Monday, 11 December 2017

Borderbus Fleet Update

Thanks to my contacts at Borderbus I can reveal that a 4th ex Stagecoach London Scania Omni City decker has been purchased. This one is LX59 CLV and joins the 3 already there, which have been registered BB57/58 and now 59 BUS. BB59 BUS has been transferred from the E200 which held the registration, which has now been given BB03 BUS, formerly held by one of the B7tl Gemins.

I understand LX59 CLV will receive the registration BB56 BUS.

Pics to follow in next day or two.


As promised here are pictures taken early this morning by Chief Engineer Dave Marshall of the two buses with their new identities. Bernice do you have a name for them? Cheers, Dave, for taking the time on a snowy morning. You may recognise the driver preparing BB59 - none other than Robin, who won the STEVE Award for Driver of the Year when at Anglian a few years ago!

Ex BB59 now BB03        pic (c) Dave Marshall
Formerly LX59 CNE now BB59 BUS       pic (c) Dave Marshall

Monday, 4 December 2017

Ensign Running Day 2017 Part Two

If you haven't read Part One you can read it here.

At the end of Part One you left me at Bluewater having just alighted from a rather enjoyable Greenline liveried RT. I also had a phone with not much battery left, and many photos still to take so drastic action was needed. When I passed through Bluewater on MD60 I noticed Arriva Kent had got some new E400MMC's on the Medway - Bluewater 700 service advertising USB charging. Just what the doctor ordered so I decided to take a ride to Chatham and back to get the phone charged up before resuming the Running Day. There are some who really hate the new Arriva Sapphire livery, but from the front I don't think it looks that bad.

Arriva Kent 6517 entering Bluewater Bus Station
I honestly don't think that's too bad. However from the rear it's a different story..

Utterly hideous, and unblock those windows too!
At the start of Part One I said nothing rattled apart from one, and I would point that out when I came to it. Well look above and there it is. The newest bus was by far the worst of the day. To be fair it was great at speed on the A2 on a very smooth road. But run over a dead flea and you know all about it. Not only that but it was Dickensian Christmas in Rochester and the place was packed. It seemed as though Arriva had made no contingency plans whatsoever as passengers were complaining about waiting for up to 90 mins on what is only a 40 minute route. Simply not good enough on one of the busiest days for the route and it's this sort of lethargy and apparent lack of care that puts people off travelling by bus.

So let's leave the amateurish present in Kent, and return to the glorious past, where relief services were commonplace. I had a date with a DMS, but before that arrived I was treated to a couple of others in the fading light, allowing interior lights to take effect, and yes, MD60 by lucky chance was one of them!

Then the DMS arrived. I drove open and closed top DMS in London in the late 80's and thoroughly enjoyed them. I also wanted to finally meet the driver of this one, a certain Martijn Gilbert, CEO of the highly impressive Reading Buses. We have got to know each other on Twitter but this was our first face to face meeting. I am a fan of Reading Buses - and not just because Martijn shares my hatred of rattles. The are very forward thinking, and Martijn is the sort of boss who thinks nothing of turning up unannounced and mucking in with the night crew to clean and wash the buses. I like managers who see everyone as a crucial cog in the smooth operation of the business, regardless of their role.

So I decided I'd stick on the DMS until the end of the day, hitching a lift back to Purfleet. So I settled down on this good looking bus and prepared for the ride...

The DMS loading up at Bluewater
...For a whole 5 minutes until Martijn broke it! We got to the top of a hill near Greenhithe, promptly lost gears and that was that. Then the fun really started. Quite a few of us on board had experience of DMS's and with things like that normal procedure is to shut the bus down via the master switch, wait a few mins then try again, just like Sky boxes these days. However none of us could locate the switch. Everything that could be opened was opened (you won't believe how many carry T keys "just in case", me included), every nook and cranny having 4 mobile phone torches shone into, but nope, couldn't find a thing. DMS stood for Denied Master Switch! Eventually after much trial and error the DMS was declared a failure.

I know there's one in there somewhere!!!
This meant alternative arrangements had to be made to get back to Purfleet, so I jumped on a passing RT, as you do, RT 3251 as it turns out, and got chatting to the jovial Conductor, Tony Beard, who again seemed to live just for this one day a year. This led to me joining him on the platform (very much on inside bit) and the most enjoyable bus ride I have had in decades. Going through the Dartford Tunnel on the rear platform of an RT while chatting about the history of the crossing is something I won't forget for sometime.

Dartford Tunnel from rear window of an RT
I said about the Greenline RT in Part One that a bit more torque and a wheelchair bay and it would have serious potential. Well RT 3251 doesn't need the extra torque - it goes like a rocket! I then discovered who was driving, and the surreal aspect of the journey was complete. Driving was none other than Peter Newman, founder and Chairman of Ensign, who had flown in from CHINA the day before to be there to drive his favourite RT. I introduced myself at Lakeside, and he shook my hand like you would a friend you haven't seen for 25 years! He happily agreed to take me back to the yard so after a quick pic I jumped back on and we continued to Upminster, with Peter driving like a 10yo on a sugar rush driving a dodgem! For the first time in my life I fell in love with a bus older than myself that held no personal memories.

RT3251 at Lakeside
At Upminster the lights were turned off, Tony and I took a side seat each, and enjoyed a private journey on a special bus, driven by a legend of the industry. It just doesn't get any better and I only wish it had lasted a couple of hours. Back at the depot Peter continued to natter, denying any jet lag, before bidding me a friendly farewell.

I decided to wander around the shed as I had unfinished business with MD60. I had been asked by a Twitter follower for some interior shots, which obviously I couldn't do with passengers on. Unfortunately when I found her she was parked up in a dark corner and interior shots were impossible. Just then, though, a chap doing the shunting, putting the buses to bed pulled up in the RT I had just got off, and I asked if there was any chance of turning the interior lights on the MD. I hadn't finished the question before he finished it for me, gave a big grin, and said of course in a way that made me feel as though he was only there to serve my needs. Over we went, lights, camera, action and interior shots gained.

The interior of the MD
That, for me typified the day, and |Ensign overall. Nothing is too much trouble, enthusiasts are welcomed and embraced, and the sheer friendliness, happiness and contentment of those working at Ensign is overwhelming. It struck me today that if I have a regret in life it is that I didn't discover Ensign when I was driving. I have a feeling my life may have turned out very differently.

Time for bed as RT 3251 is reversed into her spot
If Santa is reading this then I could do with a book of superlatives as I have all but run out. An incredible day, with incredible buses and incredible people. Even had Ross messaging me yesterday to make sure I'd enjoyed myself. I'll tell you this - if all bus companies were run with as much dedication, enthusiasm, consideration and love, then Council bus subsidy cuts wouldn't be an issue, as they wouldn't be needed. Buses would be everyone's first choice. Thank you Peter, Steve, Ross and everyone I met and chatted to on a day I will take with me when I leave this world.

I promised a compilation video of what I took at various locations and here it is.

PS Just as I was about to leave the DMS arrived back on the back of the tow truck. Turned out to be a minor alternator problem, but we won't let that minor detail stop us from still blaming Martijn!

Ummmm someone broke the bus!!!

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Ensign Running Day 2017 Part One

A conscientious reporter should be able to report in a professional, calm, neutral manner, sticking to the facts without letting personal opinions or bias getting in the way. Well stuff that, the day I had at Ensign's Running Day was too spectacularly good to remain calm or neutral, and you may get the impression I rather liked it. If I can convey a fraction of my enjoyment in these posts then it will be job done.

Not only had I been given a complimentary day ticket, but I had also been invited to Ensign's Purfleet base to watch the many buses being prepared. So on a grey, damp morning at 0730 I arrived and could immediately sense the anticipation and excitement. Staff still doing last minute cleaning, and buses being started up, producing fumes that would have the Green Party literally choking on their cornflakes, but that in itself evoking memories of the days when no two buses were alike, all having their own unique characters.

2 of the runners already blinded up
Without exception everyone I met grinned and said hello. This included a chap in a snood and faded Ensign jacket, holding a clipboard who was here, there and everywhere. I assumed he was a depot foreman or the like, but no. This was the man behind the event, Steve Newman, Company Director! This event is Steve's baby, he has strict rules as to how young vehicles can be (not very young) what bus goes on which route and so on. Which brings us to the routes. This is not a running event where the route comprises of a trip round the block, or tour of the town's traffic lights. The buses aren't stuck in a field round the back of an attraction you've already done. The routes are long, interlinked, and accessible., from Ongar in the North to Gravesend in the South, via the Dartford Crossing, and serving both the major shopping centres of Lakeside and Bluewater. An all day ticket cost £10.

The route network
 This year the X81 was extended to Tilbury Ferry for the first time, allowing passengers to cross the Thames on the ferry to connect with the X55 at Gravesend. I know many took that opportunity, but I had a list of buses I wanted to travel on, and they were all on the X55. However, I did take advantage of being at the yard to take as many pictures of participating vehicles as I could, as I knew there would be many, many others taking pics at the various locations. So here is a selection.

 I had been told I could travel from the yard on whichever vehicle I wanted. As it was a designated spare I chose M1, the Metrobus. I'm pretty sure I haven't travelled on a Metrobus since I last drove one in 1994, so to not only get a ride but help carry out the checks was a rare treat. A solid vehicle but with a surging throttle and very eager brakes they do demand a certain amount of skill to drive without sending passengers everywhere! I will say at this point only one type of vehicle I travelled on rattled, and I will point that out later. So you can assume no other vehicle I travelled on rattled in any way, shape or form.

The main reason I attended was that the Metropolitan Scania was coming out to play, and I arrived at Lakeside some 2 hours early. So after an unsuccessful attempt to buy a battery pack to charge my phone up in Lakeside, an issue that will be revisited later, I joined the merry throng at Lakeside bus station who were taking pics of anything that moved, and there was a lot to choose from. Here is another selection.

 There were also some visiting vehicles, one of which was a very smart East Kent AEC Regent. I have strong memories of the Regents in service, from watching them pass St Mary's Bay beach on a family seaside trip, to riding one along Margate seafront in their last days. I was dared to publish a pic of it so Matt, just for you!

East Kent AEC Regent MFN 946F at Lakeside Bus Station
There were several more, who will appear in a video at the end of the second post. But then my whole reason for being there arrived, and for the first time in over 30 years I saw a Metropolitan Scania in motion. I overheard a chap saying there are only 3 examples left. One at Scania in Stockholm, one at Leicester and this one, MD60. If anyone knows different and there are others then let me know! I don't apologise for going a bit overboard with the pics as this is such a rare sight.

I have said before if I could ride one bus again it would be one of these, and now I was. Rather luckily another X55 left just in front and so I was able to bag one of the coveted front seats upstairs. I was slightly nervous as I have such fond memories of these futuristic buses - remember this was built in 1976. Would the ride be as smooth as I remember, would the acceleration be as good, would the engine have that Scania gurgle? Well I needn't have worried. The ride was as I remembered, far, far superior to the huge majority of modern buses. The acceleration would match anything modern so you can imagine how it compared to everything else in 1976, the engine was quiet on inside but roared on outside and I fell in love with it all over again. Just a shame the bodies were awful and prone to rust - told you it was futuristic - now bodies are just awful! Ok, deep breath, and a sentence I never thought I'd write: I travelled over the QE2 Bridge on the top deck of a Metroplolitan Scania! What's more I have the picture to prove it!

After going through Bluewater shopping centre where I spotted the seed that planned my afternoon, and a good natter to some other passengers, including a couple from Ipswich - can't get away from them - we arrived in Gravesend. I'm pretty sure none of the Maidstone & District Metropolitian Scanias ever made it to Gravesend, as Gillingham depot operated the Medway - Gravesend routes while the Scanias were based at Chatham's Luton depot, so MD60 could be the only Metropolitian to ever grace the town, not that yesterday was its first time of course..

MD60 at Gravesend
After finding a power pack to charge my phone from only to discover it had no pre loaded charge, if I was to get any evening pics a change of plan was needed. After lunch in Gravesend (incidentally on the night of the 1987 great storm I drove the last bus from Gravesend to Chatham) I took a quick break from buses to snap a Class 395 Javelin at Gravesend Station, then hopped on a Greenline liveried RT back to Bluewater. A lovely ride, made all the better by Clippie Hannah, whose love of what she was doing was so evident. It was then I decided if RT's had a little more power and a wheelchair bay they would have extreme potential!

395003 at Gravesend
RT3232 at Bluewater
It was now early afternoon, and I had a date with a DMS to keep, but first I simply had to get charge into my phone, which meant leaving the past and reluctantly returning to the present for a bit. In Part Two join me for the worst bus of the day, I meet a legend, a hunt for a secretive isolation switch, a ride through the Dartford Tunnel like no other, I meet an even bigger legend, and the hospitality and friendliness of Ensign is typified at the end of the day. You think I'm having fun here??

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Anglianbus 1981 - 2017

This is a post I always thought I'd have to write, but one I always prayed I'd never have to. It's one of the most difficult I've had to write, because I know so many of the people involved, and have been witness to a lot of pent up emotion, sadness and anger - not just over the last couple of weeks since the announcement of Anglian's absorption into Konect - but over the last 4 years. You may have read some of the comments in the post I published with the news. If you haven't please do - you can find the post here.

In 1981 Anglian Coaches was formed by David and Christine Pursey. A small, family concern, they ran coaches of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes out of a site in Loddon, and soon became a familiar sight in Suffolk and Norfolk. I'm grateful to Dave Marshall, engineering supremo at Anglian for over 25 years before joining Andrew Pursey to launch Borderbus, for sending me a great selection of pictures of some of the early coaches, including a magnificent early Setra. I won't go into details over them - anyone interested can do so at their leisure by Googling the registrations.

In 1999 the decision was made to expand the company into bus work. The contract to operate the Diss - Yarmouth 580 was won. Realising that expansion meant extra capacity was needed Anglian relocated to their purpose built depot at Ellough in 2000, complete with a shiny new pit I have a feeling the Chief Engineer at the time is still rather proud of..

The brand new pit at Anglian 2000
More contracts were won, and in 2003 the first Commercial route was launched, the 588 Halesworth - Norwich service. It proved to be a great success, eventually knocking First off the route. The bus side grew so quickly in 2004 another depot was opened at Rackheath to stable the Norwich City services, of which there were many. The coach side of the business gradually declined and was finally abandoned, with the bus side flourishing and continuing to expand. Here are some of the early vehicles.

By 2012 Anglianbus was so successful it was the largest independent in East Anglia, with some 90 buses and over 100 drivers. From Ipswich to Great Yarmouth to Diss to Norwich not much of the area was untouched by Anglian, with the huge majority of rural community routes operated by them. The company attracted interest from more than one of the big operators, but one showed more interest than most. Go Ahead tried twice, unsuccessfully, to buy Anglian but David Pursey refused. Then fate stepped in. David Pursey became seriously ill, and recognising he was unlikely to recover he accepted a third and much higher bid from Go Ahead, firstly to guarantee his family's financial future, and let's face it who wouldn't make the same decision, and secondly, because Go Ahead promised nothing would change, that it would be business as normal, all jobs protected, and that the company would continue to flourish and expand. On 20th April 2012 Anglian became part of Go Ahead, and here is Go Ahead's statement. The final paragraph is particularly poignant.

 One thing that should never be forgotten is that it was David Pursey who sold Anglian, not Andrew. David owned the company, he founded it, and it was his to do with as he pleased. Andrew played a massive part in Anglian's success, but his dad was the boss. I'm lucky to have been given a very rare picture of David Pursey standing by one of his buses. I never met him. I wish I had. I've never heard a negative word said against him.

David Pursey by one of his Beavers
So a new era dawned on Anglianbus. Andrew Pursey remained in charge with Dave Marshall as Chief Engineer. The most significant purchases arguably ever in East Anglia arrived in the form of 13 MAN Eco City gas buses and Anglian made national headlines. The gas buses were employed on the 146 between Norwich and Lowestoft, in competition with First's X2, but in a sign of things to come the route was short lived. Andrew and Dave may have been in charge, but as Dave quite astutely said to me the other day; "We were in charge of something we had no control over". Practices that had got Anglian where they were were suddenly abandoned, and it soon became clear that Go Ahead were intent on running Beccles like a London depot, not a country depot. There is a huge difference between the two. London passengers couldn't care less who are driving their buses. Country passengers like to know the name of the driver who'll be receiving the pot of jam every Autumn. As different as chalk and cheese, something Go Ahead refused to acknowledge despite many people advising them. Indeed I wrote this post over two years ago. Why didn't they just listen?

One of the gas buses at Kessingland Beach, no longer served by buses.
Andrew was getting increasingly frustrated. In the end seeing everything he had helped to build being eroded in front of his eyes proved too much and in 2013 he left, along with Dave Marshall, to form Borderbus. That left Anglian at the complete mercy of Go Ahead, and Konectbus. Much of Anglian's newer buses transferred to Dereham. The Rackheath routes were transferred to Konect with Rackheath eventually closing, only to be re-opened as a Part & Ride depot by Konect. A new manager with a brief to streamline Beccles was installed, and streamline he did. First the popular Ipswich routes 164/5 were summarily scrapped. The 165 club, formed by passengers and drivers of the route still endures to this day. Routes were merged, with another popular route, the A47 being scrapped leaving places like Blofeld and Brundall suddenly without a Yarmouth link. And the fleet was slashed. 90 became 50 almost overnight. This left too few spares resulting in maintenance standards dropping, despite the best efforts of the staff. Again Anglian were warned by many, and some started to predict the beginning of the end. Staff morale plummeted, and the turnover of drivers reached ludicrous standards. Routes and frequencies continued to be cut.

The 60 between Beccles/Bungay and Lowestoft/JPH which at its peak ran to a 20 minute frequency became virtually nothing overnight. The 62 between Lowestoft and Halesworth was scrapped, affecting many communities, and the 80/81 between Diss and Yarmouth trimmed to its bare bones. Yes, Council subsidy cuts played a part, but not all of it. There was no desire from Anglian management to save the routes. The public wasn't consulted, and Go Ahead continued to run Beccles as a London depot, wondering why it wasn't working yet still refusing to listen.

The very last 62, gas bus 100 operating
 Then just when you thought it couldn't get worse it did. The 7 was taken over by Konect, who cleverly extended journey times by incorporating the 7 into the Norwich P & R brand - that had them flocking on! It lasted 6 months before being scrapped. The gas buses were transferred to Plymouth, a move that many saw as the final nail in the coffin. The 61 changed routes more often than an indecisive rambler, pulled out of Southwold, now doesn't even serve Yarmouth and in January is being scrapped altogether, when 3 years ago it was one of the longest routes in the country, a successful 20 min frequency route running between Norwich (as the 7) and Southwold - a 2 and a half hour journey. Anglian gave up on the 80/81 Yarmouth to Diss in the face of fierce competition (2 buses) from Borderbus, and are now losing passengers hand over fist to First on the Bungay corridor. In January the PVR on ex Anglian routes will be 10. What a debacle. Konect haven't escaped unscathed either, with routes including the 2 between Norwich and Sheringham, and the 1 between Watton and Kings Lynn going along with the 71/72 Yarmouth services. Hedingham have closed Tollesbury depot and Chambers have reduced frequencies. Overall Go Ahead have murdered a huge number of bus services in East Anglia, and they don't appear to give a damn. I said three years ago that East Anglia needs Anglian, if only to keep First in check. But more importantly Anglian were part of the community, they were popular, successful, friendly, and reliable. That changed in 2012. Now they are consigned to history, except of course we'll have the reminder with Anglian lveried buses running around with Konectbus on the side, just to rub it in.

I visited Anglian's Beccles depot the other day to take a couple of final pictures. The only thing missing was the tumbleweed.

On 20th November 2017 all Anglian services became Konect. Anglianbus Co Ltd still exists so the drivers can continue to be paid at a lower rate than Konect drivers, but all services are now operated by Konect.

So thanks for the memories, Anglian. Thanks for buying (not leasing) the best single decker bus ever built then trashing them. Thanks to all the drivers who became mates, too many to individually name but a couple of them have become close friends. Thanks to everyone who has given me their memories and opened their hearts up over the last couple of weeks. Those hearts are broken at what Go Ahead has done. As Andrew Pursey said to me when I asked for his thoughts "It's like watching a family member die from cancer. You can't do anything about it, it's tortuous and upsetting when they die, but in a way almost a relief too".  This has,indeed been a tortuous death, but now maybe it has paved the way for something or someone new to succeed where Anglian self destructed. I hope so, or Suffolk will become a very barren patch for bus services. RIP Anglianbus

I'll leave the final words to Bernice Carver. An engineer at Anglian for many years (and my invaluable mole) she only left a few months ago, and was witness to the carnage around her. She has written a poem, which she has given permission to publish, as well as her name. I think it conveys perfectly the raw emotion evident in those who truly cared about Anglian. Bernice even had pet names for her buses, and this last pic of 452 is for her. The last bus with Anglian fleetnames I have taken. Yes on a Konect route but I guess that's appropriate. Thanks, Bernice and I hope your anger becomes calm soon.

Anglian 452 Scania Omnilink AU58 AUV in Norwich 17th November
Anglian Bus

Anglian Bus years ago in time,
was at it’s peak, and in it’s prime.
The staff were happy, the buses well kept,
more and more passengers, they did collect.
Yellow was the colour, with the bottom half blue,
always seen in villages, towns, and the city too.
Anglian ruled, for a while at least,
competitors realising, it was a defeat.
Passengers were happy, offering congrats,
to the Pursey family, we took off our hats.

Then one sad day,  Anglian was sold,
NOT due to debt, as we were all told.
Love and compassion, were the reasons it went,
words that Go Ahead, cannot comprehend.
In came the vultures, known as Konect,
management taking, all they could get.
Swapping the buses, from the new to the old,
the warmth in the depot, had suddenly gone cold.
Robbing Anglian, to pay Konect,
I’ve never seen, such a disrespect.
They sent in the bully, and the idiots too,
saying they could do, what we couldn't do.
Well, that they did, they left us in disgrace,
and now they only option, is to go and close the place.
So due to the management, at Go Ahead
they have killed Anglian, Anglian is dead.