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Friday, 30 July 2010

An American Werewolf in London

Well you won't be surprised that THE event of the year was today's launch of fully-restored pre-war RT8.

This early member of the RT family last carried passengers in London 55 years ago.

It was exported to the US for promotional work, and after use in Chicago ended up in a Transport Museum in St Louis where it was to stay for 40 years. Eventually it was to fall outside their collections policy and in 1970 was parked outside. Twenty five years of weather ravaged the bus and it was taken inside pending a decision on its future. Some six years ago Ensignbus started negotiations with the owners and in 2006 it was shipped home.

Even then the bus suffered considerable damage during the shipping process and as a result a complete rebuild was commenced and today the bus was displayed with 99.9% of the work completed.

With 40 or so guests from across the transport industry, including all those who had helped and representatives from the St Louis Museum, RT8 left the confines of Purfleet driven by Ross Newman.

Thanks to TfL, RT8 was able to enter Aldgate Bus Station where another 15 or so guests joined the bus.

With blinds now set for route 15, I drove RT8 around the Aldgate one-way system in a specially-choreographed photographic opportunity before taking her via Tower Hill to Embankment where the passengers were treated to an excellent lunch. In a bizarre combination of history 70 years apart, I parked this 1940 bus in a coach parking bay on the Embankment and paid for its 2 hour parking by mobile phone and received an email receipt.

Lunch over, Ross took us all up to Trafalgar Square for a public run on route 15 where we were joined by some amazed passengers, mostly tourists. On arrival at Aldgate we dropped off our passengers before being escorted into the Tower of London by two Yeoman Warders. Then to the amazement of thousands more tourists RT8 edged its way along the cobblestones before being parked in the shadow of Tower Bridge.

As if by magic Tower Bridge itself then lifted in recognition of the return to its home of this - the oldest complete pre-war RT in preservation.

Whilst Ensignbus provided the resources for the restoration numerous other people provided invaluable assistance including Tony Beard co-owner of the only other 2RT2 in preservation - RT113. Both vehicles live close together at Purfleet. Tonight they are probably exchanging stories about the good old days.......

RT8 in position at the Tower of London and disgorging its amazed passengers at Tower Hill today. All in all a great day - not every day you get chance to drive a pre-war RT either!


Saturday, 24 July 2010

Where technology is taking us

Two good trips this week - Friday was Farnborough Air Show courtesy BAe Systems and some really good discussions about how the continued technology developments are being made ready to spin off into other forms of transport and communication.

BAE Systems, as you may know, makes the clever part of the hybrid drive on ADL products. ADL now has two dedicated production lines for hybrid vehicles. BAe Systems powers the world's largest hybrid bus fleet with vehicles in New York, Houston, Ottawa, San Francisco, Toronto and London.

But the real interest has to be in the outstanding things now being developed for military applications which will, in due course find their way onto buses and other vehicles. In particular we can expect buses with their own processing power - not the multiple devices we have now sometimes each with their own SIM card. Ticket machines, engine monitoring, climate control, GPS, Real Time Information, diagnostics all controlled centrally. And vehicles monitoring their own performance, communicating with base and receiving remedies. It's being used now on aircraft.

In addition transportation machinery needs holes - for sensors, wiring, lighting and so on. Each one a source of trouble - a cost to create them, maintain them, a source of corrosion and stress. Well on submarines that is a real problem so now there is  technology which uses the exterior skin of the vehicle as the conduit for electrical information. A bit like the wireless charger for your mobile phone, soon all this will take place using the skin of the vehicle itself.

Earlier in the week I was at FGRN in Germany for our periodic Board Meeting and this is a good time to mention that our good friends across at Buses Worldwide are doing a feature in their next magazine on our German operations. FGRN has grown by some 50% in the past couple of years and now has operations from several locations. Take a trip over to to see their website and if you join you'll be getting the magazine on a regular basis.

In 2006 we were providing the ground transportation at Farnborough and we had an opportunity to have a photoshoot with the then new Airbus A380 and our latest offering, the ftr. In the end the Airbus people cancelled it but the plane is so big we got our vehicle under its wing anyway as it was overhanging the fence by a long way!


Saturday, 17 July 2010

Green Line 80

Now I know you all have your Green Line 80th photos so I have to come, as usual perhaps, from a different side.

Unless you've been here (home that is) you won't have seen my framed 1962 Green Line poster - one of a series - announcing the arrival of Routemaster coaches. It's in my hall.

Well Matt Wool - our talented Marketing Manager in Berkshire - sent me this really great re-rendering of it in the context of our super Wrights double-decker Green Line coaches.

I love it because these routes were at one time close to withdrawal but the outstanding efforts of the Berkshire team and the introduction of 'Rainbow fares' we are - even now - increasing the double-decker requirement on these services.

I also love it because the Windsor Green Line 704 and 705 were my original, childhood lifeline to Central London - indeed a reason why the RC class is a particular fond memory of mine (even if not for the engineers!) - as they provided what we would call now a 'step-change' in quality on these services.

So, in a moment of pure indulgence (what is a blog for??) I am delighted to reproduce Matt's poster as well as a clip from today's activities.

I am, you might have worked out, on Hungerford bridge as T219 and T504 lead the convoy.

Friday, 16 July 2010

World HQ

This was a special week as HRH Princess Anne formally opened our sparkling new Aberdeen Headquarters in which we have been resident for the past few weeks.

It was originally built in 1862 as the home for the Royal Aberdeen Highlanders. In 1912 the War Office released it for use as a bus and tram overhaul facility but when war was declared in 1914 it resumed its role as a barracks. Once the war was over the tram sheds were built but for a while the building was also used for residential accommodation.

Further extensions met the needs for increased bus and tram overhauls but in 1958 Aberdeen said goodbye to its trams and the entire site was used for the 230 buses of Aberdeen Corporation.

In due course Scottish local government reorganisation created the Grampian region and with it Grampian Regional Transport which in 1989 was privatised and evolved into FirstGroup plc.

The new development all took place on site whilst administration and operations continued. The bus company has a wonderful new traffic and maintenance facility, the admin staff of FirstGroup has a splendid new building grafted onto the original 1862 building which has been refurbished inside.

Difficult weather brought Princes Anne's helicopter in over an hour early and during the visit Sir Moir Lockhead introduced her to key staff in both the office buildings and workshops. She saw the assembled historic vehicle collection and unveiled a plaque to commemorate the event.

Her Royal Highness is of course also Patron of the Save the Children Fund, a charity supported for many years by First and she acknowledged the huge fundraising achievements of our staff and organisation over that time.

And here I am clearly enjoying my chat, whilst across the site VIPs enjoy the vintage vehicle line-up, especially the 78-year old Albion.


Monday, 12 July 2010

Gold Arrow

We are delighted today to announce the reaward on tendering of routes 28, 31 and 328 to First London.

These Westbourne Park routes are famous (as 28 and 31) having been held back from mainstream conversion to opo in the 1980s so they could take part in the trial to convert routes to very high frequency midibus operation.

The experiment was a huge success and the two routes are now three, frequencies still very high, and now operate with double-deckers again.

The experiment gave birth to proper high frequency, better quality midibus operation in London - the MAs used had full-width doors, full blind displays, and interior layouts designed to suit a fast turnover of passengers

Their success soon required the Mercedes-Benz/Alexander midibuses be replaced with Dennis Dart/Wright 'Handibus' vehicles cascading the MAs to more suburban operations.

MA1 still exists. It is seen here hidden at Orpington in 2002 and there are plans afoot for it to be restored by the manufacturers to original condition.

Very high frequency midibus operation in London had its critics. Indeed, interestingly, the team that was criticised for bringing to London the smallest buses in the 1980s later were also criticised from bringing into the capital the very largest some 20 years later......

Another story!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Hot staff

There's been some comment across at the Omnibuses blog about whether bus drivers should be allowed to wear shorts in hot weather. It's timely as again we are enjoying some hot weather in UK. And I know you can put forward a case by asking staff and passengers on a hot day what they think. (They'll give you the obvious answer).

I am against drivers wearing shorts because, as I have said previously, I am also against airline pilots wearing jeans and T-shirts.

Same reason - it looks unprofessional. Our passengers rely on us to do our jobs safely, professionally, and diligently. Our drivers have to convey that by their knowledge, demeanour, behaviour and appearance as well as their driving skill. A smartly-dressed, clean and tidy driver already gives passengers a good impression which makes them feel comfortable and assured.

There is the question about whether a driver is able to do his job if he is uncomfortable. Clearly he can't and we have made phenomenal progress since he was required to sit in his heavy 'military' wear alongside a big heat-generating engine. Now he has a cab with automatic transmission, power steering, fingertip controls and on most modern vehicles purchased in recent years - cab airconditioning.

For the avoidance of doubt I have no trouble driving a bus for a full shift in my uniform trousers, shirt and tie. Firstly I make sure what I have fits properly. Obviously if anything is too tight that is uncomfortable so it has to be the right size. Secondly I think about my eating and drinking requirements in and around the shift to make sure I am alert, hydrated and capable of doing the shift.

I have the cab aircon on and the cab window SHUT so that the cab stays cool, and I turn off the sources of all known heat like the saloon lights, cab lights, etc.

The cab is the bus driver's office and he deserves to have it properly laid-out, clean and with all the features working. It is sad to have to say that when we find a cab full of old newspapers, cigarette ends, food, litter etc and with features (like the cab aircon unserviceable and unreported) there is no one to take responsibility for this than the driver.

So, my message is, let's raise our game. Look smart, have a healthy eating/drinking lifestyle, be well turned-out and use the equipment as required. And if we raise our game we'll have more satisfied passengers and more revenue.

Am expecting a big reaction!

The ultimate way to stay cool at work - wingwalking here with the Breitling team.


Friday, 9 July 2010

Green buses

First a thank you to all those people who persuaded me to buy an iMAc rather than other Windows PC. It is just sensational and I am now using my computer rather than spending 50% of the time persuading it to work.

There is some internet chatter going on about our Citaros used on route RV1 in London. Just to clarify what is going on the existing vehicles are nearly eight years old and are progressively being stood down and replaced. Some Enviro200s are being deployed but by the end of the year we expect to be in a position to progressively introduce the hydrogen hybrid vehicles which have been built by Wrights and which are currently being delivered and tested. The Enviro200s will, in the main, then take up their intended duties at Uxbridge.

Hydrogen buses are nothing new to RV1 - the original trio of hydrogen buses in London operated on it after they finished their duties on route 25 some years ago and they were retired after doing rather longer service than the experiment ever intended. Of the trios of hydrogen buses used across Europe many of the left hand drive examples have ended up in Hamburg which was one of the original cities involved in the experiment.

London continues to demonstrate a real enthusiasm to host experiments to deliver major air quality improvements.

Nationally this week the Government announced a further £15m worth of funding for greener buses.Operators and authorities will be able to bid for funding for up to 150 new buses which will use at least 30% less fuel and emit nearly a third less carbon than a conventional bus. This is in addition to the £30m announced in December 2009.

A rare hydrogen fuel cell bus is this model, presented by MercedesBenz to Darren Johnson, the leader of the Green Party in the London Assembly in First livery, in 2001. The trio didn't actually carry that livery, of course.


Sunday, 4 July 2010

Green Line Anniversary

It's Green Line's 80th anniversary and on 17th July there is a celebration and road run from London to Guildford along route 715.

Oh dear, some of us remember the 50th and 60th too! This one is exactly on the anniversary date!

Full details are at

You can expect a host of ancient and modern Green Line vehicles so an important date for your diary.

I'm wading in with two photographs of my own. T504, a 10T10, is reprising what Green Line coaches often did, which was to perform morning peak hour workings on local bus routes before entering service - here pretending to be a 445 at Eton.

And also the splendid and newly restored RT3238 Green Line RT shown here being stalked by something more modern. RT3238 is owned by John Hammell and has been faithfully restored over a long period (which might have something to do with John's long involvement in the pop music business.....)

Friday, 2 July 2010


Every year we have a big dinner for the London Transport Museum which is an unashamed fundraiser for them.

To make the charitable giving a little more fun we auction several items and an annual favourite is the bus for the day which you can use as you want and with the Commissioner for Transport Peter Hendy driving.

A closely fought battle last time brought the prize, for an astonishing sum, to Cubic who today drew down their win. Their guests were collected in Victoria Bus Station, given a tour of London which ended at Covent Garden for presentations and refreshments in the Museum.

Brand new VN37845 was the vehicle of the day. It was supplied from Northumberland Park and driven to and from the event by Tyrone Campbell.

On my travels this week I've been in Ipswich and also in Newcastle. Whilst leaving Beamish Hall Hotel in Co Durham on Wednesday I spotted this wonderful tri-axle Hummer which was in use for a Prom at the hotel. (Other guests came in the Mark I Paramount from Scarlet Band at the back!).

Needless to say all these stretched limousines are a complete conundrum to VOSA and the Traffic Commissioners and there are varying levels of enforcement and prosecution across the UK. One day there will be a nasty incident and something will have to be done to regularise their operation. I know the TCs are working hard to do so as soon as possible.