Saturday, 14 January 2012

Tridents at ten

332, the last new Trident purchased, heads through the pedestrianised St John's Square.
2012 will mark the tenth anniversary of the Blackpool Dennis Trident. Late 2001 saw an order placed with Dennis for nine Trident chassis to receive East Lancs Lolyne bodywork. UK operators purchased "Trident 2s" which were not the second version of the type, but the 2 referred to the axle count. The chassis was unveiled in 1997, but the first did not enter service until the start of 1999. Over 2,000 had been produced before Blackpool's arrived. 
301 - the first Trident on a short working Line 14 in July 2006
Dennis went through several owners since the 1982 Lancets - Blackpool's only other buses from this maker. At the time it was part of Hestair (who also owned Blackpool coach builder Duple) but passed to a management buyout (t/a Trinity) in 1989. It was sold to Mayflower in 1998 who also bought Alexander. In 2001 a merger with Henleys (owner of Plaxton) saw Dennis become part of Transbus International. The Dennis brand was later dropped but parent Mayflower entered administration and Transbus was rescued in May 2004 as Alexander Dennis (less Plaxton which was sold to other owners).
Blackpool's first Tridents were badged as "Dennis" vehicles and on 10 May 2002 301 arrived from East Lancs - the first new double decker since 1994 and the first East Lancs body since the 1989 Olympians. Like the Atlanteans before, the number series restarted at 301. Its two predecessors were Burlingham bodied Leyland Titan PD2 301 (LFV301) which ran from 1957 to 1970 and Atlantean/East Lancs 301 (BFR301R) which ran from 1977 to 1989. It seems highly likely that 301 will have a much longer service life in the town.

The other eight vehicles followed with 304 arriving on the 14th, 303 16th, 305 17th, 302 20th, 306 on 22nd with 307/9 on 28th and finally 308 on 29th. The launch date was 31 May when the buses were lined up at North Pier. They were all dedicated to Line 14 and received its dark green and yellow livery - the first buses to be delivered in a Metro livery. After the launch all nine entered service, symbolically replacing Atlanteans at Corporation Street on Line 14 journeys. The 14 required 16 buses on weekdays, 10 working Fleetwood to St. Annes and 6 working Fleetwood to Blackpool. The nine Tridents typically worked St. Annes trips supported by Atlanteans of two generations earlier. These, Blackpool Transport's first low floor double deckers, were 10.5m long and seated 77 (nine less than the Atlanteans) with 47 upstairs and 30 down. Cummins engines were fitted.
Brand new Tridents 317 (l) and 315 (r) in base livery prior to branding on 9 May 2003 just after arrival from East Lancs
301-309 clearly impressed as nine more were ordered for 2003 delivery they arrived as 310-318 between 1 May and 15th May, ahead of a launch on 23rd May. 310, 312-317 entered service the following day on Line 14, with 311 noted by the 29th after minor damage repairs and 318 on the 26th. Like their sisters 310-316 were in Line 14 green and yellow, but 317/8 introduced a new black and yellow pool livery. Tridents had so far been restricted to Line 14 with the odd appearance on schools work and tram replacement duties but 317/8 were now 'go anywhere' buses - though blinds covered only 11 and 14 destinations. On 5 June 317 was noted on Line 11 for the first time. Both black Tridents have tachographs allowing private hire duties.

The first Line 11 Tridents lined up prior to launch these became 326, 323 and 325 left to right.
2004 saw a third batch of Tridents, this time seven strong. First to arrive was 319 in black/yellow on 30 April, while six painted in turquoise and yellow followed in early May for Line 11. These were numbered 322-327 as 320/1 were to be reserved for two more pool buses which never appeared. 319 entered service on 25 May, followed by the Line 11 six on 29 May. 2005 saw no further Tridents arrived and in 2006 the fourth and final order was delivered - 328-332 arriving in June and with four entering service after launch on 23 June, with 332 following on 26th June. 322-332 allowed half of the Line 11 PVR of 22 to be rostered for Tridents. At the launch 332 was named 'Arthur Topham' in tribute to a late Blackpool Transport traffic manager. Two further Tridents followed with 331 named 'Les Kersh' after a Blackpool Councillor who served on the company board and passed away in 2008. 330 is named Colin Baker after a former bus driver.

Side by side in service - Line 11 was often beset by late running and bunching as 323 overtakes 322 at Starr Gate
1 November 2007 and 334 and 336 are on route learning/driver familiarisation duties prior to their deployment on Line 1 four days later - as well as the extra length these featured rubber mounted windows, not bonded glazing like their new sisters
 Blackpool has since turned its attention to buying second hand Tridents with 21 so far acquired - though not all are in service. Blackburn Transport purchased five near 12m Tridents in 2002 and its successor (Lancashire United) sold these to Blackpool in August 2007. These leviathans - Blackpool's biggest double deckers, seat 90 with 53 upstairs and 37 downstairs. They were painted into orange and yellow between September and October and entered service on Line 1 - the new year round Promenade service on 5 November 2007. Flickr link: 337 with Blackburn

The length of the Blackburn buses is apparent from this interior view of 336
 The following year saw a pair of redundant London Tridents acquired. Unusually they were new to Independent Blue Triangle of Rainham, but by the time of purchase the operator had been bought by Go-Ahead and had been used almost exclusively on route 248. TL911/3 (PO51UMG/UMJ) were purchased through Ensignbus dealership they arrived on 20 October 2008, however the former suffered the ignominy of being rescued from the hard shoulder of the M55 by Blackpool's tow wagon having suffered engine failure. They were new in September/October 2001 and featured an older style of bodywork. They were dual doored seating just 66 - 46 up and 20 down. TL913 entered the workshops immediately and was converted to single door and upseated to 75 (46/29) and received new Blackpool style roller blinds. It received Line 1 orange livery and fleet number 339 in February but did not enter service until 15 June. 

338 ready for repaint in May 2009
  TL911 became 338 and conversion work similar to 339 commenced in February and was completed with a repaint into Line 1 colours in May. After this a replacement engine was sourced and fitted but it was not until December that work was completed allowing 338 to make its debut on 5 January 2010.

339 in Line 1 colours but debranded on route 11
 Two sister buses were dispatched from Ensign on 15 February 2010 as the former TL919/20 (PO51UMT/V). TL920 duly arrived but had left a defective TL919 on the M6 in the Midlands. This was recovered to Ensign for repair and eventually arrived on 25 March as seen here. TL920 became 341 and was converted to single door as per 338/9 but received LED destination displays. It was repainted in the new fleet livery during May. TL919 became 340 and was completed in July. 341 entered service on 21 August with 340 following around 2nd September.

Ex South Lancs 342 heads through Lytham with a defective destination display
 A tenth second hand Trident arrived on 15 April 2010. Blackpool's new 342 was new as X80SLT to South Lancs Transport and was another 90 seater like the ex Blackburn's - indeed it was built alongside them being licensed in December 2002. SLT kept the cherished plate and 342 became PL52XAD. A repaint into the new fleet livery followed in June/July and it entered service on 28th August. Flickr link: 342 with SLT at Fleetwood Freeport and 342 at Leigh with SLT

Blackpool has since turned to the Isle of Man with 11 Tridents on the way, with 343 first to arrive after refurbishment and repaint and it entered service in December 2011, with 344 expected to follow. Once all are in use later this year this will take Blackpool's Trident fleet to 51.

In the Metro era Tridents were used on the 1 (333-339), 11 (322-332) and 14 (301-316) with pool buses 317-9 standing in when required. These occasionally appeared on other Metro routes such as the 2, 6 and 7 and all would put in turns on school service when required. Under the current network, Tridents dominate routes 9, 11 and 14 and see regular use on the 1 at weekends and one works routes 2/2C on weekdays.

Routine repaints commenced with 304 in February 2009 and all of the first batch received a full repaint in Line 14 colours by December 2009. Only three of the second batch have yet been repainted with 314 treated in June 2009 after front end accident repairs, 310 in February 2010 and 311 in April. Accident damage to 310 saw a second repaint, this time into the new livery in September 2011.

Like 338, 340 failed on delivery but was reactivated much faster than its sister. The second pair of ex Blue Triangle buses were fitted with LED destinations.
 The new livery premiered on 340-342, but surprisingly it was the orange ex Blackburn buses which were next to be repainted after four years in service. 333/4/5/7 were treated between September and November 2010 with 336 following in January 2011. The 2006 Tridents were all treated between November 2010 and February 2011 with the 2004 Line 11 examples 322-327 treated from February to July 2011. 338/9 were then treated in August/September 2011.

New Years Day 2004 sees 317 working a South Pier to Blackpool journey on normally minibus worked Line 2
Presently 301-309, 311 and 314 retain Line 14 livery after their first repaint, 312/3/5/6 retain their original coat, 317-319 retain pool livery and have yet to be repainted with 322-344 all in the new scheme.