Sunday 24 January 2010

Blackpool and the Routemaster

May 1986 and Grange Park becomes London as Routemasters 523 and 522 pass on service 5

Blackpool retained crew operation much later than most provincial bus operations, due in no small part to the tramway. It also kept traditional rear entrance half cab buses in its fleet well after others had forsaken them. At deregulation it still had nine PD3s in service and a tenth later rejoined the active fleet. It was, however, something of a surprise in January 1986 that London Buses RM1583 arrived in the resort on a three month trail. With deregulation approaching Blackpool wanted to increase its rear entrance fleet to take advantage of the speedily loading such buses delivered. The trial bus regularly operated on routes 5/5A (Grange Park to Halfway House). Suitably impress Blackpool bought it and five others - the batch becoming 521-526 (583CLT, WLT848, 627/40/50, 735DYE) ex RM 1583, RM848, RM1627/40/50, RM1735.

The first three arrived in April and entered service almost immediately while 521 went into the paint shop to receive 1930s style red and white livery - adopted as a dedicated livery for the Routemasters having been used on PD3 507 for the tramway centenary in 1985. 526 was the last to arrive in May and was painted before use but 522-5 ran in faded LT red for their first few months - 523 lasting until September. Route 5 was their main service supplemented by duties on other crew routes 14 (Blackpool - Fleetwood) and 22/22A (Cleveleys to Lytham).

At deregulation the 5 was withdrawn and the Routemasters went into service on route 12 operating every 10 minutes from the Airport to the Bus Station taking 17 minutes each way - 3 less than the OPO buses Fylde competed with on their 11/11A. Spare buses ran on the 5 and 14 - and later the 9. The 12 would later be extended to St. Annes.

1988 saw six more Routemasters arrive 527-531 and 533 (WLT879, 357CLT, ALD966/89B, ALM71/89B) ex RM879, 1357, 1966/89, 2071/89. These went into a simplified version of the red/white livery and entered service in May on route 55 - a new summer only Promenade service from Starr Gate to Gynn Square. At the end of the summer these were transferred onto year round routes and hammered the final nail into the PD3s coffin as these were retired initially for winter storage but new buses made this permanent. Over the winter 527-31/3 had their livery modified to match the others. A 13th Routemaster arrived in November 1989, this time from Burton's Busicuits of Blackpool. 534 (123CLT) entered service in January 1990 retaining Burton's all-over advert as part of the deal. Uniquely it had an AEC engine - all other Blackpool ones having Leyland O.600s.
529 shows the simplified livery originally carried by the second batch

The Promenade service resumed in 1989 renumbered 40 but at the end of the season 521-526 went into store returning again in 1990. For that season 522 was painted in an all-over advert for Pontins as Blackpool Transport had gained permission to serve the Holiday Camp site. Again the first six were stored for the 1990/1 winter and again for 1991/2. In December 1991 service 12 was converted to Atlantean operation and the entire Routemaster fleet was placed into store. 534 never ran again but it was not until 1994 that it left, returning to Burton's ownership.

The two batches then settled into an alternate year pattern almost entirely on service 40.
1992 saw 522, 527-531 and 533 in use - with a brief spell for 525 following an accident involving 522
1993 saw 521-526 operate
1994 saw 527-531/3 back in use with 527 replacing 522 as the Pontins bus.

The take-over of Fylde saw rationalisation of the Promenade services and route 40 did not appear in 1995 and nor did the Routemasters. All 12 remained in store until June 1996 when they were prepared for a return to use to cover a Park and Ride service for the Open Golf Championship at Royal Lytham golf club. Early July saw a few workings on route 21 to the Zoo with 521 and 525 noted. All 12 operated for the golf towards the end of the month - for some this was their first use since October 1993! All 12 were stored again at the end of the month and were renumbered 421-431/3 to accommodate ex Fylde minibuses in the Blackpool series. 421-4 returned to use again in September operating on the 21 to the Zoo, lasting until 25 October 1996. 422 was used in early February on a fund raising trip for Granada TV but was soon replaced by Centenary liveried PD3 507 as all 12 Routemasters had been bought by Reading Mainline and were painted by Blackpool before heading south over the next few months.

Reading operated 10 of the 12 - 522/9 never seeing service there and a few survived until the last day of operations on 22 July 2000. The end coincided with Transport for London's expansion programme for the Routemasters and seven were snapped up to return to service in London! All were refurbished with Cummins engines and Allison transmission - nicknamed "Dartmasters"! After the Routemaster run down several were kept for use on the Heritage tourist routes.
Ex 533 back in service in London on heritage route 15

The following is the current picture:

521 583CLT - LTT for preservation - from Reading to Walkabout Inns and to LTT in 2003
522 WLT848 - D Paskell for preservation  - from Reading to TFL ran with London United then Arriva after refurbishment by Marshall. In red livery
523 627DYE - TFL - First London Heritage Route 9. Marshall refurbishment.
524 640DYE - TFL - First London Heritage Route 9. Marshall refurbishment.
525 650DYE - TFL - First London Heritage Route 9. Marshall refurbishment. Silver Jubilee livery
526 735DYE - TFL - First London Heritage Route 9. Marshall refurbishment.
527 WLT879 - exported to Poland
528 357CLT - Preserved. From Reading to Royal Navy decorated internally as Submarine. Preserved 2009
529 ALD966B - London Bus Co - from Reading to McKindless of Wishaw, then preservation -
530 ALD989B - London Heritage Travel  - from Reading into Preservation, briefly in Route 55 livery now LT livery
531 ALM71B - TFL - East London Heritage Route 15. Marshall refurbishment.
533 ALM89B - TFL - East London Heritage Route 15. Marshall refurbishment.
534 123CLT - Autocar - London Red. Was in non psv use after leaving Burtons in 1996. Ran in service in Southend on New Year's Day 2010!
521 as restored by LTT