in 2006 Blackpool took on Olympians 813, 849 (D213/149FYM) and Metrobuses 815 (VRG415T) and 864 (A964SUF). It later bought more Olympians 818/44/57/8/73 (D218/44/57/8/173FYM) and the Manchester Metrobuses 802 (BYX302V), 814 (BOK68V) and 892 (GYE392W). Of these just 818, 857, 858 and 873 remain.

Open top 857 on service 20 seen from the front of enclosed 401 operating route 1

So today there are 40 second hand buses in the Blackpool fleet representing 26% of the fleet - a similar proportion to the 1990 situation. The fleet comprises:
  • 8 Optare Excels (219-226)
  • 10 Dennis Tridents (333-342)
  • 17 Leyland Olympians (402, 405-408, 410-417, 818, 857/8, 873)
  • 5 Volvo B7 (520-4)
Two of the long wheelbase Tridents purchases for the Promenade service in 2007 seen when freshly painted shortly before entering service at Solaris on 1 November.