Saturday, 30 July 2016

Random Route: The 56

Stagecoach London 12149 at Whipps Cross.
The 56 runs from St Bartholomew's Hospital-Whipps Cross via Barbican, Islington, Dalston and Clapton. It is operated from Leyton (T) garage by Stagecoach London and Enviro 400 Hybrids displaced from the LT conversion of route 15 now work the route. They have the unique green interior and are very nice buses to ride. I've found the route very useful for short distances, such as Islington Angel-St Paul's or Dalston-Clapton, but I hadn't ridden the route all the way to Whipps Cross until February. I will share my experience of that journey here.

I arrived at St Bartholomew's Hospital early in the morning, at around 9:30 am. I walked past the telephone box where the words "Sherlock lives" are visible, which is a reference to an event that took place in the TV series. The 56 driver opened the doors a couple of minutes before the scheduled departure time and I walked straight upstairs to the front of the bus. After a 46 overtook, 12149 set off from the stand with no one else on board. Glitspur Street is an interesting road with lots of old buildings and unusual architecture, but sadly it isn't a long road either and the 56 turns right to serve St Paul's Station. After another left turning, the 56 passes the 172 stand before using the roundabout underneath the Museum Of London. The next stop is Barbican, which hosts the Barbican Centre, a tube station for the Hammersmith & City, Circle and Metropolitan Lines and some of the only houses that are found in the square mile. The 56 continues up Goswell Road, sharing bus stops with the 4 and quickly reaches Islington after passing City University. After a lot of passengers boarded the bus got stuck behind a broken LT on the 73, therefore 12149 was forced to reverse before pulling out onto Islington Green.

The 4 turns left onto Upper Street whereas the 56 serves Essex Road instead, a road which has been invaded with many New Routemasters over the past couple of years. The 56 passes the old, dilapidated looking building of Essex Road Station (I honestly think that station is haunted) but before I could think about that any longer I was at Mildmay Park, that random destination you've probably seen on countless 38's on your travels. There was one standing there when I passed it. It was at this point that a whole family boarded and took up more two rows of seats behind me and I later found out they were visiting Lea Valley Ice Centre. Next up is Dalston Junction, which was trendy a couple of years ago but now it seems quite boring and dull. The main points of interest are the oversized bus station for route 488 and Molly Bakes, the place that does Freakshakes. Don't bother with Creams, just don't....

The 38 takes the seemingly obvious route to Clapton Pond, via Hackney Town Centre. However, the 56 is the quicker option as it ducks down Amherst Road  to serve Canonbury and the communities around Downs Park Road. Within a few minutes, my bus had arrived at Clapton Pond and went round the roundabout, passing the 38 and 308 stand situated in the middle of it, however he 393 is a lone wolf and stands near the pond itself. The 56 unites with the 48 and 55 along Lea Bridge Road, a small but very busy stretch linking Hackney/Clapton-Leyton/Walthamstow, or Whipps Cross in the 56's case. Lea Valley consists of the River Lea and a huge open space. Lea Valley Ice Centre is a key point of interest on this route as many people alighted to have fun on skates. 12149 passed the construction site of  Lea Bridge Station, which is now open and well-used by the communities around Leyton.

Shortly after that is Bakers Arms, where the 48 turns left to reach Walthamstow Central and the 55 turns right to serve Tesco before terminating, however the 56 goes straight onto what was unknown territory back then. This area was mostly residential, but it was still nice to be going through a new area on a route I'd used so much in the past. I was looking forward to going to Whipps Cross, as I genuinely had no idea what it would be like. After a few minutes a selection of cafe's were in sight and Emma announced that we were out Whipps Cross Roundabout, the final stop on the 56. The good thing about riding the route Eastbound is that you get to go round nearly the whole of the roundabout itself before reaching the bus stand, which it shares with the 357. In Whipps Cross, I discovered there were lots of main roads, a public toilet, a pathway leading to the Hospital and a pond.

Despite Whipps Cross not being particularly interesting, I loved my experience on the 56. It passes through such a variety of areas and the buses on it are superb. It's high frequency will make sure it's always there for you and I definitely recommend you take a ride on this route. I rate it 9/10.

As always, thanks for reading and I'd also like to give a shoutout to everyone in Russia who has been reading my blog, I've had more views from there than the UK recently!

Sunday, 24 July 2016

All Change Central

Central London has received three batches of brand new buses recently, for routes 13 (72 and 183), 26 and 53. This post will cover all of these changes and whether they are a good thing or not. In chronological order, the 26 buses came first so that is where I'll start.

Tower Tranist VN36109 crossing Waterloo Bridge on the 26, two years ago.
The 26 runs from Hackney Wick-Waterloo, serving Cambridge Heath, Liverpool Street, St Paul's and Fleet Street on the way. Despite it's low patronage, I've found the route very useful over the past couple of years as a handy alternative to the tube between Waterloo and Liverpool Street (most people are boring and choose the Waterloo and City Line). In 2011, First London won the 26 from Stagecoach along with the 25 and 30. First ordered a batch of Enviro 400s for the 26 and 30 (some are still on the 30, but others have moved on to the 69, recently won by Tower Transit) and some Gemini 2s from the 25. Towards the end of the contract, more and more of the 25 buses appeared on the 26 and I would always see one if I was somewhere along the route. However, no operator can keep the 26 for that long and First decided to leave London altogether, meaning that Tower Transit took over Lea Interchange garage. However, Tower didn't do a very good job running the 26 and CT Plus have been running the route since February, but the Enviro 400 H Cities weren't due until June so Enviro 400s had to be loaned from Tower until the new Cities arrived. What a fiasco and a half.

CT Plus 2511 at The Old Vic stand at Waterloo.
 The first bus, 2501, entered service on the 10th June in the evening rush hour. After that, the whole batch entered service in the coming weeks and the route is mostly 100% hybrid, with the occasional Scania from the 388 making it onto the route. The service has been pretty decent, despite a very rocky start. The only thing left to try out was the buses.

After a long day out in South East London, I arrived at the Waterloo Station stop feeling hot and disappointed that none of the buses I had boarded that day had working air conditioning. After giving someone directions, the 26 arrived quickly and I took the front seats, very dissatisfied that the air conditioning wasn't present. I had nearly finished two bottles of water already so I was hoping for a cool ride up to Liverpool Street. However, once the engine kicked in a blast of cold air was blown over me, which was extremely pleasant and made the whole experience ten times better.

CT Plus 2520 at Waterloo.
2520 sped along Waterloo Bridge and navigated Aldwych with ease, before tackling Fleet Street traffic. The only disadvantage with new Hybrid buses having air-con, is that when the bus is stationary the engine cuts out and so does the air-conditioning, so ideally you need non-stop running if you want to make the most of the cool air. However, I didn't let this bother me and I thoroughly enjoyed the route through the City of London, passing many empty restaurants open only to working bankers and many other packed, warm buses. There was only one other person upstairs, making the whole experience even better. Feeling refreshed, it was a shame that I had to alight at Liverpool Street as going to Hackney would make me very, very late. After a break at Spitalfields, the sensible decision would be to take the Hammersmith & City Line home, but powerful air-conditioning got the better of me and I boarded another 26 which took me back to Waterloo. I had another fantastic experience with these truly brilliant buses. They are cool, fast, quiet, comfortable and have big enough windows to see out of (apart from the front). They are a much better alternative to the LT, very nice to ride all year round and a great edition to the 26.

                                                 The story of the 53:

The 53 runs between Whitehall, Horse Guards and Plumstead Station, via Lambeth, New Cross, Charlton and Woolwich. It is a very frequent trunk route which connects areas of South East London to Central London and it is very popular because the train service provided by Southeastern is very poor. Recently, the route was curtailed to Lambeth North and this caused an uproar because people from Charlton used the 53 all the way to Whitehall to get to work and they would have to get two buses to reach their final destination. The curtailment also put lots more pressure on the 453, which parallels the 53 from Deptford-Lambeth but continues to Marylebone via Whitehall. However, TFL actually listened to the public and the route returned to Whitehall on Saturday 23rd July.

Stagecoach London 13001 at Lambeth North on the 53 to Whitehall.
The 53 has been with Stagecoach for as long as I can remember. However, the amount of new buses that have been put on the route will surprise you. Since 2010, new Scania OmniCity's, new Enviro 400's and new Gemini 3's have been used on the route. However, in 2016 another new batch of buses were ordered against the contract of the 53 and it was Enviro 400 MMCs. The first one entered service around a week ago and it was my duty to try them out, especially after my deeply unpleasant experience on the G3's two years ago.

I arrived at Waterloo hoping that one would turn up soon, seeing as they were all bunched together throughout the week. One was due in twenty minutes, so I walked down Lower Marsh (stopping at Ian Allan first) and found that 12371 was my bus. As it was a Saturday morning and I was heading East, I wasn't surprised that the bus was empty and I got the front seats. The first thing I noticed was that 12371 had very harsh acceleration and was capable of very high speeds, which made the whole experience even better. The buses definitely looked the part and the Lazzerini seats are well padded, ensuring the journey is comfortable and relaxing. The bus was flying down Old Kent Road (we did overshoot the bus stop at Bricklayer's Arms) and I would say that these buses are the best MMCs in London, so if you haven't already, please give them a try!

I alighted at Blackheath feeling very satisfied and the 53 is now a route which I look forward to riding, rather that one to avoid.

                                                The story of the 13/72/183:

On the hottest day of the year, a random Gemini 3 appeared on the London Sovereign route 13. I had no idea where it had come from or why it was there. However, it was still a new bus so I went to Swiss Cottage and snapped it.

London Sovereign VH45189 at Finchley Road on route 13.
I later found out that this bus was originally ordered for the 72, but due to Hammersmith Bridge works these Gemini 3's have been diverted to Edgware (BT) garage to displace the ageing Plaxton Presidents on the 183.

One of the VLPs that will be withdrawn soon.
For now, the 72 will remain single deck and it's new buses have been sent away to Central London, as the 13 requires Euro 6 buses anyway in time for its next contract as it enters Zone 1. The 183 will now receive six Euro 5 Hybrid Gemini 2s from the 13's current allocation and that's basically the story of why these Gemini 3s are in North West London rather than in Roehampton.

VH10 will soon be seen on the streets of Pinner.
Overall, I'm unhappy that the 13 has received a partial allocation of Gemini 3's, but I know it's good for the environment so there are some positive factors too.

This post sums up all of the changes in Central London lately, I hope you are now up to date on the recent changes to the London bus network and thanks for reading!

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Random Observations- July 2016

Random Observations has returned! I will aim to publish one of these posts every couple of months, with everything that isn't related to a Random Route or Busageddon post. For this edition, I will take out ten photos at random from my album and write about them underneath.

Go-Ahead London MHV14 at Clapham Junction.
Go-Ahead were brave enough to be the first operator to order MCV's new product, the EvoSeti, for route 40 which they won off Abellio. A new bus type got all bus enthusiasts hyped, but unfortunately I was unable to ride these vehicles on the first day they came out, so I made the trip to Clapham one month later. From my experience, I learned that the EvoSeti had potential to be a great bus, but the unnecessarily wide side panels at the front window and the extremely uncomfortable seats made the journey unpleasant, so this is another vehicle I will try to avoid using. Brilliant!

Arriva Southern Counties ENR1 at Ealing Broadway.
Back in 2014, the E10 was awarded to Tellings Golden Miller for a new contract. The base is Heathrow (HE) garage and a batch of "classic" Enviro 200s were ordered for the route. However, the strenuous dead runs up the Great West Road have meant that 3425-3433 have spent a lot of time off-road and TGM often had to rely on Arriva Southern Counties to donate a DAF Cadet from Dartford (DT) for the day. However, recently TGM decided to pull out of the contract, which means that Arriva Southern Counties (now Arriva London) are now maintaining and providing a service for a route that terminates in North West London. Even stranger, the route is controlled from Garston (GR) garage, which was run by Arriva the Shires until recently, when it merged with Arriva London. I thought the E10 contract would be given back to TFL, but it seems Arriva are coping fine with running the service for now.

London Sovereign SLE40622 at Trafalgar Square working route 13.
RATP  inherited a new manager recently (from Metroline), which means some major changes to the company have been taking place recently. The first is the replacement of the old "bubbles" moquette, with a new ugly one. Secondly, a renumbering system has taken place which means buses have similar codes to Tower Transit, with a whole three new digits being added in front of the original numbers. SLE22 became SLE40622 recently and most of the fleet have been updated on London Vehicle Finder already. To be honest, I'm not a a fan of the changes and Abellio have now become my favourite operator, with Stagecoach taking second place.

Stagecoach London 13098 at Shoreditch working route 47.
Back in January, the 47 inherited a new batch of Enviro 400 MMCs, to make the route fully hybrid. It is certainly an improvement from the old ALX400s and I thoroughly enjoyed my ride from Shoreditch-Canada Water. The old buses still work the route occasionally, for all you Trident lovers...

Go-Ahead London WVN47 at Whipps Cross, working route 357.
I don't really know much about the 357, but it uses Gemini 2's from Northumberland Park (NP) garage and terminates in Whipps Cross, which doesn't exactly make the route seem attractive, but I'll ride it one day...

St John Ambulance Dart Capital on Loveday Road, Ealing.
I was on a walk one Sunday where I found a bus in the middle of a quiet side road where no buses travel at all. I found out this vehicle is used for St John Ambulance for promotion and medical purposes and I feel very privileged to have this in my local area!

Go-Ahead London LDP280 at Camberwell Green, working route 42.
 The 42 is a single deck route running from Liverpool Street-Denmark Hill. In a recent consultation, TFL want to extend the service to East Dulwich, Sainsbury's to serve communities around there. I think it's a good idea and the removal of a bus on Sunray Avenue means that the route can use double deckers. A frequency increase would solve the crowding, but the routeing is fascinating and it would be much better on a double decker. After the ELS class buses were withdrawn earlier this year, Optare Esteem buses were supposed to take over, but they seem to be back on the 355 now so older Pointers are being used on the route, but if the double decker conversion does go-ahead then they won't be on the 42 for much longer.

Here is VP491 at the CELF Centre, which is allocated to route 4.
VP491 obviously had some sort of accident recently, which is why it was resting at the CELF Centre in this condition. However, Metroline decided to repair it and it's now back on Central London routes again.

Arriva London EMC9 at Norwood Junction, working route 312.
Back in 2015, the 312 tender result was published and it was a retain for Arriva, but a whole batch of Electric Optare MetroCities were ordered to make the route fully "electric". Having said that, there is at least one diesel on the route a day, seeing as EMC2 caught fire and TFL underestimated how long these buses can run without needing a re-charge. When I took a ride, I found that the London United OCE models were far superior in terms of comfort and ride quality, but they are still nice buses and much better than Enviro 200s.

Go-Ahead London WHV75 in Croydon Town Centre, working route 119 to Purley Way, Collonades.
All you Croydon residents better be happy, two pictures from there in one post! It took quite a lot of effort to get to the 119, especially as I decided to walk from Addington Village, which was a big mistake, as it felt like I was in the countryside and the constant smell of horse odor really didn't help. It was a big relief when, after 20 minutes of "rambling", the bus came immediately. The experience wasn't great, it was quite full and I do regret my decision on taking this bus. The 64 sounds much nicer.

That's it for now, I hope you enjoyed this Random Obs post, there'll be another one fairly soon.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Random Route-The 122

Stagecoach London 12358 at Crystal Palace.
The 122 runs from Plumstead, Bus Garage to Crystal Palace in South London, passing through Woolwich, Eltham, Lewisham, Brockley and Sydenham on the way. It is run by Stagecoach London from Plumstead (PD) garage and it can see anything from E400s to Gemini 3's. It's one of my favourite routes in South London and this post will show what my experience of this route was like.

The first stop is almost outside the garage, with the station being around the corner. A bus pulled in immediately and I sunk into the comfortable lazzerini seats that I would be sitting on for the next 80 minutes. Plumstead Road was familiar territory, having passed through here on the 96. It is like a dual carriageway and the driver made the most of this by thrashing all the way until Woolwich Town Centre, where a few more passengers came upstairs, some of them miffed that the best seats on the bus were already taken.

Woolwich is quite an interesting area and it was a shame that the 122 dives out of it pretty quickly, heading straight for the South Circular Road. The Royal Artillery Barracks dominated the view to my right and it was a pretty good one. This was also where the Archery event at the 2012 Olympics was held. The brilliantly named "Ha Ha Road" brought some amusement to my journey and I was speeding past more greenery for a good few minutes. The 122 avoids Queen Elizabeth Hospital so it can reach Eltham as quickly as possible, it is a very long route anyway.

Another quirky detail is that many roads around Shooters Hill are named after Scottish places, including "Arbroath Road" and "Dunblane Road." It was at this point where the mast at Crystal Palace came into view and I thought to myself "am I really going all that way?" However, I did not get bored at all, so the long journey really didn't matter too much.

After navigating Well Hall Roundabout, the 122 briefly enters Mottingham, but it turns right at Eltham Green to head for Lewisham. This section of the route was mainly residential and I'd passed through it before on the 321, so I took this as an opportunity to review the bus itself. It was clean, the seats were comfortable, it was capable of high speeds and the engine was not faulty at all. The iBus was a bit loud, but I got used to it after a few stops.

With a 321 directly in front, the 122 didn't really stop anywhere and the journey on Lee High Road was surprisingly fast, so it came as a surprise when Emma announced "Lewisham Centre." Since it was around 11am on a Saturday, the amount of people heading to Lewisham for shopping wasn't surprising. The bus emptied out and there were only two other people upstairs at this point.

12358 sat at the bus stop for a couple of minutes, allowing numerous Catford-bound buses to overtake. However, the 122 doesn't head that way and it turned right just before Lewisham Hospital, therefore not serving it directly. This route does like to avoid hospitals. The area of Ladywell was new to me and I liked it very much. The steep Vicars Hill now makes the 484 much more attractive than it was before and the view around Adelaide Avenue was very interesting, particularly the odd location of Prendergast School.

After the detour, the 122 joins Central London routes 171/172 along Brockley Road. There happened to be a train in at Crofton Park Station, which made the view in this fairly dull area much more interesting. 12358 followed a 172 along Brockley Road until it turned left into the rather unusual stand for routes 172 and P12 at Brockley Rise. After lots of residential running, the 122 re-unites with the South Circular Road for a few stops near Forest Hill. There are two stops for Forest Hill Station, one being outside the main entrance, the other round the back. However, the locals confirmed that alighting at the first stop around the back is much quicker towards Crystal Palace, the opposite being true heading the other way.

Forest Hill isn't that big and after a few minutes 12358 was in Sydenham, sharing roads with the 176. The gradient was noticeable and it showed that the journey was coming to an end. A very sharp right turn at Sydenham Station meant the bus was heading West again, through Sydenham Hill and onto Crystal Palace Park Road. The view of the mast is amazing from here and the double decker made it really special. After eighty-something minutes, 12358 arrived at Crystal Palace Bus Station, on a lovely route through the depths of South London.

If you haven't been to South London before or you want to explore more of it, I definitely recommend the 122. It has decent buses and the routeing is very interesting and overall it scores 8/10.

I hope you enjoyed the first Random Route post on this blog, there will be more to come and watch out in case your local is reviewed!