Friday, 10 February 2012

Caution - Driver Under Instruction

PD3 516 (later 916) was the longest served driver trainer operating from 1984 to 1999
 Driver Training has always been an obviously critical part of a bus operator's activities. Blackpool's first dedicated driver trainer was 1940 built centre entrance Leyland Titan 25 on its retirement from passenger service in August 1956. It continued to be so deployed until withdrawal in December 1962. Its replacement was sister bus 27 - one of three converted to open toppers in 1959 - open top driver trainers being quite uncommon. This lasted until May 1964. It was not replaced with any spare centre entrance PD2 used until the end of 1968 when PD2 270 became a dedicated training bus as number 7 in the service vehicle fleet series. Sister bus 298 joined it in April 1969 as number 9. Both lasted until March 1970.

Centre Entrance bus 222 has a stint as a driver trainer with a "L CAUTION DRIVER UNDER INSTRUCTION" slipboard which featured on permanent driver trainers until 2007
 1957 Metro Cammell PD2 307 became the next dedicated training bus in April 1970 but only until the autumn. Sister bus 309 was sold to Lytham St. Annes Corporation for further service but would later serve as its dedicated driver trainer from 1975 to 1982. 307 was replaced by the slightly newer 314 which ran until the end of December 1973. It was replaced by nine year old PD3 378 which was helped out on a part time basis by 330. One of the pioneer PD3 batch 368 joined 378 in March 1976 making two dedicated trainers, both adorned with black and yellow wasp stripes around the destination boxes, redolent of British Rail diesel shunters.

Retired and waiting for their fate, 378 (left) and 368 (right) stand in Blundell Street tram depot
 Autumn 1980 saw 368 and 378 stood down and both spent the next winter as static cabins for inspectors at the ends of sections of single line operation on the tramway. After a long period in store they were sold for scrap in 1983. 378 was replaced by later PD3 520 in November 1980 which featured black and yellow wasp stripes on the entire rear end! 521 took over 368's duties but was withdrawn in a shunting accident the following year. 532 became its eventual replacement in January 1983.

520 crosses the South Fylde Line at Moss Side. Note that this had painted Training Vehicle lettering on the destination glass - previous buses had it painted onto the blinds
 December 1984 saw 516 taken out of use and converted to a driver trainer, like 520 featuring an enclosed rear platform with door and instructors brake valve. The internal bulkhead window was removed and the space widened to allow communication between instructor and driver. 520 was retired in December 1986 and 532 followed soon after - unusually returning to passenger service after an overhaul. This left 516 as the sole trainer.

After deregulation many new drivers were trained initially on minibuses and received a restricted license which could later be upgraded to a full license. This allowed PD3 516 to pass on loan to Cumberland in Carlisle from July to October 1989 and it was treated to a full repaint in all-over cream by the end of the year. Winter 1990/1 saw a period of further loan this time to London Borough of Kingston

507 had been kept as a keepsake after the withdrawal of the PD3s in 1988 and saw limited use. In March 1990 it went on loan to Merseybus for driver training and saw training use in Blackpool in winter 1991 (to cover for 516 with open topper 532 helping out too) and again from July 1993 for a short period. March 1995 saw it converted to a permanent driver trainer with instructors brake valve and platform doors fitted. That winter saw 916 suffer an engine failure so it received a modified O.680 engine from an Atlantean in place of its usual O.600. In August 1996 507 and 516 were renumbered 907/916 in the new service vehicle fleet series and 907 saw periodic use as a second trainer to support 916 when two schools were required. 907 It was officially withdrawn in August, though had seen little use in recent months and 916 saw its last training duties that month.

Atlantean 322 as 922, still with slipboard but also now promoting recruitment
 September 1999 saw Atlanteans 322 and 323 debut as driver trainers renumbered 922/3. Both retained fleet livery, but 923 was later repainted all cream in January 2001. They were later stripped of upper deck glass as spares for other buses which resulted in an unusual appearance. 923 was withdrawn in December 2006 with 922 following in February 2007. Two further Atlanteans had been converted to driver trainers in December 1995 to train locally recruited staff for London General who would then be relocated to the capital to address a driver shortage. This lasted until September 1996 for 332 and January 1997 for 333.

Showing how Atlanteans might have looked in the original PD3 livery, 923 on familiarisation duty on a car park next to Blackpool South Station.
 With a requirement for ABS braking, the Atlanteans were replaced by two specially adapted Deltas 129/30 as 969/70 from February 2007. Sister bus 128 was later similarly modified for Preston Bus to whom it was sold.

Two weeks in the School
In January 1999 I followed in the footstep of countless other Blackpool Transport trainer drivers by spending two weeks learning to driver a PD3. After a spell as a conductor on the trams during the summer and route 14/14A in the winter (when I also sat my theory test), my two weeks in the bus school started in early January. A half day of class room training was followed by familiarisation with gears and vehicle size on the car parks next to Blackpool Football Club and we then hit the road. Two trainees formed each school and split wheel time. Exercises include up and down gear change sequences, including mastering crash on 1st and 2nd gears. Hill starts and a slalom like reversing exercise completed the training programme. On the Friday of week one we headed to Southport for the day - our instructor perhaps board of the various roadside cafes that we stopped at on our jollies around the Fylde. Officially we went to get out of the way of the previous school who were taking their tests on 907. Alas as the first driver left to return to depot, the engine failed spectacularly and we were summoned back to the depot asap, resulting in a direct and enjoyable run back from Southport. 907 soon joined us on the back of a tow truck with the trainee driver steering! We spent the rest of the afternoon learning how to work electronic ticket machines while our bus was otherwise engaged.

Former Blackpool 309 with Fylde as "T74" as a new driver tackles the reversing manoeuvre in their depot yard.
 Week 2 saw us practise the usual training route, with the proviso that our examiner need not follow it! Come the Friday I was second to take my test and the Chief Inspector introduced himself as 'David for the day, back to Chief tomorrow'. We started with the reverse into the coned area in the depot yard, before setting off along the Promenade including a down gear exercise dropping into first just outside the thankfully deserted Pleasure Beach. We carried on to Starr Gate and along Clifton Drive and turned right coming to a halt on Harrowside bridge for the hill start and 'snatch' gear change. The test route was duly followed up Highfield Road, onto Midgeland Road and School Road, but rather than turning right onto the A583, I was instructed to turn left. We headed for the M55 where 916 ran at a steady 50mph (as it was required to do as a training bus at that time) to junction 3. When then headed back via Wrea Green and the winding country roads back to Depot via A583 and Yeadon Way before parking up in the yard to receive the verdict - thankfully a pass. An hour or so with a Metrorider on familiarisation completed the training period. Monday and Tuesday saw route training on minibus routes and Wednesday saw me let loose alone on Blackpool's public.

Delta 970 ex 130 is one of the two current training vehicles painted in reverse Metro style livery with extensive recruitment lettering, but no warning slipboard!

Retirement as Trainers
Several Blackpool buses passed into later ownership as driver trainers. First was PD2 332 which served with Bolton & Salford District Transport Training 1975-1981. Several PD3s followed with 399 sold to Wallace of London in 1983, lasting until 1991. 531/4 went to Reeds School of Motoring of Hyde and Leeds in November 1982 with 531 lasting until 1987 and 534 in 1991.

The withdrawal of the last PD3s in 1988 coincided with changes in legislation that required driver trainers to be at least 9m long and capable of 50mph and Blackpool's PD3s were snapped up, sometimes replacing shorter vehicles. 511/538 went to Toxteth Community Council (later Liverpool Young Drivers in September 1989 lasting until 2000 and 1998 resp, 512/5 went to London & Country at the same time, lasting until December 1991, while 540 went to a driver training school in Middlesex, where it ran until 1993.

Two previously sold PD3s spent brief spells as driver trainers in Liverpool from 1990, 351 with Town & Country Training and 394 with Merseybus.  Atlanteans 303 and 475, National 156 and Lancet 597 also saw spells as driver trainers with private schools.

PD3 516 in preservation as a driver trainer.
 Several vintage buses owe their survival into preservation to a spell as a driver trainer, including some Blackpool PD3s. 516 is preserved in its driver training condition as a tribute to their after life.