Monday 21 December 2009

Blackpool in the Snow

The early hours of Monday saw a rare overnight snow fall that settled. Observations showed that traffic on the main roads was quite heavy due to cautious driving and the avoidance of rat running. This appeared to cause some delays to bus services, but Blackpool Transport appeared to cope very well. Indeed, in a barely precedented move, some people actually praised the operation on the notoriously negative Gazette readers comments section!

Further snow fell overnight and on Tuesday morning a more limited bus service was operating as shown on the BTS website at lunchtime:
Line 1 - in full
Line 2 - limited service Town Centre to Poulton with two buses
Line 5 - full service but not serving Lindale Gardens
Line 7 - full service but terminating at Lytham Square rather than Saltcotes Road
Line 11 - full service but using Clifton Drive between St. Annes and Lytham
Line 14 - full service but via Kilnhouse Lane/Headroomgate Road/St. Annes Road East between Queensway and St. Annes
Lines 3, 4, 6, 10, 15 and 16 were understood to be suspended.

By mid afternoon, Line 6 was in operation but avoiding Mereside and Grange Park Estates, terminating at Collegiate High School. Line 2 was running from Station Road to Poulton on a reduced headway

Meanwhile Trident 309 escaped all the fun as it is tucked up in the paint shop as the last of its batch to receive a full repaint.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Unlucky Numbers Part 2: Blowing Sands

The original bus to Blowing Sands was provided by William Smith's Motor Services

Blowing Sands was the delightful early name for the outskirts to Blackpool crossed by School Lane and was first served by William Smith’s bus service from South Pier which terminated at Midgeland Road/School Road. This became Blackpool’s service 10 and survived until 1962 when it was partly replaced by the 23. Blowing Sands saw some residential development but no dense housing and today is quite affluent. It has never been promising bus territory and the history of its links to Blackpool centre is littered with short-lived services hence its appearance in the ‘unlucky numbers’ series.

The first link to the town centre started in 1936 when service 21 started. This ran over the 6 route from Adelaide Street to Hawes Side Lane/Daggers Hall Lane and bridged the short unserved section to Watson Road where it joined the 10 route via Common Edge Road and School Lane to Midgeland Road. Suspended in 1939 it was formally discontinued in 1940. During the Second World War, route 11C was diverted to cover the section of route between Blackpool and Common Edge Road, on its way to St. Annes having previously used St. Annes Road the section of Blackpool Road across what is now Squires Gate Airport.

In 1946 a peak hour service was resumed on the 21 route, but showing 11B to relate it to the 11C. This continued until 1956, albeit not always advertised in the timetables. A second route was introduced in 1948 as the 18. This also ran from Adelaide Street over the 6 route but further – to Welcome Inn then straight along Midgeland Road to the terminus. Sister service 19 followed in 1951 as far as Marton Moss (Chapel Road) but in 1953 was re-routed via the 11B route to Midgeland Road.

These routes to Blowing Sands were hampered because they really duplicated other routes on the main corridors into Blackpool. The aforementioned service 6 was co-ordinated with route 13 between the Town Hall and Spen Corner – the 6 continuing to Welcome Inn and Cherry Tree Gardens (later extended to Mereside) while the 13 took in Marton Drive to reach the developing housing estate at Lindale Gardens. In 1953 they provided a bus every six minutes.

Additionally service 6A ran as far as Highfield Hotel, leaving the Tower just in front of service 13 every 12 minutes. The 11C ran every 20 minutes through to St. Annes, the 18 and 19 to Blowing Sands each ran hourly and the 6C to Little Marton via Welcome Inn on a bizarre 84 minute frequency. If this was not enough, route 4 ran over the same corridor as far as Condor Square on its way to Mereside every half hour and the unadvertised 6B was a short working to Condor Square. This made at least 22 journeys over the common section to Condor Square and 20 to Spen Corner with varying frequencies. Co-ordination was unlikely, however the the timing of the 11C and 19 to leave the Town Centre at exactly the same time when the latter had over 95% of its route in common with the former was remarkable! With enough journeys to provide a 2 or 3 minute interval, the poor co-ordination resulted in four gaps of six minutes and two of five minutes in each hour!

The upshot of this was that routes like the 18 and 19 relied on their unique sections to pay their way – unlikely given the spare population – as they didn’t really generate any extra passengers on the over-bussed common section. Rationalisation was therefore inevitable. First to go was the 19 in 1956, replaced by extending the 6A to Midgeland Road – though this was also reduced to every 15 minutes at the same time.

From 1964 certain 6A journeys were diverted via the Welcome as service 6B to replace the 18. The 6A/6B were then progressively cut back through the 60s and 70s as declining passengers and increased costs caused the undertaking to review the duplication of its services. Firstly they were reduced to every 20 minutes in 1966; then their evening service was virtually eradicated in 1968; 1970 saw their frequency halved to every 40 minutes and one man operated buses took over in 1971. In 1975 the deepest cut of all saw the 6A go and just an hourly Tower to Midegeland Road service 6B remain for just one year until it too was cut in 1976. From a 15 minute service to nothing in just 10 years was a remarkable decline.

Midgeland Road did retain a link to the Town Centre, however, as route 3A (North Shore – Town – Park Road – Cherry Tree Gardens) was diverted at the Welcome Inn to run along Midgeland Road to School Road turning circle as a replacement.

Service 3A included a couple of peak journeys which extended to the Borough Boundary, mainly to serve St Nicholas School on School Lane. Here Swift 559 awaits departure for Cleveleys.

By contrast the original link to South Shore (the 10) remained largely stable until it too was axed in 1962, replaced by the 23 (Hospital to South Pier) which was extended to Midgeland Road via Highfield Road and School Lane. Other than a brief period when the 19 replaced the 23 in 1976, both the 3A and 23 continued in this form until 1986, with both buses usually terminating together at the rural turning circle.

Single Deckers (and more recently minibuses) have been the domain of the routes to Midgeland Road, apart from a brief period in 1987 when both the 10 and 23 operated with 86 seat Atlanteans! Here 313 awaits departure on service 10 in a short lived experimental livery whilst 358 promotes the Travelcard on the 23 departure behind.
At deregulation both the 3A and 23 ceased and ten years of stability ended. Midgeland Road was linked to the Town Centre by a new service, ironically numbered 10. This took most of the the old 6A route but at Highfield Hotel turned into Highfield Road and then Midgeland Road. Blackpool withdrew the service after a year and its former associate but now competitor Fylde Borough took over. Blackpool instead reinstated the link to South Shore with a revised 23. Fylde’s 10 later became the 12B and was also diverted via South Shore but ended in 1989. Since then an array of routes have tried to serve Midgeland Road. Few have been left in peace to do so, partly because of the bus industry’s obsession with tinkering at the margins of its networks. As the changes defy any simple description and chronological list follows:

· October 1986 – BTS 10 Blackpool-Spen Corner-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road. Fylde 23A South Pier-Common Edge Rd- Midgeland Rd – Mereside (Eves/Suns) introduced
· Jan 1987 – BTS 25 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Halfway House) extended off peak to Midgeland Rd via Common Edge Road
· April 1987 – BTS 23 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road) introduced
· November 1987 – Fylde take over 10
· June 1988 – 25 no longer serves Midgeland Rd
· November 1988 – Fylde 10 replaced by 12B Town-Lytham Rd-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road
· March 1989 – 23 replaced by 25 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road) Fylde 12B withdrawn
· March 1994 – 23A evening/Sunday service taken over by Blackpool
· November 1994 – 23A evening/Sunday service replaced by extended 23
· August 1996 –25 replaced by 23 Staining -Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Common Edge Road- Midgeland Road-Mereside (includes eves/Suns service) – now minibus operated
· April 2001 – 9 Royal Oak-Watson Rd-Highfield Rd-Common Edge Rd-Midgeland Rd back to Highfield Rd replaces 23
· Nov 2001 9 revised to run Poulton-Hospital-Royal Oak-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Mereside
· April 2002 – new 2B Poulton-Blackpool-South Pier-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Mereside replaces 9 evening/Sunday service ends
· June 2002 – 2A Poulton-Blackpool-South Pier-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Asda replaces 2B
· December 2005 – 10 Blackpool-Lytham Rd-Watson Rd-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Rd-Common Edge Rd circle replaces 2A

Today's line 10 provides one bus an hour linking the area with the Town Centre and South Shore. 593 was the branded minibus in light blue until 518 took over in 2007 painted silver-grey.
Since 1986 Midgeland Road has therefore been served by the 10, 23A (evenings/Sundays), 12B, 23, 25, 23 (again), 9, 2B, 2A and currently – once again the 10. For good measure the Welcome Inn to Highfield Road section has also seen the 25, 8A, 8, L1, 10 and 16 in recent times. It is surely only a matter of time before the 17 appears.

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Blackpool's Nationals

One of Blackpool's four mark 2 Nationals, 544 poses at Midgeland Road terminus on route 3A.

The Leyland National was an iconic bus of the 1970s. Intended to replace the Leyland Panther, AEC Swift and Bristol RE single deckers in the British Leyland stable it was built by a joint venture with the National Bus Company at a purpose built factory in Workington. Not surprisingly NBC firms snapped up many, with Ribble buying some of the first in 1972 with many of this batch based at Fleetwood. The type was less popular with municipals who tended to be quite traditional and loyal in their vehicle procurement and in many cases quite conservative. In some quarters the National has a poor reputation - probably because it was innovative and different thus requiring different working practises to operate and maintain it effectively. Elsewhere it was extremely popular and one of the main tools of deregulation for smaller bus fleets - some of who seemed to cope with them much better than the bigger NBC fleets!

As noted Ribble introduced Nationals onto the Fylde from Fleetwood in 1972 and followed this with examples from Blackpool. It had a large fleet across the North West and inherited examples from Cumberland after Stagecoach took over in 1989. The last Ribble Nationals ran in 2001 and were transferred to Lancashire United when Stagecoach sold the East Lancashire operations to Blazefield. The last new to Ribble example was 831 (DBV831W) which ran into Blackpool regularly on the linked 109/158 Chorley - Preston - Blackpool route in its latter years. It is now preserved as part of the RVPT collection alongside examples from the 1972 batch.

Blackpool Corporation was one of the more traditional municipals, still buying Leyland Titan PD3s in 1968 long after most had moved onto rear engined buses. Its first 'standee' OPO single deckers arrived the following year (again later than most) and somewhat surprisingly were AEC Swifts rather than Leyland's similar Panther. This was probably because it was the lowest bid in the tendering process. Blackpool inspected an early National but continued with the Swift. Its final batch of 30 (566-595) was ordered in 1973 and again subjected to a competitive tender process. The bids were:

Seddon RU - £10,845
AEC Swift with Marshall body - £11,038
Leyland National - £11,510.50
AEC Swift with Willowbrook body - £12,147
Metro Scania - £12,774.05

Although the RU was the cheapest, Blackpool was able to use the economies of scale argument to accept the slightly higher Swift/Marshall combination. For good measure it rejected the floor layout of the Seddon RU as "unsuitable" and recorded that the National and Metro Scania were deemed "not toBlackpool's specification in numerous ways". So a fleet of 55 Swifts was built up and followed by 64 Atlantean double deckers. In 1982 four single deckers were ordered and the tendering process through up one its more fascinating outcomes. Four of the new Dennis Lancet high floor chassis were ordered with Marshall body and Perkins engines unlike anything seen before or since - probably with more in common with the municipal dust cart or fire engine than anything else.

For the next four replacements for early Swifts, Blackpool finally succumbed to the charms of the National. In 1980 the Mark 2 had been launched and Leyland supplied a stream of demonstrators with WRN413V in November 1980 followed by GCK430W in March 1981 and EWM630Y in April 1983. A fourth demonstrator later arrived in the shape of KEP829X which ran in 1988 to demonstrate the kneeling suspension concept.

Fishwicks 10 WRN413V was used by Leyland as a demonstrator when new an spent a while with Blackpool. It poses at the deserted South Pier terminus of route 26 on a damp Friday evening in November 1980

Four National 2s were duly ordered and arrived in late June 1984 and entered service on 6th and 7th July. They were numbered 541-544 (A541-4PCW) and carried a stylish variation of the standard livery with a green skirt added to the green roof and waistband on an off-white base. A nice touch was the application of a small Corporation crest on the front plate normally used for NBC logos. Somewhat surprisingly they featured Gardner engines, quite common in Mark 2 Nationals but unique in the Blackpool fleet at the time.

Little Marton Mill, shorn of one of its sails, belies the suburban setting of Mereside estate with 542 in original livery heading for the terminus of route 3.

A second batch of four was ordered but cancelled due to the threat of deregulation. These are believed to have become part of six C-reg examples for Brighton & Hove. Instead Blackpool entered the second hand market - its purchase of six Routemasters in 1986 after a trail grabbing the headlines more so than its purchase of four National 1s. Crosville GMB387T spent several weeks on hire in November and December 1985. Crosville had adopted a programme of fitting Gardner engines to its Nationals to replace the original fixed head Leyland O.510. After the demonstration it supplied four from its own fleet, suitably modified for Blackpool at a cost of £24,100 each. They arrived in February 1986 in all-over grey primer and were repainted into fleet livery by Blackpool becoming 545-548 (CFM345/7S, KMA399T and LMA413T) and entering service in March and April 1986.

541 was the only National to carry an all-over advert (Agri Electrics)

With eight Nationals and four Lancets the AEC Swift fleet had declined to 16 examples at the start of 1987. It was decided to acquire further Nationals to replace the remainder and Strathclyde Buses made available 11 of its batch of 20 eight year old examples. These arrived between November 1987 and January 1988 and were repainted by Blackpool into the new livery of cream with green roof and skirt. Minibuses had taken over the single deck series so these were simply numbered to match their registrations as 156, 158, 161, 162, 164-167, 170, 172, 174 (GGE156T etc) they entered service between December and February 1988 with the last Swifts retired in the latter month. It was then decided to renumber the earlier Nationals to 141-148 and this took place in April 1988.
541 had pioneered the new livery in November 1987 having carried an all-over advert for Agri Electrics since December 1985. 148 followed in September 1988 after a six month long accident repair process whist the others were all treated during 1989.
The second hand Nationals were only a stop gap and were replaced by Optare Deltas with 145-148 taken out of use in March 1990, three and leaving in May for Norfolk of Nayland and one to Docherty of Irvine in June. 156-174 lasted until December 1990 to February 1991, passing on-mass to Southend Transport. The standardisation on Deltas also saw off the National 2s replaced at a young seven years of age in May 1991 and snapped up by eager collector of National 2s - Caldaire North East (United and Tees & District).
During their life in Blackpool the Nationals saw use on most single deck routes. Post deregulation saw extensive use on tendered services including 180/2 (Poulton-Preston), the short lived 165 (Preston-Lytham), the Kirkham Roamer (7) and the 192 (Blackpool-Kirkham). The also competed with Fylde on the 193 (St. Annes to Wesham).

Saturday 12 December 2009

Christmas Bonus

Blackpool Transport remains one of the few operators to provide services on Boxing Day and New Years Day. For many years a basic 14 bus operation on services 1, 2, 6, 7, 11 and 14 has taken place. Last year a minor change saw the South Pier section of the 2 dropped and extra time given to Line 14 while this year since the Poulton section of Line 2 dropped in favour of Line 5, and other changes see a total of 16 buses occupied. The service provided is summarised as:

Line 1 Pleasure Beach to Cleveleys - every 20 minutes (3 buses) - reduced from every 15 last year
Line 5 Halfway House to Victoria Hospital - every hour (2 buses) - new
Line 6 Grange Park to Mereside every 30 minutes (3 buses)
Line 7 Lytham Square to Cleveleyes every 60 minutes (2 buses)
Line 11 St. Annes to Cleveleys every 30 minutes (4 buses) - increased from every hour
Line 14 Blackpool to Fleetwood every 60 minutes (2 buses)

Branded buses are generally used - though Line 5 will presumably use larger vehicles as previously deployed on Line 2.

Offset against this improvement is a curtailment of Christmas Eve and New Years Eve services. For several years BTS has continued to provide a skeleton service on each route until midnight - unlike most companies who run in from 2000. This year, however, the service finishes around 2200 (Lines 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15) or 2000 (Lines 3, 4, 5, 16).

Monday 7 December 2009

February Service Changes

Service changes take place on February 1st as part of the economies Blackpool Transport are striving to achieve to address its poor financial performance, blamed on a combination of heavily reduced concessionary fares reimbursement and the impacts of a year of continual disruption to services due to roadworks.

All services except Lines 1 and 10 are affected in some way. The changes affect the early mornings (before the morning peak), evenings, Sundays and Saturday mornings. Weekday daytime frequencies are unchanged. The more significant changes are summarised below:

Line 6 - evening service reduced from 20 minutes to 30 every day
Line 7 - daytime service between Lytham Square and Saltcotes Road withdrawn (the only weekday daytime change), evening service reduced to hourly after 2100
Line 11 - evening service reduced to every 30 minutes to St. Annes and 60 minutes to Lytham
Line 14 - evening and Sunday service withdrawn between Blackpool and St. Annes Square. Sunday daytime service reduced to run every 30 minutes Fleetwood to Blackpool only (from every 15 mins)
Line 15 - late evening service reduced to hourly
Line 16 - services after 1800 withdrawn. Saturday service reduced to hourly.

Thursday 3 December 2009

The End of the Atlantean - out for 50.

364's Indian summer appears over after 25 years of service. Here it deputises for a minibus on Line 2 to Poulton earlier this year.
Monday 30 November saw the withdrawal of Atlantean 364 after a school duty, bringing the curtain down on 32 years of Atlantean operation which started back in July 1977. Blackpool's association with the Atlantean dates back even further with the type achieving 50 years service in the town. Ribble bought its first in November 1959, several were allocated to Preston and would have operated into Blackpool on trunk routes. Some of the early ones were also allocated to Blackpool Talbot Road depot. The February 1960 allocation included 1618, 1622 and 1624 from December 1959.
Scout Motor Services who operated from Blackpool to Preston on the 154/155/158 on a joint basis with Ribble acquired one ex demonstrator and four new Atlanteans in 1960/1 shortly before Ribble bought the business. Lytham St. Annes had previously operated one of these demonstrators on the 11. Standerwick - also part of the Ribble family - operated the 'Gay Hostess' Atlantean coaches on long distance express services into the town while less well appointed Atlantean 'White Lady' coaches operated regional express services.
Lytham became the first municipal to introduce regular Atlantean operation on the Fylde Coast with 75-77 of 1970. Its successor Fylde built up a fleet of 18 more between 1975 and 1984. Blackpool finally endorsed the Atlantean in 1977 with the first ten out of a fleet of 64 built up over seven years.
Occasionally Atlanteans from East Lancashire operators put in appearances on the Fylde Coast as express duplicates and after deregulation both Preston and Lancaster operated Atlanteans on regular services into Blackpool. Ribble's operations on the Fylde Coast began to contract and under Stagecoach ownership Atlantean appearances were reduced as it invested in new Olympians. Fylde's fleet expanded with several second hand purchases whilst Blackpool sold many of its early examples at quite young ages. In 1994 when Blackpool bought Fylde, the 41 surviving East Lancs Atlanteans were joined by 52 examples from the Fylde fleet including four rebodies as single deckers. The total of 93 had reduced to 83 by the start of 1997 by when Blackpool had absorbed Fylde. By 2002 54 were left and just 23 at the start of 2004. The last ex Fylde examples ran in 2004 - by which time the oldest (475) was 28 years old. 13 were left two years later and during the summer most were laid up. October 2006 saw a 'farewell event' with active 363 and 364 joined by reinstated 358, 360-362 for two days operation. Remarkably 353/358 returned to service in the new year and lasted until July 2008 when 363 was also withdrawn. 364 outlasted the pair, until its final withdrawal in November 2009.
More mundanely Metrorider 512 has finally been withdrawn after a two month stay and is now in store at Jackson's Marton with 506, 511, 513 and 593. Line 15 bus 513 has been delicensed since October, a withdrawal not previously noted here. This leaves just three Metroriders in use, 515 and 517 on Line 15 and 518 on Line 10 - a remarkable change considering 16 were still in use back in May.