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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Colin Curtis OBE, BSc (Eng), CEng, MIMechE, MIRTE

Matthew Wooll took this photo of Colin
(leaning on the wing of the bus)
holding his audience's interest at the
2001 RML40 event at Cobham Bus Museum
After a long period of ill health Colin Curtis sadly died this morning at Crawley Hospital, aged 86.

His name was synonymous with the specialist engineering development of London Transport road vehicles - a role which even survived into the London Regional Transport era by which time vehicles were owned by the operators themselves.

He joined in 1947 and despite the considerable technical advances over his period of influence he remained fixed on the benefits of saving weight, was determined to deliver designs which made maintenance and unit changes simple and fast to do, and pioneered the widespread use of hydraulics - notably, but not only, in the Routemaster's braking system.

He bemoaned the unstoppable rise in vehicle weight and was finally proved right when fuel costs started to really count in the economics of bus operation. By this time the amazing weight/passenger ratio of the RML had long been lost.

He was latterly dubbed - rather inaccurately - the 'father of the Routemaster' . He didn't like the term - if anyone was, it was Bill Durrant*. More correctly he was really the sole survivor of the team who worked with the prototypes and rose in seniority as the fleet grew and was developed.

After retirement from London Buses he ran his own consultancy and tried very hard to get his own 'Q-Master' design adopted by one of the commercial manufacturers. Sadly it never materialised.

He was active in the preservation movement - he had his own RF - and was Life President for what is now the London Bus Museum and the Routemaster Association. He wrote about his life and times in a book '40 Years with London Transport' although long since out of print.

His wealth of knowledge and experience was always in demand and he would give interesting and thought-provoking lectures until eventually, his health did not allow it.

I finish with a phrase my old friend used to me decades ago, but which has held true ever since and which, I must admit I have frequently repeated. When I asked him - some 25 years ago - what he felt about current vehicle purchasing policy in the context of what had been a series of unsatisfactory London bus types he forcefully said to me:

"When the Operating Department makes its b-----y mind up what sort of bus it wants [one-person or two-person crew; double-deck or single-deck; front door or open platform].....

"........We'll build it !!!"


* A A M Durrant CBE was Chief Mechanical Engineer (Road Services) London Transport for more than thirty years

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Olympics recap

The party atmosphere of London.
Here tons of feathers are swirling

above Piccadilly Circus.

The Paralympic Games have been an unmitigated success on and off the field and part of an incredible London 2012 Olympics. Every day we had sell out venues, huge crowds travelling on our transport system. As with the Olympics themselves, no one disagrees with the statement that transport in London did us proud.

In a flash it was over and we are left with nightly parties as Games Family members hang on to the friendships and fun. But most have now gone home and the Olympic Park is silent.

The key to these widely-acclaimed Games is that there was exceptional teamwork. All the agencies worked closely together, there was adequate resource, and all the meticulous planning paid off.

The Mayor accurately summed it up post Games on Wednesday night: in the run-up to the Olympics there were doom-mongerers everywhere. Interviews with taxi drivers leaving the country, shopkeepers, businessmen and others foretelling impending disaster in the manner of Private Fraser in Dad's Army.

With all the media here and no sport, the few days before the Opening Ceremony was like a pigeon shoot for the media but I was heartened when on the first day of the Olympic Route Network in operation - two days before the Opening Ceremony - the BBC people stood idly in our London Streets Traffic Control Centre and said they couldn't find a jam anywhere for the helicopter to film and could we help!

Londoners did as we asked and planned ahead. They changed their travel habits, times etc which gave us the space we needed to deliver transport for the Games. So successful was it that soon after it all started the media then started trumpeting the opposite tune. Not gridlock - we had chased everyone away! Ghost town London.

The Olympic Family had quickly grasped the excellent public transport available in this city and then used it. As a result demand for the dedicated Games Family Transport was lower than expected and we were able to leave the infamous Games Lanes (of which there were only ever 31 miles) switched off for more than half of the time.

My daily Travel News spot on the radio became a general chat about issues of the day as there were few transport issues to talk about.

Of course there were issues - every day something on our network had a problem. But such was the resilience it never spoiled any spectator or official journey to the Olympic venues.

Despite the dramas ahead of the Games many businesses did well. Even Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber was forced to admit the meltdown in his theatres did not materialise. Generally speaking, those businesses which anticipated the Games did well. Those who tried to soldier on as normal didn't fair so well. A major retailer told me he knew he would sell less clothing and more bottled water so adjusted his stock accordingly.

The regular army of cab drivers who descend on Heathrow Airport at 0530 found they waited rather longer for business whereas those who headed instead for Park closing time at Stratford, Wembley and other venues were rewarded with good business.

For those of us who planned each day in meticulous detail over months and years, the days ran through frighteningly fast. And during the brief respite between the Olympic and Paralympic Games we quickly adjusted our plans so that when we came onto the field for the 'second half' we had an even better plan thanks to the experiences of the first.

As a result the significantly different audience profile - more groups, more coaches, more children, more mobility impaired people got a great service and we were able to keep London moving for everyone else despite the whole "return to work from holidays" and start of school term.

And so, now what? (other than the nightly Games Family parties).

Well there was that election back in May so we have a raft of Mayoral pledges to deliver and this will all start to unfold over the next few weeks and months. We can do this thanks to the legacy from the Games - not just the infrastructure but the new ways of working and co-operation together with a determination to do great things in our city.


Saturday, 1 September 2012

Second half

The climax of the Opening Ceremony of the Paralympic Games

Once again London is transformed as the Paralympic Games get underway - the second half of this huge once-in-a-lifetime sporting and cultural spectacle.

The Paralympics are an equal challenge to the main Games - it is sold out with some 2.5m tickets in the hands of spectators and once again athletes, officials, media and spectators all needing to be at venues at specific times. There are fewer venues this time (although one new one at Brands Hatch). In addition there are the additional challenges of more people with mobility difficulties and also many more groups - several hundred coaches on certain days.

The note was set by the outstanding Opening Ceremony - with its own flypast, fireworks, high-wire acrobatics and music. All delivered around the arrival of 164 countries' athletes.

Like the Torch Relay earlier that day, the ceremony ran rather late and so breached our notional curfew of midnight - after which our planning shows we are at risk of not being able to deliver everyone home. By the time 60,000 people have left the Olympic Park we are really into the times of last trains despite them running significantly later than usual. And whilst everyone can be whisked away from Stratford on one of several different services there is the question of onward connections for those passengers.

It worked. The ceremony finished at 0009. The train service was gently held back to fill them some more and this stretched the times of the last ones. The contingency bus fleet was deployed running extra journeys on route 25 to Central London and on local bus services (never forgetting there are the park staff to get home too).

With this logistical challenge behind us we settle into the ever changing routine of events at multiple venues, crowds leaving them, and an ever-increasing background of general traffic in London as holidays end and schools return.

So as ever we repeat our request which was so splendidly taken up by London and Londoners during the Olympic Games, which was to plan ahead, avoid driving in the City, on or near the Paralympic Route Network and the venues themselves. Use our excellent Journey Planner which will route you on the public transport network away from the hotspots and we will get everyone to and from their destination again successfully.

Spectators and Park staff using
late-night bus services from Stratford