Sunday, 22 January 2017

Road Test

SN56AWW - an Enviro 400 bodied Dennis Trident loads in Lytham Square on regular demonstrator haunt of the Metro era - Line 11 (Brian Turner)
Bus manufactures tended to supply bus operators with short term demonstration vehicles to tempt them into placing orders - often with little success it seems given the high number of types tried by Blackpool. Various makers buses were inspected in 1921 prior to the introduction of bus services by Blackpool Corporation. Sometimes new innovations were evaluated with diesel engined buses tested in 1933 and an underfloor engined single decker was tried in 1950.

In 1967 Leeds Corporation GUM451D an AEC Swift was inspected prior to the orders for 55 examples which arrived between 1969 and 1975. Attention turned to double deckers and in August 1975 HUP441N - an ECW bodied Bristol VR of Northern General and KBU911P - a GMPTE Leyland Atlantean were tested - the latter at least on route 22. Use of demonstrators really took off in the 1980s as several established models were replaced or upgraded.

Double Deckers
Scania EMJ560Y contrasts with Atlantean 310 in Talbot Road Bus Station in March 1983 (Brian Turner)
As the Atlantean came to the end of its life this prompted new models which operates evaluated. Blackpool tried Scania BR112DH MUT265W  owned by Leicester City Transport but used initially as a Scania demonstrator. It ran from 16 to 27 March 1981 on routes 22/22A and featured an East Lancs body and featured a blue livery with yellow, orange and red stripes. A second Scania - EMJ560Y - arrived in March 1983 operated on route 12 between Blackpool and Airport. An early digital destination display featured - as it had on the Fishwicks Nationals. They contrasted with ECW bodied Leyland Olympian A33MRN (owned by Preston Corporation) which ran on route 12 in May 1984 before a period with Fylde. A third Scania came on 21 January 1988 when A1 Service of Ardrossan E200WHS arrived for use on routes 22/22A until 3rd February.

A33MRN is seen with Fylde operating route 11A (despite the blind) having previously run on Blackpool's 12. Although used by Leyland as a demonstrator it was part of the Preston fleet and is now preserved (Brian Turner)

Perhaps the most unusual demonstrator was Routemaster RM1583 which arrived in January 1986 to evaluate the type and became the first of six purchased in the spring. (Brian Turner)
A handful of other double deckers visited on loan over the years. East Staffs Dennis Dominator FBF129T visited in August 1979 while Bus and Coach Council events saw proportionally liveried West Midlands Metrobus POG515Y and Greater Manchester Olympian B36PJA in use in September 1982 and September 1984 respectively - the latter saw two weeks service on crew routes 14 and 22. Then in September 1988 South Yorkshire Transport B361HDT - another Dennis Dominator - visited for a week to demonstrate their split step entrance layout, SYT enjoyed the delights of Blackpool Olympian 367 (UWW15X) in exchange.

Double decker demonstrators didn't bear fruit for many years with just a solitary batch of Leyland Olympians purchased in 1989 after the last Atlanteans arrived in 1984. 1994 was to see a further small batch of Olympians arrive but not before two demonstrators visited in 1993. March saw the visit of K170FYG an Optare Spectra on a DAF chassis - something of a double deck Delta - while L8YCL was an Alexander Royale bodied Volvo Olympian from Yorkshire Coastliner which stayed for a fortnight in December.

In the low floor era there have been five double deck demonstrators. January 2000 saw V929FMS - an Alexander bodied Dennis Trident evaluated, followed by X645RDA, an East Lancs bodied Volvo B7. Both influenced the eventual order as the 2002-2006 delivery featured East Lancs bodies on Dennis Trident chassis. Since then Alexander Dennis has supplied two Enviro 400 bodied Trident demonstrators - SN56AWW in June 2007 and SN59AWX in August 2010. The former normally ran on route 11, the latter on the 14. It was five years before the next double decker was operated - October 2015 saw a Wrightbus Streetdeck integral SL15ZGP  on service 1. At least one ADL Enviro 400 was inspected prior to the order for the 2016 double deckers.

Single Deckers
National GCK430W was one of five Mark 2s evaluated between 1980 and 1988 (Brian Turner)
Leyland's National was a joint venture with the National Bus Company and didn't live up to ambitious targets set by Leyland. Its makers were persistent in attempting to capture new markets. Blackpool tried demonstrator RRM128M for a few days in June 1975. No orders were forthcoming, partly because Blackpool chose to focus on double deckers for future orders having stocked up on AEC Swifts.

The new Mark 2 National made its first appearance with Blackpool in October 1980 when the first of no less than five arrived on loan - prompting an order for four in 1984 just prior to the end of production - providing that persistence is sometimes worthwhile. Leyland had an arrangement with Fishwick to use new Nationals intended for its operation as demonstrators and WRN413V spent a couple of weeks mainly on route 26 in October 1980, followed by GCK430W in March/April 1981 which primarily ran on the 2/2A. 1983 saw visits from two National 2s from the Halton Transport fleet - EWM630Y in April and CKC929X in May - the former normally operating on the 2/2A but the latter was not used. The final demonstrator (South Wales Transport KEP829X) visited in February 1988 to demonstrate its kneeling suspension which had been retrofitted by its owner to reduce step heights. It spent a few days on route 3. Quite surprising was the demonstration of GMB387T - a 1979 built mark1 National refitted with Gardner engine by Crosville. This was to test the suitability of the repower package for Blackpool who duly acquired four similarly modified buses from the Crosville fleet. Eventually 19 Nationals were owned - 15 purchased second hand - which is poor return from no less than seven demonstrators!
Ipswich Falcon YDX100Y poses alongside typical Blackpool bus stop infrastructure on Newton Drive while operating route 2. (Brian Turner)
The National 2s were measured against other single decker market offerings. Dennis arranged for two of its Gardner engine Falcons to visit Blackpool with Ipswich YDX100Y arriving in June 1983, followed by TWJ341Y from Chesterfield in July. Prior to this a Duple bodied Leyland Tiger KUS244Y was borrowed from Hutchinson of Overtown, Scotland in May. All three ran on routes 2/2A to Poulton.

Post Deregulation Single Deckers
Delta G785PWL was one of two tested in 1989 prior to the order for eight buses for 1990 delivery (Brian Turner)
Leyland's successor to the National - the Lynx was first seen in April 1987 when D573LSJ of AA Motor Services but it failed after a few days. Leyland's Lynx demonstrator D634BBV paid a visit in August 1987 but the desire to replace the second hand Nationals led to a beauty parade of single deckers in 1989 operating mainly on routes 3/3A (Bispham-Mereside) with evening duties on the 12 to Squires Gate. Optare's stylish Delta was first  with F792DWT visting in July 1989 and alternative spec G785PWL in August and November. Leyland Lynx F74DCW which carried West Midlands Travel colours (but was not their's) arrived in September and similar F210YHG of Preston Bus in November. The final contender was Duple bodied Dennis Dart G541JBV which visited at the start of November. The result was an order for eight Deltas for 1990 delivery.

August 1990 saw the inspection of H220TCP - an Ikarus bodied DAF SB220 (the same chassis as the Delta) while a third Delta demonstrator arrived in February 1991 as G837LWR which covered for new Delta 116 which was representing Optare at the launch event for their new Vecta single decker. The Vecta (a shorter single decker on the MAN chassis) was tried in the form of H846UUA in May 1991 and M957VMY in August 1995.

Low Floor Single Deckers
Excel P447SWX was one of several provided by Optare while it repaired faults on the pre-production batch 201-208 (Brian Turner)
 Blackpool was an early conversion to the low floor bus, buying the first Excels in 1996. It didn't precede this with demonstrators - and judging by the performance of the first Excels it might have regretted this. Several Excel demonstrators later appeared, mainly to cover rectification work for the Blackpool batch. N330EUG arrived in February 1998 and lasted until May sustaining accident damage towards the end of its stay.
R98HUA visited briefly in July 1998 while P446SWX accompanied N330EUG in February 1998. P447SWX spent July to September 1998 on hire. In February 2001, damaged Excel 210 was deputised for with T790KNW which gave Blackpool example of the Mercedes engined variant. Finally in May 2003 Mark 2 Excel YA02YRP operated alongside the native examples on Line 5. With six demonstrators, the Excel gave the National a run for its money.
Route 26 saw several demonstrators including minibuses and big buses over the years. This is R739TMO a Super Pointer Dart. (Brian Turner)
Other low floor demonstrators included P10LPG, a gas powered DAF SB220 with Plaxton Prestige bodywork which ran on route 26 in October/November 1997. The same service saw R739TMO - a Dennis Dart SLF with Plaxton bodywork in August 1998.
The short lived East Lancs Esteem body on the Scania was evaluated in December 2006 -YN06TGE (Brian Turner)
In addition to the Excel 2, 2003 saw BX03BKU - a Wright bodied Volvo B7 used on Line 11 in August. From 2005 to 2009 a procession of potential Delta replacements visited Blackpool for evaluation - without luck as Blackpool eventually settled for the Plaxton bodied Volvo B7 in 2010 because of a favourable deal. December 2005 saw the Enviro 300 SN54HXG evaluated on Line 7. June 2006 saw the first of two Optare Tempos YJ55BLX operate on Line 11 which now became the test ground for single deck demonstrators. Sister YJ06FZK replaced its sister at the end of the month and stayed into July.

Tempo YJ55BLX operating Line 11 in Bispham (Brian Turner)
Mercedes Citaro BX05UVX visited in early November 2006, followed by MCV Evolution bodied MAN AE06OPG later in the month, YN06TGE - an East Lancs bodied Scania 230UB in December. January 207 saw SN56AYB a Alexander Dennis Enviro 200 completed the quintet in January 2007. August 2007 saw Wright bodied Volvo B7 BX07AXJ tested some time before five similar buses were purchased from Anglian Buses in 2010. A second Citaro (BN09FWS) was tested in September 2009 also on Line 11. A third example was tried in February 2014 (BG63VVE) - this time to Euro VI standards.

July 2013 saw a visit from a Volvo B7RLE with MCV bodywork BF12KWT - it unsually operated on service 20 during its stay.
B7RLE demonstator BF12KWT operates on service 20 in 2014 (James Millington)
Feb 2016 Alexander Dennis Enviro 200MMC YX65RLO was used on service 5 with sister YX65RKK used in May. Also in May BP14FJZ, a Mercedes Citaro was used to contrast its specification with the batch of 10 acquired the previous year.

The MCV Evolution AE06OPG in Lytham Square in November 2006 (Brian Turner)
D898NUA on arrival in August 1987 in demonstrator guise before purchase when it became Handybus liveried 566 (Brian Turner)
Blackpool did not road test the market prior to adopting the Optare City Pacer but did make use of a few demonstrators later. Its second batch of City Pacers were delayed so demonstrators D854MUA and D898NUA were supplied by Optare in August 1987 and later purchased as 565/6. When service 26 started at the beginning of September, sister D81NWW was also on short term hire. A further City Pacer demonstrator arrived in July 1988 as E749CWT while January 1989 saw F934AWW on loan. The latter returned in December 1989 having been purchased as 583.

E749CWT spent time on hire in July 1988 (Brian Turner)
 Other makers included Iveco with Carlyle bodied E485ONX in December 1987, followed by an unidentified Star Rider Optare's Mercedes Benz based longer minibus later in the month. A further Star Rider E216UWT visited in July 1988. PMT Ami bodied Merecedes G495FFA was reported on hire on routes 9 and 26 in July 1990 and also visited in November when it ran on the 26. Optare's Metrorider H844UUA was used on the 26 in May 1991 before a period with Fylde.

September 1993 saw London Buses Dennis Dart K112SRH evaluated on route 26. Optare's Metrorider had been the preferred choice for replacing City Pacers and ex Fylde Renaults after the success of seed vehicle 584 (M924TYG) in summer 1995. A long wheelbase demonstrator P507NWU operated on routes 2/2A/2B in January 1997 but the next order was for more short wheelbase examples. In March 1999 Optare's new low floor Solo minibus S794XUG spent a few weeks on route 26 and this lead to orders for 57 examples between 2000 and 2009. A second demonstrator YJ56APY ran on the 2C in January 2007.

Other visitors have been SN03LGA - a Mini Pointer Dart which ran on Line 5 in November 2003 and MX60GXB a Wright Streetlite which spent some time in March 2011 operating service 10 (see here)

Very few of these loans have generated orders, but they continue to generate interest amongst enthusiasts.

16 November 2006 saw the first Citaro demonstrator (BX05UVZ) (Brian Turner)

BX07AZJ - a Wright bodied Volvo leaving Starr Gate on Line 11 in August 2007 (Brian Turner)

Enviro 300 SN54HXG operating Line 7 in St. Annes on 21 December 2005 (Brian Turner)