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Bus & Coach Live 2013! The Good, the Bad and the Optare...

As hectic as today was, I learnt a valuable lesson, that I would never again board a coach when going to an outer London city and that a certain coach company should change their name to National Distress but I wont lift the lid on which company that is...I also discovered that Route branding on buses or any form of public transportation is only effective providing the said vehicles are allocated to the service they are branded for.

My journey started at 9:45 as I left my house for Golders Green to catch the 11:35 service to Whitehaven via Birmingham which was my stop. Although I didn't appreciate the £19 return fare, my coach did arrive on time so kudos to National Express. However I didn't appreciate that the said coach was a Caetano bodied Scania. Possibly two of the worst combinations put together, which made for a very slow and uncomfortable two hour journey to Birmingham. Nevertheless we arrived at Birmingham Coach Station albeit 10 minutes early at 14:00hrs.

So although my coach wasn't the luxury Plaxton Panther I had wished I got, I was early and quite confident of reaching the expo in time...yeah right! There's an old saying which states, Prior Planning, prevents piss poor performance and as I didn't plan ahead for which Bus I would be using to transport me to the NEC, I ended up static looking for a bus to catch. Until a passerby who noticed my white shoes commented on them. I took the opportunity to ask him for directions to the NEC and he offered to walk me up to Moor Street to catch the Express 900 service. As we walked we spoke about the contrasts of London and Birmingham and concluded that people are much friendlier in the West Midlands.

Upon my previous visits to Birmingham, I remembered that National Express West Midlands operate a 'correct fare' only policy so I ended up going to the Subway next to the Bus stop to change my fiver into some coins. As I walked out I saw the rear my '900' service through the route branding.

I was quoted about 30 minutes to the NEC as it was an express service, but as we went along I noticed that it was stopping at every stop along the Coventry Road and even stops that did not designate 900 on the boards. About an hour and a quarter of sluggishly driving through the suburbs of Birmingham, we arrived at the desolate location of 'Kinghurst' which is in the middle of scenic nowhere and the driver switched off the lights. My heart literally jumped out of my mouth as by this time I didn't know where I was and I had up until 4:30 to get to my destination.

I asked him isn't this the 900 service and he replied 'no'. I said what do you mean, the branding clearly says 900, his reply was this is a new bus and shouldn't be allocated to this route but it has been as this working will turn into a 900 service in the evening. I was extremely irritated to put it lightly as there's no point making an effort to put needless route branding on your vehicles if you are not even going to make the effort to keep them to their allocated routes. By this time it was 15:18 and I agreed with myself that I wasn't going to come 110 miles on a smelly coach, pay £2 for the wrong bus not to get to my destination. So I phoned a cab which came about 10 minutes later and I arrived at the expo at 15:40. So I'll let the photos do the rest.

Wrightbus Gemini3/ Volvo B5LH - Euro 6

Above Volvo and Wrightbus show off their new Gemini3 with the EuroVI B5LH Chassis. But was it the show stopper today? It was certainly the best looking though in my opinion. The Gemini3 is in reality just a modified Gemini2 with a sort of Scandinavian theme at the rear which will become more evident from the photos.  The most obvious differences are the size of the upper deck windows, which have been decreased in size in a bid to shove off unnecessary weight from the vehicle. Another aspect which may not have been obvious is the removal of the air conditioning unit above the stairs. I'm not quite convinced how that is going to work in hot weather.

Wrightbus Gemini3/ Volvo B5LH - Euro 6
Wrightbus Gemini3/ Volvo B5LH - Euro 6

The view offside shot above demonstrates the addition of two further windows, its interesting to see that on the top deck there are only four opening windows. But knowing the genius of Wrightbus, they probably have a contingency plan in place. The interior comes across as very upmarket and I suggest that the model on show was probably the top spec model you can get. It has a very 'luxury' coach feel to it if I'm being honest, which is nice considering the standard of Buses these days.

I'm not one to take pictures with bits cut off but if you are pedantic enough to notice, you will note this is the case in the top left hand corner. The board behind me prevented me from getting the shot I desired. As you can see, the rear will take a bit of getting used to, to me it has a Scandinavian feel to it, however I'm not sure if that is down to the presence of Volvo or simply the design wanted. 

The most evident change is the size of the front window, its been decreased in size and the windscreen has been enlarged. The Ibus Screen has become more prominent. Possibly for DDA compliance or easier access should the LED Screens need maintenance. The fact, the vehicle is actually dual door and has an Ibus Screen, suggests that it could be coming to bet is on Arriva...

Although the windows may be smaller, Wrightbus have still managed to allow the seats to be window height, something that I would very much welcome. To confirm the Scandinavian theme on the vehicle, the emergency exit looks as if it was taken straight from and Omnicity DD. 

The lower deck shows the new layout of the engine bay, I believe this coincides with the updated B5LH Engine which allows for an increased overall capacity of 92 with a wheelchair and 94 without one. Again it has to be said, it represents the Omnicity DD in terms of layout too. I just hope it is more comfortable. 

Hows that for a wheelchair bay?!
Upmarket indeed
Impressive much!

Is that an MCV I spot
Other interesting news from the Volvo stand was that the MCV DD103 B5TL is still very much in production and very much in their long term plans. I'm sure everyone is aware of the political issues going on in Egypt at the moment where the vehicle is actually manufactured and this has been the main reason for the delay in production. It was confirmed that Golden Tours have ordered a top up batch of DD103s due early next year, nothing was mentioned on the numbers or whether they would be open or closed topped. 

Former Metroline TP391 LR52 KXK
It was quite funny coming across this vehicle today as I remember when it and its sister vehicles were commissioned into service in early 2003 and when they were decommissioned in 2010. Having said that I more than likely have photos of this vehicle when it was being decommissioned somewhere in my ' Metroline CELF Centre' portfolio. The vehicle was part of a massive batch of Plaxton President bodied Euro3 Dennis Tridents coupled to a Voith drive frame. Their numbers were ranged from TP297 - 402  and almost all were allocated to Cricklewood Garage when new. 

The interior shots of this vehicle, show what great efforts have been done to achieve a result of this standard. A nice leather trim with upholstered components. Word from the owners is that the vehicles have started to receive attention with one now in use in Southampton. Great to see this buses get a new lease of life. 

The original Eclipse Gemini model which was actually hand painted
by Greengate just prior to the expo 
The Coaches
If you bothered to read the introduction, you'll probably know by now, that I'm not the biggest coach fan so instead of writing about them. I'll just post the pictures below. 

Back to the Buses!

On the Optare stand it was pretty much Deja Vu again, a few Versas and Solos, so nothing really new there. I was told that the new Double Decker will be unveiled in the third quartile of 2014, but how many times have we heard that before. The only bit of significant news is that Epsom Coaches of Surrey have placed an order for 14 Metrocitys due in early 2014. This follows their trial of one a few weeks back.

It seems as if Optare like to go for aesthetics over practicality. Not very fond of the blind box design and should it ever mist up I'd imagine it would create a few problems for engineers.

Now for the showstopper!

ADL Launch get your ammunition ready as we have a Canon on the way! Now you're all probably thinking an E200 as a showstopper?! But this is no E200 or thats what I was lead to believe. The vehicle, based on the E200 is dubbed '150 BEL' and had a fair view of mixed opinions. Built by William Cannon and his team in Northern Ireland, if it follows the build quality of Wrightbus then it should be a half decent vehicle. 

Its an interesting vehicle this one is in all honesty. Although the creator was convinced this was not an E200 I couldn't help but notice the 'Alexander Dennis' vinyls in the windows on the vehicle. Considering it is not built to E.C.W.T.A. I suspect that this is a older E200 which has been purchased and modified. A few panels and windows have been replaced but that's about it. Still a decent looking vehicle however I'm not sure a certain bus manufacturer's legal team will be impressed.

It comes with the following
  • Cummins IsBe 4 Cylinder 4.5 litre 160 HP engine
  • Allison 2100 5 Spree Transmission
  • DANA Axles
  • ZF Steering
  • TELMA Retarder
  • CANNON hot dipped galvanised chassis.  

The interior resembles that of an ALX200, especially the rear window set up and the style of bonded glazing used. It seats 31 passengers including 2 tip-up seats, so about 29 to London specification. The interior is very open planned and bright, although I'm not sure if that goes so well on a shorter vehicle. Strangely it also has a sunroof which is visible in one of the photos below. 

Unique Dashboard
A view of the offside to show how this
may compare with the traditional E200

Now for the rear. It just gets better and better. The front resembles and E200 and the rear resembles that of an E300. For once I am actually lost for words as I don't know what to make of this vehicle. I think orders will have to do the talking on behalf of this vehicle. 

The rest

My journey home was pretty much as hectic as getting here. The show finished promptly at 17:00 and I ended up talking to a fellow enthusiast whom I know for well over 45 minutes before loosing track of time. I think I may have had an epiphany as I realised that my coach was going to depart in the next 45 minutes from Digbeth (Birmingham Coach Station to you and me) and given the trouble taken to get here I wasn't going to take any chances.  

I ended up waiting for the shuttle bus to take me to Birmingham International Station which arrived at 17:55, we arrived at the station 4 minutes later my London Midland service to Birmingham New Street arrived 6 minutes later. I was literally chewing my nails as we slowed into New Street as I had only 10 minutes to run down to Moor Street  and catch my coach or risk paying for another service. 

I arrived at 18:32 before praying to God to allow me to catch my coach. Only to find out it had broken down and I still had 30 minutes. Oh thank the Lord! So I pretty much grabbed some chicken and chips and quietly waited. I arrived back in London at 21:30 and concluded I would never travel on a coach again. 

All in all, it was a good day despite the challenges faced and I do look forward to attending more of these shows in the near future. I hope you have enjoyed the content of this post as much as I went about gaining the content for it.

News from today 
  • Epsom Coaches order 14 Optare Metrocity Buses
  • The MCV DD103 is very much in production and will be supported by the B5TL Chassis
  • Optare are set to unveil their new Double Decker in 2014
  • Golden Tours order more MCV DD103s 
Read more »

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