Sunday 9 November 2014

Volvo Olympians at 20

Two contrasting products of Northern Counties - Volvo Olympian 374 of 1994 passes 136 - a 1993 body on a 1971 Atlantean chassis inherited from Fylde
The 1990s was a famine for new double deck buses. Between the 1989 Leyland Olympians and 2002 Dennis Tridents, just one batch of six new Volvo Olympians arrived in 1994. Volvo had taken over Leyland Bus in 1988 and its Olympian chassis was relaunched under the Volvo mark in 1993 and unusually for Volvo still featured the Cummins L10 engine.

374-379 arrived in November 1994, the first non Leyland double deckers since the Guy Arabs of the 1930s. They were also the first, and only, Northern Counties bodied buses bought by Blackpool - perhaps slightly influenced by Fylde's preference - Blackpool having purchased its neighbour earlier in 1994. They were also the only buses delivered in the 1994 "green stripe" livery. 
The interior of 379 - individual moulded seats were fitted, initially in a grey moquette but some were later retrimmed in "black magic" as just visible here on 379. The rear few rows of seats upstairs were replaced by conventional bus seats - with the originals used on Balloon tram 719! 

The sextet allowed Atlanteans 322-327 to be cascaded to Fylde to displace some of its older examples. The Volvos entered service on route 6 (Mereside to Grange Park) on 14 November alongside Atlanteans but soon suffered vandalism, so were quickly moved onto the 22/22A (Cleveleys-Lytham) alonsgide Optare Deltas. Evening and Sunday work included the 14/14A (Fleetwood to St. Annes). 
The Palatine 2 bodywork suited the Line 11 livery well - here 376 crosses Station Road in Lytham at the start of another long run to Cleveleys
The 22/22A ceased with the Metro network in April 2001, so the Volvos moved onto the new Line 14 (Fleetwood to St. Annes). Form here they were displaced onto Line 11 (Cleveleys to Lytham) by the 2002 Tridents. 374 was the first to be repainted out of its by now faded original scheme into the 11's turquoise and yellow scheme entering service on 23 January 2002 - the rest followed during the year (375/6 March, 377 April, 378/9 August). New Tridents would be the scourge of the Volvos. The 2004 batch for Line 11 saw 375 deposed to the pool fleet in June with a part repaint in black. 374/6/7/9 followed suit in 2005 while the 2006 Tridents saw 378 join the pool fleet - the six strong batch were matching once more. This lasted until November 2007 when 379 was returned to Line 11 livery.
Even in pool livery, the Volvos were regulars on Line 11 - this is 374 on Commonside, Ansdell

During the Roberts era a solitary batch of Volvo B7RLEs in 2010 was the sole intake of new buses, investment was spread over second hand double deckers to rid the fleet of its remaining step entrance buses - primarily Leyland Olympians - save for the Volvos. 374-379 were increasingly consigned to school services. July 2011 saw 379 repainted out of Line 11 colours into the new fleet livery, followed by 375-378 in October. All five were then fitted with seat belts to work school baths contracts - 374 retained pool livery and still regularly ran on local services. It was repainted to match its sisters in October 2012. Occasionally the belted examples escaped onto local service work - mainly in the school holidays - but 374 kept the flag flying. 
378 in its current livery - which seems to suit the vehicles well. It is working a swimming baths contract from Stanley School
379 selected itself as the first for withdrawal in May 2014 with an electrical fault. Its belted seats were transferred to 374 to maintain fleet strength. It seems likely the Volvos will survive until the end of 2016 when the all buses will need to meet the standards set out in the Disability Discrimination Act. Next year's new buses should replace Optare Excels so further investment will be needed to finally eradicate the Volvos. Hopefully, as Blackpool Transport's last step entrance buses, one will find a place in preservation.