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Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Vincent McKenna 1951-2013

I am very sad to report the death of my old friend Vin McKenna, who died aged 62 on Tuesday of a heart attack.

For anyone in the bus industry, McKenna is an instantly recognisable name - that of producers of destination blinds, a business which Vin and his brother Paul set up in 1978.

From small beginnings, their business benefitted from a bus industry rapidly outsourcing. Today, their products are in use worldwide. They now produce electronic displays, powered destination equipment and a complete design, print and fit vehicle vinyls service.

From their earliest hand-cut lettering days McKennas carved a niche market in producing high quality destination blinds. Just as London Transport’s own in-house production department was giving way to outsourcing, McKenna's caught the market. Before long they were producing material to the highest quality standards for which they are deservedly renowned today.

As technology developed they broadened their range and inevitably gained international acclaim for their work. Only a couple of months ago they were visited by Mayor Boris Johnson to acknowledge the work that they do.

Vin was one of the industry’s colourful characters. His dry wit, laconic delivery, and huge generosity was his marque. A family man, he also enjoyed playing a part in the huge family which is the international public transport community.

To enjoy more leisure time, he had handed over daily responsibility to others – Derek Dawson, Malc Randles and team but, remained ‘in charge’ in his own special way.

It is not always easy to describe in a few words how someone may be remembered after they have gone. For Vin it is very simple. On the front, side and rear of every London bus - is a destination blind made at his Middleton, Manchester factory by his team of dedicated staff - showing us the way.


Sunday, 8 December 2013

The conclusion of my 2009 Christmas Eve story

Regular readers will remember the story from four years ago, the one about the old London bus we found in France - of all places.

To recap go to

Originally brought home in 2004, it was despatched for restoration. It was a huge job! As I had previously described – the interior, the hole in the floor, etc – it was a complete wreck.

The photos speak for themselves:

As originally found in 2003

One of our bigger challenges for the journey was a major fuel problem which was overcome by feeding the header tank from a 25litre plastic container down a hosepipe through the front saloon window.

The before and after of the lower saloon
Incredible considering the length of time of disuse and all we know about the degradation of fuel systems and the fungus that grows in it.

A final problem was the refusal of the DVLA to return its original registration number – the authorities confused as ever of decades of identity swaps by London buses and an ever-reducing number of us who know how/why it was done and how to convince modern young officials of the legitimacy of it all.

And so eventually they were – and just in time for the vehicle to make its first official debut on Saturday along with other vintage vehicles at the annual Ensignbus running day.

You will agree that a fabulous job has been done.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

One country, two systems

In a short week the Mayor Boris Johnson has led a posse of business leaders through China and to Hong Kong drumming up investment for London and championing our capital as THE place to be for business, culture, education and growth.

Surrounded by a mass of eager press, Boris spoke at countless lunches and dinners, ran daily back-to-back meetings as well as obliging the media with quotes and photo opportunities making front page headlines in both the UK and China.

As you might expect, the planning included a New Bus for London and a couple of Barclays Cycle Hire bikes. The bikes were shipped and presented to key business leaders in China whilst LT3 became the third New Bus for London to leave our shores and travel the world.

Since leaving the UK last May, LT1 has journeyed from New York through Colombia and is now in South Korea. LT2 has visited numerous European countries and most recently was in Austria. With their time fully committed to the GREAT Britain campaign run by UKTI, a third bus had to be shipped to Hong Kong.

When the bus arrived in Hong Kong, it was looked after by Kowloon Motor Bus and supported by Wrightbus. Thanks to our good relations with the Hong Kong Transport Department, the bus was licensed to move around and was in the capable hands of an outstanding KMB driver. On Thursday, Mark Nodder (CEO Wrightbus) and I carried out a dry run of activities for Friday when the Mayor was due to arrive.

And so he did - we collected him in Wanchai and took him to the Star Ferry whereupon he took a return trip across to Kowloon. We were ceremoniously greeted by the Star Ferry crew in full dress uniform, even though we travelled in steerage - downstairs. The Mayor posed for the press and continued to answer a barrage of questions.

After a series of meetings, LT3 took him to the Shangri-La hotel for a business lunch attended by hundreds and he took the opportunity to express his wish that Hong Kong might soon also choose NBfL as its next generation double-decker. The city has the same air quality issues as London and the amazing fuel economy and 'best in world' emissions delivery make a fully air-conditioned NBfL a real prospect.

Boris later announced - in his classic humorous style - that he was giving five New Bus for London vehicles to KMB as a gift from TfL!

The Chief Officers of KMB graciously accepted their Corgi models, much to my relief.

More photocalls, more interviews before a final reception at the residence of the Consul General. The Mayor departed for London and we cleared up our loose ends before preparing to leave town.

Many readers will know I spent a lot of time in this part of the world in the 1990s. In those days, Hong Kong used to buy old British buses. For some 30 years now they've been buying huge numbers of new buses from UK manufacturers. I wonder when we might see the iconic New Bus here soon....?

KMB Chief Officers, The Mayor, me, Mark Nodder and Charles Goodier
from Wrightbus and Thomas Heatherwick

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Boris in Manchester

On Monday Mayor Boris Johnson, en route to the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, called in to see McKenna Brothers – the main manufacturers of destination blinds for buses in London and around the world.

At their HQ in Middleton, Boris saw first hand this amazing family-owned business which makes nearly all of our printed destination blinds, as well as signage for numerous applications including electronic signs.
The printing of traditional destination blinds in London was one of the many specialisms held in-house for decades. London Transport perfected the silk-screen printing of them in huge quantities on paper bills glued to rolls of linen.

During the 1980s this work was outsourced and a few private firms provided the service instead. McKenna Brothers quickly noticed that a good eye for detail put them head and shoulders ahead of the competition and over time they became market leaders. Indeed now they supply the world.

Across the country there were also major developments with electronic equipment which McKennas were fast to exploit. LED displays are quick to modify but as yet do not display the clarity in the arduous typographical conditions of bus destination blinds which is why we in London (and indeed in Edinburgh) continue with print.

Nowadays the print is on superior material – untearable and with lasting light-fast properties. Boris tried his hand at the age old tradition of spreading ink across the back of a silk screen forcing ink around the lettering already set out to make the reversed-out displays that are familiar to all our passengers.

He made, and was presented, with a special blind naming not only some locations but also the materials produced across the whole of the UK as a result of New Bus for London orders.

Across the whole of Greater London, McKenna’s products are taken for granted – showing our 6.5m passengers a day where they are going.

His visit done, the Mayor continued with his journey to Manchester.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

What goes around....

We were very pleased with our new buses when
they came in 1989:

Metrobuses for 165 and 365 and Olympians for the 252

Friday 27th September was the end of an interesting chapter of London’s bus history, and for me personally. 

In 1988, when working at Ensign Bus Services Ltd, I won four bus routes in Romford – 165, 365, 246 and 446. Two other routes, 248 and 252 were won by East Midlands.
What we started with - all secondhand and all beautifully turned out
At the time, it was the biggest private sector win over London Transport ever. Indeed, it caused Hornchurch Garage to close. The realities of competitive tendering were beginning to dawn on the incumbent operator. 

I remember like it was yesterday, working all night to be ready, with our fleet of buses springing into service in September 1988. East Midlands did not fair so well and we took over their routes too, but not before another long night at start up.
Our second long night involved
absorbing these old Manchester
Atlanteans from East Midland

Our cornerstone of Romford routes were repeatedly tendered and retained although operations physically transferred to a new site at Dagenham Dock. Others tried to unseat us from these routes but we endured.

Over time, Ensign Bus Services' ownership changed – an abortive sale to a US company came and went – and we ended up being owned by CNT Holdings in Hong Kong. In the meantime, London Transport’s buses were also privatized and our nearest neighbour became an operating unit called East London which eventually was sold to Stagecoach.

In due course, in 1995, my management team, led by my great friend Brendan Glyde and I, bought the company. Soon after, these routes were again tendered and retained – much to our relief and despite a massive effort by others to beat us. But by 1998, we had much expanded the business and having exhausted the borrowing capacity and patience of our financial backers, we sold it on to FirstGroup plc.

The business was joined with CentreWest London Buses Ltd – Peter Hendy’s former company now also in FirstGroup ownership. Despite contract churn across East and West London these core routes remained steadfastly in Dagenham Dock with us, although a new depot on a nearby site replaced the old one.

As a director of First, I ceased to have direct management responsibility for London operations in 2005 but continued to keep a fatherly eye on those Romford routes.

So here we are, 25 years later, by a quirk of fate it was me, now in my capacity as MD Surface Transport at TfL, who took them away and gave them (back) to East London – now a subsidiary (for the second time) of Stagecoach.

After a quarter of a century they are returning from whence they came to the “London Transport” operator in the area although Hornchurch Garage itself is no more – indeed is a housing estate.

On Friday, I went to Romford for a nostalgic ride around my old network, reminiscing about how I used to drive on these routes especially late at night and at weekends. Much, of course, has changed in Romford since then. When the routes finished on Friday night, it completed First's exit from London and the last real traces of my old company.

To all who made that chapter so enjoyable – employees of Ensignbus, Capital Citybus, and First – thank you and enjoy the memory! 

Top - the old Hornchurch Garage which closed
Bottom - Dagenham Dock - an open space with a maintenance
shed and fuel tank in the most exposed and uninhabited
place in England - or so it seemed!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Route 11 conversion started on Friday night

Ready for departure at Liverpool Street Station

The first New Bus for London on route 11 entered service Friday night. LT59 left Liverpool Street Station at 1821 for Victoria.

This is the start of a progressive conversion of the route which will be complete in the next 10 days adding a further 27 or so vehicles to the existing fleet.

Surprised passengers were again delighted to hop on & off, and many tourists were scrambling aboard London's latest icon.

My thanks to George Odlum for this photo
This and more at


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Heavy Goods Vehicle safety

Boris Johnson in the cab of our HGV
Today’s long-planned Heavy Goods Vehicle safety event was promoting further steps to try and reduce the risk to cyclists from large lorries. Sadly the event was marred by the death of another cyclist – the seventh this year and the fifth in collision with an HGV. My sympathies go out to the family.

At the ‘Exchanging Places’ event opposite the Houses of Parliament, people were able to sit in the cab of a well-equipped HGV and see first hand the blind spots which lorry drivers must contend with.

Boris Johnson and Transport Minister Stephen Hammond were amongst those to experience this.

To make sure that this is a two-way process, promoting safety, our Police will be on the streets of London at specific locations inviting cyclists to see it from the lorry driver’s point of view and caution those who break the law.

Vulnerable road users (which includes pedestrians), can be in jeopardy if they do not remain vigilant whilst using our roads and footways. 

The Mayor and the Minister announced further measures are to be considered. These include the fitting out of HGVs with appropriate safety features, including side guards, mirrors, Fresnel lenses. Additionally all HGV drivers would undertake training highlighting the risks to vulnerable road users. These features are already contractually required for work on GLA family projects including all London Underground and Crossrail works. Good quality operators have also adopted these measures and we are keen for others to follow suit.

Alongside this event, further up the road, we had a joint enforcement operation with VOSA, Police, Department for Works and Pensions and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Large vehicles were being inspected to make sure that even the minimum legal standards are being achieved – both in terms of vehicle standards, load security and drivers’ standards.

In a series of random checks, rather shockingly nearly a third of vehicles stopped failed to meet those standards. Out of 59 vehicles, 16 had mechanical defects, two drivers had breached Driver Hours Regulations, and 17 were issued with fixed penalty notices. One vehicle with numerous defects had no valid ‘O’ licence nor did the driver have any entitlement to drive.

Certain types of large vehicles are excluded from the Regulations if they are classified as ‘plant’. Thus one heavily overloaded, four-axle volumetric mixer, which needs no Operator’s Licence, HGV drivers’ licence, or HGV test certificate was not only destroying London’s roads but had a defective tyre as well.

We recognise freight as an important part of London’s traffic. The industry delivers goods, facilitates construction and supplies our needs. Indeed our economy depends on it. However given the unequal fight between such large and heavy vehicles against vulnerable road users - we must make sure that all road users are at least following minimum standards.

Monday, 5 August 2013

More New Buses for London

LT24 heading towards the forgotten village of Imber on 3rd August
when it was opened for the day

Deliveries of the New Bus for London continue and as previously announced the next batch will enter service on route 11 on 21st September.

We are now able to announce the next two routes which will be converted by the end of the year, ensuring another 35,000 people a day will be able to enjoy the 'hop on hop off" experience.

On 26th October we will convert route 9 - Hammersmith to Aldwych - operated by London United with a peak vehicle requirement of 22 buses.

Early in December we will convert route 390, operated by Metroline between Notting Hill Gate and Archway with a further 20 vehicles.

Our brand new fleet of revolutionary buses will, by the end of the year, be familiar in Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Knightsbridge, Piccadilly, Strand and Oxford Street.

The buses have also been busy promoting British technology at home and abroad. After leaving the USA, LT1 journeyed to Bogota after which it will head to the Far East. Another vehicle is already doing similar duties in Europe and a third vehicle is likely to be added to the tour. Wherever they go they attract huge attention and continue to promote Britain and British industry.

LT7 also had its moment of fame last weekend, starring on Top Gear driven expertly by James May in a 9 minute segment. On the roads of Somerset and on the test track the bus was put through its paces - managing a three-point turn and demonstrating its tremendous manoeuvrability.

So whether on screen or on the road, or on a major London street - look out for the New Bus for London!


Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tottenham centenary

In August 2011, Tottenham was in the headlines when armed police fatally shot Mark Duggan in Ferry Lane, thus sparking what became a series of riots across suburban London. That night – 7/8th August – the London Fire Brigade reported over 2000 emergency calls.

When an uneasy calm returned, Tottenham showed the physical and social scars of the previous few days.

During the last two years, there have been a number of projects underway making improvements in the area. This included removal of the ‘urban motorway’ – the Tottenham gyratory system, returning the High Road to two way working and significantly improving the important interchange at Tottenham Hale.

So it was with excellent timing that a ‘village’ type cultural event took place in Tottenham on Saturday. At its heart was the celebration of 100 years of bus operations from Tottenham Garage. On the nearby green, the community enjoyed the festivities whilst Arriva organised some interesting vehicles to operate on route 76 – a route which has always been associated with the garage. In fact it only left Tottenham Garage once – in 1998, when Capital Citybus (my old company) took over the route moving it to Northumberland Park. Route 76 returned to Tottenham in 2003.

Routemaster and RT-family buses made ‘guest’ appearances on Saturday on the 76, as did a wartime Guy, but perhaps the most unusual were NS1995 and FRM1 from the London Transport Museum. Separated by only 40 years, they depicted the amazing transformation of the London bus.

We collected the vehicles from Acton depot on Saturday morning and made trouble-free journeys to the start points. The NS carried expertly-made route boards for route 76 whilst the FRM already has destination blinds for this route. 

The FRM operated its journey from the old terminus of Victoria and followed the contemporary route via Blackfriars Bridge and Queen Victoria Street. At Tottenham, it was made ready to recreate its first ever journey in public service –  24th June 1967 on route 34B. Thanks to the efforts of Arriva, I was able to position it in exactly the same spot emerging from the garage, even though this involved ignoring the garage’s one-way working and moving parked cars! 

Brimsdown Power Station – the northern terminus, and indeed the reason for the 34B’s existence – has long since gone (although a small substation remains). We positioned it as close as we could on what is now a modern industrial estate which has replaced it.

Their jobs done for the day, both Museum vehicles headed back to Acton having performed faultlessly despite their grand age.

Congratulations to Arriva for staging this tremendous event and reminding the community how public transport is at its heart – taking people to work, school and shopping every day and providing considerable and sustainable employment in the centre of town.

Photo of RM5 with G351, and my positioning of FRM thanks to Graham Smith

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

A lesson from history

Photo: John Gascoigne
When the world sees the Routemaster bus they think London - iconic looks, great design and legendry reliability – “the like of which we will never see again.”

Since then every subsequent bus design is compared – generally unfavourably – a box shape, no relieving aesthetic features, and a heavier, more fuel-hungry vehicle in constant need of engineering attention.

But the early days of the Routemaster were anything but happy ones. Conceived in 1947, seven years were to elapse before the first prototype even appeared on the streets. A further two years before it entered service and after three further years it was withdrawn. Two more (bus) prototypes later joined the fleet. RM2 managed to stay on the road for about two years, and RM3 about 20 months.

In addition three other vehicles – fitted with ‘lorry’ bodies – were used to follow regular buses in service and simulate service operations.

Despite all the trial running, the first major entry into service in 1959 was disastrous when nearly 80 Routemasters replaced trolleybuses at West Ham and Poplar.  On the first day the garages received over 100 road calls from bus crews in trouble. Subsequently the situation remained dire, with design defects and poor manufacturing standards often to blame. Numerous campaigns of modifications were immediately put into place.

A major failure caused 22 of them to be removed from service when a complete steering column fractured and all the others were found to be at risk of the same thing.

In the first two years there were 55 campaigns for mechanical alterations, 24 campaigns for electrical issues and 38 for bodywork.

The District Engineer at the garages recorded that in the 15 months to August 1961 on 142 Routemasters he changed:

518 brake shoe liners
425 gearbox seals
416 front shock absorber rubbers
247 alternator belts
185 radiator fans
138 water pumps
126 rear shock absorbers
101 front shock absorbers
46 radiators

He records a similar list for electrical and body work issues.

The heating and ventilation system was found to be particularly poor and despite efforts over the years it remained a real weakness of the design.

During those awful times there were long gaps in service and frequent breakdowns. Passengers were frequently inconvenienced and the staff increasingly demoralised.

In 1963 – some nine years after the first prototype entered service and despite hundreds of thousands of miles of passenger operation – a major rework campaign started. All of the issues were addressed on over a thousand vehicles and slowly the fleet began to deliver a reasonable level of reliability.

I have not found any definitive record of the costs incurred – paid for by fares and taxes alike. The costs of prototype buses which only clocked up a couple of years’ service each; the cost of major rework campaigns; and the cost of major losses of service in terms of revenue.  Over and above this, the countless London Transport engineers and research staff working full time to resolve the problems.

What is clear is that despite extensive prototype testing, and early experience in operation, a very large number of problems in design, manufacture and maintenance did not come to light till after entry into service.

An expensive and lengthy process in the end delivered to London a bus which became a design classic. It was reliable, cheap to run, loved by passengers, staff and engineers alike. Nearly 60 years later it is still in evidence in London.

That process was extraordinarily slow, and required a huge amount of effort. Imagine if in this modern demanding world, a bus had taken nine years from design to operational reliability!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Fifty years on...

You might have been expecting a New Bus for London story last weekend but there was more than enough on-line for everyone at the time.

Better I thought to reflect on the introduction of the new fleet one week on.

Older readers will know that in the mass conversion programmes of the 1960s and 1970s, overnight changes were normal. More recently we have generally made progressive conversions of new types of bus which has meant that all the usual niggling faults, staff unfamiliarity and other teething troubles went unnoticed.

On 22nd June we launched thirty revolutionary vehicles and it was thanks to the tremendous efforts by Metroline that everything ran as well as it did.

With the new three door/two staircase arrangement, passengers too had to get used to the vehicles meaning that journeys were a bit slower than usual and there were a few gaps. As you might expect, with hardly any miles on the clock, the vehicles too had teething problems but this time – with the Mayor’s personal project in the spotlight – it was headline news.

Suffice to say, one week on the service is improving rapidly, the staff and passengers have got the hang of it all, and the buses are settling down. In fact the faults per vehicle are actually no worse than with any other type of new bus – just far more newsworthy.

Passengers love the new product – they like the Customer Assistants and the ease of speedy boarding. People still stand and stare at the bus as it progresses through Central London. Unseen of course is its tremendous fuel consumption and low emissions.

The last time route 24 was subjected to this type of shock – the introduction of London’s first rear-engined double-deckers on 7th November 1965 – nearly half of the fleet was being given roadside assistance on the first day and the service never really recovered.

But this is 2013. Our new bus is in 24-hour service delivering a promise made by the Mayor and for which the majority of Londoners voted in favour just over a year ago. And there are more to come.....

Top photo in 1960s Pimlico by Mike Beamish

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Longest day

The start of the longest day of the year found me at Victoria Coach Station for the unveiling of the coveted ‘Red Wheel’ of the Transport Trust.

Launched in April 2009, the Trust launched its nationwide programme marking sites of historical interest with Red Wheel plaques. This is a brilliant initiative to commemorate Britain’s rich and globally important transport legacy and its development over time. The Red Wheel programme marks sites of special historic interest with a distinctive plaque.

Victoria Coach Station has served London and the whole of Great Britain since 1932 and it was fitting that it should be awarded a Red Wheel. I was thrilled to be asked to help unveil it with Stuart Wilkinson, Chairman of the Transport Trust.

However before the ceremony itself, a veritable line-up of old coaches arrived at VCS. They stood in a specially cordoned-off area lined up exactly as they would have been in years gone by to the amusement of the many hundreds of ordinary passengers passing through the coach station that morning.

I had a chance to catch up with several of the vehicle owners and other visitors. Former Traffic Commissioner Chris Heaps was in attendance – himself a great enthusiast for transport history in the South West where he is from. It was also very good to catch up with Tom McLachlan, now well into his 80s, Managing Director of Grey-Green Coaches in the days when they only ran coaches. Grey-Green subsequently stopped running coaches, started running buses, and by acquisition morphed into what today we know as Arriva. 

Then it was time to unveil the plaque – Stuart made his speech and I made mine. It was fitting, I remarked, that Victoria Coach Station is recognised with the Red Wheel having been the centre piece of high quality coach operation for over 80 years. 

The work of the Trust helps remind us that the answers to many of our challenges of the present are contained in our history. For example, good customer service wasn’t invented by modern retailers but was common in all walks of life in the 1950s! 

With the plaque unveiled I was delighted to be asked by Colin Billington to drive his Bristol LL6B from 1951 out of the coach station leading the convoy of vehicles on a commemorative run to the south coast. My expectation was that my short drive for a couple or so blocks would not require a gear-change in the five-speed crash box. But my TfL colleagues were all too clever with the traffic lights and I found myself being as careful as possible with the cogs in Colin’s gearbox whilst navigating the Victoria one-way system at the same time.

With both the outside and the innards of the Royal Blue coach more or less intact, I vacated the cab in Vauxhall Bridge Road. I then waved the convoy away on its expedition to the seaside – much like they did in the heyday of coach excursions over half a century ago.


Sunday, 16 June 2013

Howard Collins down under

Several hundred of us said farewell to London Underground’s Chief Operating Officer Howard Collins on Thursday night at a private event at the London Transport Museum. Howard is leaving us this week to take up the post of Chief Executive Officer Sydney Trains.

Howard’s career spans some 36 years joining the then London Transport aged 18. He joined the Traffic Administration Training Scheme – one of the best schemes of its day - working on both the bus and rail side before becoming a Trainee Area Manager with spells on the District and Jubilee lines. He contributed considerably to the latter’s often painful extension to Canary Wharf and Stratford just in time for the opening of The Millennium Dome. 

In the past couple of years as Chief Operating Officer he became famous for his appearances on “The Tube” – the documentary series which told the story of behind the scenes on the Underground – indeed his wife (pictured with him above) often said she saw him more on the television than at home. He was inevitably teased about this by his colleagues and every one of the (many) speeches on Thursday evening referred to his high profile media activity. 

Rising to a challenge, it was Howard who decided it actually would be possible to run a real steam train hauling wooden carriages on the Underground to celebrate its 150th anniversary. That event was an incredible success, launching the whole year’s celebrations and bringing with it international attention and acclaim. 

Howard was the lead for London Rail and Underground for the 2012 Olympic Games which rapidly became a full time job. He was deservedly awarded the OBE for his work on this. 

The inevitable round of meetings and reports morphed into the practicalities of the Games themselves and most nights we would find him at Stratford Station, personal megaphone in hand, giving home-going spectators his own subtle brand of encouragement. We are sure there are still some passengers looking for the Jubilee line’s First Class carriages which were (he always said) “at the far end”.

When all the crowds had gone we often walked through the deserted station for our own journeys home and what was often only a short night’s sleep before starting it all over again the next day. 

Howard was one of five of us who shared, in rotation, continuous responsibility for transport - forming the Senior Transport Operator’s Group. As luck would have it, the rota often had him handing over to me which was always comforting as any issues arising on his watch were always resolved and never passed on. All of the agencies involved in the Olympics took great reassurance from his calm and authoritative style – indeed I have never seen him ruffled no matter what the circumstances! 

He was completely absorbed and interested in all the transport being provided for the Games – not just the Underground. He found time to visit most of the venues and talk to everyone working there on transport. There are, in cyberspace, I am sure, thousands of photographs of him with individuals and small groups – TfL staff, others’ staff, volunteers, and of course, everyone who recognized him from “The Tube”…….. 

But having made such a contribution to the best Olympic Games ever what was left for him to do? So it was that the challenge of Sydney Trains became attractive enough for Howard to part company with his only ever employer and uproot his family to just about as far away as you can get. He will use his vast accumulated knowledge, experience and personal style to drive up quality and efficiency in his new home. 

We all wish him huge success in Sydney – fortunately modern communications mean we will hear from him and he will hear from us! And with his ever-attendant sense of timing, he arrives in Sydney just in time to see the closure of that city’s monorail system a few days later……. 


Wednesday, 29 May 2013

More New Buses for London

Today we announced that route 11 will be the second bus route in London to be operated by the New Bus for London.

This second route will commence in September. It will be operated by Go Ahead and the vehicles themselves are already in the process of delivery.

In this blog I seek to dispel the rumours which are active cross cyberspace.

The decision making has nothing to do with any of the following: tourism, buses passing Windsor House, cascade consequences, or any such nonsense.

Quite simply, I was keen to allocate the NBfL to two complete routes this year. This means that the routes needed to be at the smaller end of the scale. Sorry to disappoint the fantasists, but the choices and order of conversion are based on practical and economic reasons.

There are, of course, much larger routes in the program but they will wait until 2014 when the delivery rate is faster. The arrival of New Bus for London with its tremendously low emissions will bring air quality advantages to the areas it serves.

Meanwhile LT1 remains in the USA. Tonight it is in Boston and has further destinations in the USA and worldwide as it continues to demonstrate British technology and innovation. There remains considerable interest overseas which may in time translate into export orders for the bus and for its constituent parts.

We are delighted to be rubbing shoulders with other great British innovators and businesses as they seek to sell their wares overseas, and to confirm, of course, that our participation is at no cost to our taxpayers.


Saturday, 18 May 2013

New York photos now on this site

I have now been able to upload photographs to the blog so see the two previous instalments!

MTA5261 passes LT1 on W 15th Street New York
Two iconic vehicles in Manhattan

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

More from New York

At 1300 separate helicopters brought HRH Prince Harry and David Cameron to the west side heliport in New York.  There they were whisked aboard LT1 - the very first New Bus for London - for a short drive through Manhattan traffic to the Milk Studio in the Meatpacking District.

After photographs from the platform, they joined a busy reception where British technology and innovation was being showcased. 

Prince Harry was amazed we had managed to bring the bus across the Atlantic. The Prime Minister acknowledged the huge help we had received from the NY authorities in order to allow the bus to move around the city.

Afterwards, the parked bus outside remained a huge attraction for the media and visitors. Eventually it was time to proceed under escort back to the bus' parking location. It has several more guest appearances to do over the next couple of weeks, promoting tourism and everything British.

Central to this of course is the showcasing of tremendous British technology and innovation. There was also huge interest at the prospect of export business for not only the bus but what makes it special inside and underneath.  Wrights' top team was on hand to demonstrate this and explain to an eager audience.


New Bus for London in America!

 A red London bus is again gracing the streets of New York.

A New Bus for London is today travelling along the streets of Manhattan as it undertakes a special assignment conveying HRH Prince Harry and Prime Minister David Cameron to a major event promoting British innovation and technology.

LT1 was already back in the factory at Ballymena for upgrading to prototype standard when the assignment to send a bus to the USA arose. It was therefore further prepared with special vinyls and taken amidst great secrecy to Southampton for shipment to New York.

It was unloaded on Friday 9th May where a team was ready to receive it. Thanks to extensive co-operation by the City and State authorities, this vehicle (which is overheight, and out of compliance for operation here) then began a series of test runs and driver training. (One stipulation of the insurance is that a US licensed driver is at the wheel).

Later today our VVIPs will arrive aboard the bus and visit the GREAT Britain event here in the Meatpacking district of Manhattan.

Right now the final polishing and cleaning is taking place and the guests are assembling.

More later!


Friday, 10 May 2013

Boris in Ballymena

The Mayor Boris Johnson returned to Northern Ireland today. During his previous visit, he personally drove the first New Bus for London off the production line. Today he opened the brand new chassis plant where all the chassis for these vehicles and the single-decker Streetlite are now being assembled. The new site is in Antrim, some 15 miles from Wrights’ HQ in Ballymena.

The Mayor, accompanied by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Teresa Villiers, toured the facility. Walking around he spoke to numerous Wrights employees involved in the building of the New Bus for London fleet before making a spectacular speech from the platform. This wasn’t any platform, of course, it was the open platform of LT17 which was positioned in the factory for the occasion. Afterwards he unveiled a plaque commemorating the occasion. 

The entourage then boarded a brand new vehicle and we all headed to the main Wrights facility. On arrival the Mayor walked the production line and gave numerous media interviews. 

Our next stop was at a local country house hotel where 200 members of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce had assembled together with numerous members of the NI Assembly and other dignitaries. 

Once again the Mayor’s speech made some hard-hitting remarks including forceful commentary on local, national and international issues whilst simultaneously charming and entertaining the audience.

In particular he reminded the audience that investment in London ripples through the economy of the whole country bringing jobs, investment and confidence. Whilst much of the NBfL is built in Northern Ireland, the engines are made in Darlington, the flooring in Cornwall, the destination equipment in Manchester and so on.

Production of the New Bus for London is now in full swing with two lines producing vehicles. The vehicles for route 24 – due to be converted on 22 June – are now all complete and the batch for the second route is well underway.

It can now be revealed that the buses will be registered in Northern Ireland and carry consecutive registrations in a special series granted to us by the authorities. They will all be registered in a series commencing LTZ1001 which includes the reregistering of all of those which have previously been registered with UK marks for testing and training purposes.

The allocation of these marks – some 20-30 years ahead of when they might have appeared naturally in the system – is thanks to the co-operation of the DVLA in both Swansea and in Northern Ireland.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Tunnelling under London

London is full of tunnels. The latest additions are for Crossrail and I was really pleased to be invited to see them for myself. We walked from Limmo Penninsula to the Tunnel Boring Machine ("Elizabeth") headed west. 

Crossrail is Europe's biggest construction project right now. It will be a 73 mile long railway linking Essex with Berkshire with 24 trains an hour running underneath central London in 26 miles of newly dug tunnel. Different to our current infrastructure, these deep level tunnels are much larger than on the Underground’s tube lines, for example they are some 60% larger than the Victoria line. 

Crossrail’s long history can be traced back to a stillborn project in the 1880s. The idea re-emerged towards the end of World War II. After that it was very much "off" and "on" from mid-1970s. It features in the 1974 Rail Study, and again in a British Rail discussion paper in 1980. A Bill to build Crossrail was rejected in 1994. Subsequent studies and reviews continued to outline the benefits which would accrue to London if it were to be built. 

The London East-West Study by the SRA in 2000 reconfirmed the need for an East-West cross-London railway. After much discussion over the funding model, the current Crossrail project emerged. Finally after all these years, trains will be running through the new tunnels in 2018. 

The scale of the Crossrail works is incredible. Eight tunnel boring machines are working their way under London. These 1000 ton machines are at work day and night - indeed you can see their progress at 

After our safety briefing we were taken down in a lift at the vertical shaft and then walked some considerable distance to where TBM 'Elizabeth' was working. As the TBMs tunnel further their power supply is lengthened and their spoil extraction arrangements increased. It is warm and dry underground. But the progress is fast: 100m a week. 

I stood in a mostly finished 7.1m wide tunnel, some 40m deep underground which for the last billion years or so has been solid earth. As I reflected on this with a construction worker I asked him how long ago this particular place was solid London clay. 

"Tuesday" he said...... 

Back on the surface we saw the consequences of the work. Spoil from the tunnels is removed and shipped away by rail or water for re-use. A new nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex in a joint RSPB project is the main beneficiary. 

And no matter how glossy the brochures or snazzy the videos are about Crossrail in the near future - the current reality is that heavy industrial machines and serious labour are digging under London and shifting the spoil onto trains and into ships. 

Digging will be complete in 2014 and then follows the complex task of fitting out, laying the tracks and building a railway......