Saturday, 16 May 2009

Blackpool's Olympians

Generic liveried 371 on Line 1 at Fleetwood May 09
Blackpool had a conservative approach to bus purchases prior to deregulation. It continued to order 27ft long buses for several years after the 30ft bus was legalised. It bought PD3s right up to 1968 - 10 years after production of rear engined double deckers started. It finally bought its first Atlantean in 1977 and kept purchasing them until 1984 - when it could do so no longer. The Atlantean's successor was the Olympian - built together since 1980.

Blackpool first tried Olympians in May 1984 when Leyland supplied it with A33MRN - a long wheelbase coach seated ECW bodied Olympian which was owned by Preston Borough but used as a demonstrator. In September, GMPTE B36PJA followed as it promoted the Bus & Coach Council who were in town for a conference.

Ex West Yorkshire 365-367
The first permanent fleet entries were in unusual circumstances. On the evening of 1 October 1986 a fire started on Atlantean 310 destroying it and the neighbouring buses 335 and 342. Meanwhile West Yorkshire PTE had several modern buses for disposal after deregulation as its operating subsidiary declined to continue their lease. These included several four year old Roe bodied Olympians and at the end of October UWW5/11/15X arrived. They entered service soon after still in West Yorkshire green and white livery as 365-367. During March and April all three were repainted in the new version of green and cream livery introduced that spring.

Life in Blackpool has been quite unadventurous for the trio. For their first decade the worked virtually interchangeably with Atlanteans on opo and crew work. All three carried rear end adverts - not particularly common in Blackpool - 365 for Dixon's Fiat (1988-90), 366 for Country Style Windows (1989/90) and 367 for Henthorne's Building Supplies (1992/3) and 366 later gained an all-over advert for BTS Zone Card in 1997. 367 had a brief holiday in South Yorkshire in 1988 in exchange for an SYT Dennis Dominator which showed off the split step arrangement in Blackpool.

In May 1996 the trio moved to Squires Gate Depot where they became regulars on routes 11/11A and the extensive school bus network. The depot closed in April 1999 and all three moved to Rigby Road. In August 2000 they were placed in store due to a downturn in schools work but returned to use in February 2001 (365/7) or April (366). Between May and August 2003 all three received "Schools + Line 1" orange/yellow livery and were repainted in the same scheme in late 2006. They are likely to be the next double deck withdrawals and at least two may be withdrawn at the end of the school term.

East Lancs Bodied 368-373
The first new Olympians arrived between late March and early May 1989. 368-373 (F368-73AFR) were East Lancs bodied buses with Cummins engines, unlike the Gardners of the West Yorkshire buses. These were the first new double deckers since 1984 and the last until 1994 - the only new double deckers delivered in the post deregulation green/cream livery. Initially they were commonly used on route 11C (Blackpool- St.Annes) but saw use across the full spectrum of the double deck services. The April 2001 Metro network saw 370-373 dedicated to Line 11 and 368/9 as spare buses. Repaints finally started in October 2002 when 368 emerged from a lengthy spell in the body shop as a pilot mid-life refurbishment including a full retrim. The remainder followed concluding with 369 in August 2003 with all six outshopped in Line 11 colours.
This was only an interim arrangement as new Dennis Tridents were planned for the 11 and the first arrived in 2004 so 368-373 were partly repainted during spring 2004 with the turquoise replaced by pool fleet black. Summer 2006 saw 368/9 repainted into Line 1 livery, but the rest remain in pool fleet colours.

The Volvos 374-379
The next new double deckers arrived in 1994 - the last until 2002. By this time Volvo had absorbed Leyland and 374-9 (M374-9SCK) were duly badged as 'Volvo Olympians' though with the same Cummins engine as before. Northern Counties Palatine 2 bodywork was fitted. They ran from Rigby Road, initially on route 6 but they were soon moved to the 22/22A with evening/Sunday use on the 14/14A. From 2001 all six were dedicated to Line 14 but the arrival of new Tridents prevented their branding and they were cascaded onto Line 11 with repaints starting in December 2001 (374) and finishing in August 2002 (378/9). June 2004 saw 375 partly painted into pool livery followed by 374/6/7/9 in 2005 and 378 in 2006. Surprisingly 379 regained Line 11 livery in November 2007. Today 374 carried a rear advert for Real Radio. 378 had previously carried a rear scheme for Nightsafe.

Ex Trent 401-410

The take-over of Fylde bought with it many elderly vehicles that were replaced by cascading Atlanteans from the parent fleet. 365-367 were also transferred in May 1996 and ran from Squires Gate depot until its closure in April 1999. To release the Atlanteans, 10 mid life ECW bodied Leyland Olympians were purchased from Trent Buses as 401-410 (XAU701-5Y, XCH706Y, A707-10DAU). They arrived between November 1996 and January 1997 entering service between February and April. Like 374-9 these carried the revised green/cream livery with a cream roof and roof level band adopted from 1994.

The Metro network saw 401-410 dedicated to Line 11 and 401 was the first to be painted in February 2002, but surprisingly received the original pool livery, though this was quickly overpainted into Line 11 colours - 406 joining it soon after. The remainder retained green and cream as Tridents and cascaded Deltas replaced the older Olympians on the 11. A new home on school and seasonal work beckoned with 410 the first bus to receive orange and yellow "Schools + Line 1" livery in January 2003. 407-9 followed during 2003, 404-406 in 2004. Also in 2004 401-403 received a lilac scheme for service 20, 404 following suit as an extra bus in 2006, but all four gained Line 1 livery for 2007 - making the batch identical again.

City Sightseeing

Open Topper 813 on City Sightseeing Line 20 in May.

2005 saw the first Olympians arrived for City Sightseeing work. 813/49 (D213/149FYM) arrived from Ensign for the 2005 season, replacing Metrobuses. 818 (D218FYM) followed for 2006, 844/57/8 (D244/57/8FYM) for 2007 and 873 (D173FYM) for 2008. 813/8/44/9/58 are part open toppers, 857 and 873 full open toppers. 813/8/44 are dedicated to the Blackpool service, 844/73 to Manchester and 857/8 have generic CS colours. All were new to London Buses and feature dual doors.

Ex Blackburn 411-417

Ex Blackburn 414 returning to depot from school duties

What presently is the final batch of Olympians to be acquired is 411-417 (D367JJD, OFS684Y, A703/4/19-21YFS) purchased with the small Fylde school bus operation of Blackburn Transport in August 2007. 411 was new to London Buses and has the last ever ECW body. 412-417 were new to Lothian Buses and retain dual doors. Uniquely for Blackpool 412-7 are long wheelbase examples and have Leyland TL11 engines. 411 - like the open toppers, 365-7 and 401-410 have Gardner 6LXB engines. These entered service in Blackburn colours but have progressively received Line 1 livery. They are almost always restricted to school services as most retain Blackburn blinds, though 412 (which has a full blind) has made occasional appearances on Line 1 and others have also appeared as emergency tram replacements.