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Birmingham MMC's Part 1

As a large number of London’s Enviro 400 MMC’s have now been delivered, with two more batches for Go Ahead and Stagecoach still to come, I thought I would take a trip out of the capital, to Britain’s second city, Birmingham. To see what their versions had to offer.
6108 (SN15LFS) is seen on Snow Hill Queensway, Birmingham while working on Route 9 to Stourbridge. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
National Express West Midlands (NXWM), is one of the largest bus operators outside of London and even with London included they would still be ranked third largest (following Go-Ahead London and Metroline). They operate over 170 routes and around 1,600 buses working out of ten garages, they have a varied fleet from double deckers to articulated or bendy buses right down to small midi buses. And that doesn’t include sister company National Express Coventry. Also it’s worth noting that when compared to London their fleet is ageing, with still quite a few buses over 10 years old.

6141 (SN15LHL) is seen on Moor Street, Birmingham having just started its journey on the Route 50 to Druids Heath. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
As part of the Transforming Bus Travel agreement, signed in 2013, NXWM are delivering more than £34 million of investment in the West Midlands bus services over a period of two years, this investment includes 300 new buses. This included 14/64 registered standard Enviro 200’s and 400’s as well as the remaining 171 buses which will be delivered this year,  mainly comprising of the largest order so far of Enviro 400 MMC's, they are also the first company to receive the new Enviro 200 MMC. The first Enviro 400 MMC’s hit the streets towards the end of March. And will form an average of one new bus hitting the region’s streets every day between March and August.

6111 (SN15LFV) is seen on Snow Hill Queensway, Birmingham while working on the Route 9 to Stourbridge. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
Alongside the investment in new buses, improvements also include more real-time information on bus shelters, similar to what exists in London as well as other cities. There will also be improvements in CCTV coverage, to help reduce crime and dedicated cleaners at each end of certain routes to help improve cleanliness on buses. Which I think is a great idea as it happens on the trains, and it’s something other cities like London should be replicating to improve the standard of service for bus passengers.

6138 (SN15LHH) is seen on Park Street, Birmingham while working on the Route 50 to Druids Heath. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
The first batch of Enviro 400 MMC’s where delivered between March and April 2015 and have been spilt between Pensnett and Yardley Wood garages for the Routes 9 and 50 respectively. All these buses were delivered in the new Scarlet and Maroon livery which is a looks very smart compared to the previous red and white livery. However most of the buses are route branded and in my opinion it slightly spoils the livery.

6134 (SN15LHD) is seen on next to The Bullring Shopping Centre, Birmingham showing the rear route branding for the Route 50. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
The Route 9 runs between Stourbridge and Birmingham City Centre (approx. 13 miles) operating every 7-8mins in the peak times and every 10-20mins the rest of the time. The Route 50 runs between Druids Heath and Birmingham City Centre (approx. 6.5 miles) and is one of the most frequent bus services in the UK outside London running 24 hours a day with buses every 4-5mins Monday to Saturday daytimes. It was also the first route in the UK to operate low floor double decker buses.

6106 (SN15LFP) is seen on Snow Hill Queensway while working on the Route 9 to Stourbridge. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 16/05/15)
The Buses themselves… I am surprised NXWM have still continued to order single door buses as loadings can often be high which will lead to long dwells especially at busy stops. I am also surprised they did not go for the hybrid version of the MMC, as there are only two hybrid routes in Birmingham at the moment (Routes 23/24). But having ridden the route 9 from Stourbridge into Birmingham, trying to rein in my pro MMC bias, the buses are great, the seats are sturdy, which will prove useful on these busy routes they are allocated too. They weren’t too much of an issue on the hour long journey either. The buses are also very quick not as quick as the hybrid models (in London) but they are still able to get away from other buses when bunching occurs, which happened a few times I observed both routes 9 and 50. Also useful on the large amount of A-road’s on the Route 9. The ride was smooth, and it did iron out some of the smaller imperfections. Also it was quite evident that they have bedded in very well as the drivers seem very comfortable with them. They also seemed to be very popular with the local’s as well, which is always a good sign.  

6124 and 6130 are seen on Moor Street while working on the Route 50 to Druids Heath. (Taken by Kristian lake on 18/05/15)
So it looks like I will be returning to the Midlands hopefully within the next few weeks to see the 'Platinum' Enviro 400 MMC’s and Enviro 200 MMC’s so stayed tuned for Part 2.
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London Recap - April 2015

A relatively quiet month in the London bus world, but one thing we can confirm is that Arsenal are not going to win the league title after all and Jeremy Kyle is our new top gear host and I personally cannot see anyone better to be honest, with his amplified voice, who better to talk about a V6 engine on a car.

Delivery of the VH class Volvo B5LH/Wright Gemini buses for the 116 & 285

Delivery of first of 28 VH class Volvos numbered VH24-51 for London United commenced on the 27th of Apirl where four of these buses were unexpectedly delivered to the company's Twickenham Depot in South West London. Earmarked for the Route 116 & 285, there was much speculation as to what both routes will be using to mark the start of their new contract, in particular the 285, with some theorists suggesting the ADH class on the 94 would be utilised which would make way for the introduction of LTs on the route. This was of course rubbished when the first pictures on the net emerged of the new buses. Seen here in a lonely Twickenham yard, stands VH40 which is in warm storage, while it awaits blinds, Tfl revenue equipment as well as IBUS installation prior to entering service on routes 116 and 285.

Introduction of Enviro 400 MMC's for Metroline on Route 332 

The 17th of April, saw the much anticipated introduction of the first batch of Metroline MMC bodied Enviro Hybrid buses, with TEH2081 and 2082 performing the honours. The vehicles ordered against the issue of the new 332 contract were delivered to the company's CELF Centre facility in February before being placed in warm storage at another location. The introduction of 16 strong batch with numbers ranging from TEH2072-2087 will ultimately allow some of the older TEs from the batch TE1073-1104 to transfer to Holloway (HT) in order to oust the 25 TP/TPL class currently in service. As of April 2014, TE1076 & 1077 have made the short trip up north. 

The Last Enviro 400 to enter service

Seen here with the Millennium dome in the backdrop, is Stagecoach London's 12364 SN15 LRJ, the Plumstead allocated vehicle prides itself in being the last ever production model Enviro 400 to be introduced to the streets of London after which all other models will be of the MMC body. Allocated to the 122 as a logistical spare, it spends most of its time plying its trade on the other routes at Plumstead Garage.

Sullivan's new acquisitions

The 7th of April, saw independent operator Sullivan Buses take on the delivery of four former Stagecoach Lodno Scania Omnicity buses which had recently come off lease following the end of their contractual duties on Route 56 which obtained Hybrid buses. Given fleet numbers DS50-53, the vehicles will be allocated to newly won school routes, 692 and 699 which were respectively won from fellow operator London General. The Buses originally ordered by stagecoach are in the process of receiving a new blind sets, prior to deep clean, their arrival allows the company to oust the ageing ALX1/2 & 4/5 in the summer which are nearing the end of their lives.

More Greens for Metroline 

Delivery has commenced of 34 VWH class buses for Metroline as illustrated in the above picture, the eventual batch will consist of 64 vehicles, with eventual fleet numbers set to be running from VWH2088-2151, the introduction of these vehicles will see both routes 6 and 98 convert to full hybrid operation, to meet new requirements as well as allow the not too long refurbished VPs to be utilised elsewhere, ridding older leased deckers in the process. 

A set of striking two tone pink and black NBFL adverts

The over-publication of London fashion icon, the 'LT' continued, with this time Magnum supporting the cause, noted across the Holloway and Leyton garages, the buses, are being wrapped in a pink vinyl advertising Magnum's new flavoured ice cream, all wrapped vehicles have also had WiFi installed, which is sponsored by Walls.

Slightly out of London

Introduction of Streetdecks in Brighton

Slightly out of London, the much coveted introduction of the first of the facelifted Streedecks went very smootly, with the first models entering service on flagship routes 12 and 12X, 24 buses comprised of an integral Wrightbus chassis which is coupled to a 5.1 Daimler engine commenced delivery in the early days of April. Although there have been mixed reviews about the vehicle, nothing can be taken away from the fact it has a marvellously striking design.


TEs on the U5

Metroline West TE1743 is seen in Hayes, unusually working the U5, this batch of buses were originally new to former operator, First London's Greenford Garage for the retention of the E1 & E3 which were successfully retained on tender in 2009. The batch were formerly numbered DN33575-33611, however following the purchase of First's Centrwest operations it and its sisters were given new identities, in TE1715-1751. At present most of the batch are still at Greenford Garage, following the retention and gain of routes 282 and 482, while a few transferred north to Holloway Garage (HT) for the 91 while its TEs transferred further north to the company's Potters Bar (PB) garage as temporary cover on the recently gained 34 and 125 while both routes awaited their new VWHs.

WDL1 on the 655

A normally 270 allocated WDL1 is seen loading outside of GAL's headquarters in Merton whilst serving school route 655, the one off vehicle was delivered to Go-Ahead's via VDL dealer Arriva Bus & Coach in 2009 and housed at their Stockwell garage.

MCL1 Still going strong

Still going strong, seen navigating Kingston Bus Station is Quality Line's MCL1, a now spare bus purchased by Quality Line following the gain of Route 293 back in 2003, the vehicle now spends most of its operating as a layover bus, allocated to much of the routes at the company's small Epsom base.

Transfer of TEs from Cricklewood to Holloway

The much anticipated transfer of up to 25 TEs from Cricklewood to Holloway commenced on the night of the 18th of April, when TE1076/7 transferred in the little hours, the vehicles from a bigger batch with numbers ranging from TE1073-1104 were acquired in 2010 to meet contractual requirements. Initially it was only TE1073-1075 that were delivered to Cricklewood in July 2010, while the latter of the batch commenced their delivery in October of that year, following the annual factory shut down of ADL. The introduction of the vehicles at Holloway will allow the ousting of 5 TPL and 20 TP class vehicles which currently ply their trade on routes 17,43 and 271. It is expected that when all 25 do transfer, their mainstay will be Routes 17 and 43.

Tender News  

29th of April 2015

LBSL intends to enter into new contracts for the following routes with the operators listed below:
Route Current Operator New Operator PVR Vehicles
11/N11 London General London General 26 Existing New Routemaster
23 (24 Hr) Tower Transit Tower Transit 28 Existing diesel and hybrid double deck
190 Metroline Metroline 10 Existing diesel single deck
295 (24 Hr) Tower Transit to Metroline West 21 New hybrid double deck

Contracts will commence on the following dates:
31st October 2015 – Routes 11/N11 and 295
14th November 2015 – Route 23
12th December 2015 – Route 190
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Wright Streetdeck, What's the Verdict?

Now following up from the extremely popular post back in March which previewed a new design Wright Gemini 3 or Streetdeck leaving the Wright Factory in Northern Ireland, I decided to pop to the seaside to see for myself what all the fuss was about, typically the British weather wasn’t the greatest.

943 (BX15ONV) is seen at the Old Steine, Brighton on the final part of the Route 12 to Churchill Square, this is one of the last streetdeck's in the batch. (Taken 02/05/15 by Kristian Lake)
Wrightbus launched their latest product, the StreetDeck at the Euro Bus Expo in Birmingham in November 2014, the product has leading fuel efficiency and capacity in its class and is a highly reliable product. With its Euro 6 Daimler OM934 5.1 litre 4 cylinder diesel engine, rated at 231hp and a maximum torque of 900 Nm at 1,400rpm. The buses measure 10.469m long, 2.52m wide and 4.395m high with two possible body designs available, you can either take the traditional Gemini 3 design or the new more angular design, the latter of which has been adopted by the production models for Brighton and Hove. A number of other revisions have been included into this new product including improved airflow throughout both salons, reduced solar gain in the upper saloon (basically the upper deck stays cooler when the sun is out) however this is at the detriment of having smaller side windows. With other improvements in areas such as cab door lock design, wireless bell pushes and revised handpole fixings.

927 (BX15ONB) is seen on Churchill Square, Brighton about to depart on the Route 12 to Eastbourne. (Taken on 02/05/15, by Kristian Lake)

Before the main production models where produced, six demonstrators visited a number of companies across the country including Arriva Derby Sapphire, First Manchester and South Yorkshire, Transdev in Harrogate, Brighton and Hove (prior to them receiving 24 production models), as well as two for London with Arriva and Go-Ahead. However only the Arriva Derby model had the new design front, another variable with this design is whether you wish to have a visible stair case. Again looking at the demonstrators, some did and others didn’t, the Brighton production models chose to go with the new front but the non-visible staircase. This characteristic shows how the streetdeck shares a number of similar aspects with the New Bus For London (NBFL).

933 (BX15ONK) is seen on Churchill Square, Brighton while working on the Route 12X Limited Stop to Eastbourne, following behind is another streetdeck on the stopping service. (Taken on 02/05/15, by Kristian Lake)

There is a growing trend in the bus industry at the moment to be moving towards higher  specification buses on par with coaches in some cases, the ever popular Arriva Sapphire/MAX and Stagecoach Gold brands require their buses to be fitted with leather seats, air-con, free wifi, plug sockets etc. This is just one of the ways in which the industry is trying to turn the tide of a general decline in bus usage around the country (excluding London). The streetdecks for Brighton & Hove follow a very similar principle with high-backed seats and leather headrests, audio-visual announcements, free wifi and plug sockets. Externally they have moved away from the traditional Brighton and hove livery and now come in a line green livery with full branding for the flagship coaster route 12 running between Brighton and Eastbourne (Based at the Whitehawk Garage), this also includes the 12A and 12X routes, which combine to form eight buses an hour (Monday to Saturday) between Brighton and Seaford with six continuing to Eastbourne.

The Brighton & Hove Coaster (Route 12) Branding. (Taken on 02/05/15, by Kristian Lake)
Delivery of the streetdecks commenced on 19th March 2015 and at the time of writing only two remained to be delivered hence why there was a few Scania Omnideka's still on the route when I visited. The streetdecks certainly have a place in the Brighton and Hove fleet which must be one of very few fleets in the country to be completely free of ADL/Enviro buses.

922 (BX15OMU) is seen on Churchill Square, Brighton working on the Route 12 to Seaford Library. (Taken on 02/05/15, by Kristian Lake) 
Now as many of you will be aware, I am a huge Enviro 400 MMC fan, but I would definitely say Wrightbus have taken it to the next level with the Streetdeck as it is undoubtedly an improvement on the Gemini models. However I thought the upper deck felt cramped with rather small windows in comparison to an MMC. I also think the cab looks rather small compared to what the MMC offers. But that said the buses rode well, and ironed out some of the smaller bumps well, the buses pulled off smoothly, on the longer runs they do get up to a decent speed, even with a smallish engine. Traffic was quite heavy leaving Churchill Square in Brighton, the bus was able to make the time up along the way.

932 (BX15ONJ) is seen crossing Old Steine, Brighton while working on the Route 12A to Eastbourne via Chyngton. (Taken on 02/05/15 by Kristian Lake)
Brighton is well known for its hills and it just so happens that the Route 12 has a stand on Dyke Road which is at the beginning of a prolonged hill, which the streetdeck crawled up, even without passengers. However on flatter roads they did seem to manage with there smaller engine. Another consideration maybe their choice of gear box which may not help on the hills. This is probably where they are better suited to city roads. The buses are fitted out to provide the best of both worlds for passengers, comfort for the longer distance travellers between Eastbourne and Brighton, obviously competing for customers against the train, but also the shorter distance travellers who maybe jumping between towns along the coast.

939 (BX15ONR) is seen on Old Steine, Brighton while working the final leg of the Route 12 to Churchill Square. (Taken on 02/05/15 by Kristian Lake)
Route One claims that the Streetdeck is 18% more fuel efficient compared to a Euro 5 Enviro 400, It would be interesting to know how this compared to a like for like euro 6 model. As this brings me onto the final question, will it sell in large numbers. I think they are a very good bus and will certainly provide some competition to ADL. There has been a lot of talk about the new design body but personally I think it has been mechanically where the improvements have been made. And can certainly see these buses being popular, for all the fuel saving benefits they offer but can we please keep with the traditional Gemini 3 body.

930 (BX15ONG) is seen crossing Old Steine, Brighton while working on the Route 12X to Eastbourne. (Taken on 02/05/15 by Kristian Lake)
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It is quite a bit of a mouthful to say, but I'm sure as we become more familiar with the vehicle itself, a fitting nickname will follow as with many types before them and the type is arguably one of the most highly anticipated fleet of new vehicles, for obvious reasons.

In April 2014 as part of Stagecoach's national order, 18 E400 bodied Volvo B5LHs were included with the very prominent distinction that they would feature a new body, however at the time with no official announcement from ADL, myself just as much as anybody was left as dumbfounded as anyone as to what these new style E400 could look like. By the Summer pictures had surfaced as to what the new style body would look like which was followed by an official announcement from ADL.

Nevertheless the first four arrived at Stagecoach's Strathay Depot on the 23rd of April, with many complete with heavy branding and imagery to designate their Hybrid credentials. The three in the shot from left show 13046 SJ15 PVF , 13044 SJ15 PVL and 13045  SJ15 PVN, whilst the fourth a training bus HY14 BUS was sat inside the shed for staff familiarisation. Their fleet details follow below. 

13041 SJ15PUY 
13042 SJ15PUX 
13043 HY14BUS
13044 SJ15PVL 
13045 SJ15PVN 
13046 SJ15PVF 
13047 SJ15PVK 
13048 SJ15PVE 
13049 SJ15PVO 
13050 SA15VML 
13051 SA15VTW 
13052 SA15VTU 
13053 SA15VTY 
13054 SA15VTV 
13055 SA15VUX 
13056 SA15VTX 
13057 SA15VTZ 
13058 SA15VUY 

Seen here from the nearside angle in all heir glory, they do look remarkably similar to the Scania/E400 combination, one which had become so popular with the Stagecoach group over the years. 

Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH Offside 
Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH Interior - Upper deck
Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH Interior - lower deck
Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH Interior - lower deck
Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH Interior - Upper deck
Stagecoach Scotland E400 Volvo B5LH from the rear
The interior shows quite an unorthodox use of grey for the interior panelling while similarities can be drawn between the engine bay on these vehicles and the more familiar Wright Gemini B5LH. The vehicles themselves for their length weigh a noble 11,255KGS and seat an impressive 79 persons with space for 20 standees. The Stagecoach Scotland orders is followed by a further 21 which are due for Plumstead Garage route 177 in Summer whilst Go Ahead London have ordered 16 for their newly won 135 which will operate from their Silvertown Garage. Credit to our dear friend Gordon who supplied us with the photos and we must stress these must not be used without prior permission. 
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London Recap - March 2015

The calendar month of March is always a busy one irrespective of the London Bus Scene, if we recap Arsenal just came a step closer in being crowned Premier League champions following their 2-1 over Newcastle and Jeremy Clarkson left Top Gear in favour of the more lucrative role as a presenter of Channel 5's Fifth Gear. But deep within the streets of London are a group of individuals who pride themselves on accumulating knowledge of London's Buses and this is what this month's March Recap will be corresponding on.

Bexleyheath gained a V6 

V6 (BJ14KTL) is seen at Abbey Wood Station while working on the Route 229 to Queen Mary Hospital. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 12/03/15)
Short lived, V6 from Camberwell (Q) to Bexleyheath (BX) proved quite a shocker, when it suddenly appeared on the Route 229 one day, apparently for fuel comparison trials, the move was allowed to take place following the introduction of Streetdeck WSD1 on the 2nd of March 2015. The move also saw WVL366 move to Northumberland Park. The transfer itself was short lived and the vehicle was withdrawn from service on the 24th of March, reported to be visiting Coventry, prior to going abroad. 

London United OC1 moves to Quality Line

OC1 (YD63UZL) is seen in Kingston Town Centre while working on the Route 411. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 14/03/15)
One of the more quiet transfers saw former Metrocity demonstration bus OC1 YD63 UZL transfer between sister companies London United and Quality Line. The vehicles was the one previously launched at the Bus & Coach expo back in 2012 rather strangely sporting route 29 blinds.

Introduction of LTs on the 15 

LT391 (LTZ1391) is seen at Trafalgar Square having arrived from Blackwall on the Route 15. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 04/03/15)
During the early days of March , another Stagecoach route, in the 15 began its conversion to LT operation, with its batch ranging from LT391-416 as well as top up vehicles LT462 & 463 which randomly appeared out of sequence. The introduction of LTs en route has helped to aid the conversion of another Stagecoach route, in the 56 to full Hybrid operation in order for it to meets the terms of its new contract. After a refurbishment by ADL 12128-12153 will return to their new home, Leyton (T)

Streetdecks enter service 
WSD1 (SN64CTV) is seen on Westminster Bridge Road while working on the Route 12 towards Dulwich Library. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 04/03/15)

SW1 (LK64DVV) is seen leaving Wood Green Garage about to start on the Route 221 to Edgware. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 04/03/15)
Two new Wright Streetdecks enter service in London in March, but thankfully they have retained there Gemini 3 styling. WSD1 has gone to Go-Ahead at Camberwell to replace V6 and SW1 has gone to Arriva at Wood Green to run alongside VDG1, the Volvo B5TL demonstrator.

Transfer of Route 482 to Metroline
    TE1727 (SN09CEX) is seen on South Road at Southall Town Hall on the first day of Metroline operation of the Route 482, taken on 21/03/15 by Kristian Lake
On the 21st of March 2015, Metroline West duly took over the Route 482 from their Greenford Garage (GR) using the former E1 & E3 buses, with numbers ranging from 1715-1751, had things gone slightly differently, this batch of buses would have ended up at Potters Bar, operating on both routes 34 & 125. The batch is now split between the 91*, 282, 482 & U4, with the higher ended numbers transferring across from Holloway (HT) to Uxbridge (UX) to form a partial allocation on route U4 alongside the TPs. 
Tower Transits new buses and routes 212/444

WV46108 (SN64CVM) is seen at Sterling Way at Silver Street Station while working on the Route 444 to Chingford. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 07/03/15)

VH38110 (BL64MHV) is seen at Walthamstow Central Station while working on the Route 212 to Chingford (Taken by Kristian Lake on 07/03/15)
Tower Transit took over two new routes in March which required twenty new buses (10 new Streetlites and 10 new Gemini 3 hybrids) both currently working out of Lea Interchange (LI) but could easily be moved to the forthcoming Pickkets Lock (PI) garage. Both routes start and finish at Chingford which was virgin ground for Tower Transit. Anyone interested in finding out more about these two routes and buses please check out the Tower Transit, The next two post.

MMCs commence Abellio operations on the 415

2514 (YY64TZO) is seen at Brixton Station while working on the Route 415 to Tulse Hill Station. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 07/03/15)
The penultimate Abellio route to gain MMC's was the Route 415 which was also a takeover from Arriva, the first day saw only three MMC's running with other Walworth (WL) buses assisting but within a week all MMC's had entered service, they have also made a number of forays onto other WL routes such as the 40.

Three new E200s for Blue Triangle 

SE233 (YX15XML) is seen on Woolwich Manor Way at Beckton having just started its journey on the Route 376 to East Ham. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 17/03/15)
One of the surprises of the month came in the form of three new Enviro 200's which went to Rainham (BE), they are almost identical to the recent batch for the Route 100. And so spent there first few days on the Route 376 while drivers where being trained on them as they have the new gear box. All three made an appearance on the route within the first week using borrowed blind sets from Silvertown (SI) while new sets where on order. They have all since been used on there intended route the W19, but unfortunately this is likely to spell the end for the two remaining Cadets (DW11 & 12).

MMCs starting on Route 350

2526 (YX15OWU) is seen at West Drayton Station while working on the Route 350 towards Hayes & Harlington. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 28/03/15)

The long awaited final batch of Abellio MMC's entered service a week later than planned towards the end of March on the Route 350, a rather unusual choice in my opinion given Hayes only has two double decker routes. I would have thought they may have been better suited on a more central route. Anyway this batch signals the end of Abellio's current order of MMC's and also the end of some of the 51-reg tridents that have spent there latter years on this route. Anyone interested to find out more about the route of buses please check out the Route 350 overview post.

Introduction of LTs on the 12 

LT417 (LTZ1417) is seen turning into Margret Street at the end of the Route 12 at Oxford Circus. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 29/03/15)
March saw a second route start to receive New Routemasters, following on from the Route 15 at the start of the month the route 12 also began towards the end, this was one of the larger batches of recent, with a total of 40 buses going to Camberwell (Q) even though they may eventually get mixed in with the 453 batch at Mandela Way (MW). This phased conversion will be continuing into April.

New Enviro 200's for National Express at Heathrow

8360 (SN15LKG) is seen at Hatton Cross Station while working on the British Airways Staff Shuttle BA5. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 14/03/15)

8369 (SN15LKD) is seen at the Bath Road Roundabout near Terminal 5 while working on a British Airways Staff Shuttle service (Taken by Kristian Lake on 18/03/15)
March also saw the start of a new contract between National Express and British Airways for the operation of a number of staff shuttle services around the Heathrow perimeter calling at all the main British Airways office's, buildings and hangers. 10 ADL Enviro 200's (10.8m) and 4 Optare M900SR's where ordered for this contract and these supplemented a couple of other existing Enviro 200's which will solely be used for these services. These new buses join a number of other Enviro 200's based at Heathrow for BBC Staff Shuttles and Heathrow Hotel Hoppa services.
London's new Sightseeing Tour Company 
    Ex Metroline VPL183 (Y183NLK) is seen at the Tower of London while working on for London City Tours. (Taken by Kristian Lake on 28/03/15)
And finally this month also saw a new Open Top tour operate begin operations, they are using heavily modified ex Metroline VPL's, these buses have had their roof's removed (not all have the roof fully removed), new LED destination blinds, free Wifi as well as USB/plug charging. So they seem to have the facilities of a luxury coach compared to a sightseeing bus.
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Route Overview: Route 350

The Route 350 runs between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Terminal 5, the route was first introduced in 2008 when terminal five at Heathrow opened. In fact for the first four days, buses terminated in Harmondsworth as passengers were not allowed to be taken into the terminal as it had not opened.  The route superseded the H50 which only operated between Hayes and West Drayton and was introduced in 2000 and ran Monday to Saturday only as it was funded by Hillingdon Council and operated by Wings, after the first year, the Saturday service was cut due to a lack of patronage and the route remained a Monday to Friday operation until the route ceased. The operation of the route was passed to Tellings Golden Miller (TGM) in 2004 however this only lasted just over twelve months before they were acquired by Travel London.  Soon after Travel London began operation, the route was converted to double deckers, using three of their brand new Volvo B7TL Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini’s. However double decker operation only lasted for two years as with the creation of the 350 the route returned to single decker operation with 8 brand new enviro 200’s although one peak time double decker did remain. Once again in 2012 the route returned to full double decker operation, this time with eight ageing dennis trident alexander ALX400’s and hopefully within the next few weeks these fourteen year old buses will be retired in place of brand new ADL Enviro 400 MMC’s which will complete Abellio’s current order.

9768 (YN51KWC) is seen at the Bath Road Roundabout, Longford approaching its final destination, taken on 18/03/15 by Kristian Lake
The route is around seven miles in length and takes on average between 30 and 35 minutes to complete one trip, buses run every 12 mins Monday to Friday and every 20 mins at weekends. I rode the route from Hayes & Harlington Station to Heathrow Terminal 5 on Saturday 14th March, and hope to return when the MMC’s begin. And I was surprised at the amount of people that also boarded at Hayes station, the route begins on a small residential street just around the corner from the station. After departing the stop at the station we head down towards Heathrow however we will be turning off very shortly. The first points of interest on the route are located just off the first road on the left which is Nestles Avenue, where you will find the London Motor Museum, a real hidden gem for anyone interested in cars, it is identifiable by the ex-Seaford and District Leyland Olympian parked outside which is now acting as a burger bar, also if you carry on further down the road you can marvel at the now derelict Nestle Factory which has stood on this site for over a century.
E851DPN - Ex Seaford & District Leyland Olympian/Northern Counties now acting as a burger bar outside the London Motor Museum. Taken 14/03/15 by Kristian Lake
The one thing you will find on this route is that there is a distinct country feel juxtaposed by modern industrial estates and this is felt as soon as you cross the Grand Union Canal which brings the large Lake Farm country park into view, we suddenly turn off Dawley Road onto a small tree lined side road called Bolingbroke way, now I start to wonder where we are actually going, as it doesn’t look like a road a London bus should be going down. At the end of the road all is revealed as we turn left into the buses only entrance to Stockley Park Business Park, home to companies such as Apple, Canon and Marks & Spencer’s, the site also features a lake, country park, golf club, a gym as well as restaurants and shops. After passing through a bus gate, we are parachuted deep inside an out of town modern business park which to and to my amazement this is where most of our passengers are deposited. And it’s also work noting that two other bus routes serve the site, they are the routes A10 and U5. 
9772 (YN51KWG) is seen approaching West Drayton Station while heading towards Hayes & Harlington, taken on 18/03/15 by Kristian Lake
After leaving the business park at Stockley Park, we start to head towards West Drayton or Yiewsley to be more precise, both villages have now merged together on each side of the railway, with West Drayton station at the centre of all this. After a short burst down a country road we arrive into the industrial sprawl of West Drayton, which then becomes more residential as we approach the main high street and station. After circumnavigating the forecourt of West Drayton Station, which is currently a building site to make it ready for the increased services, Crossrail will bring to this station and area. Turning back onto the high street we head under the railway and start to head towards the small village of Harmondsworth. After flying over the M4 we leave West Drayton behind and are shortly arriving in Harmondsworth, after passing through the village which is full of speed bumps we arrive on the A4 colnbrook by pass for a spell of quick dual carriageway running which will take us to the boundary of the airport where we join the western perimeter road just as a plan lands right above us, which is always an surreal and slightly unnerving experience. And soon enough we are arriving at the maze of roads which form the entrance to the ultra-modern terminal five which is where the journey ends. 

2526 (YX15OWU) is seen outside West Drayton Station while heading towards Hayes & Harlington on 28/03/15, taken by Kristian Lake
Now to talk a little about the buses, currently the route is covered by 51-reg Dennis Trident ALX400’s most of the time, however looking at the records, other buses from Hayes seem to make regular occasional appearances on the route, including single deckers. Which is not a surprise as loadings often don't require double deckers. But all credit to these 14 year old tridents, they still perform well on the dual carriageway sections of the route, as the one that I rode was quick and the engine was very responsive, I suppose part of that comes with a good driver who knows the bus and the route well.

An interior shot of the upper deck of 9770 (YN51KWE) taken on 14/03/15 by Kristian Lake
The route has plenty of fast running and buses are able to stretch its legs, so I look forward to riding a Enviro 400 MMC when they are due out before the end of March. No matter how well the tridents perform, they are defiantly showing their age internally, as they are looking very tired, even though they are probably not as battered and bruised as some of the younger models found at Walworth. It will be a shame to see another batch of Tridents leave London as I was brought up on them living in East London as there where the dominant stagecoach bus a few years ago. I am sure they will find a nice home out of London for these buses.

2528 (YX15OWW) is seen arriving at West Drayton Station while heading towards Heathrow Terminal 5 on 28/03/15, taken by Kristian Lake
Returning a few weeks later, on the first day of Enviro 400 MMC operation on the route and buses where gradually introduced over the day with the first four in service by the afternoon. Including 2523 (YX15OWO) which I rode on it's first ever working, and there is no real difference in feel compared to the other previous Abellio examples, however this is probably the best route to experience the full potential of the MMC's as the Route 109 is a very stop/start route, the Route 415 doesn't really get going enough before meeting the hills between Brixton and Tulse Hill, but due to the many open stretches of roads on this route, you will defiantly be able to have the full MMC experience.
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