Monday, 21 December 2009

Blackpool in the Snow


The early hours of Monday saw a rare overnight snow fall that settled. Observations showed that traffic on the main roads was quite heavy due to cautious driving and the avoidance of rat running. This appeared to cause some delays to bus services, but Blackpool Transport appeared to cope very well. Indeed, in a barely precedented move, some people actually praised the operation on the notoriously negative Gazette readers comments section!

Further snow fell overnight and on Tuesday morning a more limited bus service was operating as shown on the BTS website at lunchtime:
Line 1 - in full
Line 2 - limited service Town Centre to Poulton with two buses
Line 5 - full service but not serving Lindale Gardens
Line 7 - full service but terminating at Lytham Square rather than Saltcotes Road
Line 11 - full service but using Clifton Drive between St. Annes and Lytham
Line 14 - full service but via Kilnhouse Lane/Headroomgate Road/St. Annes Road East between Queensway and St. Annes
Lines 3, 4, 6, 10, 15 and 16 were understood to be suspended.

By mid afternoon, Line 6 was in operation but avoiding Mereside and Grange Park Estates, terminating at Collegiate High School. Line 2 was running from Station Road to Poulton on a reduced headway

Meanwhile Trident 309 escaped all the fun as it is tucked up in the paint shop as the last of its batch to receive a full repaint.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Unlucky Numbers Part 2: Blowing Sands

The original bus to Blowing Sands was provided by William Smith's Motor Services

Blowing Sands was the delightful early name for the outskirts to Blackpool crossed by School Lane and was first served by William Smith’s bus service from South Pier which terminated at Midgeland Road/School Road. This became Blackpool’s service 10 and survived until 1962 when it was partly replaced by the 23. Blowing Sands saw some residential development but no dense housing and today is quite affluent. It has never been promising bus territory and the history of its links to Blackpool centre is littered with short-lived services hence its appearance in the ‘unlucky numbers’ series.

The first link to the town centre started in 1936 when service 21 started. This ran over the 6 route from Adelaide Street to Hawes Side Lane/Daggers Hall Lane and bridged the short unserved section to Watson Road where it joined the 10 route via Common Edge Road and School Lane to Midgeland Road. Suspended in 1939 it was formally discontinued in 1940. During the Second World War, route 11C was diverted to cover the section of route between Blackpool and Common Edge Road, on its way to St. Annes having previously used St. Annes Road the section of Blackpool Road across what is now Squires Gate Airport.

In 1946 a peak hour service was resumed on the 21 route, but showing 11B to relate it to the 11C. This continued until 1956, albeit not always advertised in the timetables. A second route was introduced in 1948 as the 18. This also ran from Adelaide Street over the 6 route but further – to Welcome Inn then straight along Midgeland Road to the terminus. Sister service 19 followed in 1951 as far as Marton Moss (Chapel Road) but in 1953 was re-routed via the 11B route to Midgeland Road.

These routes to Blowing Sands were hampered because they really duplicated other routes on the main corridors into Blackpool. The aforementioned service 6 was co-ordinated with route 13 between the Town Hall and Spen Corner – the 6 continuing to Welcome Inn and Cherry Tree Gardens (later extended to Mereside) while the 13 took in Marton Drive to reach the developing housing estate at Lindale Gardens. In 1953 they provided a bus every six minutes.

Additionally service 6A ran as far as Highfield Hotel, leaving the Tower just in front of service 13 every 12 minutes. The 11C ran every 20 minutes through to St. Annes, the 18 and 19 to Blowing Sands each ran hourly and the 6C to Little Marton via Welcome Inn on a bizarre 84 minute frequency. If this was not enough, route 4 ran over the same corridor as far as Condor Square on its way to Mereside every half hour and the unadvertised 6B was a short working to Condor Square. This made at least 22 journeys over the common section to Condor Square and 20 to Spen Corner with varying frequencies. Co-ordination was unlikely, however the the timing of the 11C and 19 to leave the Town Centre at exactly the same time when the latter had over 95% of its route in common with the former was remarkable! With enough journeys to provide a 2 or 3 minute interval, the poor co-ordination resulted in four gaps of six minutes and two of five minutes in each hour!

The upshot of this was that routes like the 18 and 19 relied on their unique sections to pay their way – unlikely given the spare population – as they didn’t really generate any extra passengers on the over-bussed common section. Rationalisation was therefore inevitable. First to go was the 19 in 1956, replaced by extending the 6A to Midgeland Road – though this was also reduced to every 15 minutes at the same time.

From 1964 certain 6A journeys were diverted via the Welcome as service 6B to replace the 18. The 6A/6B were then progressively cut back through the 60s and 70s as declining passengers and increased costs caused the undertaking to review the duplication of its services. Firstly they were reduced to every 20 minutes in 1966; then their evening service was virtually eradicated in 1968; 1970 saw their frequency halved to every 40 minutes and one man operated buses took over in 1971. In 1975 the deepest cut of all saw the 6A go and just an hourly Tower to Midegeland Road service 6B remain for just one year until it too was cut in 1976. From a 15 minute service to nothing in just 10 years was a remarkable decline.

Midgeland Road did retain a link to the Town Centre, however, as route 3A (North Shore – Town – Park Road – Cherry Tree Gardens) was diverted at the Welcome Inn to run along Midgeland Road to School Road turning circle as a replacement.


Service 3A included a couple of peak journeys which extended to the Borough Boundary, mainly to serve St Nicholas School on School Lane. Here Swift 559 awaits departure for Cleveleys.

By contrast the original link to South Shore (the 10) remained largely stable until it too was axed in 1962, replaced by the 23 (Hospital to South Pier) which was extended to Midgeland Road via Highfield Road and School Lane. Other than a brief period when the 19 replaced the 23 in 1976, both the 3A and 23 continued in this form until 1986, with both buses usually terminating together at the rural turning circle.

Single Deckers (and more recently minibuses) have been the domain of the routes to Midgeland Road, apart from a brief period in 1987 when both the 10 and 23 operated with 86 seat Atlanteans! Here 313 awaits departure on service 10 in a short lived experimental livery whilst 358 promotes the Travelcard on the 23 departure behind.
At deregulation both the 3A and 23 ceased and ten years of stability ended. Midgeland Road was linked to the Town Centre by a new service, ironically numbered 10. This took most of the the old 6A route but at Highfield Hotel turned into Highfield Road and then Midgeland Road. Blackpool withdrew the service after a year and its former associate but now competitor Fylde Borough took over. Blackpool instead reinstated the link to South Shore with a revised 23. Fylde’s 10 later became the 12B and was also diverted via South Shore but ended in 1989. Since then an array of routes have tried to serve Midgeland Road. Few have been left in peace to do so, partly because of the bus industry’s obsession with tinkering at the margins of its networks. As the changes defy any simple description and chronological list follows:

· October 1986 – BTS 10 Blackpool-Spen Corner-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road. Fylde 23A South Pier-Common Edge Rd- Midgeland Rd – Mereside (Eves/Suns) introduced
· Jan 1987 – BTS 25 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Halfway House) extended off peak to Midgeland Rd via Common Edge Road
· April 1987 – BTS 23 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road) introduced
· November 1987 – Fylde take over 10
· June 1988 – 25 no longer serves Midgeland Rd
· November 1988 – Fylde 10 replaced by 12B Town-Lytham Rd-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road
· March 1989 – 23 replaced by 25 (Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Road) Fylde 12B withdrawn
· March 1994 – 23A evening/Sunday service taken over by Blackpool
· November 1994 – 23A evening/Sunday service replaced by extended 23
· August 1996 –25 replaced by 23 Staining -Hospital-Town Centre-South Shore-Common Edge Road- Midgeland Road-Mereside (includes eves/Suns service) – now minibus operated
· April 2001 – 9 Royal Oak-Watson Rd-Highfield Rd-Common Edge Rd-Midgeland Rd back to Highfield Rd replaces 23
· Nov 2001 9 revised to run Poulton-Hospital-Royal Oak-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Mereside
· April 2002 – new 2B Poulton-Blackpool-South Pier-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Mereside replaces 9 evening/Sunday service ends
· June 2002 – 2A Poulton-Blackpool-South Pier-Highfield Rd-Squires Gate Lane-Midgeland Rd-Asda replaces 2B
· December 2005 – 10 Blackpool-Lytham Rd-Watson Rd-Highfield Rd-Midgeland Rd-Common Edge Rd circle replaces 2A

Today's line 10 provides one bus an hour linking the area with the Town Centre and South Shore. 593 was the branded minibus in light blue until 518 took over in 2007 painted silver-grey.
Since 1986 Midgeland Road has therefore been served by the 10, 23A (evenings/Sundays), 12B, 23, 25, 23 (again), 9, 2B, 2A and currently – once again the 10. For good measure the Welcome Inn to Highfield Road section has also seen the 25, 8A, 8, L1, 10 and 16 in recent times. It is surely only a matter of time before the 17 appears.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Blackpool's Nationals

One of Blackpool's four mark 2 Nationals, 544 poses at Midgeland Road terminus on route 3A.

The Leyland National was an iconic bus of the 1970s. Intended to replace the Leyland Panther, AEC Swift and Bristol RE single deckers in the British Leyland stable it was built by a joint venture with the National Bus Company at a purpose built factory in Workington. Not surprisingly NBC firms snapped up many, with Ribble buying some of the first in 1972 with many of this batch based at Fleetwood. The type was less popular with municipals who tended to be quite traditional and loyal in their vehicle procurement and in many cases quite conservative. In some quarters the National has a poor reputation - probably because it was innovative and different thus requiring different working practises to operate and maintain it effectively. Elsewhere it was extremely popular and one of the main tools of deregulation for smaller bus fleets - some of who seemed to cope with them much better than the bigger NBC fleets!

As noted Ribble introduced Nationals onto the Fylde from Fleetwood in 1972 and followed this with examples from Blackpool. It had a large fleet across the North West and inherited examples from Cumberland after Stagecoach took over in 1989. The last Ribble Nationals ran in 2001 and were transferred to Lancashire United when Stagecoach sold the East Lancashire operations to Blazefield. The last new to Ribble example was 831 (DBV831W) which ran into Blackpool regularly on the linked 109/158 Chorley - Preston - Blackpool route in its latter years. It is now preserved as part of the RVPT collection alongside examples from the 1972 batch.

Blackpool Corporation was one of the more traditional municipals, still buying Leyland Titan PD3s in 1968 long after most had moved onto rear engined buses. Its first 'standee' OPO single deckers arrived the following year (again later than most) and somewhat surprisingly were AEC Swifts rather than Leyland's similar Panther. This was probably because it was the lowest bid in the tendering process. Blackpool inspected an early National but continued with the Swift. Its final batch of 30 (566-595) was ordered in 1973 and again subjected to a competitive tender process. The bids were:

Seddon RU - £10,845
AEC Swift with Marshall body - £11,038
Leyland National - £11,510.50
AEC Swift with Willowbrook body - £12,147
Metro Scania - £12,774.05

Although the RU was the cheapest, Blackpool was able to use the economies of scale argument to accept the slightly higher Swift/Marshall combination. For good measure it rejected the floor layout of the Seddon RU as "unsuitable" and recorded that the National and Metro Scania were deemed "not toBlackpool's specification in numerous ways". So a fleet of 55 Swifts was built up and followed by 64 Atlantean double deckers. In 1982 four single deckers were ordered and the tendering process through up one its more fascinating outcomes. Four of the new Dennis Lancet high floor chassis were ordered with Marshall body and Perkins engines unlike anything seen before or since - probably with more in common with the municipal dust cart or fire engine than anything else.

For the next four replacements for early Swifts, Blackpool finally succumbed to the charms of the National. In 1980 the Mark 2 had been launched and Leyland supplied a stream of demonstrators with WRN413V in November 1980 followed by GCK430W in March 1981 and EWM630Y in April 1983. A fourth demonstrator later arrived in the shape of KEP829X which ran in 1988 to demonstrate the kneeling suspension concept.


Fishwicks 10 WRN413V was used by Leyland as a demonstrator when new an spent a while with Blackpool. It poses at the deserted South Pier terminus of route 26 on a damp Friday evening in November 1980

Four National 2s were duly ordered and arrived in late June 1984 and entered service on 6th and 7th July. They were numbered 541-544 (A541-4PCW) and carried a stylish variation of the standard livery with a green skirt added to the green roof and waistband on an off-white base. A nice touch was the application of a small Corporation crest on the front plate normally used for NBC logos. Somewhat surprisingly they featured Gardner engines, quite common in Mark 2 Nationals but unique in the Blackpool fleet at the time.

Little Marton Mill, shorn of one of its sails, belies the suburban setting of Mereside estate with 542 in original livery heading for the terminus of route 3.


A second batch of four was ordered but cancelled due to the threat of deregulation. These are believed to have become part of six C-reg examples for Brighton & Hove. Instead Blackpool entered the second hand market - its purchase of six Routemasters in 1986 after a trail grabbing the headlines more so than its purchase of four National 1s. Crosville GMB387T spent several weeks on hire in November and December 1985. Crosville had adopted a programme of fitting Gardner engines to its Nationals to replace the original fixed head Leyland O.510. After the demonstration it supplied four from its own fleet, suitably modified for Blackpool at a cost of £24,100 each. They arrived in February 1986 in all-over grey primer and were repainted into fleet livery by Blackpool becoming 545-548 (CFM345/7S, KMA399T and LMA413T) and entering service in March and April 1986.

541 was the only National to carry an all-over advert (Agri Electrics)


With eight Nationals and four Lancets the AEC Swift fleet had declined to 16 examples at the start of 1987. It was decided to acquire further Nationals to replace the remainder and Strathclyde Buses made available 11 of its batch of 20 eight year old examples. These arrived between November 1987 and January 1988 and were repainted by Blackpool into the new livery of cream with green roof and skirt. Minibuses had taken over the single deck series so these were simply numbered to match their registrations as 156, 158, 161, 162, 164-167, 170, 172, 174 (GGE156T etc) they entered service between December and February 1988 with the last Swifts retired in the latter month. It was then decided to renumber the earlier Nationals to 141-148 and this took place in April 1988.
541 had pioneered the new livery in November 1987 having carried an all-over advert for Agri Electrics since December 1985. 148 followed in September 1988 after a six month long accident repair process whist the others were all treated during 1989.
The second hand Nationals were only a stop gap and were replaced by Optare Deltas with 145-148 taken out of use in March 1990, three and leaving in May for Norfolk of Nayland and one to Docherty of Irvine in June. 156-174 lasted until December 1990 to February 1991, passing on-mass to Southend Transport. The standardisation on Deltas also saw off the National 2s replaced at a young seven years of age in May 1991 and snapped up by eager collector of National 2s - Caldaire North East (United and Tees & District).
During their life in Blackpool the Nationals saw use on most single deck routes. Post deregulation saw extensive use on tendered services including 180/2 (Poulton-Preston), the short lived 165 (Preston-Lytham), the Kirkham Roamer (7) and the 192 (Blackpool-Kirkham). The also competed with Fylde on the 193 (St. Annes to Wesham).

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Christmas Bonus

Blackpool Transport remains one of the few operators to provide services on Boxing Day and New Years Day. For many years a basic 14 bus operation on services 1, 2, 6, 7, 11 and 14 has taken place. Last year a minor change saw the South Pier section of the 2 dropped and extra time given to Line 14 while this year since the Poulton section of Line 2 dropped in favour of Line 5, and other changes see a total of 16 buses occupied. The service provided is summarised as:

Line 1 Pleasure Beach to Cleveleys - every 20 minutes (3 buses) - reduced from every 15 last year
Line 5 Halfway House to Victoria Hospital - every hour (2 buses) - new
Line 6 Grange Park to Mereside every 30 minutes (3 buses)
Line 7 Lytham Square to Cleveleyes every 60 minutes (2 buses)
Line 11 St. Annes to Cleveleys every 30 minutes (4 buses) - increased from every hour
Line 14 Blackpool to Fleetwood every 60 minutes (2 buses)

Branded buses are generally used - though Line 5 will presumably use larger vehicles as previously deployed on Line 2.

Offset against this improvement is a curtailment of Christmas Eve and New Years Eve services. For several years BTS has continued to provide a skeleton service on each route until midnight - unlike most companies who run in from 2000. This year, however, the service finishes around 2200 (Lines 1, 2, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15) or 2000 (Lines 3, 4, 5, 16).

Monday, 7 December 2009

February Service Changes

Service changes take place on February 1st as part of the economies Blackpool Transport are striving to achieve to address its poor financial performance, blamed on a combination of heavily reduced concessionary fares reimbursement and the impacts of a year of continual disruption to services due to roadworks.

All services except Lines 1 and 10 are affected in some way. The changes affect the early mornings (before the morning peak), evenings, Sundays and Saturday mornings. Weekday daytime frequencies are unchanged. The more significant changes are summarised below:

Line 6 - evening service reduced from 20 minutes to 30 every day
Line 7 - daytime service between Lytham Square and Saltcotes Road withdrawn (the only weekday daytime change), evening service reduced to hourly after 2100
Line 11 - evening service reduced to every 30 minutes to St. Annes and 60 minutes to Lytham
Line 14 - evening and Sunday service withdrawn between Blackpool and St. Annes Square. Sunday daytime service reduced to run every 30 minutes Fleetwood to Blackpool only (from every 15 mins)
Line 15 - late evening service reduced to hourly
Line 16 - services after 1800 withdrawn. Saturday service reduced to hourly.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The End of the Atlantean - out for 50.

364's Indian summer appears over after 25 years of service. Here it deputises for a minibus on Line 2 to Poulton earlier this year.
Monday 30 November saw the withdrawal of Atlantean 364 after a school duty, bringing the curtain down on 32 years of Atlantean operation which started back in July 1977. Blackpool's association with the Atlantean dates back even further with the type achieving 50 years service in the town. Ribble bought its first in November 1959, several were allocated to Preston and would have operated into Blackpool on trunk routes. Some of the early ones were also allocated to Blackpool Talbot Road depot. The February 1960 allocation included 1618, 1622 and 1624 from December 1959.
Scout Motor Services who operated from Blackpool to Preston on the 154/155/158 on a joint basis with Ribble acquired one ex demonstrator and four new Atlanteans in 1960/1 shortly before Ribble bought the business. Lytham St. Annes had previously operated one of these demonstrators on the 11. Standerwick - also part of the Ribble family - operated the 'Gay Hostess' Atlantean coaches on long distance express services into the town while less well appointed Atlantean 'White Lady' coaches operated regional express services.
Lytham became the first municipal to introduce regular Atlantean operation on the Fylde Coast with 75-77 of 1970. Its successor Fylde built up a fleet of 18 more between 1975 and 1984. Blackpool finally endorsed the Atlantean in 1977 with the first ten out of a fleet of 64 built up over seven years.
Occasionally Atlanteans from East Lancashire operators put in appearances on the Fylde Coast as express duplicates and after deregulation both Preston and Lancaster operated Atlanteans on regular services into Blackpool. Ribble's operations on the Fylde Coast began to contract and under Stagecoach ownership Atlantean appearances were reduced as it invested in new Olympians. Fylde's fleet expanded with several second hand purchases whilst Blackpool sold many of its early examples at quite young ages. In 1994 when Blackpool bought Fylde, the 41 surviving East Lancs Atlanteans were joined by 52 examples from the Fylde fleet including four rebodies as single deckers. The total of 93 had reduced to 83 by the start of 1997 by when Blackpool had absorbed Fylde. By 2002 54 were left and just 23 at the start of 2004. The last ex Fylde examples ran in 2004 - by which time the oldest (475) was 28 years old. 13 were left two years later and during the summer most were laid up. October 2006 saw a 'farewell event' with active 363 and 364 joined by reinstated 358, 360-362 for two days operation. Remarkably 353/358 returned to service in the new year and lasted until July 2008 when 363 was also withdrawn. 364 outlasted the pair, until its final withdrawal in November 2009.
More mundanely Metrorider 512 has finally been withdrawn after a two month stay and is now in store at Jackson's Marton with 506, 511, 513 and 593. Line 15 bus 513 has been delicensed since October, a withdrawal not previously noted here. This leaves just three Metroriders in use, 515 and 517 on Line 15 and 518 on Line 10 - a remarkable change considering 16 were still in use back in May.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Blackpool's Lancets

Lancet 597 loads outside St Johns Church as 599 prepares to overtake.

When Blackpool Transport was a council department prior to deregulation it was bound by municipal procurement rules. This meant competitive tendering and resulted in some surprises. Generally councils were compelled to select the cheapest compliant bid unless a case could be made for a more expensive one. For example in 1973, 30 AEC Swifts were ordered, though other firms were cheaper. This was sanctioned as 25 Swifts were already owned and commonality of spares and a standard fleet offered economies.

In 1981 Blackpool decided to buy four new single deckers and four new double deckers. Naturally the Atlantean/East Lancs combination was selected for the latter as 50 others were already owned. The last new single deckers dated form 1974/5 - the aforementioned Swifts and the model had long been deleted. The rest of the fleet was Leyland engined Leyland built double deckers (Titans and Atlanteans) and Leyland was not offering O.680 engined single deckers. Therefore the cheapest one and emerged as four of the new Dennis Lancet. Dennis, at the time better known for its fire engines and dustcarts had returned to bus building in 1977 with the Dominator and had followed this with the rear engined Falcon. The Lancet was its underfloor engined version with a powerpack from Perkins fitted - unusually for a bus.

The Lancet was not an unqualified success. 87 were built between 1981 and 1990, 28 were exported, 18 were finished as buses, 15 as midibuses, 3 as coaches, 8 as accessible buses, 1 as a non psv and even 12 as mobile libraries.

Bodywork was by Marshall of Cambridge, who had bodies the Swifts. The latter had the BET inspired body, while the Lancets had the "Camair 80" - which showed Marshall's eye for style. Allocated numbers 596 to 599 and registrations ORN596-599X production hit a number of delays and it was late July before the first - 596 - arrived. The other four followed in early August and the batch was registered as VCW596-9Y. 596 entered service on 9 August. The Lancets were commonly used on services 2/2A to Poulton - though also appeared on other services such as the 3/3A, 23/23A and 26.

Deregulation saw horizons broadened with the Lancets appearing on tendered services from Poulton to Preston (180/2) and the Kirkham Roamer (7). A new livery was introduced in 1987 and 599 was the first single decker to receive it in April - green roof, window surrounds and skirt. Its three sisters followed suit over the next couple of months. This livery version was unique to the Lancets, as the Nationals had cream window surrounds.

Over winter 1987/8 Blackpool Transport bought 11 second hand Leyland Nationals to replace its last Swifts - the final one running at the end of February. Its single deck fleet now consisted of 15 second hand Mark 1 Leyland Nationals of 1977/8, 4 National 2s of 1984 and the 4 Lancets of 1982 - just 23 vehicles from a peak of 55 in 1975. This lasted just three more weeks though as the Lancets were summarily withdrawn in March and left on 20th for Redby of Sunderland. Here they ran alongside a handful of Dennis Dominator single deckers from Darlington with similar bodies. Initially they retained Blackpool colours but soon received a white based scheme. After less than six years in Blackpool, they lasted just over five in Sunderland. In July 596, 597 and the accident damaged 599 passed to Tanat Valley Coaches. 599 was for spares, 596/7 became regulars on the Oswestry Town Service. 598 meanwhile went to the Potteries with Knotty, joining ex Blackpool Swift 583.
1995 saw further moves. 596 went to Pioneer of Rochdale, 598 to Bluebird of Middleton while 597 was bought by Thames Valley Training of London and even came to Blackpool for a repaint in its original livery - adopted by the enthusiast run training firm. 599 was scrapped later the same year. 596 moved from Pioneer in 2000, passing to a church in Bradford as congregation transport. It ended its days in 2003. 598 meanwhile briefly joined 596 at Pioneer in 1996 but passed to a dealer never to surface again in 1997.

This left 597 as the last survivor having passed into preservation in Hexham in 2000. Sadly it was vandalised and was seen in 2004 stored outside with some broken windows and apparent body decay. Its current status is unknown, but if it survives is likely to be in the 'major projects' category by now.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Unlucky Numbers Pt 1 "Unlucky 17"

Centre entrance PD2s 291 and 298 at the 'Showground' terminus of the three days a year service 17 in 1968.
There are several long established bus routes in Blackpool – the 2 to Poulton, the 11 to Lytham and the 14 to Fleetwood for example. However Blackpool’s bus route history is also littered with short lived bus routes which – for one reason or another – soon failed. Service 17 seemed to be a particularly unlucky number while 10s and 20s have also often been short lived. This is first in a small series of posts about some of Blackpool's oddities and looks at the "Curse of Number 17".

While many people are feel the number 13 brings bad luck, managers at Blackpool Transport would do well to be superstitious of the seemingly innocent 17. Like 13, 17 is a prime number but none of the variety of routes numbered 17 could ever have been said to reach their prime.

The first bus to display service 17 ran in May 1928. Intriguingly there is a link to Blackpool’s first bus route which was retrospectively allocated the dreaded number 13 in 1926. This ran from Cleveleys to Thornton Station from 1921 to 1930 but in July 1927 was extended to Burn Naze. Oddly in May 1928 the route was split with the new 17 operating the Thornton to Burn Naze section. It shared a terminus with the 14 from Blackpool and may have been interworked with it. A dismal £235 was taken in 5 months of operation – between £1 and £2 per day. Faced with a long and unremunerative winter, the plug was pulled from the end of November.

Attempt two started on 23 December 1929 and was an early Christmas present for the residents of the area being developed around the Welcome Inn in Marton. It was a somewhat circuitous route leaving Talbot Road Bus Station via Caunce Street, Devonshire Road and Newton Drive to reach Stanley Park then via Park Drive, Waterloo Road and Vicarage Lane to Welcome Inn. It was hardly a warm welcome, the 17 ceased on 5 May 1930 leaving the Welcome Inn without a bus service until 1933.

1929 also saw the introduction of a market day express service from Blackpool to Fleetwood which was initially un-numbered but was later allocated number 17. Its operation was best described as ad-hoc and was officially dropped in 1936. The number re-appeared in December 1939 to replace the Blackpool to Layton Station section of service 15A along Warbreck Hill Road and is believed to have survived throughout the war until the reinstatement of the 15A in 1946. The 17 was then reallocated in April 1946 to a new link from Layton to Victoria Hospital via Devonshire Road which was a temporary measure until service 22 was extended via the more direct and newly constructed Grange Road in November.

The sixth distinct service 17 made its debut on 15 May 1948 – with the first journey running nine years late. The new service had been scheduled to start in May 1939 but was postponed due to the impending war and it was not until 1948 that it could be implemented. It used just one bus and opened up what became the Mereside estate but was then known as Sandham’s Green. It followed the existing 6 route from Adelaide Street, Central Drive, Grasmere Road, Ansdell Road and Daggers Hall Lane to Welcome Inn before running via Chapel Road (even today one of Blackpool’s most rural roads) to Little Marton School at the junction of Clifton Road and Lee Road. Given that it sat on top of the established service 6 it probably didn’t earn much money on its own account, but was sufficient to protect Blackpool’s claim to serve Mereside as it developed as Ribble served the main Preston Road along the northern edge of the estate on its trunk routes to Preston.

It was renumbered 6C in December 1951 to associate itself with the 6 (which spawned A, B, C and D variants at one stage) and became Blackpool’s first one man operated bus service in 1955. Sadly the curse of the 17 wasn’t lifted by its renumbering and the route ended in 1956. Perhaps the bizarre 84-minute frequency offered latterly didn’t help.

Blackpool’s penultimate flirtation with the 17 was probably its most successful as it lasted for 18 years, yet ran for just three days per year. The annual Royal Lancashire Show was held on the old Aerodrome site which is now Blackpool Zoo and a special service was provided numbered 17. It started in 1953 and lasted until the show moved away in 1971 as the Zoo site was developed.

Jumping into the post deregulation era, Blackpool stocked up on minibuses in 1987 and decided to introduce local services in St. Annes and Bispham. While the former ran from June 1987 to February 1988, the latter only managed two months from December 1987. The Bispham service used four minibuses on a circular service to local housing estates Bispham running every 10 minutes each way as 17A and 17B – the final (so far) of Blackpool’s short lived 17s.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Talbot Gateway Bus Impacts

The proposals for Talbot Gateway are likely to improve interchange at North Station. Presently Line 2/2C runs to the station forecourt.


Talbot Gateway is the latest regeneration project for Blackpool, focusing on regenerating the area around North Station. Part of the focus is a bus/train interchange there and the revision of the 'town centre ring road'. A new through route for traffic would use Buchanan St, George Street, Deansgate, Topping Street and Dickson Road, leaving the section of Talbot Road around the current bus station and the Springfield Road/High Street area as public transport corridors on the shared space principle.

Plans are out to pre-planning consultation and show three basic bus routes:

1) Dickson Road Corridor- from Abingdon St, Talbot Road, Dickson Road, Springfield Road, High Street to new bus stops, then via Talbot Road (in front of old bus station) and Dickson Road (again). Return journeys are Dickson Rd, Springfield Rd, High St, Talbot Road. This would be served by routes 3, 4 and 15.

2) Terminating corridor - from Abingdon St, Talbot Road, Dickson Road, Springfield Road, High St, Talbot Road, Abingdon St - this would be served by the 2 and 2C

3) Talbot Road corridor - from Talbot Square via Talbot Road in both directions with stops at North Station opposite the site of the recently demolished bowling centre.

Other than the double loop for the northbound 3, 4 and 15 this seems quite positive - especially the two way operation up Talbot Road. However 'share space' is causing some controversy at the Winter Gardens and there are factions pushing for full pedestrianisation.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Excels return

218 back in service after an absence of over a year on 5 November.

The two latest Excels to be overhauled returned to use on 4 November. 217 (T217HCW) remains in Line 7 livery and 218 (T218HCW) in pool livery. 218 had been out of service since at least August 2008 and 217 since at least December. 219 (T880RBR) is now at Cummins for engine refurbishment whilst 215 (T215HCW) is undergoing its body overhaul prior to the mechanical work.

So far 210-213, 216-218 and 220 have all been re-engined with Cummins ISB engines, 214, 221-226 retain the earlier B-series with 215/9 in progress.
Other news sees a resumption of routine repaints after the Line 2 reallocations with 271/2 completing the Line 4 repaints and 308 now in for Line 14.
Metroriders 585 and 595 went for scrap at Wigleys on 19 October. This leaves just 503 and 593 of the original 17 Metroriders (501-4, 584-596) in stock. 505-507 also remain in store and have been joined by 511 with 512-513, 515, 517 and 518 active. Atlantean 364 is continuing its Indian Summer into the winter season with a stint on Line 6 today (9 Nov).

Monday, 26 October 2009

The Ones that Got Away

Fylde RE 37 chases a speeding cyclist down Woodlands Road bridge on route 4 towards Lytham Green Drive in original livery.

Fylde Borough acquired five Bristol REs in 1975 - just as production for the home market was coming to an end. These were the third batch of OPO single deckers purchased following the three Leyland Panthers in 1969 and six Seddon RUs of 1972. They were fitted with 44 high backed seats to be attractive for private hire work and were to the shorter 10m "RESL" format with Leyland 0.680 engines in common with the Leopards and Atlanteans that arrived during the 1970s.

37-41 (HRN104-108N) entered service in July 1975 and operated mainly on the Lytham St. Annes local routes 1-4, contracts, private hire and even the odd summer National Express dupe. A joint route with Ribble was introduced from Spring Gardens via St. Annes, Lytham and Freckleton to Wesham in 1978 and REs were quite common on this and the new St. Annes Roamer services introduced the same year. They were increasingly common on the trunk services to Blackpool in the evening and on Sundays.

Service 4 was a pre-deregulation haunt of the REs and every Wednesday included a diversion to the local Cemetery where 39 is leaving in this 1982 shot. This is version two of the livery.

They carried two versions of the blue, white and yellow livery, with their first repaints between 1979 and 1981. From 1984 onwards four out of the five carried all-over adverts for bus travel:

37 Fylde Coast Rover 5/84-10/86; Blue Bus Rambler 10/86-10/89
38 Lancashire Bus Pass 8/84-2/87; Blue Bus Rambler 2/87-8/89
39 Travel by Bus 6/84- 9/89
41 Lancashire Concession Passes 8/85-1988 (lettering then changed to Baby Blues until 7/89)
40 retained fleet livery, uniquely gaining the blue band version in June 1986.

All bar 40 received in house adverts 39 imploring people to "Go by Bus to your Local Club Day" in this in Elswick, whilst 37 encouraged you to use the Fylde Coast Rover bus ticket.
Deregulation gave the Bristol REs new vistas with various tendered services picked up from both Ribble and Blackpool. For example 27 April 1987 found:

37 on routes 190-2 (Blackpool-Great Eccleston/Kirkham) during the day and the 23A (South Pier to Mereside) in the evening
38 did a morning and evening contract for Langdale School and the off peak 8A/8B St. Annes Roamer and the evening service 3 (Gynn Square to Mereside)
39 did morning peak trips on the 15 (Staining to Blackpool), an afternoon contract and provided the second duty on evening service 3
40 did an afternoon college contract and the peak and evening work on service 15.
41 enjoyed the day off!

After renumbering 15 ex 38 heads along Corporation Street on service 44 to Mereside (Keith West)

Tendered services came and went and the REs continued to appear on the St. Annes Roamer and the 193s to Wesham as well. In 1989 all five received the new two tone blue scheme, 41 with a yellow band and lettering for Baby Blues services and Seagull Coaches excursions, though it gained the standard version (but without the white stripe) in February 1991. All four were renumbered 14-18 in March 1992 as part of a tidy up of the fleet numbering system. By this time REs had begun to see regular use on the trunk 11/11A (Cleveleys to Lytham) services, alongside Atlanteans and three new Deltas of 1991 as minibuses took over much of the tendered duties.

Their use had always been quite bitty, with their working day often made up of several different duties and it was not until August 1992 that they had a single regular route. The 44 (Blackpool to Mereside via Whitegate Drive and Great Marton) was a minibus route that had seen an escalation of competition from Blackpool. Fylde converted it to RE operation - incongruously with "Baby Blue" fleetnames and four of the five were required daily. It reverted to minibus operation the following March and the REs utilisation declined. Generally they could be found on the 11/11A and 193. During 1993 four Atlanteans single deck rebodies arrived and entered service, virtually sidelining the REs. The inevitable happened and on 3 August 1993 all five were noted without tax, ticket machines and destination blinds, just 15 and 16 seeing use in August with 16 believed to be the last to operate on 2 August (route 3 Town Centre to Zoo).

All five were quickly snapped up by Northern Bus of Sheffield who at the time had a large fleet of REs. They left on 27 August in convoy and became their 2504-2508. Initially used in Fylde livery they gained Northern Bus blue and cream. However their second career was to be short as Leyland Nationals started to oust the REs and progressively the Fylde ones journeyed to PVS in Barnsley for scrap during 1996. 41 was advertised for sale to preservationists but sadly went unclaimed. Still you cannot save everything sadly, though personally this batch represents the one that got away.

Line 11 goes orange

Following last week's Solo exploits, its the turn of the Trent Olympians today. 401 and 409 have both, briefly, operated on Line 11 before the appropriate pool or branded buses became available as swaps. 364, fresh from its role in the mini Atlantean line up at the LTT Depot open day yesterday is out on Line 6. Another orange Olympian - 410 - covered a Line 7 working on Saturday before settling onto its normal Line 1 duties.

The Olympians have evaded the camera, but here is 364 leaving the newly reopened section of Abingdon Street on Line 6 today.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Solos Broaden their Horizons



An apparent full size vehicle shortage has stimulated some unusual Solo workings on 'big bus' routes:

Tuesday 20th: 262 on Line 11 (above c M Crisp)
Thursday 22nd: unknown Solo on Line 11, 279 on Line 14.
Friday 23rd: 261 on Line 14, 263 on Line 11 (above c B Turner).
Saturday 24th: 273 on Line 11, 275 on Line 6

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Repaints

More Solo repaints have taken place with 282 now out in pool livery joining 279 and 281 - all three having lost Line 2 colours.

294 is now in the works for its Line 3 blue to be replaced by Line 2 green.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Route 53 The “Easyway” to run a bus service?

Easyway JWU248N at the Royal Oak on its main service 53 towards the Airport


Deregulation provided the opportunity for new bus operators to compete with existing ones. Prior to this, during 1986, licensing was relaxed with Traffic Commissioners taking the view there was little point in objecting to a service that could start at deregulation, unless it was direct competition.

A small coach operator in Blackpool, Easyway Coaches, took advantage and introduced a new service in March 1986. Most bus services in Blackpool ran to the town centre – there was no form of orbital route. Easyway therefore designed a single service, which avoided the town centre and provided several overlapping links. It ran from Squires Gate to Poulton. From the Airport it followed Blackpool’s 12 route along Lytham Road to Royal Oak; then the 26 route via Waterloo Road to Spen Corner, and the 6 via Daggers Hall Lane and Vicarage Lane to Cherry Tree Road, Hypermarket before running via Penrose Avenue, Oxford Square, East Park Drive to Victoria Hospital. Here it took the 23 route via Grange Road to Layton, 5 route to Grange Park then continued via Collegiate School and the 14 route to Castle Gardens and then into Poulton. An hourly service was provided including Sundays. The evening service was restricted to journeys around Hospital visiting times. As its fleet was primarily 53 seaters – Easyway chose this number and provided two of its coaches for the route.

This was a rare innovation – a new operator providing new links and probably the sort of initiative deregulation was supposed to encourage. At deregulation Easyway expanded competing on Blackpool’s 9 and 14 routes.


Easyway kept its buses on Princess Street, here two of the six Leopards from West Yorkshire PTE (JWU244/7N) repose shortly before they and two others returned to the PTE. 244 is now preserved.

It purchased six Leopard Buses from West Yorkshire PTE (JWU244-249N) and two Bristol RE coaches (NCN815L from Northern General and XBW74N from Hampshire Bus) for these routes.. There were regularly press reports of poor behaviour from the company and by the end of 1986 it had been banned from operating the 9 and 14. Four of the Leopards returned from where they came leaving JWU248/9N and the two REs to cover the 53 route. There was a running battle with the traffic commissioner and Easyway ran for a period on a “free” basis with passengers able to make donations! Easyway expanded with a new route 54 (Town Centre to Lindale Gardens via Lytham Rd and Harrowside in summer 1988 and briefly ran this as a circular from Layton to Lindale Gardens via Lytham Road and Marton before giving up at the end of the year. For this two ex Great Yarmouth AEC Swifts joined the fleet. Operating and maintenance problems persisted and the final straw came in November 1989 when the traffic commissioner withdrew Easway’s license and operations ended.

Seeing an opportunity and no doubt being aware of the business generated by the 53, Blackpool Transport took over the service immediately. Within six months new Optare Deltas were provided. In April 1990 a review of the route was undertaken. To reduce competition with its own services, it was re-routed via St. Annes Road and Marton Drive between Waterloo Hotel and Spen Corner and from Hypermarket to Hospital via Mereside Estate, Great Marton, Stanley Park and Newton Drive. The Sunday service was withdrawn with Lancashire County Council procuring a replacement provided by Fylde – oddly this used Highfield Road instead of serving Royal Oak. In June the Marton Drive and Stanley Park diversions were discontinued by BTS, though it still served Mereside and the new Tesco store there.

In the meantime a new operator, set up by a relative of Easyway’s owner, began trading. Town Bus purchased three former Easyway vehicles, including JWU248/9N, and introduced a competing service in August 1990. The original route was followed with buses leaving five minutes earlier than Blackpool’s journeys using number 53A. After three weeks the timetable was, sensibly, revised with Town Bus operating on the opposite half hour. This presumably was not worthwhile as two months later they returned to running 5 minutes ahead!

Blackpool decided to withdraw from the battle in June 1991, though it continued to operate between Poulton and Grange Park by way of an extension to service 6. There was a somewhat odd position where Fylde continued to run the Sunday 53 to a version of Blackpool’s route, but Town Bus ran the original route as a 53A. Town Bus continued unchanged until 1994 when it decided to re-route its buses along Whitegate Drive and Newton Drive instead of via East Park Drive over the 2 and 26 routes. This prompted Blackpool to use a spare minibus five minutes in front of Town Bus from Airport to Victoria Hospital. Town Bus then reverted to its original route and Blackpool ceased its 53 in July. Meanwhile Lancashire County Council withdrew support for the Sunday service and it ceased in April 1994. For a while an early weekday morning journey ran from Airport to Poulton Industrial Estate via the former Blackpool route, operated at times by Carriages and Archway Travel.

Town Bus replaced its Leopards (having bought a third similar bus from West Yorkshire as LUG515P) with a Dodge minibus and a Leyland Cub single decker (C813KBT). It expanded into schools services in 1994 and in September 1995 won a contract to take over Blackpool Transport service 15. Having already cut the Saturday service to every 2 hours, Town Bus withdrew the 53A in September 1995. Fylde, now a Blackpool subsidiary, won a short term contract for its replacement.
Meanwhile a new local independent was being set up. Phoenix North West commenced some contract services and arranged to operate a revised 53/53A on a franchise with Blackpool Transport. From 13 January 1996 a new half hourly service re-routed to penetrate further housing developments en route commenced using minibuses. For a while it was extended to St. Annes but in 2000 was split. The 53 continued to run from Squires Gate to Poulton, but on the alternate half hour service 10 was provided operating from Squires Gate to Cleveleys (Pheasant Wood) on a common route to Victoria Hospital. Meanwhile Town Bus ran the 15 for six months – Fylde providing a commercial replacement for the summer, which was then integrated into the 23 service. Like its predecessor Town Bus was closed down by the traffic commissioner. It seems the 53 may have been a curse. Easyway, Town Bus, Carriages and even Fylde were now defunct and the suddenly in March 2001 Phoenix North West ceased trading. After a day without service, Blackpool Transport provided an emergency contract. This lasted until November when a permanent arrangement was made, including revisions to other services. The 53 was replaced by service 9 which ran from Poulton to Royal Oak then onto Mereside – jointly funded by Blackpool Borough and Lancashire County Councils. Sadly the two councils went their separate ways after six months and the service ceased. Parts were incorporated into a new service 2A but the 53 had finally died. Its spirit lives on, however, as the Lifestyle Line L1 (now 16) was started in July 2002 providing an orbital service centred on Victoria Hospital and links several points once served by the 53 – but via a very different route.

Buses run on normal routes

With 2009 as the year of the diversion, an element of normality returned this morning when buses began operating through the newly titled St John's precinct. Lines 2, 3, 4 and 6 returned to their established route via Abingdon Street and the Winter Gardens through the new 'shared space' zone. Line 15 previously also served this area, but from the September changes it was re-routed to serve Layton and thus approaches the Town Centre via Talbot Road.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Town Centre Diversions and Pontins closure

Lines 2 and 15 (and the 3 and 4) have been on diversion via Talbot Square since February.



Monday 19 October is the scheduled date for the end of the diversions in Blackpool Town Centre with the reopening of Abingdon Street and Church Street. These will see the ending of the diversions in place since February.


According to BTs website Line 2 and 2C will operate into the Town Centre via Church Street and Abingdon St then Talbot Road to North Station and leave via Larkhill Street and Grosvenor Street. It implies this applies regardless of destination with the Poulton/Knott End and South Pier/Wesham workings taking the same route. Lines 3 and 4 will once again serve Tesco and the 4A shuttle will end.


Promenade buses have used Pontins forecourt as a terminus since 1988 but this comes to an end this month with the site closure.

Pontins Holiday Centre closed ealier in October but the forecourt has continued to be used for service buses. This will end on Sunday and on Monday Lines 1 and the City Sightseeing Line 20 will now terminate at Blackpool Airport. The 'Blackpool By Night' City Sightseeing Illumination Tours will continue to depart from Pontins at 1930 each night, but will use the main road stop rather than the centre forecourt.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Atlantean Afterlife

The sole surviving Atlantean with Blackpool Transport is 364 seen here on Line 2 in August 2009

Blackpool's solitary Atlantean has had something of an Indian summer appearing on various Metro routes including Line 2, 6, 7, 10 and 11 - and even the 4A - Wordsworth Avenue to Tesco. Blackpool bought 64 Atlanteans new and inherited 46 from Fylde in 1996. 3 were destroyed by fire in October 1986 (310, 335 and 342) but otherwise routine withdrawals commenced in 1989. The Fylde takeover saw disposals of the East Lancs examples cease in 1994 and not resume until 2002, since when 54 remained with the last (other than 364) withdrawals taking place in 2008.

This article reviews the disposals and the survivors in batch order.

301-310 BFR301-304R, CBV305-10S new July/August 1977
The first to arrive and the first to leave, 301-307 were withdrawn in March/April 1989 after just 11.5 years service. 308/9 followed in March 1990. 301/4-6 were repainted out of expired route branding (or a Hitachi advert livery for 304) whilst stored, 305 being the only one to run again - operating for a few weeks in October 1989. Sale did not take place until May 1990 when 303 left for Toxteth Community Council, 305-309 for Norfolk's of Nayland. 301/2/4 left in June for Liverline, Liverpool. All had several other homes, 301/2/4 with Sheffield Omnibuses, 302 ending up with First Devon and Cornwall in Exeter. 305-309 went to Hedingham Omnibuses, 305 returned north to ABC of Southport and 307-9 finished with Thorne's Bubwith. 301-308 are believed to have now been scrapped - 308 after being over-turned for an episode of "The Royal" - set several years before it was built! 309 has a valid SORN declaration (to July 2010) so is presumably still in store with Thornes. 310 was one of the 1986 fire victims.

311-320 JFV311-320S new July 1978
These were withdrawn in two batches - 311-314 in May 1991 (at nearly 13 years old) and 315-320 between July and October 1993 (at around 15 years). 311-314 left in August 1991 to North Devon (311/2) or Blue Bus of Horwich (313/4). 315-320 hung on in 'reserve' until February 1994 when they were sold. 315/6 heading to Eastbourne Buses while 317-320 (and newer 321) forming the initial fleet of new operator North Birmingham Busways. 311/2 survived (with 302) until 2001 by which time First had absorbed North Devon. 312 then became a store at their Plymouth depot for local preservationists until it was scrapped in 2008. The Blue Bus pair went in different directions, 313 ending up in Scotland (where it was deroofed and scrapped) while 314 was exported to Saudi Arabia. 315 passed to Philip's Penrhiwceiber then Shamrock, Pontypridd before being scrapped in 2000 while 316 was broken up by Eastbourne. The North Birmingham Busways ones went for scrap, save for 320 which ran for Sutton Trailways (who used 318 for spares) before it too reached the breakers yard. Unless 314 survives, this batch is now extinct.

321 to 330 URN321-330V new September 1979.
This batch had a protracted disposal. 321 was retired in October 1993 and sold to North Birmingham in February 1994. It returned for the 2004 open day but has since been scrapped. 322-330 all went to Fylde after it was taken over in 1994 but later rejoined the fold when the subsidiary was absorbed. 322/3 became driver trainers in 1999, lasting until 2007. 323 was sold for scrap, 322 was sold - possibly for preservation. 324-330 survived until May 2002 (June for 328) accruing over 22 years in service. 325-7, 329/30 went to Liddel's of Auchinleck in Scotland, 324 to Red Kite, St Helens and 328 to GM, Bridgend. 324 ended up with KJB, Lincoln and after a period of SORN has been unlicensed since March 2009. 328 was sold for scrap in 2007. Of the Liddels examples 327/9 moved onto Howell's of Deri in 2007 who disposed of them in April 2009 - 329 certainly being scrapped. 325/6 remain on SORN, whilst 330 has been unlicensed since 2003, though was still at Liddels some time afterwards. Current status of these is unknown.

331-340 AHG331-40V new June/July 1980
Other than fire victim 335, these survived until May 2002 (331/2), Feb 2003 (333/6) or May 2003 (334, 337-340). 331 was bought by LTT and 334 by Graham Oliver who later passed it onto LTT, allowing 331 to be sold on. This moved to Fargo, Braintree rejoining 339/40 (and 343-5). Fargo gradually withdrew its Atlanteans from 2006 and 331/9/40 have all been scrapped. 332 joined 325-7/9/30 at Liddels and remains on SORN but was seen heavily stripped and partially dismantled on a lorry in June 2009 presumably heading for scrap. 333 was one of a handful sold directly for scrap by BTS, 336 went to Ayrways, Ayr (scrapped 2006) and 337 was privately preserved but broken up in 2008. 338 went to GM, Bridgend with 328 and has also been scrapped. 334 is thus now the sole survivor of this batch.

341-350 GHG341-50W new May/June 1981
2003 saw the withdrawal of 341, 343-349 in May (341) or July (the rest) with 350 surviving until November 2005. 342 was the third fire victim of October 1986. 341 joined 328/31 with GM, Bridgend and has been scrapped. 343-345 went to Fargo Coaches, 343/5 being the only two of their six to be repainted in red/yellow and they passed to Stephenson's of Essex with the Fargo business. 343 was purchased for preservation by Steven Hughes in 2009. 346-349 went to Ayrways joining 336 and all have since been scrapped. 350 was acquired by Blackpool Borough Council and converted to a mess bus for the Streetscene tramway PW gang. It remains in use.

Restored 353 on display in Birkenhead for the Wirral Bus and Tram Show 4 Oct 2009


351-354 UHG351-4Y new August 1982.
This small batch was withdrawn in stages. First to go was 351 in November 2005 and was used for spares by preservationists before being scrapped in 2007. 352 was withdrawn in June 2006 but stayed in store until April 2009 when it finally went for scrap. 354 came off in June 2006 and left in November for Scotbus of Inverness. 353 meanwhile survived its initial withdrawal of June 2006 by returning to use in January 2007 and lasting until a last day on Line 1 on 29 July 2008. In September it was collected by Chesterfield 123 Group who quickly restored it to the post 1994 livery.

362 at Blackpool Zoo on the Farewell to the Atlantean event in October 2006

355-362 A355-362HHG new August 1983.
The final bus seated batch remained intact until June 2006 when all eight were taken out of use. 355/9 were quickly sold for scrap and 356 became a playbus. 358, 360-362 were then reinstated especially for the (premature) last Atlantean event with 361/2 running on Line 20 (with 364) on Saturday 28 October and on Sunday 358/60/2 ran on the 20 and 361 on Line 6 (with 363/4). 362 was then sold to LTT for preservation, while 357 and 361 went to Scotbus, Inverness in November. 360 returned to service in January but lasted just one month, as 358 then replaced it. 360 survived in store until it was scrapped in April 2009 and 358 ran until July 2008 before passing to LTT for spares in April 2009.

363/4 B363/4UBV new Sept 1984
The final pair had coach seats to a lower capacity but in their last years were used interchangeably with the bus examples. 363 was withdrawn in July 2008 and scrapped in July 2009 whilst 364 has survived as something of a company pet, regularly rallied by the Blackpool Transport Omnibus Group. Hopefully it may be restored for 2010.

16 are believed to survive - though 332 is doubtful and they can be summarised as:
Preserved: 322, 334, 343, 353, 362 (5)
On SORN: 309, 325, 326, 332, 358 (5)
Scotbus, Inverness: 354, 357, 361 (3)
Blackpool Council: 350 (1)
Playbus: 356 (1)
Blackpool Transport: 364. (1)
Directly for scrap by BTS 310, 323, 333, 335, 342, 352, 355, 359, 360, 363 (10)

Every Little Helps

Olympian 415 (A719YFS) leaves Staining for Tesco on the new free bus service on 7 October
Last month's changes to Line 15 saw the end of the link from Staining to Tesco - though in practise it had ceased in February due to the long term temporary arrangements arising from the redevelopment outside the Winter Gardens. The 15 terminated at Marton Mere where passengers could wait for the 4A shuttle to Tesco.

Last Wednesday (30 Sept) saw the start of service T1 - a Tesco free bus operated by Blackpool Transport from Poulton via Highcross Road, Normoss Road, Staining Road, Chain Lane, Mythop Road, Preston New Road to Tesco at Mereside. It operates on a trail basis until the end of December on Wednesdays and Fridays with two journeys each way departing from Poulton at 0930 and 1230 and from Tesco at 1100 and 1330. Journey time is 23 minutes each way.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Metrorider Story (so far)



The ‘minibus revolution’ of the mid 1980s was predicated on replacing big buses with cheaper, smaller, more frequent minibuses. NBC led the process, experimenting with Ford Transit van conversions. Unit costs were much lower – partly because drivers did not require a full psv license at the time (they do now, however) yet some questioned the validity of the economics given that the Transit had a short service life and it took several to replace one big bus. Manufacturers and operators started to stretch the concept and the van conversion era soon moved to the coachbuild era. Northern Counties, in particular, started coach building bodies on Dodge S56 chassis cowls. Optare broke the mould with its stylish City Pacer – on a van chassis but without the cowl. MCW then launched the Metrorider with similar appearance to the City Pacer but as an integral rather than as a van descendant. MCW closed down in 1989 and Optare bought the rights to the Metrorider, redesigning it and re-launching it.
Blackpool chose the City Pacer for its minibus fleet and moved onto Optare’s Delta to replace its single deckers. When the City Pacer replacements became due, Optare – not surprisingly – wanted the business. It had already provided a demonstrator back in May 1991 (H844UUA) but in March 1995 a seed vehicle arrived in full Handybus black and yellow livery as 584 (M924TYG) – built for stock by Optare. It spent six weeks on service 26 from Rigby Road and a month at Squires Gate on Fylde’s 44B before returning to Rigby Road. It was duly taken onto the permanent fleet strength and eight more were ordered. These arrived as 585-592 (N585-92GRN) in October and November 1995. All nine were normally to be found on the 2/2A/2B (Poulton to Bispham) though did appear on other minibus routes on Sundays. A long wheelbase 29 seat example arrived for demonstration in January 1996 as P507NWU, but the next batch of eight was ordered as 25 seaters again. The first four were 593-6 (N593-6LFV) and arrived in May, with the second four coming in September as 501-504 (P501-504UFR). With 17 now in stock allowing the full 2 route to be covered by Metroriders, 584-587 moved to Squires Gate Depot to work the 33 (Cleveleys-Mereside) inherited from Fylde. Various sisters – including 588/9 – briefly ran from Squires Gate with 589/91 moving there in April 1998 to convert route 193 to minibus operation. The depot closed in April 1999 by which time several Metoriders had spells there.
589, meanwhile, was an unusual (and so far unique) example of a minibus that received an all-over advert. It promoted Harvey’s American diner from October 1997 to September 1998 when it emerged in a reversed livery of yellow with black skirt rather than the established black with yellow skirt.


By 1998 the City Pacer fleet was down to 18 and a batch of 14 further Metroriders was expected to see these off. However as they arrived between October and December 1998 an elaborate cascade plan was put into place. The new buses would convert the 12A and 26 back from Delta operation to minibuses (undoing a change made in August 1996), the Deltas eventually moved onto the 11, 11A and 12, releasing Atlanteans for school work, in turn releasing several very old Atlanteans for disposal.


The new buses were 505-518 (S505-518LHG) and arrived in the mainly yellow livery pioneered on 589. 505-515 entered service on 7 December (505/6/9/11/13/14 on the 26, 507/8/10/12/15 on the 12A) with the last three following over the next couple of weeks as they arrived. From January 2000 a total of 24 buses were now required in service covering routes 2/2A/2B (9), 12A (5), 26 (7), 77 (1) and 193 (2) with new Solos replacing the City Pacers and operating on the 23, 24, 25 and 33.

In August 2000 BTS withdrew services 77 and 193 which used three minibuses and place its first Metroriders into store, with 586 and 587 being delicensed. During the summer routine repaints into the new livery commenced with 584, 588, 590, 594 and 595 treated. 2001 started with the reinstatement of 586 and 587 but the withdrawal of 585. This returned to use in early April following the sudden demise of Phoenix North West. At the start of the month BTS had resumed the 77 (St. Annes Roamer) and soon after Phoenix ceased trading with BT taking on the emergency contracts for routes 7 (Kirkham Roamer) 10 (Pheasants Wood-Halfway House), 53 (Poulton- Halfway House) and 180/2 (Poulton to Preston) which needed seven minibuses. This resulted in some big bus workings on minibus services however the introduction of the new Metro network from the end of April was intended to reduce the minibus requirement. The new services included a revised Line 2 (Poulton to Blackpool with 7 buses), route 26 (South Pier to Mereside with 7 buses) and routes 8/8A/9 (South Shore to Marton with 2 buses) This 16, plus the 8 required for tendered services occupied the 31 buses nicely. Another surprising addition was tendered service 88 (Fleetwood-Knott End-Lancaster) in July 2001 using 2 more buses. Sundays also saw Metroriders operate tendered service 167 (St. Annes to Preston) between May 2001 and October 2005 and the 158 (Knott End to Preston) from October 2003 to October 2005

In July 2001 the process of dedicating buses to services progressed with 505-10 allocated to Line 2, 511-516 to Line 26 and – surprisingly – 517 to Line 3. The six buses on the 26 were all quickly repainted into its green/yellow livery during September and October and then attention turned to painting spares into the generic yellow, mustard and grey livery. 590-5 and 501/2 had all been treated by February. The 8/8A/9, 10 and 53 were revised into a new 8-10 group in November 2001 but then completely withdrawn in April 2002 along with the 180/2 and the Lancaster service followed in July. This allowed 584-588 to be withdrawn, though 584 was soon reinstated.

Also in April 2002 the 2 and 26 were merged, this also incorporating parts of the 8-10 group with 14 buses required. Line 26 Green was adopted - nothing ever received the intended black/yellow Line 2 livery, though it was later adopted for the pool fleet. Repaints into green restarted with 504-510 all treated between May and August 2002 making 13 buses for 14 duties. 585-8 were briefly reinstated in September but were back in store in November with 584.
Two more buses were required for an extension of Line 2 to Lytham in January 2003 and in February 517 and 518 were repainted in the line livery with 503 following in November for another extension to Thornton. September 2003 saw a further reinstatement of 584-587 surprisingly for use on Promenade service 1 to release double deckers for an emergency school contract. 584-6 had a brief period of storage in November but returned to use from December to April 2004. In May they were joined by 587-9 following the arrival of three new Solos for Line 3 and 590 joined them between July and August.

Autumn 2004 saw the return of the stored buses. First up was 588 which still retained the mainly yellow version of Handybus livery. This was followed by 584-587 which all went through the paint shop to receive pink and yellow livery for new Line 15 (Staining to Poulton) which started on November 22. Other repaints included 596 – from the original black and yellow Handybus livery into the new Black and yellow Pool fleet livery. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same. December saw 501/2 lose the old pool livery in favour of Line 2 to make up a full route allocation of 17 buses (501-510 and 512-518) as 511 had suffered major accident damage and was out of use from October 2004 to August 2006. More pool repaints during included 588 and 592 in February 591/4 in November and 589 in December. 595 gained Line 2 colours in November reflecting an increased requirement due to the extension of certain journeys to Knott End. 593 was repainted blue and yellow in December for new one bus Line 10 (Town Centre to Midgeland Road). 590 was the last to lose the original pool livery in favour of the new one in January 2006. This meant that 501-18 carried Line 2 green, 584-7 Line 15 pink, 588-592, 594-596 pool black and 593 Line 10 blue.



The Optare Solo fleet had grown progressively with the first 15 replacing City Pacers in 2000, followed by examples for the new Lifestyle Line in 2002/3 and for Lines 3 and 5 in 2004. The next new batch arrived in 2007 for the Lifestyle Line and cascaded older Solos into the pool fleet and for Line 2. This triggered a cascade. First of all 518 moved onto Line 10 receiving a new grey and yellow livery and 593 was repainted into pool colours causing 591 to be withdrawn. 584-587 were withdrawn between May and September as 514-517 were painted into pink for Line 15. 584/5 and 595 went on loan to Arriva in Darlington between June and August 2007, reprising a similar visit by 589/90/6 two years earlier. 588, 589 and 590 were also withdrawn during 2007 once the various Solo repaints had progressed.


Some of these buses continued their charmed life. 590 was reinstated again in January to service a one bus requirement for a shuttle on Line 15 while Mythop Road was closed. 584 also returned to use in January, partially repainted into pool livery but a failure in February saw it withdrawn again. More new Solos arrived in May and caused further cascades of older Solos. 590, 592 and 594, 595 and 596 were withdrawn in May – 593 escaping by virtue of its tachograph. This left 501-513 on Line 2, 514-7 on Line 15, 518 on Line 10 and 593 in the pool fleet. 590 escaped once more, returning to use in late June and surviving until it failed in November 2008. 516also suffered a failure in summer 2008 and kept slipping further behind in the queue of vehicles to repair. So much so it was officially withdrawn at the end of the year and replaced by 513 which gained Line 15 livery.


The 2009 Solo order was intended as a direct replacement for Line 2 Metoriders. The new buses entered service in May and 501, 502, 504, 505 and 507 were withdrawn. 503 and 506 continued in service and were replaced on the doomed list by 508 and 514 which suffered failures during July. September 7 saw service changes which took out 503, 509, 510 and 593, while 506 was retired at the end of the month. 511/2 remain on Line 2 currently but are on borrowed time. Other than these just 513/5/7 (Line 15) and 518 (Line 10) now remain in use.

Disposals
Considering the first Metrorider was stored back in 2000, it was not until 2007 that the first permanent withdrawal took place and April 2008 for the first disposal. 586 – withdrawn in May 2007 – was stripped for spares at Rigby Road in spring 2008 and taken for scrap. 584 – finally withdrawn in February 2008 was similarly stripped in April 2008 but the shell hung around until final scrapping in March 2009.


Two preservation sales took place with 589 passing to Alan Hayward in summer 2008 and 590 to LTT in February 2009. Other than that everything remained undisturbed until summer 2009 with most withdrawn examples stored at Jackson’s Coaches. 594 was the next to leave in July 2009 having been used for spares. The process then accelerated with the sale of several examples to Wigley’s Carlton who collected them in pairs. 24 July saw 516 and 596 leave; the following week saw 501/4 go then on 7 August 508 and 591 left, with 514 and 592 a week later and 587/8 on August 28. 591 had been the first withdrawal back in April 2007 and survived over 27 months in store. Its travel companion – 508 was withdrawn and disposed of with almost indecent haste by comparison.
September saw three further sales with 502, 509 and 510 passing into private ownership. 502 and 510 have stayed local, the latter is preserved, the former intended for caravan conversion. 509 is believed to have been preserved in the North East. 585 and 595 have come back to the depot for component recovery ready for scrapping leaving just 503 and 593 of the 1995/6 purchases still in stock.

So with the fleet decimated and just seven left in use, the Metrorider is entering its 11th hour with Blackpool Transport. With further service cuts planned in January their farewell may be just round the corner.