Saturday, 16 June 2018

Quiet Routes, Loud Routes

April was a surprisingly quiet month within the enthusiast calendar, having only two contract changes in its entireity. There were lots of bus rallies out in the country to keep people busy, but I'm not really into those events, which meant for one particular change I was one of the only people who bothered. Chronologically, the first contract change occurred on Saturday 7th April 2018, consisting of two community routes within the Barnet area being offered to a different operator.

Go-Ahead London SEN23 is seen at The Spires on route 389 to Barnet, Western Way.
I've already written about the nature of the 389 and 399 in a commendable amount of detail here, so this post will focus more on the actual differences between the old and new contracts. The 389/399 are easily some of the quirkiest routes in London, sharing a bus between them to operate the two circular routes in Barnet which both take no more than twenty minutes, allowing an hourly service to operate between 1000 and 1500. Whilst in rush hour the Enviro 200 would work the 299, from Cockfosters it would morph into a 399 further down the road until The Spires, where the bus changed its blind to become the 389 and go around Underhill, before completing the 399 loop again and this practise continued until around 1500 where the last 399 ended at Hadley Wood Station. Go-Ahead London ran the service from Northumberland Park (NP) garage, usually with an SEN-class Enviro 200 but occasionally single door Wright Streetlites would appear on the service. The regular passengers who use this service were very friendly with the Go-Ahead crew, who even provided biscuits for them during their last day driving the service, Friday 6th April 2018. Even though there is no rush hour crosslink on Saturdays, the buses still only run in the middle of the day, whilst there is no service at all on Sundays.

Sullivan Buses SL96 is seen in Hadley Wood working the first ever 399 journey under Sullivan Buses.
The loss of these two routes wasn't particularly surprising given that the 299 also went to Sullivan Buses earlier in the year and the custom of using its allocation continues for the new contract, albeit in the form of a relatively new batch of Wrightbus Streetlites. These vehicles are based at South Mimms (SM) garage, although the crosslink comes instead from the 298 service between Potters Bar and Arnos Grove. As I had nothing better to do on a Saturday morning, I decided to make the journey up to Hadley Wood and catch the first ever service run by Sullivan Buses, mainly because it worked out conveniently for my later plans and didn't involve getting up at the crack of dawn. After stepping off the Great Northern service at Hadley Wood Station, which is very sparsely used, my walk to the first virtual bus stop consisted mostly of admiring the huge mansions that dominate this area - most places of residence have at least four or five cars in the driveway. After confirmation from the postman, I was successful in finding a suitable place to flag down the vehicle, SL96, which came by surprise seeing as there were issues with calibrating the iBus system. What I found rather lovely, however, is that in addition to the driver a member of the Sullivan Buses team was out there supporting him and essentially offering a welcome party to all the regular passengers, in an attempt to get to know them better for the next few years, who were delighted by the new bus and fancy moquette, a stark contrast to the Go-Ahead interior scheme. In total, we only picked up around five people before the bus morphed into the 389, although it was nice to be back in this rather extravagant part of London once again. Two bus enthusiasts, who also decided not to go into the depths of Kent, snapped my vehicle as it pulled into The Spires and surprisingly, even though we were heading away from the shops, a few more people boarded and started chatting to the new driver. I bailed at High Barnet in order to take a Northern Line, although I really enjoyed my experience on the two routes and it seems that Sullivan Buses are pulling out all the stops and embracing the nature of these two routes very nicely, which hopefully results in the communities who use them being just as satisfied as with the old operator.

Tower Transit VNW32430 is seen near Swiss Cottage on route 31 to Camden Town.
The contract change of route 31 on Saturday 28th April 2018 was a well-attended event, partially because the route is much more significant compared to the Barnet shuttles. It is one of my favourite services in the city, originating at White City and taking passengers on a lovely tour of inner North-West London to Camden Town, via Swiss Cottage, Maida Hill and Notting Hill Gate, with so much variety between the different places it serves. The night element of the 31 doesn't branch West to serve Shepherd's Bush, but instead goes via Kensington, Earl's Court and Battersea to terminate at Clapham Junction - this route also changed hands. Route 31 also a very useful service, not really paralleling any rail services for a substantial amount of time, particularly at the Camden end where buses are often very busy. Even though this route does enter zone 1, its allocation under First London and later Tower Transit certainly wasn't modern, predominantly using 04-reg Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini B7TL vehicles and I can't actually remember when they were first introduced onto the route as they've been the main allocation for so long. The buses were based at the temporary Atlas Road (AS) base during the Crossrail works which reduced the space at Westbourne Park (X) garage dramatically, but during the final few months the allocation has returned to the home garage. Despite the variety at this site, workings of other buses were infrequent on the 31, with only Gemini 2s occasionally appearing on the night service. Even though the former garage weren't really praised for running services well, the 31 had always been very secure, although during the past year the route suddenly became very unreliable and on the last day due to some sort of road closure the service was in pieces - at one point ten buses were bunched up at Notting Hill Gate! Despite the 31's decline, I was still upset that the route was changing hands - I've always associated the route with Westbourne Park (X) garage and the B7TLs and even though I'm sure the route is in capable hands, when something you grew up with changes it's not always easy to overcome.

London Transport RTW467 is seen on the last day of route 31 under Tower Transit.
Bus enthusiasts, especially those interested in vintage vehicles, were in for a treat on Friday 27th April, where Sir Peter Hendy decided to send out an RTW along the 31 service for a couple of hours in the late afternoon, as a sort of farewell to the route being operated out of Westbourne Park (X) garage. Although a ride on this vehicle was not possible, I'm really happy to have a photo marking this event as it certainly will be one to remember in a few years time and I must thank everyone who organised this road-run as I'm sure it was treasured by many people. However, the old contract did have a rather bitter conclusion, given that many enthusiasts who intended to ride the last ever 31 under Tower Transit ended up stranded at Camden Town as it didn't pick up any passengers for some reason (I don't know the full story), suggesting that the former company were a little resentful at losing the route. Nevertheless, Metroline kicked off just minutes after the final Tower Transit bus pulled in, with the first N31 service beginning just before 1am on Saturday 28th April.

Metroline Travel VW1385 is seen at Shepherd's Bush on route 31 to Camden Town.
Initially, Metroline were expected to receive brand new MCV B5LH EvoSeti vehicles for the 31, although these have been diverted to route 43 at Holloway (HT) garage, which is probably for the best seeing as none have entered service yet. The 31 uses existing vehicles instead, in the form of three batches of Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles, sourced from a variety of garages. Some of them are from Holloway (HT) and Willesden (AC) garage, which were made redundant following the introduction of brand new Gemini 3 hybrids, having 62/13-reg plates. The rest of the allocation is actually made up of vehicles already found at Perivale West (PA) garage - where the 31 is now based - with this being in the form of 11-reg Gemini 2s officially allocated to the 105, although these will be made redundant following the loss of the route to London United in the coming months. Naturally, the transfers now appear on all other Perivale West (PA) garage routes due to the generally relaxed allocation system there, although none of the Scania Olympus double deckers have appeared on the 31 yet due to the absence of blinds for the service. Although the allocation for this route is a little messy for my liking, the fleet is still an upgrade from the worn out B7TLs that were used before and hopefully the rest of the VWs receive a well-earned refurbishment sooner or later.

Metroline Travel VW1186, a refurbished 11-reg example, is seen at Chalk Farm.
Interestingly, Metroline decided it would be necessary to add the qualifier "Bus Station" to the White City blind, which gives even more discrepancies as no other service displays this. On the first day, the company did struggle to run a good service at times, although curtailments were sparse and it was certainly far better than the wreckage on the last day of Tower Transit. Since then, there are still occasional hiccups, which is understandable for a route that is said to be a "nightmare to control" by staff, although the future does generally look positive for this service and there are days with no issues whatsoever. Unfortunately, as Metroline settle into the contract they will be faced with some difficulties as the 31 will be receiving another frequency cut in a couple of weeks, which I think is completely absurd given that the buses I've seen recently are already very well-loaded, especially at the Camden end, so it will be interesting to see if this has any bearing on the reliability of the service. However, with a reduced peak vehicle requirement perhaps the operation might become slightly easier, so even with overcrowding the service should be tolerable most of the time.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Go Away, Norwood Edition

In recent times Go-Ahead London haven't been particularly successful with tendering results in the South London area, losing three services within the Norwood and Herne Hill area to other operators, with all of the routes being quite substantial. The first two changes took place on Saturday 30th March 2018, involving routes 68 and 468.

Go-Ahead London PVL151 is seen on route 68 operating a short working
Despite being one of the most prolific services in London, the 68 change was rather unappealing for enthusiasts given that it was keeping the exact same batch of buses, those being the New Routemasters which in my opinion have completely ruined what was a good route. Before the conversion, Go-Ahead London treated the service just like any of the others at Camberwell (Q) garage, which meant that a wide variety of bus types appeared, including the Volvo President pictured above. Whilst conventional buses did appear occasionally in more recent times, on most occasions passengers would be lumbered with the LTs which lack character and have a habit of making bus trips miserable, so even when the service was lost to Abellio my only feeling was disappointment that I'd be missing out on what would've been a new batch of MMCs without the vanity project. Due to the necessity to transfer the existing batch of NRMs to Walworth (WL) garage in preparation for the new contract, the last few trips on the 68 were actually worked by conventional MCV EvoSeti buses, marking a somewhat appropriate end with Go-Ahead London. The route itself runs between Euston and West Norwood, via Holborn, Camberwell and Herne Hill, which makes it pretty similar to the plethora of routes that Walworth (WL) garage ran before the assumption of the 68.

Abellio London LT702 is seen at Aldwych on route 68
Apart from the introduction of Abellio London logos on the exterior bodywork, the buses are exactly the same as they were with Go-Ahead and since the new contract only one conventional bus, an ADL E40H MMC, has been used on the 68. These LTs do mingle with the batch allocated to the 3, but other than that there is nothing really interesting to report. Reliability has been decent so far, although this is to be expected given that the garage already operate a number of routes as challenging as the 68. Along with the daytime service, this garage also took up operation of the night service, which starts at Tottenham Court Road instead of Euston and continues beyond Norwood to serve Croydon, Purley and eventually Old Coulsdon, which is quite close to the edge of the Greater London boundary. However, the allocation for this service consists of ADL E40H MMCs currently allocated to the 45 and 196, presumably because the longer LTs are not appropriate for some of the tighter roads this route serves. In conclusion, whilst the 68 change could've been one of the biggest ones in 2018, due to its allocation remaining the same it seems pretty irrelevant compared to what else we're covering in this point, despite the other two routes barely skimming the edge of zone 1.

Go-Ahead London WVL262 is seen in Camberwell on route 468.
Route 468 was also based at Camberwell (Q) garage under the old contract and the changes on Saturday 31st March have actually resulted in the entire 68-group splitting up - whilst all three routes were originally under the same roof, the X68 has remained at Go-Ahead, the 468 is now with Arriva whilst Abellio run the 68. The 468 runs between Elephant & Castle and South Croydon, following the 68 through Camberwell, Herne Hill and Norwood, but after this point the 468 continues to go via Beulah Spa, Thornton Heath and Croydon Town Centre before terminating a few minutes further down at the Swan & Sugar Loaf. This route takes an incredibly long time from end-to-end, but this was no challenge for Go-Ahead London, who operated the route superbly considering the potential problems on route. There wasn't really a fixed allocation for this service, with anything from the latest E40H MMCs to older Wrightbus B7TL Geminis turning up even until the very last day, where many enthusiasts were disappointed to see some types disappearing from the route altogether, although there was a sense of excitement regarding Arriva London taking up the service from Norwood (N) garage.

Arriva London HV302 is seen in Croydon Town Centre on route 468.
Although people began to speculate whether the route would stand at South Croydon Bus Garage as it is operated by Arriva, the route still remains at South End for the time being. The demand for new vehicles on this contract produced a rather large batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles being delivered for the 468, although this type was already familiar at Norwood (N) as there are slightly older examples allocated to the 2 - both routes now effectively share a common user pool between the batches of Gemini 3s. These buses have been praised by enthusiasts for their ability to tackle the steep hills on route 468 and they have been very dedicated to the service, with no appearance of any other types since the new contract, a stark contrast from the variety provided by Go-Ahead. The service has been good too - apart from a couple of natural slips on the first day there has hardly been any difference to that provided by Go-Ahead and it seems that despite this route being one of the biggest offered to a new operator this year, it's also been a very smooth transition. Hopefully Arriva can maintain this for the next few years and I wish them the best in doing so.

Go-Ahead London E14 is seen at Elephant & Castle on route 196.
On Saturday 5th May 2018, the 196 was also lost from Go-Ahead London, almost completely removing the company from the West Norwood-Herne Hill stopping service corridor, where they used to run all four routes, whilst the remaining service (the 322) is hardly an attractive option with its low frequency and short single deckers.The 196 was run from Stockwell (SW) garage with a batch of Trident Enviro 400s, coincidentally the first lot ordered by Go-Ahead. Appearances of other types like Wrightbus Gemini B7TLs were not uncommon, although the E400s have been the backbone of the service for many years. Whilst Norwood Junction and Elephant & Castle many not seem particularly far apart, the 196 still manages to take 80 minutes from end-to-end off-peak, as it travels through Tulse Hill, Herne Hill, Brixton, Stockwell and Vauxhall in the process, which is certainly not the most direct route, weaving between four North-South corridors instead of sticking to one. The service under the old contract certainly wasn't perfect, but Go-Ahead were still liked by enthusiasts because of the allocation and it was quite fitting that E1, the first ever Go-Ahead London E400, was the last 196 to operate under the old company. Over the last few days, some of the 196 buses emerged in the Go-Ahead commercial livery whilst operating the route to reflect their future destination, which basically involves a bit more grey and some gold lettering, which was a nice touch to end a pretty successful contract. Even though the 196 passes two garages on route (Stockwell and Norwood), the route was actually picked up by Abellio from Walworth (WL) garage, which is around 15 minutes away from the terminus.

Abellio London 2605 is seen at Norwood Junction on route 196.
Predictably, Abellio ordered a modest batch of ADL E40H MMCs for the service and these buses now work alongside the slightly older examples on the 45, although no other types have appeared on the 196 yet. On the first day the service wasn't brilliant, with many large gaps and a number of curtailments, but since then the route has been performing quite well and when I went and sampled the route there were almost perfect headways. As a route I find the 196 really interesting and I would definitely recommend it to you if inner South London is somewhere you'd like to explore as it takes you through so many contrasting aspects of it. These MMCs are also very fast and if you're lucky the driver will floor the bus for the entire journey which is what happened to me - the 18-reg 196 examples seem far superior to the sluggish ones on the 45. It seems that despite a shaky start, the 196 is in safe hands for the future and perhaps people will eventually get used to the drastic reduction in Go-Ahead buses around Norwood and Herne Hill.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Changes To The Major Model For Go-Ahead

This post focuses on five batches of the ADL Enviro400H MMC which have recently entered service at two Go-Ahead garages in the South-East, although some of them have some interesting new technology installed that makes them slightly different from the other hybrids. Although the small batch at Camberwell (Q) garage didn't appear first, it makes sense to clump the New Cross (NX) lot together, especially as it can get quite confusing with the sheer number of MMCs that have entered service there. You'll also see a couple of Gemini 3s along with the E40Hs as the two garages have also been faffing around with those.

Go-Ahead London EH222 is seen at Russell Square on route 188 to North Greenwich.
Initially, when Go-Ahead London gained route 188 from Abellio, the route was operated from the newly opened Morden Wharf (MG) garage, with its batch of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles. However, due to space constraints at various different sites, which has resulted in a load of transfers, the 188 was shipped out to Camberwell (Q) garage after only a few months and although the route took its Gemini 3s with it, the common user policy at this particular depot means that the rigid allocation on the 188 has suddenly vanished, with both E40H MMCs and MCV EvoSeti vehicles appearing on the route. Coincidentally, the bus illustrated above was almost brand new when the photograph was taken, as it is part of a modest batch ordered for the contract renewal of the express X68 service, between Russell Square and West Croydon. However, the new MMCs spend most of their time on other routes as the X68 rota isn't especially demanding, given that it only runs in rush hour so the picture above can both show the new batch of buses and the new-found variety on the 188.

Go-Ahead London WHV185 is seen at Aldwych on route X68.
This further demonstrates the flexibility at Camberwell (Q) garage, as the bus is actually a 188 Gemini 3 working the X68 one particular evening. Interestingly, the latter route will become quite significant for enthusiasts in the coming months, as TFL are trialling a tri-axle vehicle on this route for the first time - it is actually a Volvo BCI similar to the examples at Ensignbus, although it is in London red and seems to have been fitted to the TFL specification. It is also a hybrid which does mean it complies with the latest emission requirements in Central London which this route serves and it will be interesting to see if the trial goes well and hopefully these buses can be rolled out en masse onto other routes that deserve them. For now though, the X68 is still stuck with the eclectic mix at Camberwell (Q) garage - bar the LTs almost any bus type can appear on any route so it will be interesting to see if they can resist the temptation to allocate the tri-axle onto other services which may not be able to take them!

Go-Ahead London WHV42 is seen at Lewisham on route 436.
This more substantial section of the post will focus on New Cross (NX) garage, but even they haven't just been dealing with MMCs. For whatever reason, four Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles have been permanently transferred over and three of these have been stolen from Croydon (C) garage, presumably because the 119 received a PVR reduction and this resulted in some WHV-class Gemini 3s becoming free. It did seem quite odd to introduce a brand new type to the garage, especially as they could've chosen some other MMCs to go over instead (the 14 had a massive frequency cut too), but they seem to have settled in rather well and take a particular liking to the 171 and 436, which makes sense given that these routes have been using Wrightbus vehicles for a while now in the form of Gemini 2s. It seems that the hybrid ones will be staying for the 436, whilst the diesel ones will either go onto the 321 or transfer to Peckham (PM) garage for use on the 37.

Abellio London 9068 is seen at New Cross Gate on route 343.
The first and second batches of MMCs only entered service due to contract changes, with both the 172 and 343 transferring over to New Cross (NX) garage due to Abellio being unsuccessful at retaining both. The latter route changed hands first, which marked the withdrawal of several Wrightbus Gemini B7TL vehicles at Walworth (WL) garage, where the 343 was previously based. Newer ADL Enviro400H buses also worked this service along with the 172 - the allocation for both of these routes was roughly the same. Funnily enough, the 343 terminates just around the corner from New Cross Bus Garage, so it seems quite fitting that Go-Ahead managed to gain the route, although the daytime service still stands at Jerningham Road in order to maintain links from this popular bus stop (the night element has been moved to stand at the garage due to anti-social behaviour). Even though the 343 may look like quite an irrelevant route in Central London route given that it only scrapes around the edge of it, it is actually the only service to terminate at City Hall, so when the mayor visited there by public transport to launch the new unlimited hopper fare Abellio had to convert the entire route to hybrid operation in order to impress him, whilst the 381 was dumped with the ageing B7TLs. Additionally, the 343 had quite a lot of negative attention in 2014 where its overcrowding issues around the Aylesbury Estate were highlighted in a documentary regarding London Buses, although the situation there has improved vastly since the extension of route 136 to Elephant & Castle. Friday 2nd February 2018 was the last day for Abellio London and as the N343 also changed operator, Go-Ahead began their contract very soon after the final Abellio bus went back to the depot.

Go-Ahead London EH187 is seen at City Hall on route 343.
The 343 MMCs (EH171-194) are 67-reg buses and a full turnout was available for the first day, but since then occasional appearances of Gemini 3s have filled in when necessary, along with the newer batches of MMCs which have entered service more recently. Regarding reliability, the 343 has made a promising first impression, although this garage already operate similar demanding routes around inner South-East London, hopefully meaning the 343 isn't too much of a challenge. Its routeing is really indirect, although New Cross Gate-City Hall is not far the route takes around 80 minutes from start to finish. From the former terminus, the route takes in the more affluent parts of Brockley and Peckham, travelling through Telegraph Hill and along mainly residential roads, although occasionally a panoramic view of London becomes available, whilst the final part alongside Peckham Rye Park is also beautiful to look at. After this, the route travels through the heart of the bustling Peckham town centre, where its busiest section begins. Between here and Elephant & Castle, the 343 goes via some very dense housing estates, including Southampton Way and Aylesbury, within the vicinity of Burgess Park, which is quite fascinating to look at in a completely different way to the earlier part of the route. After the complex junction of Elephant & Castle, the 343 becomes very quiet and this has been particular noticeable whilst the route has been undertaking a long-term diversion for the past couple of years - towards City Hall buses have travelled via Great Dover Street and Tower Bridge Road to the stand, rather than through London Bridge and Tooley Street. However, the normal routeing has now been restored and this might make running the route a bit easier for Go-Ahead, which might improve the already adequate service provided.

Abellio London 9060 is seen on Waterloo Bridge on route 172.
You might realise that the Wrightbus Gemini B7TL looks almost identical to the one on the 343 and that's because they are part of the same batch - at Walworth (WL) garage both routes shared the same buses, although once the 343 departed the 172 was able to hog the older vehicles for six more weeks before it too passed to Go-Ahead. In practise, during the final few months the 172 used the newer ADL Enviro400H vehicles more, although the possibilities were always quite limited with the 172 given that lots of the buses at the garage didn't have blinds for the Clerkenwell Green terminus, seeing as the route was only sent there in July 2017. Generally, Abellio were quite good at operating the service even with the setback of its low frequency, which is quite surprising considering how busy the route gets around the Brockley area. Their only weakness was the presentation of buses, whether that being the unloved Trident ALX400 buses which are now withdrawn, or the sheer number of banditised vehicles running around without proper blinds when the 172 was re-routed away from St Paul's. However, towards the end everything was sorted and I was quite sad to see the route pass to Go-Ahead, as this completely removes Abellio from the lower half of Old Kent Road. However, as New Cross (NX) garage is directly on the line of route, it could potentially make operation a tad easier for Go-Ahead.

Go-Ahead London EH212 is seen at Waterloo on route 172.
This batch of 67-reg MMCs follow on directly from those on the 343, taking the fleet numbers EH194-214. Even though most of them were ready for the changeover date, some of the other MMCs at the garage made up the numbers and in more recent times so have the Gemini 3s after they transferred. Whilst the 172 is an important route in Central London, its change was overlooked somewhat given the other activity on Saturday 17th March 2018, which involved the 161, 181 and 284 being awarded to Stagecoach. However, the service levels seem to have been decent from the very beginning and it does create a sense of uniformity along the Brockley Rise-New Cross corridor which is shared with the 171. As a route, the 172 is very popular for long distance travellers, given that it takes the fastest route popular from Brockley and Crofton Park to Waterloo and Aldwych, which is via New Cross and the Old Kent Road. The last bit of the route to Clerkenwell Green runs around carting fresh air for most of the day, but I've always found the re-routing away from St Paul's a bit ridiculous since the idea was proposed. However, despite the superfluous congested section which causes many delays, the route seems to be doing well and hopefully Go-Ahead maintain this for the next few years.

Go-Ahead London EH197 is seen at Paddington on route 36 to Queen's Park
Even though every New Cross (NX) garage double deck route is fairly significant, the 36 is the biggest of them all, requiring a batch of thirty seven new vehicles in order to meet the peak vehicle requirement for this monstrous route. Even though they were some of the first to be ordered, they arrived last because of their new technology, but there's more on that later seeing as these buses don't like working the 36 much at all and I was unsuccessful at obtaining a picture of one on this route. Nevertheless, the other MMCs at the garage made occasional appearances ever since they arrived at New Cross, like EH197 illustrated above. The 36 route runs from New Cross Gate to Queen's Park, going through Peckham, Camberwell, Vauxhall, Victoria, Marble Arch and Paddington in the process. During rush hour it takes over 90 minutes from end-to-end and until recently, it had some much-needed support in the form of the 436 between New Cross and Paddington. However, due to the developments at Battersea Power Station, the 436 was sent away from the Northern part of the route and now it turns off at Vauxhall to carry fresh air to Battersea Park whilst hardly anyone lives in the new apartments. Even when both routes ran alongside each other, they were always very busy, so the loss of 8 buses per hour between Vauxhall and Paddington was pretty serious and even though the frequency of the 36 was raised to every four minutes, buses are almost always rammed solid seeing as there is no alternative for crossing Central London in this manner. Nevertheless, Go-Ahead have been running the route for as long as I remember so it was a relief to find out it had been retained as I imagine any other operator would really struggle with what is possibly one of the busiest and most difficult routes in London to run well.

Go-Ahead London EH184 is seen at Aldwych on route 171.
Route 171 had its contract renewal much later than others, on Saturday 28th April 2018, which meant that its batch of MMCs (EH264-284) were expected to arrive last at New Cross (NX) garage. However, due to the new technology the 36 batch arrived incredibly late, so the higher numbered SN18XXX 171 vehicles entered service first and even though I don't have a picture of one, they are identical to the 343 buses which do appear on the 171 regularly since they were introduced. The retention of route 171 was surprising given that it terminates at a Stagecoach London bus garage, but clearly Go-Ahead managed to undercut the former operator again when bidding for the route. All of these new MMCs have resulted in a complete transformation of the fleet at New Cross Bus Garage. Due to the new arrivals of the 172 and 343, all of the single deck services have been moved out and now only the 321 and 436 don't use MMCs on paper, purely because their contracts were renewed at different times. The latter route does have a full allocation of hybrids, in the form of existing classic E40Hs and Gemini B5LHs, whilst the 321 has essentially become the dumping ground for all the other vehicles at New Cross. The remaining diesel E400s and Gemini 2s can often be found on this route and one batch will remain for the service, whilst the others move on to pastures anew. My prediction is that the Gemini 2s will stay as this batch is much smaller than the E400s so it makes sense to keep them together, although that could just be my mindset which prefers tidy allocations rather than buses being scattered all over the place.

Go-Ahead London EH226 is seen at London Bridge Station on route 343 to City Hall.
Chronologically, EH226-264 (the 36 buses) entered service last and whilst not all of them are on the road yet, they seem to take a particular liking to the 171 and 172. These buses are special because they have been named smart hybrids and they are different from a normal E40H because they have been fitted with a supercapacitor. I am no expert at Physics whatsoever and all I understand is that this makes the hybrid system more efficient or "smarter", therefore reducing emissions, although if you are fascinated about what actually goes on inside the engine I suggest you consult somewhere like The Bus Forum as there are lots of knowledgeable people on there. As this is the first batch of smart hybrids, it'll be interesting to see what difference they make and whether they will be ordered in large quantities for future deliveries, but I felt that I should take a ride on one to see if there are any noticeable changes. When I found out EH226 was coming soon on the 343 I was initially delighted and I even sat downstairs so I could hear the engine effectively, something which is very rare for me to do. However, this vehicle refused to go into electric mode for the entire journey and apparently this is where any audible changes can be found, so my trip was both disappointing and a waste of time as it just sounded like any other E40H. It also questions the effectiveness of the smart hybrid system as these buses are meant to spend more time in electric mode than standard E40Hs, although this bus could just be a bad apple of the batch and hopefully if I catch one again I'll be able to appreciate the difference they make. These buses are also apparently rubbish at climbing hills, which is a shame as standard E40Hs are easily the best buses I've seen at tackling steep gradients. However, we'll have to wait and see to find out whether Go-Ahead themselves notice any improvements and if the smart hybrids are worth the extra cash.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!

Thursday, 24 May 2018

30 Lines Challenge

This post is almost an entire reprieve from the London Bus Scene, as it instead focuses on a particular challenge which I undertook during April, mainly because I thought it would be a fun way of testing my knowledge of London's railways, which I am trying to improve. This idea stems from the ingenious 16 lines challenge, which was founded courtesy of Calling All Stations, where two videos were produced on the topic during the Christmas period. However, I decided to challenge myself and expand this "all lines" completion to the London Tube & Rail Map, which can be found here, hence the addition of fourteen more services to the agenda, some of which were really awkward to achieve. Nevertheless, I was successful in finishing the challenge within twelve hours, which was my initial target, making this particular task slightly more demanding than the 16 lines trial, although nowhere near as exhausting as the tube challenge, which I probably won't go anywhere near for a very long time. Although these adventures are usually documented in the form of a youtube video, my channel (I'm sure most of you don't even know it exists) is rarely updated and I certainly do not possess the skills to create a summary video of my day out, which many youtubers master effectively. Nevertheless, I'm hoping to achieve the same effect through literature and persuade some of you to actually take up the challenge yourselves!

A somewhat unconventional start to the day, WHV96 is seen terminating on route N11.
My chosen starting point was Oxford Circus, purely because it gives the most flexibility regarding planning a route at short notice - the end destination was decided courtesy of a spinner which tested my ability to think on my feet and whilst in hindsight there are certainly improvements I would've made to my plan, it can be satisfying once the whole thing is completed. The thirty lines involved with the task include the sixteen included with the Calling All Stations challenge ; that is all underground lines, London Overground, TFL Rail, Tramlink and the Emirates Air Line, which I still think was a waste of time. However, the twist is that a service provided by every national rail operator which is included on the London Tube & Rail TFL Map also needs to be ridden and I did include Heathrow Express because it is on the map and you can avoid their extortionate fares by riding for free between terminals. However, technically my attempt is already outdated given that Heathrow Connect hadn't morphed into TFL Rail at this point, which actually makes the challenge slightly easier since the new timetable. Another aspect which will attract those who value their sleep is that this challenge does not necessarily require waking up at the crack of dawn - with my completion time you could comfortably start at 9am and not finish too late and I certainly think the challenge can be done faster than my attempt. However, I decided to start early anyway and ended up taking the night bus to Ealing Broadway, which was a different experience and despite my exhaustion by the end of the challenge I gave myself some time to hunt down electric demonstrator vehicles afterwards. Anyway, enough of background information, it's time to begin the journey.

I started at 07:03:38, inside Oxford Circus and I was satisfied with the ending point of Victoria, although this is mainly because I could get to the bus in Croydon afterwards quickly from there. A brisk walk down the escalators followed and the first completed service happened to be the Victoria Line, which I used for an entire stop until Green Park, where I bailed for another tube service.

The unwanted destination!
I chose to head down to Heathrow first because the long and tedious journey on the Piccadilly Line optimised thinking time for planning the day ahead. However, this particular service has become infamous for its unreliability in recent times and the almost daily occurrence of severe delays was apparent on my trip during rush hour ; although a train did come quickly it wasn't on my preferred branch so I had to get out at Hatton Cross in order to board one for Terminal 5. However, this service was thirteen minutes away, so I ended up running outside and trying to catch an X26 bus to Heathrow Central, although just before I boarded I heard the dreaded regulation announcement. As I already knew the timetable from Hatton Cross, it became obvious that the bus would be waiting for ages, so I ran off the bus again just before I tapped in and back into the tube station, which did result in a baffled look from the driver for abandoning my journey at such short notice. Nevertheless, the Terminal 5 train did turn up eventually, although it probably would've been quicker to go around the T4 loop and go to Heathrow Central this way given the amount of time spent faffing around.

The departure board at Heathrow Central.
Unfortunately, the tube and rail stations at Heathrow Central are miles apart and has to be one of the longest interchanges out there and after a relentless and tiring sprint through several travelators and down several escalators, I ended up missing the Heathrow Express anyway. On the platform, I also realised that I had completely forgotten that the Terminal 4 transfer was run by Heathrow Express, despite the allocation being that of the Connect and I could've saved a significant amount of time by doing this. Nevertheless, the Class 332 train eventually rocked up and a short, but luxurious ride followed until Terminal 5, where sadly I had to alight and get back on the Piccadilly Line, which still had issues as the train which was meant to be leaving imminently spent ages on the platform. You may wonder why I didn't simply take the Connect back to Heathrow Central, although a twenty seven minute wait didn't sound particularly efficient so I decided to come back to it later.

This was the only bus service used throughout the challenge.
Due to budget constraints, I wasn't willing to pay the ridiculous premium fare which is enforced for all travellers on Express and Connect services through the Heathrow Tunnels which go as far as Hayes, but if you do decide to splash out this will definitely save time. Having said that, the 140 bus turned up quickly and I was optimistic that I would be able to catch the next Connect service to London from Hayes & Harlington. Unfortunately, my driver thought it would be wise to crawl everywhere and was casually driving at 15mph along the Bath Road, which was infuriating and resulted in a missed connection for a half hourly service. However, the GWML is my local service and my knowledge of the timetable turned out to be advantageous - by instinctively jumping on the next GWR service to Southall, I managed to sprint across the footbridge there and catch the Heathrow Connect heading back to Hayes & Harlington, which was lines 4 and 5 completed.

A GWR Class 387 is seen at Southall bound for London Paddington.
Typically, my next train back to Paddington consisted of four coaches instead of the usual eight, resulting in the service turning up packed and I only just squeezed on. The popular destination of Ealing Broadway, however, meant that seats became free for my favourite section of the Great Western Main Line, which allowed a short period of relaxation before another hour of intensive exercise chasing anomalies around the Central London area. My arrival into Paddington also marked the ending of one of the most difficult parts of the challenge, as unless you pay the premium fares the Heathrow services are really irritating to complete - during this time I was averaging one train per hour, which didn't look promising for the rest of the day! Line 6 ended up being the Circle Line, although the train was very busy due to the seven minute gap in front, but the usual wait at Edgware Road flew by and after a few minutes I was at King's Cross St Pancras, a station I can almost guarantee you will end up passing through on any completion.

The Northern Line was my seventh service, which turned up instantly and is one of the more enjoyable deep level tube services, in my opinion. However, a juxtaposition soon followed as the clean, looked after tube walkways was followed by the almost abandoned, unloved National Rail section. Old Street Station and the train tunnels are in a diabolical condition and has to be one of the grimmest stations on the national rail network, with a claustrophobic environment and a gloomy colour scheme. The air quality on this line is so bad that the staff have to wear masks now, so hopefully Great Northern improve this branch dramatically in the near future before it has to be closed down for health and safety.

The platform indicator at Old Street.
Thankfully a train turned up immediately, although the neglected environment was reinforced by the emergence of a Class 313 unit, which certainly wasn't in the best condition and evidently hadn't been anywhere near washing facilities for ages. However, I was only riding for one stop and at Moorgate my brief spell of National Rail was over and the Hammersmith & City Line turned out to be number 9, which took me as far as Baker Street. Here, I switched to the Bakerloo Line, which coincidentally meant going from the newest to oldest train types within the underground network. This service marked 1/3 of all lines completed, which was a relief considering the slow start and at this point I was ready to tackle the other really awkward part of this challenge.

A Class 165 is seen at Marylebone on a local service to Gerrards Cross.
 Chiltern Railways aren't exactly the most prolific railway operator in London, only serving a handful of stations within the city and half of them don't see a regular service at all. The first stop after Marylebone is a substantial distance away at Wembley Stadium and only two trains per hour stop there, so it was a relief to only have an eight minute wait at the railway terminus that day. What became apparent at this point was how overcrowded London Marylebone Station is - I was travelling at a very quiet period but there was still a necessity to catch the "far train" and almost every platform had multiple services boarding, so goodness knows how it copes during the peak. Nevertheless, my two car train was almost empty and the ride to Wembley Stadium was surprisingly enjoyable, especially the section running alongside the London Underground Jubilee and Metropolitan lines. After alighting the train, I had fourty minutes to kill until my next service, so a leisurely walk through Wembley Town Centre followed, with a well-deserved lunch break at Tesco too, although I must comment on their poor meal deal selection compared to other stores.

LNWR 350123 is seen at Wembley Central on the first train of the day to Euston.
London North Western Railway is easily the most difficult operator to tick off, because the vast majority of their services don't stop until Watford. A decent number call at Harrow & Wealdstone, which is slightly better, but is still really inconvenient in regards to coordinating other lines. The best station to catch a train from is Wembley Central as it works well with catching Chiltern Railways  from down the road, although the LNWR service from this station is extremely limited, with only six departures per day in each direction. To make matters worse, the first London-bound service isn't until 1129, which meant that my usual method of tackling the most difficult section of something first went out of the window. However, I did manage to make it to Wembley Central in time for the first service and I must comment on how odd the train station is here. The right-hand platforms are the only ones which see intensive usage, where TFL services call, whilst the middle two are closed off as Virgin Trains fly past. If you stand by the gates, you really feel the wind tunnel effect, which is very prominent at this station and almost sent me flying from a different plaform altogether, so goodness knows how scary it would've been if standing right next to the high speed trains. This danger is the reason why the London Midland platforms (which are alongside) are also inaccessible until the train is five minutes away and passengers actually have to be ushered to the platform by a member of staff. Staying here was a very odd experience, but it makes Wembley Central a surprisingly quirky and unique station that I do recommend visiting.

Unsurprisingly, this four car train was packed and was a 350/1 unit, possessing a grim interior, so I ended up standing until London Euston, although only a very small number of people boarded or alighted at Wembley Central. A trip to the facilities was required at this terminal, but afterwards it was back onto the Victoria Line for one stop out of convenience, although this didn't count as a completion as this line had already been ridden. Line 13 turned out to be the Southeastern High Speed service, which is marked as completely separate to the mainstream commuter trains offered by the company on the TFL map, so I had to ride it.

Two "javelin" trains stand at London St Pancras International.
Coincidentally, my 12:12 departure happened to leave from platform 12, so it was a shame that this was line thirteen rather than the number before. The journey to Stratford International is amazingly quick, taking just seven minutes and my train was pretty busy for an off-peak departure, although most people were travelling further out to destinations in Kent. I decided not to run to the DLR station next door, which I was made accountable for as the train pulled off seconds before I arrived which resulted in nine minutes of waiting around. This did mean I could grab the front seats for my short DLR ride down the road to the main Stratford station, which does offer some decent views of the Olympic Park. Line 15, which marked exactly 50% of all services completed, turned out to be a Greater Anglia service to Liverpool Street and I was relieved that a relatively new Class 360 turned up instead of some of their older stock. Unfortunately, the train was packed and I wasn't able to move down to the front carriage, which resulted in some running around at Liverpool Street in order to catch the TFL Rail service which was leaving in two minutes.

A TFL Rail Class 345 is seen at Liverpool Street.
I was relieved to find one of the brand new Crossrail trains sitting at the platform instead of a tedious Class 315 unit which are slowly being phased out in favour of the new Aventras. Unfortunately my ride was brief, only taking me back to Stratford, although the journey did offer some decent views of the Olympic Park and inner East London. The Jubilee Line was my next service, being the seventeenth of the day and another one stop trip as far as West Ham, where my guesswork at where the exit would be flopped completely and I was at the wrong end of the platform! The interchange to the c2c services is also a bit of a faff and rather stupidly when I arrived on the platform I was completely oblivious to the train sitting halfway down ready to leave - when I realised the doors shut and the service pulled off, although the next one was only three minutes behind, which is pretty good for a national rail line.

The c2c service which I missed at West Ham!
I've always liked the Class 357 units c2c use for the bulk of their services and this particular service was quiet, permitting a brief but relaxing journey until Limehouse, where I switched to the DLR platforms to use that service for the second time. Even though I made the mistake of following the signs (which send you the long way round), the Beckton train came very quickly and I managed to grab a seat for my first substantial train ride for ages, which was essentially a whole ten minutes to Royal Victoria. I could see my next, slightly unconventional. mode of transport dangling above the Thames from some distance away and whilst it is hardly a useful public line and is woefully expensive compared to the parallel underground service, the capsules do at least leave the Royal Docks very frequently and even though there was a queue with a substantial number of tourists, I managed to avoid sharing a capsule with others. Contemplating the rest of the day over the heights of the Thames was quite satisfying, especially as the views of the London skyline are top-notch even in miserable weather, although the cable car is slowed down significantly during the off-peak, which isn't ideal when travelling in a rush. After alighting at the Greenwich Penninsula, a short walk to the tube station followed for yet another repeat line.

Luckily, the next Jubilee Line was starting at North Greenwich which effectively guaranteed a seat throughout my two stop journey to Canada Water, where I again paid the price for leisurely walking to the Overground platforms and just missed a train! Thankfully, the East London Line is the most frequent section of the network and the next one turned up pretty quickly, although this Class 378 clearly had some issues with the audio-visual announcements as a crackling noise overwhelmed Emma Hignett's attempts at communicating to the passengers every time. Travelling through the Thames Tunnel always feels like a novelty and even though Canada Water and Whitechapel are close together geographically, the intermediate stops are very frequent so the journey took quite a while. Even though I was unfamiliar with the latter station, the District Line platforms were easy to find and a train turned up immediately, marking my twenty first completion.

I'm including the DLR here because the next part of the day was pretty intense so the concept of taking photographs slipped my mind entirely, sorry!
At this point I made a rather embarrassing error when navigating the on-street interchange between Aldgate East and Aldgate stations - I thought they were much closer together and accidentally ended up just going into Aldgate East Station again, albeit via a different entrance and it wasn't until I saw the signs for the Hammersmith & City Line that I realised! However, after a little more walking I discovered the correct station and instantly boarded a Metropolitan Line for one stop to Liverpool Street, marking the end of sub-surface line completions. At this point it was time for another one stop trip on a sweltering Central Line and whilst the heat subsided during the interchange, it was even more noticeable on the Waterloo & City Line given that the one stop journey takes six or seven minutes. Nevertheless, it was nice to be reunited with this underground service as I haven't taken it for years and typically I always tend to need it on Sundays when it is closed, so the 26 bus is my most used method of travelling between Waterloo and Bank. Despite forgetting to tap out and having to run to the reader and back again after arriving at the concourse, I was relieved to have completed all of the underground lines at this point, with only six other services remaining. South Western Railway services to Vauxhall are very frequent so I just settled for one departing in four minutes as it was leaving from a nearby platform - unfortunately it was a Class 455 although I figured I could just about cope for the 5 minute journey.

Typically another 455 turned up for the return journey!
The SWR network is a little awkward so at the time the best solution was simply to return to Waterloo and I was lucky enough to find a train going back on the adjacent platform, which saved running up and down more stairs. After this, another walk through the main concourse was necessary, although instead of going down to the tube I travelled up the escalators and through the elevated walkway to Waterloo East, which is served by Southeastern services. Conveniently, a train to London Bridge was arriving in three minutes and I was hoping to finally ride a Class 376 at this point (I know everyone says they're horrible but it seems they're actively avoiding me and I want to at least say I've done one), although as usual a 465 turned up instead, which would've been rather nice if they had been maintained properly. Some nice views of the London skyline were provided on this short journey, but part of me was dreading the next interchange at London Bridge, which is easily the most confusing station I've ever visited and I always manage to get lost during my travels there.

Here is a Thameslink train, although this is an old photo as due to the worryingly low power status of my phone I decided not to take many more for the rest of the day.
Thankfully, I managed to change trains at London Bridge successfully because I could actually see it when alighting from my Southeastern service and although I was worried about missing it, the train was actually a "preview" Canal Tunnels service so it spent ages at the platform due to the padding in the timetable. By this point I was a bit fed up of all the running and even though I could've sat in first class with more comfortable seating, I was in completely the wrong place and just wanted a nice relaxation. This non-stop journey to East Croydon proved that the Class 700s are actually pretty quick trains and it was nice to be able to speed through all the London Overground stations for a change as I usually end up taking the slow train on this part of the South London Line. At East Croydon I had gained some energy and decided to run to Wellesley Road in order to catch the tram for one stop back to the railway station - during my one minute wait I also managed to snap the new 468 buses which was a bonus (the post for that is now a priority, I'm sorry it's so late). Coincidentally this tram had an all-over purple livery, which I think looks much better than the exterior paint job on most of the other units.

Unit 2554 is seen at Wellesley Road
 At this point I was becoming quite excited at the prospect of having only two lines left, although I couldn't be too optimistic as Southern was one of them. Although there were delays at East Croydon, they worked out to my advantage and I managed to catch a slightly earlier service to Gatwick Airport, which was unsurprisingly really busy seeing as it was splitting into three later on. This ride took me the furthest away from London, through the Surrey countryside and the Class 377 unit certainly wasn't hanging around, arriving at Gatwick Airport almost perfectly on time despite the late departure at East Croydon. I could see my final train at the other end of the station, although I somehow managed to completely miss the stairs up to the footbridge and the train left without me. However, this did mean I could spend some time relaxing on the sofa at the lounge in Gatwick Airport and check if my demonstrator bus was still out and about via the wifi.

The interior of the Gatwick Express Class 387s
I have always questioned the use of 12 coach trains on the Gatwick Express services because they run around carting fresh air whilst all the mainstream Southern services are rammed - surely the resources could be used more effectively elsewhere. My point was proven by the absence of any other passengers in the compartment, which at least ensured my thirty minute journey to Victoria was comfortable. What makes the Gatwick Express special (as well as useless) is that it runs non-stop between the airport and the London terminus, although it goes through East Croydon at such a woeful pace you do question the point of not stopping as I'm sure the commuters there could appreciate having a guaranteed seat for once. Nevertheless, I was starting to become enlivened as the train passed through more and more suburban stations, crossed the bridge over the Thames and started to slow down for the approach to Victoria, where the thirty lines challenge would finally come to a conclusion. As the train arrived into the platform and the doors opened, I stepped down and recorded the time for the final occasion, for I had successfully ridden all thirty lines on the London Tube and Rail map, in 9 hours, 27 minutes and 19 seconds.

In order to conserve my battery, I decided to use pen and paper to record all the times. I apologise if some of them are illegible, writing on packed trains can be a pain sometimes!
Even though I didn't have time to celebrate properly given that my Yutong electric bus was going to be leaving Croydon in twenty minutes, on the final journey home I had an opportunity to reflect on the day and what I'd achieved. I know it may seem utterly pointless, but there is a real sense of satisfaction when you complete something you set yourself, especially if initially you're surrounded by initial scepticism. I surprised myself with my final result, especially as my route was nowhere near perfect, although the almost complete lack of delays helped this considerably. Before this outing, I had never attempted a timed challenge like this before and I can honestly say that I found it so fun - although running around frantically after public transport sounds like a nightmare I found that focusing completely on my passion was a great way to switch off from what was a very stressful period of time with upcoming exams and an Easter holiday full of studying. In case you're crazy enough to consider trying this yourself, I would honestly recommend it and if you do, please get in touch and let me know what your time is - I'm almost convinced you can beat me though! The challenge is slightly easier now given that there are only twenty nine lines as Heathrow Connect has disappeared, but I honestly wouldn't encourage using pay as you go for the day - I made that mistake and ended up blowing a considerable amount of money on certain modes of transport and that didn't even include using the Heathrow tunnels and taking the bus instead, which was free. I would also recommend doing this on a weekday as otherwise Wembley Central isn't normally open to London Midland services unless there's an event, so conveniently half term is next week and the youth can participate too.

Thanks for reading, stay safe and I hope to see how you get along with this in the future!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

New Logos, New Buses

With a recent surge in new buses entering service within the main RATP fleet, consisting of subsidiaries London United and London Sovereign (Quality Line also got some MMCs for the 470 but I sacrificed covering that for the tube strike), some traditional vehicles which have been the face of the company for many years are disappearing rapidly, whilst some brand new types have been introduced, potentially triggering a change in which manufacturer the company opt for with new contracts. First of all, the main focus will be on one particular older bus type, where daily appearances are reducing to single digits, spread over four or possibly three garages by the time you read this.

London United TLA3 is seen in Kingston on route 71 - this vehicle is now withdrawn.
 The type in question is the Trident ALX400 and all of the longer versions have already been withdrawn, with the biggest blow being the introduction of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles onto route 94. Since then, a few remained and one managed to work route 220 until the end of April, although sadly that too has been removed from London service. This type, along with Volvo ALX400s and Presidents, dominated the double deck fleet across RATP garages during the 2000s and even though the first type ebbed away a few years ago and the second only exists in hybrid form as a result of modifications, the latter still had a considerable number left not so long ago. This type was one I grew up with throughout childhood and whilst it wasn't initially one of my favourites, as they have started to disappear I've now realised how much they will be missed when they leave ; the quieter hybrid buses which now dominate most of the London United routes won't ever make up for the famous growl of the powerful Trident engine, which was really tested on fast-paced routes like the 65 which I have used regularly throughout life. I could spend ages talking about my memories with the older buses, but there is other important information about them I would like to convey and also where you can find them if you've left chasing the vehicles late, like I normally do.

London United RATP TA40229 is seen on one of its last ever trips on route 65.
Out of all the Trident routes, the 65 was certainly the one I used them most on, for fairly long distances too as the route is the only example travelling a substantial distance South of Ealing. Initially I was looking forward to the prospect of new vehicles, in the form of Scania OmniCity buses, but when they were first introduced I found them to be woefully disappointing in comparison to the Tridents and whilst I've grown to love the SPs now, in a drag race most of them will easily be outpaced by an ALX400. Withdrawals at Fulwell (FW) garage, where the 65 is based, have been noticeably rapid in the past couple of years and it's uncertain whether the two survivors, which remained for considerably longer than the rest, will return given that both of them haven't seen service since Monday and that was on a school duty. Incidentally, TA213 (the new numbering system is too complex and I still don't use it) held the title of the oldest London bus in service for a substantial amount of time, although whether a Go-Ahead Dart Pointer will take on the responsibility is unclear. The other vehicle, TA229, took a greater liking to the 65 than the slightly older ALX400, although in the past couple of months they've mostly worked route 281 and if these buses do resurrect this is probably where you will find them for their final few days in service.

TA230 is seen in Hounslow West sporting the iconic capitalised qualifier.

There are no Tridents at any London Sovereign garages and a limited number of London United ones retain them. No examples can be found at Hounslow Heath (HH) garage anymore, nor at Shepherd's Bush (S) with the final batches for routes H91 and 94 disappearing last year. Stamford Brook (V) haven't had any for as long as I can remember, whilst Twickenham (NC) closed many years ago. With the uncertainty surrounding the remaining two at Fulwell (FW) garage, that leaves three garages with a couple of Tridents still clinging on, although a drastic frequency reduction on route 94 should theoretically release a number of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles to replace them soon and your chances of catching one on a weekend are very slim now. Even though the 71 is probably the most difficult route to get to, the three Tridents at Tolworth (TV) garage remain dedicated to the route and make daily appearances so it is probably one of the safer examples to try. There are actually seven Tridents still in use at Hounslow (AV) garage, but on a typical weekday you won't see more than three or four, usually on school services or the H32 route between Hounslow and Southall, which is actually the route I took my last Trident ride on, in the form of TA230, one of the more dedicated examples at the garage. When the bus turned up I was delighted to find the traditional, partially capitalised blinds and the older, much rarer moquette which emphasised the lack of any recent refurbishment. Nevertheless, the bus seemed perfectly healthy and provided a delightful final journey, with even some kickdown along the bridge across the M4 in Heston and a generally fast-paced journey, so if you're after specific powerful buses TA230 is quite a good bet. The final garage sporting Tridents is Park Royal (RP), with a couple there acting as refurbishment covers whilst the 220s E400s are at the workshop. Their appearance on such a prolific route is quite surprising at these later stages but also makes catching one very easy given that it goes through zone 2, although they are also the most inconsistent batch around, with some days having zero Tridents present whilst on others there will be three or four. My advice would be to consult the London Vehicle Finder and track down specific buses to avoid waiting around, but please let me know if you have any difficulty using this website. However, if you love Tridents and want to make sure you take a farewell ride on one of the most iconic buses in London before another operator loses all of them, make sure a trip to West London is a top priority, as I bet in a fortnight the last one will have been stood down, marking the end of a quite glorious era.

London United VH45257 is seen at Hounslow West on route H91 to Hammersmith.
Most of the Trident replacements have appeared in the form of Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, which have been extremely popular recently with Metroline and RATP ordering them for almost every contract requiring new buses, although interestingly both operators seem to have switched to MCV and ADL respectively, raising concerns as to what has diminished the attractiveness of the Wrightbus product. Nevertheless, this type is responsible for withdrawing the last batch of RATP Tridents in Central London (although curiously a short version temporarily allocated itself to the 94 for a period of time in March) and the last few at Hounslow Heath (HH) garage, with a small batch of three buses recently entering service for a contract retention of route 635. Since then, all of them have transferred to either Edgware (BT) or Park Royal (RP) garage, meaning that the presence of the "frog-face" Gemini 3 on Hounslow Heath routes was very brief and now the garage once again only has old-style examples. The buses didn't like spending much time on the 635 and preferred the more mainstream 285 and H91 services, introducing a brand new type to both of them. Even though this batch is certainly not substantial, these 67-reg Gemini 3s are incredibly fast and far superior to the older examples at Hounslow Heath - my only journey aboard one on the H91 consisted of the vehicle being floored to bits down the Great West Road and its a shame these vehicles can't showcase their potential much now that they mostly appear on traffic-filled Central London routes like the 18 and 139. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did manage to have one ride on what is possibly the best batch of Gemini 3s RATP have and could be their last if ADL impress the company with the bigger batch arriving for routes H12/14 in September.

ADH45261 is seen at Brent Cross on route 142
The shift to ADL started rather tentatively, with a batch of four new E40H MMCs expected for the route 258 contract, marking the first batch of this very popular type for RATP. The 258 contract was moved to September instead of February, but the new buses were ordered for the latter starting date, so the first few months of the new 258 contract consisted of existing vehicles only. However, towards the end of February the first of the brand new ADH-class vehicles entered service at Edgware (BT) garage, initially on school services, returning this classification code to the company after five years, with the previous examples of ADL double deckers being on the 27. They certainly look the part in regards to the exterior, with the lower part of the front bodywork being reminiscent of the MMCs in Birmingham, whilst the new sleek "S-stock" RATP moquette looks stylish with the layout of the ADL product upstairs. In general, these buses have had good reviews from enthusiasts and whilst my ride on the 142 wasn't speedy, the buses are comfortable and in my opinion are a great addition to the London Sovereign fleet - I'm looking forward to further examples entering service. At the moment, the buses can turn up on a variety of Edgware (BT) routes, although the 142 and 258 are good candidates. It seems that these buses have added to the wide range of types found at this garage, although with a very limited number of Scania OmniDekkas buses left and the only Volvo Presidents being hybrid now after a Vantage conversion, it won't be long before another post will be published documenting the demise of more classic types under RATP.

Thanks for reading and stay safe!