Thursday 29 April 2010

First Olympians Withdrawn

Blackpool's first Olympians - 365-367 acquired from West Yorkshire PTE in October 1986 to replace fire damaged Atlanteans were withdrawn on Wednesday 28 April along with Metrorider 515.

New in 1982 as WYPTE 5005, 5011 and 5015 (UWW5/11/15X), 5011 spent time back with Leyland as a demonstrator. At deregulation the PTE was required for form a limited company to take over its bus operations and this emerged as Yorkshire Rider. The fleet size was reduced and the new company chose not to take on some quite young leased vehicles and Blackpool quickly snapped up these three Olympians - the arrived on 31 October - less than a week after deregulation day.

The trio went into service in November still in WYPTE verona green and cream livery and it was not until February that the first went into the paint shop. This was 366 which was the second bus to emerge in the then new fleet livery, followed by 367 in late March and 365 in early April. All three had a fairly unremarkable life - rear end adverts were applied briefly and all there were repainted in 1990 and again in 1993 (gaining black window surrounds). The new livery with more cream was applied to 365/7 February/March 1996 with 366 lasting another year until it received a Zone Card all-over advert in March 1997. May 1996 had seen the batch move to Fylde's Squires Gate Depot - technically still a separate undertaking for a few more weeks and they remained there until its closure in April 1999. During summer/autumn 2000 all three were in store along with older Atlanteans but the Metro bus network saw a reprieve. 2003 saw all three adopt the new "Schools + Line 1" scheme of orange and yellow with a further repaint in this scheme in late 2006.

During 2010 367 has spent a long period in store with engine problems and was joined by 365/6 on Wednesday 28 April.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Swift at 40

554 recreating its original route - 7 at Bispham Hotel

8 December 2009 marked the 40th anniversary of the introduction of one man operation at Blackpool. Or strictly the reintroduction - for buses in the 1920s were often one man operated and a during the 50s and early 60s bus route 18 was also OMO with two 1940 Tigers suitably converted.

However the new era of OMO operation was part of a nationwide cost cutting exercise intended to safeguard the future of buses by reducing costs so that the spiralling decline could be abated. Government grants assisted with purchase costs and a rash of new designs came on the market in the 1960s with 36ft long chassis; rear engined with relatively low entry. Blackpool - typically - was quite late to the game and ordered 15 AEC Swifts with Marshall bodywork in 1969. These seated 47 with room for standees taking the overall capacity close to that of a 63 seat PD2.

The first eight (541-548) entered service on route 7C (Blackpool - Cleveleys via Gynn Square, Bispham, Ingthorpe Estate, and Luton Road every 35 minutes with two buses) and 25A (Blackpool - Cleveleys via Gynn Square, Promenade, Norbeck and Little Bispham every 30 minutes with two buses). Economics had been turned on their heads. Blackpool routinely allocated new buses to their best routes and here they were putting them on their worst! This apparently perverse logic was justifiable due to the cost reductions. Any attempt to convert route 14 (for example) would just not be countenanced - indeed it wasn't until 2000.

Having managed to overlook this anniversary, it is fortunate that the second tranche of Swifts did not enter service until 1970 - 549 arriving in January, 550-555 in April. The now preserved 554 was duly licensed on 8 April 1970 and has just celebrated its fortieth birthday - albeit from the security of its depot.

These allowed conversion of a slightly busier route - the Bispham circulars. These comprised the 7 which left the Bus Station via Talbot Road, then onto Devonshire Road to Bispham Library, down Red Bank Road to Bispham Village, back along Warbreck Drive, Warbreck Hill Road, Gynn Square, Dickson Road back to the Bus Station. Not surprisingly the 7A ran in the opposite direction. The round trip took just under 30 minutes. Generally speaking a 15 minute service ran with four buses - though in the afternoon peak two extra buses came out to provide a ten minute headway. The morning peak increase was a fifth bus shuttling between Bus Station and Warbreck Hill Road/Devonshire Road showing 7B both ways.
Two rather shabby looking Swift sisters pass the Ribble Travel Corner on Abingdon Street in 1979

More Swifts followed in 1971 (556-565) and 1974/5 (566-595) and route conversions accelerated. Various routes gained Swifts on Sundays only - such as the 11C which became OPO on Sundays in 1971 but stayed crew on weekdays until 1983! The December 1971 arrivals saw the 6A/B (Grange Park to Midgeland Road), 15A (Bispham to Hospital) and 16 (Town to Wordsworth Avenue) converted. 1974 saw the 2/2A (Town-Poulton), 12 (Town-Airport) 15 (Town-Staining) switch to Swifts with the 3/3A (Westminster Road-Marton) and 26 (South Pier to Town) converted in March 1975 with the short 19 (South Pier-Mereside) switching in 1976

The Atlantean era commenced in 1977 and this - plus the thinning of frequencies on other services saw sufficient Swifts released to convert the 23/23A (Hospital-South Shore/Midgeland Road). Withdrawals took from 1980 to 1988, though not before deregulation saw some new horizons - but the Swift fleet development is a tale for another post.

554 settled into routine use in the all-over rich cream livery. The first batch of Swifts uniquely had low driving positions in barrel windscreens, rather than the higher cabs and BET windscreens of the later batches. The cream later gave way to anemic off-white but 554 was one of five of the first batch to receive the final livery of off-white with green roof and waistband in June 1980. 548, 549, 552 and 555 were the others. 548 was the last of this batch to run in May 1983. 554 had succumbed in autumn 1982 and was sold to Graham Oliver for preservation.

Rallied for some time in green and off-white it was sold out of preservation in 1988 to Wealden Motors - a dealer who collected most of Blackpool's final stock of Swifts that year. It performed in Wealden's own fleet for a while but retained Blackpool livery and was discovered by its former owner still in their yard in 1995. After some initial attention Graham offered it to the  Lancastrian Transport Trust in October 1996 and it returned north.

554 outside LTT Depot
Various mechanical faults were attended to and the bus returned to use in weathered green/off white in 1997 and was painted back into original cream in July 1998. After four or five years on the rally scene it has been retired for the last few years pending a thorough mechanical overhaul - addressing some of the Achilles heels of the AEC Swift.

Saturday 24 April 2010

Nearly new livery; nearly new buses

Trident 341 is now in the paint shop and is to be the first bus in the much rumoured new livery. This is understood to retain the pool colours of yellow and black with a black skirt "swooping" up to the rear of the bus in a wave effect topped off by silver and red relief. Black and yellow harks back to the Handybus livery of 1987, reversed in 1998 - adopted for Line 2 in 2001 but abandoned before any repaints took place and then chosen for pool livery in 2003.

Despite the multitude of colour variants, the Metro livery style has now been in place for nine years - the first buses entering service in it in April 2001. This has been on of the longest lived livery designs of recent years:

December 1969 - new all cream livery launched on Swifts and later adopted on PD3s.
August 1977 - new green and cream livery launched on Atlanteans and later adopted on Swifts (1979) and PD3s (1982)
March 1987 - post deregulation livery launched (later modified with black relief)
November 1994 - unified livery launched in Fylde style
April 2001 - Metro livery launched

Route branding is expected to continue, though possibly restricted to some of the busier routes.

Also following the recent arrival of the ex South Lancs Trident, the five Volvo single deckers are understood to be from Anglian Bus and Coach of Beccles, Suffolk. They have recently advertised their 401-405 AU06BOV, AU06BPE/F/K/O for sale - 44 seat Wright Eclipse bodied Volvo B7RLEs and it is presumed these are the chosen vehicles. All remain in use, however and their purchase has not been fully confirmed.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Another Trident arrives

The first of Blackpool Transport's recent second hand purchases arrived on Thursday 15 April in the form of PL52XAD - an East Lancs bodied Dennis Trident from South Lancs Travel of Atherton. New with the cherished registration X80SLT, it was no stranger to the Fylde Coast with its original owner.

Five second hand Volvo single deckers are also expected shortly. Line 14 Trident 311 has been repainted.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Open Toppers are Back

Easter saw the return of the City Sightseeing open top 'tour' Line 20. This year - following the demise of Pontins - the route starts at Pleasure Beach. From Easter until May 21 the full tour (Pleasure Beach - Promenade - Town - Stanley Park - Zoo - Marton Mere) runs every 30 minutes at weekends and bank holidays only with a one bus shuttle service from Town to Marton Mere (missing out the Zoo) every hour on weekdays. The full tour operates daily from after May 21.

The Manchester tour is not operating at all this year and the fleet is being reduced to four buses. Easter saw the two generically branded buses 857/8 (D257/8FYM) and former Manchester bus 873 (D173FYM) operate - though regular appearances were also made by pool liveried Volvo Olympians. 873 initially ran still with Manchester decals - but without the lettering - though the full Blackpool livery is now applied. With the demise of the Metro logo, BT "tower and waves" logos are carried - the first bus to receive these since 2001. Blackpool branded 818 (D218FYM) was noted in service on Saturday 17 April also with BT logo. 813/49 (D213/149FYM) - both Blackpool branded and Manchester liveried 844 (D244FYM) are still in store.