Sunday 22 November 2009

Blackpool's Lancets

Lancet 597 loads outside St Johns Church as 599 prepares to overtake.

When Blackpool Transport was a council department prior to deregulation it was bound by municipal procurement rules. This meant competitive tendering and resulted in some surprises. Generally councils were compelled to select the cheapest compliant bid unless a case could be made for a more expensive one. For example in 1973, 30 AEC Swifts were ordered, though other firms were cheaper. This was sanctioned as 25 Swifts were already owned and commonality of spares and a standard fleet offered economies.

In 1981 Blackpool decided to buy four new single deckers and four new double deckers. Naturally the Atlantean/East Lancs combination was selected for the latter as 50 others were already owned. The last new single deckers dated form 1974/5 - the aforementioned Swifts and the model had long been deleted. The rest of the fleet was Leyland engined Leyland built double deckers (Titans and Atlanteans) and Leyland was not offering O.680 engined single deckers. Therefore the cheapest one and emerged as four of the new Dennis Lancet. Dennis, at the time better known for its fire engines and dustcarts had returned to bus building in 1977 with the Dominator and had followed this with the rear engined Falcon. The Lancet was its underfloor engined version with a powerpack from Perkins fitted - unusually for a bus.

The Lancet was not an unqualified success. 87 were built between 1981 and 1990, 28 were exported, 18 were finished as buses, 15 as midibuses, 3 as coaches, 8 as accessible buses, 1 as a non psv and even 12 as mobile libraries.

Bodywork was by Marshall of Cambridge, who had bodies the Swifts. The latter had the BET inspired body, while the Lancets had the "Camair 80" - which showed Marshall's eye for style. Allocated numbers 596 to 599 and registrations ORN596-599X production hit a number of delays and it was late July before the first - 596 - arrived. The other four followed in early August and the batch was registered as VCW596-9Y. 596 entered service on 9 August. The Lancets were commonly used on services 2/2A to Poulton - though also appeared on other services such as the 3/3A, 23/23A and 26.

Deregulation saw horizons broadened with the Lancets appearing on tendered services from Poulton to Preston (180/2) and the Kirkham Roamer (7). A new livery was introduced in 1987 and 599 was the first single decker to receive it in April - green roof, window surrounds and skirt. Its three sisters followed suit over the next couple of months. This livery version was unique to the Lancets, as the Nationals had cream window surrounds.

Over winter 1987/8 Blackpool Transport bought 11 second hand Leyland Nationals to replace its last Swifts - the final one running at the end of February. Its single deck fleet now consisted of 15 second hand Mark 1 Leyland Nationals of 1977/8, 4 National 2s of 1984 and the 4 Lancets of 1982 - just 23 vehicles from a peak of 55 in 1975. This lasted just three more weeks though as the Lancets were summarily withdrawn in March and left on 20th for Redby of Sunderland. Here they ran alongside a handful of Dennis Dominator single deckers from Darlington with similar bodies. Initially they retained Blackpool colours but soon received a white based scheme. After less than six years in Blackpool, they lasted just over five in Sunderland. In July 596, 597 and the accident damaged 599 passed to Tanat Valley Coaches. 599 was for spares, 596/7 became regulars on the Oswestry Town Service. 598 meanwhile went to the Potteries with Knotty, joining ex Blackpool Swift 583.
1995 saw further moves. 596 went to Pioneer of Rochdale, 598 to Bluebird of Middleton while 597 was bought by Thames Valley Training of London and even came to Blackpool for a repaint in its original livery - adopted by the enthusiast run training firm. 599 was scrapped later the same year. 596 moved from Pioneer in 2000, passing to a church in Bradford as congregation transport. It ended its days in 2003. 598 meanwhile briefly joined 596 at Pioneer in 1996 but passed to a dealer never to surface again in 1997.

This left 597 as the last survivor having passed into preservation in Hexham in 2000. Sadly it was vandalised and was seen in 2004 stored outside with some broken windows and apparent body decay. Its current status is unknown, but if it survives is likely to be in the 'major projects' category by now.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Unlucky Numbers Pt 1 "Unlucky 17"

Centre entrance PD2s 291 and 298 at the 'Showground' terminus of the three days a year service 17 in 1968.
There are several long established bus routes in Blackpool – the 2 to Poulton, the 11 to Lytham and the 14 to Fleetwood for example. However Blackpool’s bus route history is also littered with short lived bus routes which – for one reason or another – soon failed. Service 17 seemed to be a particularly unlucky number while 10s and 20s have also often been short lived. This is first in a small series of posts about some of Blackpool's oddities and looks at the "Curse of Number 17".

While many people are feel the number 13 brings bad luck, managers at Blackpool Transport would do well to be superstitious of the seemingly innocent 17. Like 13, 17 is a prime number but none of the variety of routes numbered 17 could ever have been said to reach their prime.

The first bus to display service 17 ran in May 1928. Intriguingly there is a link to Blackpool’s first bus route which was retrospectively allocated the dreaded number 13 in 1926. This ran from Cleveleys to Thornton Station from 1921 to 1930 but in July 1927 was extended to Burn Naze. Oddly in May 1928 the route was split with the new 17 operating the Thornton to Burn Naze section. It shared a terminus with the 14 from Blackpool and may have been interworked with it. A dismal £235 was taken in 5 months of operation – between £1 and £2 per day. Faced with a long and unremunerative winter, the plug was pulled from the end of November.

Attempt two started on 23 December 1929 and was an early Christmas present for the residents of the area being developed around the Welcome Inn in Marton. It was a somewhat circuitous route leaving Talbot Road Bus Station via Caunce Street, Devonshire Road and Newton Drive to reach Stanley Park then via Park Drive, Waterloo Road and Vicarage Lane to Welcome Inn. It was hardly a warm welcome, the 17 ceased on 5 May 1930 leaving the Welcome Inn without a bus service until 1933.

1929 also saw the introduction of a market day express service from Blackpool to Fleetwood which was initially un-numbered but was later allocated number 17. Its operation was best described as ad-hoc and was officially dropped in 1936. The number re-appeared in December 1939 to replace the Blackpool to Layton Station section of service 15A along Warbreck Hill Road and is believed to have survived throughout the war until the reinstatement of the 15A in 1946. The 17 was then reallocated in April 1946 to a new link from Layton to Victoria Hospital via Devonshire Road which was a temporary measure until service 22 was extended via the more direct and newly constructed Grange Road in November.

The sixth distinct service 17 made its debut on 15 May 1948 – with the first journey running nine years late. The new service had been scheduled to start in May 1939 but was postponed due to the impending war and it was not until 1948 that it could be implemented. It used just one bus and opened up what became the Mereside estate but was then known as Sandham’s Green. It followed the existing 6 route from Adelaide Street, Central Drive, Grasmere Road, Ansdell Road and Daggers Hall Lane to Welcome Inn before running via Chapel Road (even today one of Blackpool’s most rural roads) to Little Marton School at the junction of Clifton Road and Lee Road. Given that it sat on top of the established service 6 it probably didn’t earn much money on its own account, but was sufficient to protect Blackpool’s claim to serve Mereside as it developed as Ribble served the main Preston Road along the northern edge of the estate on its trunk routes to Preston.

It was renumbered 6C in December 1951 to associate itself with the 6 (which spawned A, B, C and D variants at one stage) and became Blackpool’s first one man operated bus service in 1955. Sadly the curse of the 17 wasn’t lifted by its renumbering and the route ended in 1956. Perhaps the bizarre 84-minute frequency offered latterly didn’t help.

Blackpool’s penultimate flirtation with the 17 was probably its most successful as it lasted for 18 years, yet ran for just three days per year. The annual Royal Lancashire Show was held on the old Aerodrome site which is now Blackpool Zoo and a special service was provided numbered 17. It started in 1953 and lasted until the show moved away in 1971 as the Zoo site was developed.

Jumping into the post deregulation era, Blackpool stocked up on minibuses in 1987 and decided to introduce local services in St. Annes and Bispham. While the former ran from June 1987 to February 1988, the latter only managed two months from December 1987. The Bispham service used four minibuses on a circular service to local housing estates Bispham running every 10 minutes each way as 17A and 17B – the final (so far) of Blackpool’s short lived 17s.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Talbot Gateway Bus Impacts

The proposals for Talbot Gateway are likely to improve interchange at North Station. Presently Line 2/2C runs to the station forecourt.

Talbot Gateway is the latest regeneration project for Blackpool, focusing on regenerating the area around North Station. Part of the focus is a bus/train interchange there and the revision of the 'town centre ring road'. A new through route for traffic would use Buchanan St, George Street, Deansgate, Topping Street and Dickson Road, leaving the section of Talbot Road around the current bus station and the Springfield Road/High Street area as public transport corridors on the shared space principle.

Plans are out to pre-planning consultation and show three basic bus routes:

1) Dickson Road Corridor- from Abingdon St, Talbot Road, Dickson Road, Springfield Road, High Street to new bus stops, then via Talbot Road (in front of old bus station) and Dickson Road (again). Return journeys are Dickson Rd, Springfield Rd, High St, Talbot Road. This would be served by routes 3, 4 and 15.

2) Terminating corridor - from Abingdon St, Talbot Road, Dickson Road, Springfield Road, High St, Talbot Road, Abingdon St - this would be served by the 2 and 2C

3) Talbot Road corridor - from Talbot Square via Talbot Road in both directions with stops at North Station opposite the site of the recently demolished bowling centre.

Other than the double loop for the northbound 3, 4 and 15 this seems quite positive - especially the two way operation up Talbot Road. However 'share space' is causing some controversy at the Winter Gardens and there are factions pushing for full pedestrianisation.

Monday 9 November 2009

Excels return

218 back in service after an absence of over a year on 5 November.

The two latest Excels to be overhauled returned to use on 4 November. 217 (T217HCW) remains in Line 7 livery and 218 (T218HCW) in pool livery. 218 had been out of service since at least August 2008 and 217 since at least December. 219 (T880RBR) is now at Cummins for engine refurbishment whilst 215 (T215HCW) is undergoing its body overhaul prior to the mechanical work.

So far 210-213, 216-218 and 220 have all been re-engined with Cummins ISB engines, 214, 221-226 retain the earlier B-series with 215/9 in progress.
Other news sees a resumption of routine repaints after the Line 2 reallocations with 271/2 completing the Line 4 repaints and 308 now in for Line 14.
Metroriders 585 and 595 went for scrap at Wigleys on 19 October. This leaves just 503 and 593 of the original 17 Metroriders (501-4, 584-596) in stock. 505-507 also remain in store and have been joined by 511 with 512-513, 515, 517 and 518 active. Atlantean 364 is continuing its Indian Summer into the winter season with a stint on Line 6 today (9 Nov).