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Thursday, 24 December 2009

The story of RTW335 - a tale for Christmas

My Christmas Eve story is about RTW335 which had been known about in France for many years. Peter Hendy had kept the contact open and since I inherited his office when he left First I got the call when the owner was ready to dispose of it. I can recall my Secretary saying “This is a call you will want to take!”

Nick Agnew, John Self and I had an enjoyable visit in 2003 and arranged to return it home. It was in the hands of a French company which provided action vehicles for film and TV work so was parked amongst American police cars and yellow school buses.

The bus had been completed gutted inside – no seats, a big hole in the floor, and the ravages of years outside. Even its Leyland 0.600 engine was not a London Transport one.

However it drove perfectly well apart from a small fuel starvation problem – the sort that affects vehicles which have been laid up for a long time. It is amazing that it can spring back into life so many years after it left the maintenance regime of London Transport.

After crossing the English Channel we drove it to the premises of Imperial Bus Company, accompanied by their RT786. The journey had numerous breaks as the specially rigged fuel arrangements were replenished.

The original plan was for Imperial to restore it but when they found themselves unable to proceed we arranged instead for it to go to the Ensignbus collection to join a splendid array of vehicles and a queue of rescued ones awaiting attention.

The process was quicker than planned as it was despatched to The BusWorks in Blackpool this month for restoration. Already stripping has commenced and shows that the structure remains very sound. It is planned for our RTW467 to join it both for some quite unconnected work and to act as a template for some of the material which has to be fabricated.

It has its own blog which is

There is a video on YouTube of part of the return journey home. It’s at and the photo above shows her as we found her in France.

And finally - a reminder. Follow me on Twitter and I'll let you know every time I update this blog. Happy Christmas everyone and thanks for tuning in.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A New Bus for London

Well the Christmas good news is the award of the New Bus for London contract to our friends at Wrightbus. I can do no better than quote the Press Notice:

The New Bus for London will feature:

• An open platform: a defining feature allowing the reinstatement of a hop-on hop-off bus service. The platform will have the facility to be closed off at certain times, such as at night.

• Green technology: the new bus will incorporate the latest hybrid technology and will be 40 per cent more fuel efficient than conventional diesel buses and 15 per cent more fuel efficient than current London hybrid buses.

• Air quality emissions will be reduced by 40 per cent for NOx* emissions and 33 per cent for PM** emissions when compared with conventional diesel buses.

• Three doors (including the rear platform) and two staircases, giving an innovative new design and aiding speedier and smoother boarding.

• Capacity for at least 87 passengers.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said: “Londoners have waited with stoic patience as work has continued behind the scenes to select the manufacturer to make the 21st century Routemaster a reality.

Well, no sooner had I posted last night about the issues relating to bad weather than overnight there was trouble in Southampton. The rain washed away the grit and then it froze, leading to significant black ice especially on residential roads. After four collisions this morning (including one with a gritting lorry undertaking a rescue!) we had to take the whole network off until things improved.

The main road in was passable so Greyhound got going although we had to combine a couple of trips early on. No matter, we sent text messages to all the passengers and they knew what we were doing. During the morning various other transport modes shut down so we were really busy and we have had some brilliant commendations from members of the public.

So as I said last night – no heroics and get control of the information!

Attention to detail is also important so for a while our MD’s welcome message on the website no longer said “travelling around Hampshire has never been easier”!! (It does again now, though!)

The photo, by the way, is NOT the new Wrightbus Routemaster of the future but one of a number of concepts by Silvertip Designs which you can see at


Tuesday, 22 December 2009

It's snow time!

You’ll have noticed how bad the weather has been and how badly transport has been disrupted. The calling-off by British Airways cabin staff of their strike disappeared from the news as troubles at Eurostar and other disruptions took over.

Our staff did a tremendous job in keeping things going where we could and where it was safe to do so. By Monday it was London’s turn to really get a dose and services were widely disrupted that evening.

There is always lots of media coverage at this time – stories of people stranded, those who failed to get home and those ‘special treats’ missed. The key always is information and this is a big task, especially for bus passengers where they are spread out across thousands of stops, not gathered at stations.

Sometimes the trouble is invisible: passengers waiting on what seem to be perfectly open roads can’t understand why there is no service. Of course there is a major disruption up the line somewhere else. Countdown in London (and other forms of Real Time Information elsewhere) is always a help on those stops which are fitted and increasingly we find people check the internet for up-to-date news.

We are working hard now to make sure very up-to-date information is posted on our websites. The advent of smartphones now places internet access in the hands of many individuals in the street as well as at home or office.

Quite a lot is written in the press about keeping services running during really bad weather conditions. Last year TfL and the Mayor were hounded by the press when services were stopped (under such headlines about how even Hitler didn’t halt the bus service!).

Let’s be clear about this – if it is not safe to run we can’t do so. (Also modern buses have 60% of the weight at the back and they rely much more on electrics than the old ones did). And whilst there is some merit in ‘pressing on’ through thick and thin, at snail’s pace, and ‘getting through’, the truth is that your passengers have largely disappeared – preferring not to stay out in the awful conditions. If you are not careful, you end up with the fleet damaged and suffering from the effects of freezing up and the staff exhausted. When the thaw comes and everyone wants to get back on your services to go to work or shopping, you are on your knees with too few serviceable buses and not enough staff.

So – no heroics but we'll will do what we can. And we should be ready for when the public is demanding a full service again (which can of course be the next day!).

Meantime well done to everyone who did get people to the end of their journeys safely this week and let’s hope for calmer conditions across the holidays!

More to come? A snowy scene at Hengrove depot, Bristol from last February.


Friday, 18 December 2009

More nostalgia

Seeing the light of day for the first time in years is GW713, a 1930 Gilford which was this week moved from the Science Museum reserve collection at Wroughton to private premises for restoration work to commence.

I first came across this vehicle in the 1970s when working for Prince Marshall who owned it. It had been receiving some attention but after his death the collection of vehicles were dispersed and I for one lost track of it. So I was delighted when Prince's son Sebastian announced that he had secured it. So this week it made its way on the back of a low-loader from the dark confines of its shed at Wroughton to a place where serious restoration can now be attempted.

You can see a picture of it when it was last roadworthy at Mike Beamish's Bus Pages - here is the link. It's a long way down so keep scrolling......!

(And I bet you get caught up in more nostalgia on the way!)


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

How I learned about engineering.......

The time just streaks by and it's nearly a week since I wrote last.

Tonight I've had dinner with Phil Swallow, owner of RM5, and he has been telling me more about the extraordinary lengths the Arriva team and many others went to, to deliver this superb restoration. As a starting point he had in his possession a radiator badge - he just wanted a bus to put it on!

There is a much longer story but I have promised to feature it in the Routemaster Magazine, which is the journal of the RMOOA. You'll be able to read it there.

I have a couple of clips up on YouTube which you might like to see. Back in the summer we were pleased to support the commemorative run of the longest Royal Blue service from Penzance to Aberdeen - both First locations! You can see the cavalcade of old coaches leaving Muller Road Bristol on

And then in August we unveiled our splendid Greyhound coach by Tower Bridge in London and you can see this on

Visitors to this site tell me they like good old stories from the past so here is one I am guilty of - so learn the lesson of confusing facts with opinion:

Back 1979 we brought back Vintage Bus route 100 using ST922 and D142 from Covent Garden to Oxford Circus. During the lunch break the crew would park at Cornwall Road Waterloo (now the Red Arrow garage).

One lunchtime I went over for one reason or another and as I approached ST922 from behind I found a snapped fan belt. An alarm went off in my head and I opened the bonnet and yes - the fan belt was missing from the ST.

Clever me - I had saved this 1930 petrol engine from certain disaster. Called up the towing lorry, I lost the afternoon's service, and ST922 was safely returned to Nunhead Garage.

Now it was time to call our Principal Engineer Tim Nicholson who had masterminded the restoration of all our vehicles and let him thank me for my amazing performance. I can hear him now....

He roared down the phone "Leon - STs don't have fan belts - the fan is simply mounted on the front of the engine! There's is nothing for it to drive!!"

Yes - I had picked up a broken fan belt - from a Leyland National I know now - and coupled with the lack of one obviously on ST922 had put two and two together......and made five.

The lesson is - can you distinguish between the facts that you have, and what your mind has interpreted from them??

And yes I cost us an unnecessary tow home AND an afternoon's service!

Photo of ST922 at Victoria Garage - the bus on which I passed my manual PSV test and the one I unnecessarily towed home!


Thursday, 10 December 2009

Back to back

In this chat I am pleased to bring up two issues from across at the Omnibuses blog the link for which is across on the right. Following my interview over on that site there were lots of comments but one (which you can see for yourself) talks about how there are a few examples of us at First “running small operators off the road.”

You’ll see me ask for examples – the ones suggested were Western Greyhound and Chester City Transport!

I know Mark Howarth, MD Western Greyhound, would find it jolly funny at the accusation. Western Greyhound has expanded considerably over the past few years, in many cases providing services with small buses on corridors which we used to run. I don’t think he feels “run off the road” at all!

And as for Chester City Transport – the Council decided to put it up for sale. We were one of the bidders but meanwhile Arriva registered on their routes and found themselves in the High Court. Eventually the potential buyers disappeared but we stayed in and paid the City Council real money to buy their loss-making bus company which was about to face stiff competition.

Arriva’s competitive services started on the day we took over and we remain in competition to this day.

There is room in the market for large and small operators and I assure you there are very stringent laws in place to prevent predatory activity, with commensurate penalties!

Omnibuses also features today an issue about the safety of reversing. It quotes from an article in the trade press and mentions that no trace was found of any law preventing reversing with passengers. I maintain there is - it was actually a question on my PSV driving test. “What would you do if you drove into a cul-de-sac with a bus full of people?” “Stop and get the passengers off” was the correct answer.

Think about this for a minute. You do now have umpteen passengers milling around outside for your reversing movement – wouldn't they be safer inside?

Another point is the feature of “drive in/reverse out” bays at bus stations (they have always been around but there seem to be more now). At First we don’t like them at all as it seems to introduce a risk which doesn’t need to be there at all. Try as you might unwitting pedestrians and sometimes staff are wandering about in the vehicle movement area. London has never had them and their bus stations are as crowded, busy and in a tight spot as anyone’s. We try and avoid them if possible but in many cases the design and development is in the hands of a local authority so we have to live with it.

What do you think?


Monday, 7 December 2009

More from Saturday and some love letters too!

Thanks everyone for your photos from Saturday. I was going to replace the one as I promised but actually I have had a spectacular one from Russell Young and another great one from Bob Stanger, my conductor, who helped make the day really enjoyable so I have decided to post them both here as well.

I know you've been across to the Omnibuses blog (link on the right) to see my interview which I hope you like.

Thanks to my intrepid PR Manager and would-be sleuth in the South West (which is an area from Penzance to Leicester!) Karen Baxter we have a great story running in the West Country today which looks like it will go national tomorrow. A bag (which was lost property in 2008) contains items from the 1940s - love letters, poems, and photographs etc. from around the world. The search is now on to return them to the rightful owner. is the link and Karen is waiting to hear from someone about these right now!

(The one of me is the photo by Bob Stanger and the one where I am attempting to drown the photographers is by Russell Young).


Take a look over at Omnibuses blog

Those nice people at Omnibuses blog site have published an interview with me.

Jump over to and take a look!


Saturday, 5 December 2009

Two areas of green

A busy week which ended in splendid fashion as it was the EnsignBus running day between Grays and Gravesend via Lakeside and Bluewater. This has become a major annual event and attracts a good many people not all of whom were planning to go Christmas shopping!

The day dawned very bright and clear and I was lucky to have RLH61 for my part in the day. This particular vehicle was brought home from Canada some years ago and restored to its current high standard - all in great secrecy for a special occasion at the time. It was hugely popular and we were frequently very busy. I know one of you will be sending me a good photo of it in action today which I will use - meantime we'll make do with the one above. Driving an RLH is like driving a quirky RT - it looks vaguely familiar but things are not quite in the same place - the trafficator switch is mounted on the offside cab wall, so neither it nor the handbrake are where you would normally put your hand to. It has small sliding cab door windows, not the vertical one of the RT so again when giving the essential busmen's handsignals you have to remember not to put your hand through the glass!

You'll hear about it anyway so why not now. Yes, I missed my turning in Grays Town Centre so arrived at the railway station from the wrong way. Everyone seemed to enjoy the extra five minutes journey (except for those photographers who were facing the wrong way when I turned up!).

This is a great event - very popular now and doing what buses are supposed to do and carry lots of passengers!

I couldn't stay all day as I had another engagement in Bristol later so left at lunchtime for a railway trek across country and, it has to be said, very much worse weather.

Looking back on the week we had the important announcement from the DfT who have provided £30m for new vehicles across England from a competition called the Green Bus fund. The awards were distributed as follows:

Independents - 84
 Local Authorities & PTEs - 41
TfL - 46
Stagecoach - 56
First - 36
NatEx - 20
Arriva and Go Ahead - zero

Most of the vehicles will be hybrids but 55 of them will be electric vehicles. More details of the specific orders will be following later. Our 56 are split between West Yorkshire and Manchester (22 and 14 respectively).

Lots to do and not long until Christmas so looks like two busy weeks coming up - do keep tuning in and thanks, once again, for all your comments. There will be a special message on Monday 7th Dec so do look in again then or as soon as you can.

If you are wondering about 'two areas of green' in the title that is the old green Country Bus area of London Transport and the Green bus fund!


Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Great Greyhound customer service

I am amazed just quite how many visits this site is getting every day and thanks for all the comments - both here and the ones sent privately. I know there are lots of staff checking in as I keep on meeting them on my travels and I'm glad to know you find it interesting.

"Travel's a curse" they say (in Les Miserables) and not always glamorous (he said having recently dragged his suitcase across a windswept provincial runway at 0630 in the dark) but that is our business and we are seeking to transform it in all its various aspects.

I have today had an enjoyable visit to our Greyhound operation starting this morning on the coach from London to Portsmouth. A perfect journey, on time and well delivered, power and wifi for the technology, leather seats and plenty of legroom. Have you tried it yet? Attention to customer service is paramount and when an unavoidable problem beset a Southampton-bound coach the passengers were picked up by a spare vehicle and ferried home, and I mean home!

Yes - we made our way down narrow residential roads and delivered passengers to just where they wanted to get to, and no - this wasn't stage-managed for my benefit! On a door-to-door basis this took no longer than if their planned coach had operated normally. Good customer service involves empowering staff to make local decisions like this and tonight word of mouth will be spreading Greyhound good news in the area.

So well done to Managing Director Alex Warner and his top team at Greyhound, specifically Shaun and David who I left at Southampton Central Station giving out Greyhound information to passengers who have no rail service any weekend in December.

If you are interested in transport and have a few spare surfing seconds do check in at website where the starring and "walk-on" roles of buses and coaches on TV and in films are comprehensively documented. Lots of footage from past decades as well as the attempts by film makers to recreate the past (some more successful than others). I'm adding a link to this site from here so do take a look. I used to be involved in quite a lot of film and TV work and it is amazing to see some of this again all those years later. As you will imagine these assignments took hours or days to make and often then appear only for a few seconds.
Nevertheless film extras are always well-fed so the waiting around wasn't too bad. I think The Great Muppet Caper was the worst - we turned up on Monday and waited until Thursday before we were used. You can still see me in that - I'm the one in the rowing boat in the lake in Battersea Park whilst Kermit and Miss Piggy are riding bicycles and singing......