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Monday, 27 December 2010

The Birmingham Routemaster

This is another nostalgic holiday blog and is about the Midland Red D9 - a vehicle which I came across professionally at Prince Marshall's Obsolete Fleet.

Seven D9s had been purchased and converted to open top for operation on the Round London Sightseeing Tour. Initially this was done by basing them at Stockwell Garage, but in due course they were replaced by convertible open top Daimler Fleetlines from Bournemouth. The D9s moved to Nunhead Garage which was rented by Obsolete Fleet and were operated by our own staff.

The D9s had something of a parallel history with the Routemaster. Midland Red also designed and built its own vehicles at the time and the D9 was its integral double-decker designed for low weight and fuel economy. It has been called the 'Birmingham Routemaster' although it was rather less sophisticated and more spartan than the London model.

One important difference was that the power assistance for the brakes and steering had no Routemaster accumulators to store energy. What you got was what the engine was delivering at the time. That did mean you could get going the moment the engine was started, without waiting for anything to build up. And on interurban work they had powerful brakes and light steering. However that lured you into a false sense of security. In city traffic after a good brake application, the bus slowed and when you applied the same force this time the assistance had more or less dried up. And if now a motorist or pedestrian got in your way the brake pedal was rock solid, you used every ounce of your strength and grabbed for the very robust handbrake which came back many clicks.

If you banged your elbow on the cab window you knew you had as much handbrake effort as there was as well.

Steering was equally uneven. As you turned a corner, if you were less than firm with your actions part way through the assistance dried up and once again you found reserves of your own strength to avoid disaster.

No little wonder the Stockwell crews soon lost their enthusiasm for them especially since internal documents describing them to the Trade Union said they were "broadly comparable with the RCL".

They were very reliable in operation - mean miles between failure in the 10,000+ range which is many times more than we enjoy today and their main weakness was in the electrics which we rather made worse when we removed the roofs and exposed the upper deck floor to the elements.

I very much remember by first outing on the RLST with one. A quick explanation by garage staff and off I went. I recall being very tired at the end of the day!

A more traditional bus operation was also provided by D9s. London Transport's own staff shortages meant that the seasonal enhancement to London Zoo was provided instead by us with a D9 outstationed at Guards Coaches in West London. We went to Wandsworth each day to collect a conductor.

In time we bought a further three D9s and used them as closed tops. We also bought the stock of Midland Red spares and kept these amazingly reliable vehicles going for many years. A number are preserved including one of our open toppers.

I always thought they looked better after conversion - those side windows were made by cutting the main side windows in three and using the tops and bottoms. And the front windows could open - not that there would be any point!

(And unlike the Marshall-refurbished Routemasters which look like they can but can't!)


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