Saturday 7 January 2012

The Blackpool Routemaster

Five Routemasters ran in London livery and here is 523 having received the minimum necessary preparation for service, without repaint,or destination blinds. It is seen here at St John's Church working a 5 to Grange Park
Towards the end of 1985 Blackpool Transport surprised many by announcing the trial of a London Transport AEC Routemaster with a few to purchasing six as part of its post deregulation strategy. Blackpool's actions followed those of Clydeside Scottish who had tried a Routemaster in 1985 prior to introducing a large fleet on services in Greater Glasgow ahead of deregulation. Sister business Kelvin Scottish did likewise as did Stagecoach - then a small independent operating in Perth.

RM1583 travelled up from London Bus Sales at Fulwell to Blackpool on 6 January 1986 and after an inspection entered service on routes 5 and 5A (Halfway House to Grange Park) two days later. It retained faded London Buses livery, a symptom of storage since July 1984. It was allocated number 500 which was reserved for demonstrators. It duly impressed and was purchased as the first of a batch of six and allocated number 521. Mid April saw it enter the paint shop for repaint into the 1930s lined red and white livery used on PD3 507 to commemorate the tramway centenary. This was adopted for the Routemasters, rather than the standard green and off-white livery and accentuated their age. An idea of how they may have looked in fleet livery is available on this flickr page.

RM1650 waits at Easington Crescent terminus on routes 5/5A. Destination and fleet numbers are displayed in the cab windscreen
The batch featured Leyland O.600 engines - compatible with Blackpool's PD3s but non standard for London as most of its Routemasters had AEC engines with around 400 having Leylands and these were early candidates for disposal. 521 was joined by RM848, RM1627 and RM1650 which arrived on Saturday 12th April and entered service on 15th/16th April on an emergency tram replacement service before settling onto services 5/5A. They entered service in London livery with numbers 522, 523 and 525 (resp) displayed on cards in the windscreen. Early May saw RM1640 arrived as 524, followed by RM1735 on 16 May as 526. 
526 was the only one of the first six to be repainted before use. It is seen here in the paint shop having its lining applied. Behind it is 522 which has received extensive repanelling
Brief details of their life in London are in the table below showing the dates new and the last depot and withdrawal date in London service. Routemasters were completely rebuilt every few years and bodies, engines and chassis units were separated and a vehicle would arrive at Aldenham works and its identity be applied to an overhauled bus which would then return to depot. Several vehicle identities were lost for several years while the overhaul process went on and emerged again when it finished! As a result, the buses which arrived in Blackpool did not feature the same body or chassis units as when they were built and the final body numbers are shown in the table.

NoLT NoRegNewWdLast DepotBody NoArrived
522RM848WLT8487/6112/85Stamford BrookB84712/4/86
524RM1640640DYE6/631/85New CrossB15566or7/5/86
526RM1735735DYE10/6312/84West HamB182116/5/86

Routemasters 521 and 524 relax in depot on Sunday 2 November 1986 after the first week or deregulation and several 40 minute round trips on route 12. Alongside is a later generation of AEC - Swift 595 that would be withdrawn nine years before the two Routemasters.
521 made its debut in its new livery at the 'Leyland 90' bus rally in Leyland on Sunday 17th May and entered service a few days later. 526 became the second to be repainted, entering the body shop without seeing service. It was completed in early July and was followed by 524 and then 522 with 525 treated in August. 523 was the last to run in London livery on 30 August and went back into use in red and white in October.
The inhospitable atmosphere of Talbot Road Bus Station in January 1987 is brightened by 521's red and white livery. Route 14 departed from the centre of the Bus Station for many years - next to the hose for the radiators! Driver and guard would amble out from the canteen door just next to the Fylde Atlantean just before departure time
The 5/5A was the Routemaster's prime home, but they also ran on other crew routes 14 (Blackpool-Fleetwood) and 22/22A (Cleveleys-Halfway House and Lytham). They could be seen out until close of service on the 5/5A, whereas PD3s tended to be allocated to daytime only workings.  Deregulation in October 1986 saw the 5/5A withdrawn so Routemasters were reallocated to route 12 (Blackpool to Airport) from Monday 27th. This required four buses and was increased to run every 10 minutes with the journey time reduced from 20 to 17 minutes as crew buses could achieve faster end to end times than the OPO buses used previously. The two spare buses could often be found on the 14 and 22.

The sylvan setting of Ballam Road, Lytham disguises the Guardian Insurance offices as 522 starts its 75 minute long journey from Lytham to Cleveleys on route 22A.
In July 1987 the 12 was extended to St. Annes and PD3 512 was painted red/white and with 507 and the Routemasters providing a pool of eight matching buses for the six bus workings. The frequency was later reduced to every 15 minutes needing four buses and the Routemasters once again dominated.

Routemasters 531 (left) and 533 (right) in different stages of repaint on 14 May 1988. Sister 530 had just vacated the space in the foreground
1988 saw the doubling of the Routemaster fleet as Blackpool chose to respond to Fylde's introduction of a Promenade bus service with its own route. Six more Routemasters were purchased and arrived in pairs during April. With six weeks to prepare the buses, they were treated to a simplified version of red and white livery to expedite the repaints. 528 was the first to be painted, noted in the paint shop on 24th April and was outshopped in early May followed by 527 and then 530 which left the paint shop on 14 May. 531 followed then 533 and finally 529 which was in the paint shop on 22 May. There was no 532 as this number was still used by a PD3. Launch day for the new service was Saturday 28 May and the six buses made their debut with promotional adverts and "Beachroamer" branding applied. Numbered 55 the service ran every 10 minutes on a daily basis from Starr Gate to Gynn Square and required six buses. The Sunday operation of Routemasters on the 55 is believed to have been unqiue at the time as neither London Buses nor the other provincial Routemaster operators used them on Sundays. 

Painted and lettered, final pre service preparation takes place on 531, 527 and 529 in the bus compound

NoLT NoRegNewWdLast DepotBody NoArrived

First day and Routemaster 528 with a first batch bus behind awaits time at Starr Gate as Fylde 101 heads past on their Beachcomber service
The 55 ran until the end of the Illuminations and for the winter 527-531/3 were reallocated to crew duties on services 12, 14 and 22/22A alongside the first batch and replacing the PD3s which were placed into store, initially for the winter but never to run again. Between February and May 1989 their livery was modified to match the first batch. The Promenade service - renumbered 40 - resumed on 3 July 1989 but operating Monday to Friday only between Harrowside and Gynn Square operating until 29 September when it ran Saturdays only until the end of the season! With only four Routemasters required during the winter it was decided to store several examples and 521 523, 524, 525, 527, 528 and 530 were declared redundant. In this context it was surprising that a 13th Routemaster joined the fleet in November. Former RM1123 had been used as a promotional vehicle by Burton's Biscuits who sold it to Blackpool Transport for a nominal sum in exchange for it retaining their promotional livery for Royal Edinburgh Shortbread. Numbered 534 it entered service on 4 January 1990 and uniquely for Blackpool featured an AEC engine.

NoLT NoRegNewWdLast DepotBody NoArrived
534RM1123123CLT5/6211/86Stamford BrookB507Nov 89

"The Biscuit Tin" 534 operated in this promotional livery for Burton's Royal Edinburgh Shortbread as part of the deal that led to its acquisition. (Donald MacRae see his Victory Guy photo albums for more from his collection)
Despite the rather half hearted operation in 1989, route 40 was back with a vengeance for 1990. Blackpool Transport secured access rights to Pontins Holiday Centre (held by Fylde in 1988/9). The 40 resumed at Easter (12 April) and ran every 10 minutes using five buses in the day with an evening service introduced every 30 minutes between Pontins and Tower using one bus. A daily service was provided. The stored Routemasters returned to use during March and April. 521 and 522 had been repainted in January and March - the latter featuring a promotional livery for Pontins on its sides and rear. 
522 carried this promotional livery for Pontin's from 1990 to 1993 in return for exclusive access to Pontin's forecourt. (Donald MacRae see his Victory Guy photo albums for more from his collection)
At the end of the 1990 season 521-526 were placed in store. Surprisingly 521 was repainted again in November, followed by 523 525 and 526 by the end of the year with 524 treated in January. 526 saw occasional use after repaint, but the remainder remained stored until the 40 resumed on 28 March 1991. The service pattern remained the same, but new destination blinds were fitted to 521-526 restricted to Promenade only destinations, condemning these to seasonal only operation so they were stored again in November. 527-31/3/4 were similarly relegated after service on 7 December as route 12 was converted to Atlantean operation due to Union complaints that these newer buses were in store while the elderly Routemasters ran in service. March saw the 12 converted to One Man Operation precluding a return for the Routemasters. 534 would never run again for Blackpool Transport though it remained in store for several years. The storage allowed 527-31/3 to receive a repaint between February and April.

521 waits time at Pontin's in 1990 for another journey along the Prom to Gynn Square. Note how the white border to the fleet number has been dropped.
The 40 resumed on 16 April 1992 and was shortened to run between Pontin's and Tower requiring only four buses, though the evening service was increased to every 20 minutes. 13 buses for 4 duties meant that only half the fleet was required in future seasons. 1992 saw Pontin's bus 522 joined by the newly repainted 527-31/3. 522 suffered engine failure in June and missed several weeks as its Pontin's signwriting was also updated during its absence. 525 was reinstated briefly as a result and 526 later bolstered the fleet. 521/3/4 and 534 spent the year in store.
8 April 1993 saw the 40 resume and this time 521-526 were allocated with the second batch confirned to depot. During the summer side adverts for Opal Fruits were applied replacing the in house Travelcard adverts carried since the Routemasters were first repainted.

For 1994 the 40 started on 1st April and 527-531/3 were the featured vehicles. All had been repainted between December 1993 and February 1994, 527 emerging in Pontin's livery, relieving 522 which was painted red and white so it could sparkle in storage. 534 was returned to Burton's on 18 March 1994 after 832 days in store. On occasions the odd Routemaster appeared on route 14 in the summer - with blank blinds - as operation had been restricted to route 40 since 1992. 527-31/3 now had yellow and black blinds which only showed route 40 destinations.

6 November 1994 was the last day of the 40 as the takeover of Fylde by Blackpool saw efforts focused on Fylde's route 1 from 1995 and the Routemasters remained confined to depot. 1996 saw the Open Golf championship held at Royal Lytham St. Annes as part of the rotation around various courses in the UK. Four Park and Ride bus services would be in operation and it was decided to reactivate the Routemasters to help provide the necessary capacity.

All were prepared for service and on from July 1st they took-over route 21 (Tower- Zoo) with two buses required to bed them back in. On 6 July 521/5 did the honours and on 7 July 527/31 performed. 526/8/31 had to be drafted onto the Promenade to replace the tram service due to an emergency on 4 July.

525 seen on Blackpool Road, St. Annes while on Open Golf Park and Ride duty
Routemasters appeared for the Open Golf between Wednesday 17th and Sunday 21st July 1996 and all 12 vehicles made an appearance - 522 making its debut in its March 1994 paint job - surely a record. With the contest and services over, all 12 returned to store. They were renumbered 421-431/3 at the end of the month to release the 5xx series for minibuses absorbed with the Fylde business. 
Routemaster 422, showing off its 1994 repaint without fleetname on the Zoo service in September 1996
August saw all 12 confined to depot but 421-424 were reactivated at the start of September to operate route 21 with 422/3 noted in use on the 1st. These four returned to store with their sisters with the end of the 21 for the season on 27 October. This Indian Summer also saw occasional journeys on route 14/14A by now extended to run form Fleetwood to St. Annes with one bus each day from 25 to 27th September with 422 noted once (as seen here). 422 was destined to be the last Routemaster to operate for Blackpool Transport when it was hired to Granada TV for a 'Gladrags' charity collection campaign in February 1997. This was cut short by the sale of the Routemasters so PD3 driver trainer 507 had to deputise.

With limited blinds, Routemasters had these basic posters in the front nearside window for the 21 during 1996
The Routemasters were advertised for sale in January 1997 and all 12 were purchased by Reading Mainline, who had built up a fleet of 32 on services in competition with Reading Buses. All 12 were painted into Reading's red and cream livery at Blackpool Transport from February.

This ended the career of the Blackpool Routemaster with 429, 431 and 433 the last to leave on 29 June. Over the previous 11 years the fleet spent almost as much time in store, on average active for 51% of their life in the fleet. Reading deployed the first buses to be collected almost immediately with former 523/4/6/8/30 all in service by May. Others were deployed more progressively with 525/7 not entering service until May 1998. 522 and 529 did not see service with Reading - 522 reportedly needed a replacement rear sub frame, perhaps reflecting accident damaged suffered in Blackpool in 1991.

Mainline was purchased by Reading Buses in 1998 and continued as a separate entity until 22nd June 2000. The Blackpool Routemasters, many converted to AEC engine were progressively withdrawn during 1999 and 2000 as the operation contracted but 36, 42 and 43 (526/31/3) all operated on the last day with 36 the official last bus back into depot.

Reading Mainline Fleet - click on Reading fleet number for a flickr picture
NoBTCollectedServiceW/drnDisposalFinal Engine Current
335309/3/9715/3/971999PreservedAECLondon Heritage Travel
345289/3/9720/3/97ea 2000Royal NavyAECLondon Bus Hire
3552423/3/972/4/972000TfLAECFirst London
3652630/3/9712/4/9722/7/00TfLAECFirst London
3752520/4/9719/5/98lt 1999FarmAECFirst London
3852320/4/9715/5/9799/2000BrakellAECFirst London
3952120/4/9717/9/9799/2000Walkabout InnsAECPreserved LTT
4253129/6/9716/1/9899/2000TfLAECEast London
4353329/6/9729/11/9799/2000TfLLeylandEast London
4452929/6/97nevern/aMcKindlessLeylandLondon Bus Company

530 during its brief period in Preservation in its 1988 Promenade livery
Early disposals from Reading saw 530 pass into preservation in 2000 and it was eventually repainted into an approximation of the 1988 Beachroamer livery. It has since changed hands and is now back in PCV use with London Hertiage Travel of Rettendon on private hires. 528 passed to Royal Navy Sea Cadets and had its interior modified to represent a submarine as a recruitment vehicle. In 2009/10 it was restored to bus condition by a collector and sold to another vintage hire firm - London Bus Hire of Raglan, South Wales.
523 was sold into private ownership, 525 to a fruit farm in Kent, 521 to Walkabout Inns as a promotional bus, passing to LTT after a visit to Blackpool in March 2003. 527 was exported to Poland while 529 went to Mc Kindless of Wishaw before passing into Preservation and it is now operating with London Bus Company of Northfleet.

Return to London
Most of Reading's final Routemasters were purchased by Transport for London who were expanding bus services and needed more Routemasters. The spares donor 522, plus operational 524, 526, 531 and 533 went directly to TfL who also bought 523 and 525 from their owners

The Routemasters were sent to Marshals in Cambridge for refurbishment which included hopper windows replacing half drop windows and an interior refurbishment. New Cummins engines with Allison gearboxes were fitted and the first emerged in summer 2001 with London Sovereign on route 13 including 523, 526, 531 and 533.

December 2001/January 2002 saw 524 enter service with London Central on route 36 and 525 with First on route 23. 522 emerged last with an experimental gearbox and joined London United. 525 was one of a handful of buses wrapped in gold vinyl for the Queen's Golden Jubilee in March 2002 and reverted to red in December 2002. First painted it Silver in March 2004 to recreate its role in 1977 as part of the Queens Silver Jubilee fleet. Despite the investment in refurbished buses, Routemaster operation was run down from 2003 and 524 moved to First on route 23 in February 2003 and onto Arriva (route 38) in November. 522 also moved to Arriva having operated on the last day of route 9 with London United in September 2004.

522 returned to use in 2002 with London United. Between 1993 and 2002 it only saw service use between July and October 1996. It is seen at Aldwych operating route 9.
Route 13 ceased Routemaster operation on 21 October 2005 with former 531/3 in use. Route 38 ended on 28 October with 522 and 524 joined by 525 on loan from First in use. Mainstream Routemaster operation ended in December but two short heritage routes covering parts of the 9 and 15 started on 14 November 2005 with First London on the 9 with ten Routemasters including former Blackpool 523-526 (with 525 still in Silver) while 531/3 joined Stagecoach East London on the 15. 523/4/6/31/3 all saw service on the first day. London Bus Hire's 528 also put in a one-off appearance on the heritage routes in 2011 as part of a running day.
Since 2004 former 525 has carried its 1977 Silver Jubilee livery with First London. It is seen here on 25th July 2004 on its way to Finsbury Park for the RM 50 event.
Meanwhile 534 also returned to London. Burton's sold it to a non psv operator in 1996 and it was used to promote Motarola mobile phones. It was sold via a dealer to a private owner in 2000 and emerged restored to London red at Wisley bus rally in 2009. On New Years Day 2010 it featured on a running day in Southend on the license of Autocar, Tonbridge and remains active in their "Special Days Bus Hire" fleet.
521 partly repanelled and partly paint stripped while under restoration with LTT in 2004
 Back in 1986 it was a surprise that Blackpool turned to the Routemaster, but its equally unexpected that six of its purchases are amongst the surviving Routemasters operating in Central London service (523-526, 531/3). LTT has preserved and restored 521 in Blackpool, while 522 is preserved in the London area restored to its 2002 condition. 527 may still be in Poland, 528, 529, 530 and 534 are in heritage operating fleets - 528 in South Wales and the other two in Greater London.

First trip out after repaint, but with finishing touches outstanding, 521 stands at the Fleetwood terminus of route 14