Friday 26 March 2010

340 arrives

The second of the two newly purchased ex Blue Triangle Tridents arrived yesterday (Thursday). This will be 340 (PO51UMT) and follows sister 341  (PO51UMV) which arrived in February and 338/9 (PO51UMG/J) that came in October 2008. Further second hand buses are understood to be on the way - more details when they are announced.

Excel spares donor R742BUJ was sent for scrapping on 25 March.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Park - Don't Ride

Diverted MetroRider 518 on Line 10 leads Olympian 372 on Line 11 across Bloomfield Road junction on Seasiders Way

March has seen closure to southbound traffic of Lytham Road near Bloomfield Road. Lines 10, 11 and 16 have been diverted via Rigby Road, Seasiders Way and Waterloo Road - providing a rare bus service through the spine of car parks. The road will re-open in early April and regular bus operation will end again - but this is not the first short-lived bus operation on the spine. 
325 outside the Football Ground

This series of car parks was opened in 1986 on former Railway land between South Station and Rigby Road - accessed from Yeadon Way - a new link road built on the old direct railway line from South Station to Kirkham. During the spring the general manager expressed desire to introduce a bus service linking the car parks to the Town Centre and the Sandcastle and Pleasure Beach areas. The transportation department seemed unimpressed and duly 'noted' his interest. Clearly the council had other ideas and referred the decision back and the committee approved the operation as an experiment in June until the end of the Illuminations.
National 146 takes a turn on short lived route 18 before some of the car parks had been finished!

On Saturday 18 July 1986 route 18 duly started running every 20 minutes from the Town Centre to the Pleasure Beach via Promenade, Rigby Road, The Car Parks, South Station, Waterloo Road, Lytham Road, Station Road and the Promenade. Two buses were required and single deckers were allocated. The service was - as the transport department perhaps realised it would be - a failure. The service was too infrequent and with cheap fares (30p single, 50p return) not likely to cover its costs. The experiment was soon ended - whether it reached the end of the Illuminations is sadly not recorded.
In the wheeltreads of Jubilees - 546 loops round the South Station Car Park - all expense had been spared on the car park surface

The ghost of the 18 appeared on 28 November 1998 when a Christmas Park and Ride service was introduced operating on Saturdays until 19 December from near to the Yeadon Way Hotel (alongside the filling station) to Corporation Street via Spine Road, Rigby Road and the Promenade. City Pacers were used. It may have reappeared in 1999.
Pleasure Beach Road Train in September - towards the end of their operation

The next attempt in 2008 was rather more innovative -  but equally unsuccessful - with the Pleasure Beach operating three German registered road train vehicles from the Car Parks to the Pleasure Beach. Operations ended in September - the general public showing a marked reluctance to Park and Ride in Blackpool.

Sunday 14 March 2010

News Round Up

Excel 214 is now being prepared for overhaul following the return of 215 which is nearly ready for service. 214 is the last of the 'home' batch of Excels to be refurbished with 221 - the third ex Go North East - one expected to follow. It is not thought that the ex Reading examples will be re-engined.

The latest second hand Trident 341 remains in the body shop but is nearly ready for painting. The livery has not yet been confirmed. Sister bus 340 has yet to arrive from Ensign.

Line 14 Trident 310 is back in use after repaint. Meanwhile Delta 103 and Olympian 367 are parked up in the depot with defects.  

Thursday 11 March 2010

Buses to leave St. Johns Square

Soon to be history - two Line 3 Solos pass on Abingdon Street

Sadly it seems that public transport is to be banished from Church Street outside the Winter Gardens after over a century. The opening of the Marton tram route brought mainstream public transport in front of the iconic structure and bus routes later followed - outlasting the closure of the tramway in 1962.

Major regeneration of the square took several months during 2009 with a temporary three month diversion to bus services drastically overrunning to last around eight months. As a result Lines 3, 4 and 15 were curtailed to ensure reliability but with a detrimental effect on patronage. The square reopened, modelled on a novel shared space system which allows buses, taxis and pedestrians to mingle freely. Buses resumed their key role in delivering passengers close to town centre shops and the retail trade was happy once more.

Sadly, despite a good safety record, the share space scheme has failed to catch on and the desire to have the square traffic free has one the day - despite the obvious impacts to accessibility for public transport users. The council has voted to implement the change and this will see buses return to Clifton Street which will see its one way system reversed.
Clifton Street will regain buses - this is the 1980s route 26 terminus with the now sadly destroyed Yates building behind

Most south to north services from South Shore will continue to use Corporation Street, and southbound buses will use Market Street, but various services will now use Talbot Square and Clifton Street. Line 6 seems a candidate but it is not year clear what will happen to Lines 2, 3 and 4 that approach the Town Centre on Church Street as Clifton Street is not on a logical route in either direction.

Final proposals for individual services are not yet in the public domain and although the infrastructure cost (£120,000 for new stops and shelters) has been published, it is not yet clear what the negative impacts on passenger numbers and the beleaguered bus company's revenues will be.

Saturday 6 March 2010

Trident 341 makes progress

The latest second hand Dennis Trident PO51UMV is already under preparation. It arrived on 15 February from Ensign, dealers and has already been converted to single door. A second example is expected and has been reported as PO51UMT.

Friday 5 March 2010

Massey Appeal

Some buses seem to have a survival instinct. This post tells the story of a trio of buses which survived intact (well just about) until 2009. All three spent periods in preservation, all three experienced vandalism and all three regained their original livery.

Lytham St. Annes Corporation standardised on Leyland from the 1930s and generally specified Leyland's own bodywork. When this ceased, Lytham chopped and changed its suppliers with its final three batches of Leyland Titans featuring bodywork by Northern Counties, Metro Cammel and finally Massey. The three Massey bodied PD2s were to the less common forward entrance layout - all previous Lytham double deckers having rear entrances. 68-70 had a single piece sliding door behind the front wheels (hence the designation "forward" rather than "front" which applies to most modern buses.

68-70 (CTF625-7B) arrived in 1964 and took their place on the main 11/11A routes from Blackpool to Lytham. They carried Lytham's traditional layered blue and white livery, receiving a simplified scheme with more white in 1974 and the Fylde Borough blue, white and yellow livery during their 1977 overhaul.
68 being refuelled in Squires Gate depot after its regular duty on the G2 works service to the Premium Bonds offices in St. Annes
Fylde went largely one person operated in 1976 but agreed not to make conductors redundant and those who did not wish to retire stayed working. The last few rear entrance buses stayed in use until 1978 but 68-70 could -and did - operate without a conductor on works contracts. They were finally retired in 1980 (70) and 1981 (68/9).

All three were advertised for sale on the depot forecourt with apporpriate signs in the window! 70 spends the night back inside the depot awaiting a passing purchaser

70 was sold first passing to a community group in Skelmersdale where it suffered vandalism. It was rescued and sold onto the North West Museum of Transport then at Burtonwood airfield but later at St. Helens Transport Museum. 69 passed to Martins of Middlewich - a dealer - and then onto CJB Driving School in Barlaston, Stoke on Trent.

68 in Poulton with Rev Jackson ready to take his parishoners on another outing
68 stayed closer to home passing to Reverend Jackson of St Oswalds Church in Preesall. Rev Jackson had it painted in Lytham blue and white and used it to transport parishioners. Sadly in 1986 it was sold out of preservation to Rigby Taylor of Bolton as a mobile exhibition unit eventually reaching Anglia Sales of Maxey - another dealer. The trail then went cold until 2002 when it appeared in derelict condition at Matchams Park, Ringwood. It was last taxed in 1992 so was presumably in off site use at Matchams - a karting venue. It was acquired by a collector but only for spare parts and spent some time in Wolverhampton before passing to Quantock Motor Services - a Somerset based heritage operator as a spares donor. It is believed to have been broken up in late 2009.

68's loss from preservation was compensated for by the arrival of 69 on the scene again - much to the writers surprise at a rally at Fairhaven Lake in 1992. It had recently been purchased from CJB and painted back into Lytham livery (though not quite accurately) and was rallied regularly. Sadly around 1996 it was damaged by fire - a caravan nearby was set alight and the front of the bus badly damaged. The no doubt  distraught owners were faced with selling the bus for scrap and it went to Furbers of Prees. As scrapyards sometimes seem to do it lingered there and in December 1998 donated some parts to sister bus 70. Surprisingly it escaped from the yard having been rescued by London Bus Export of Lydney near Chepstow. This operator of unusual vehicles heavily modified it by converting it to open top; with exposed radiator and also shortening it significantly at the rear! This was for a contract in Rome which had a maximum length stipulation. It has returned to the UK and spent time on a vintage bus service in South Wales.
70 ready for repaint
Meanwhile the vandalised 70 had some restoration undertaken at St. Helens but this stalled and in 1998 it was placed on long term loan to the Lancastrian Transport Trust. On 23 August 1998 it was towed to Blackpool for restoration to restart and this culminated in a repaint in November 1999 and a successful MOT pass in July 2000. St Helens Transport Museum cut back its collection in 2005 and allowed LTT to purchase 70 to keep it permanently - fully restored - in its collection as the last new to Lytham Leyland Titan.
The finished article at Carnforth

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Round up

Excel 215 (seen above before refurbishment) has returned to Blackpool from Cummins in Middlesbrough with its new engine. MetroRider 512 has now taken up duties as a mess room for tramway overhead gang in all-over yellow.

Monday 1 March 2010

Blackpool and the Excel - an fraught relationship?

Excel 217 in original livery on layover at Saltcotes Road on Line 7.

History has shown Blackpool - bus wise - to favour the tried and tested. For years it standardised on the Leyland Titan - though did wait until its fifth year of production before taking the plunge. The Atlantean neared its 20th birthday before the first were purchased - Leyland Nationals were eschewed until they were almost obsolete and it was only circumstance that saw the first Olympians arrive just six years into production. 1982 had seen a brave venture into the unknown with the Dennis Lancet, an odyssey rewarded with teething troubles, unreliability and passenger complaints. However this was a new supplier to the company brought on by municipal tendering. By 1995 Optare was Blackpool's main supplier when it launched its new Excel 'low floor' single decker at the Bus and Coach show in the autumn.

Blackpool Transport had been in discussions with Lancashire County Council about using the new design on a quality partnership for routes 44A/B (Cleveleys Park to Mereside/Marton Mere) then operated by its subsidiary Fylde Transport Ltd. Eight were duly ordered and the first arrived on Sunday 21 April 1996 moving to Squires Gate Depot quite quickly. It was numbered 201 (N201LCK) and was painted all-over yellow. Seating was for 36 in the 10m body.

Three more followed during May (202-4 N202-4LCK) and all four were launched by two characters from Coronation Street at the Sandcastle Centre on 30 May. They entered service on 3 June initially converting the 44A journeys. 205-208 followed during July and progressively entered service to convert the 44B journeys. 208 was the last and hit the road on 12 July - just nine days before Fylde ceased as a separate company. These were body numbers 9024-7 (201-4) and 9031-4 (205-8) - the numbering series starting at 9022, and just a demonstrator and a Thorpes of London example precede 201 in numerical order.
One of the first batch - 202 - returned to the Fylde in 2006 on Cumfybus service X7 Blackpool-Southport

8 buses for 8 workings was always asking for trouble and it was clear that 100% low floor operation was unlikely to be guarantee-able. 3 of the 4 trips per hour were designated "operated by Easy Access Handybuses at all times (except for emergencies)" and the others would be so operated where possible. The 44A departures at xx18 from Mereside and xx15 from Cleveleys Park were the designated non compliant workings. During the evening four Excels went onto the 333 and 444 services - the partially subsidised evening/Sunday versions of the 33, 44A and 44B with the 333 running Fleetwood-Marton Mere and the 444 Cleveleys Park to Marton Mere. These also ran on Sundays with 3 Excels though there was no Cleveleys to Fleetwood section on the 333 then. The routes interworked at Marton Mere with no scheduled layover time - drivers had the challenge of changing nine number blinds and two destination blinds with no time to spare!

Despite using established and successful mechanical components, these early Excels proved troublesome. Fylde's mechanics worked miracles to keep them on the road with evening maintenance undertaken. Optare provided support under warranty and took each one back for rectification during 1998. Four demonstrators were used with P446SWX in February/March, N330EUG (the very first) from February to May, P447SWX from June to September and R98HUA briefly in July 1998. Perversely the Excels did get the wanderlust - occasionally straying from the straight and narrow. An afternoon school working on route 191 (Hodgson School-Great Eccleston) saw the odd Excel and the occasional working on the 154/8 to Preston was recorded.

The problems were exacerbated with the closure of Squires Gate Depot in April 1999. Rigby Road depot was now at capacity and the space was not there for overnight repairs. Availability plummeted - days with just three out of eight serviceable were not unknown. By now Optare had admitted defeat and agreed to replace the batch with 9 new examples - this time to 10.7m length with 40 seats. This matched one of the demonstrators, though some difficulties around Stanley School had resulted from its deployment.

The nine replacements were numbered 210-218 (T210-8HCW) and also arrived in two batches. 210 was first on 15 July 1999 with 211-213 following within the week. 210/1 made their debut on 29 July, 212 the following day and 213 on 3 August. These replaced 201/3/4 which left on 27 August. 214-218 arrived in late August/early September and allowed 202, 205-208 to be withdrawn by 13 September and they joined their sisters at Optare's Rotherham facility at the end of the month. Interestingly 214-218 could have legitimately received V-prefix plates but didn't - though a drawing of 214 as V214HCW hung in the company's offices for some time.

210-218 settled into service on the 44A/B and 333/444 which now enjoyed a spare low floor bus - or did until January 2000 when a ninth was added to the cycle. For the next 18 months the Excels were used virtually exclusively on this group of routes, though 211 did sneak onto the St. Annes Roamer 77 on one occasion! A further demonstrator was used during February/March 2000 with Mercedes (rather than Cummins) engined T790KNW covering for accident damaged 210.

The company's network review in 2001 led to the 44A/B being replaced by Metro Line 4 in April 2001 with a reduction to every 20 minutes with seven Excels needed. The 4 also ran in the evening and on Sunday using two buses. The excels were proving too large for the route and in January 2003 moved onto Line 5 (Staining-Hospital-Halfway House) which required all nine - though 217 was missing until April having sustained serious accident damage back in December. This lasted until 21 March 2004 when nine new Solos replaced them on Line 5 and the Excels went into temporary storage - 210 was already off having suffered an electrical fire in February.

211 and 215 immediately went into the paint shop and emerged in Line 7 purple livery replacing two Deltas on 19 April. 210 followed after repairs in May, 214/6/3 in June, 212 in July and 217 in August. 218 was also repainted - carrying the pool Black and yellow livery. 218 regularly ran on the 7 but also appeared on the 14 to cover the guaranteed low floor commitment on this otherwise Trident operated route.
Ex Go North East 220 demonstrates pool livery at Lytham Square

Although better than 201-208 reliability was still disappointing and it was rare to experience a full low floor output on Line 7. At the time several other operators were disposing of their Excels - mainly to eager buyers in Ireland - though some did travel all the way to New Zealand! Blackpool decided to persevere and bought three from Go North East - 219-21 (T880/1/4RBR) arriving on 22 December 2004 and entering service in pool livery in late Jan/early Feb.

It was decided to embark on a refurbishment programme in 2007 following a pilot by East Yorkshire where the Cummins ISB engine was proven to be reliable. 210 was the first treated in summer 2007 with 210 following and 212 done during the winter. All three had a body overhaul with improved panel fixings to reduce rattles.
217 undergoing the bodywork aspects of refurbishment - May 2009

Three more were treated in 2008 - 213 was completed in August, 220 in October and 216 in early 2009. The process slowed as other projects took priority and 217/8 became defective in 2008. 218 was selected for refurbishment in June 2009 - after ten months in store with 217 following soon after. Both returned to use in November. 215 and 219 followed with 219 back in use in February 2010 and 215 to follow soon having returned from Cummins on 2 March. 

220 showing off the new light clusters and engine ventilation grills

Line 7 was increased in frequency in January 2009 so five more Excels were purchased form Reading Buses in October 2008 - 222-226 T922-6EAN. All had a minor bodywork overhaul - but not the engine change - and entered service on 26 January. 222/3 carry pool livery 224-226 Line 7 colours.

One of the Reading Excels on diverted Line 7 at North Pier

An 18th Excel -R742BUJ - arrived on 17 February 2010, but only for component recovery having been sold by Choice Travel in 2009 after accident damage.

Other than the donor the current fleet is:
210-213 T210-3HCW of July 1999 Line 7 livery, all re-engined
214-217 T214-7HCW of Aug/Sept 1999 Line 7 livery, 215-7 re-engined, 215 out of use
218 T218HCW of Sept 1999, pool livery, re-engined
219-221 T880/1/4RBR of Mar 1999, pool livery, 219/20 re-engined. Ex Go North East 12/04
222/3 T922/3EAN of May 1999, pool livery ex Reading Buses 10/08
224-226 T924-6EAN of May 1999, Line 7 livery ex Reading Buses 10/08

Ten buses are required for the daytime Line 7 duties - an 11th comes out for the evening workings. The pool buses appear on the 7 and 14 mainly but can and do operate on the 6, 11 and a works contract for the Department of Work and Pensions.

The pioneer batch has had mixed fortunes with some remaining on Optare's books for well over a year- their reputation clearly preceding them.
201 Jan 2001 - Dukes, Coleford then Jan 2002 to GHA Wrexham (and current)
202 Feb 2000 - Swanbrook, Cheltenham then 12/04 to Cumfybus, Southport. Sold Oct 2007 and not licensed since (presumed scrapped)
203 Feb 2000 - Reliance, Great Gonnerby, later taken over by Mass then by Centrebus (current)
204 Mar 2000 - Ludlows of Halesowen, Jan 2005 - Classic Annfield Plain - sold for spares 2009.
205 Feb 2000 - Swanbrook, Cheltenham then 12/04 to Cumfybus, Southport. Sold Oct 2007 and not licensed since (presumed scrapped)
206 Jan 2001 - Dukes, Coleford then Jan 2002 to GHA Wrexham (and current)
Jan 2001
207 Oct 2000 - Docherty Irvine, Oct 2004 taken over by Stagecoach Western, Jan 2007 to Stagecoach Yorkshire at Chesterfield (current)
208 Oct 2000 - Docherty Irvine, Oct 2004 taken over by Stagecoach Western, Jan 2007 to Stagecoach Yorkshire at Chesterfield (current)