Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Remember Remember The 11th Of November: 18 and 45

One of the biggest days in the 2017 enthusiasts' calendar was Saturday 11th November, with four major Central London routes all transferring to a different operator for their contracts, a rare treat which is unlikely to happen again for a long time. The 18 was awarded from Metroline to London United, route 45 went from Go-Ahead to Abellio, whilst Go-Ahead picked up the 176 and 188 from Arriva and Abellio respectively. Due to other commitments, I wasn't able to cover most of the changes in the first few weeks, although a recent trip in December ensured that some pictures have been uploaded and are now ready to be presented in this initial post, one month after the changes took place.

Metroline West VW1836 is seen at Baker Street Station on route 18 to Sudbury.
The 18 is the second busiest route in London, having a Peak Vehicle Requirement of 44 buses to cater for a 3 minute frequency at rush hour. It runs from Sudbury to Euston, travelling through Wembley, Harlesden, Kensal Green and Baker Street in the process, with the end-to-end journey taking up to 75 minutes to complete. There is also an N18 service, which diverts at Great Portland Street to serve Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square instead of Euston, and some trips are extended from Sudbury to Harrow Weald Bus Garage. First London originally operated the day service with Mercedes Citaro articulated "bendy buses", although these were all replaced with Wrightbus Gemini 2 B9TL vehicles in 2010. Metroline inherited these vehicles and their base, Willesden Junction (WJ) garage, in June 2013 after the sale of First London and they were still seen working the route until the last day of the old contract.

For such a large route, Metroline handled the 18 rather well, often maintaining a reliable service with no large gaps despite the inevitable bunching, although a PVR decrease in the past few months of the old contract meant that the route was under-resourced and difficult to operate, so a slight deterioration in the service quality was noticeable. Nevertheless, the loss of route 18 to London United was a shock for many, especially as this operator had lost a considerable amount of work just before the tender announcement. In the last few weeks of the old contract many of the old Gemini buses were seen running around without logos and most of them have now returned to the leasing company, with a couple staying as refurbishment floats at Brentford (AH) and Alperton (ON) garages.

London United VH45223 pauses at Baker Street Station en route to Sudbury.
At first, the base of route 18 at London United was unclear, given that the only garages reasonably near the route were already at their maximum capacity. However, eventually the news emerged that London United would acquire the Atlas Road site previously operated by Tower Transit, providing sufficient space for a large route like the 18 to move in. The new base is called Park Royal (RP) and this garage also operates all the routes found at their previous garage in the area, like the 220 and E11. The allocation for the 18 is more complex than initially thought, as London United took the opportunity to save some money and only order a partial allocation of 37 brand new Wrightbus Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles, instead of the full requirement of 49 buses.

The other twelve vehicles that make up the allocation are of the same type, although they were already found scattered across the London United fleet - these VHs were initially destined for the route 72 contract renewal, although the cancellation of the Hammersmith Bridge upgrade meant that the vehicles couldn't work the route, so instead they were simply acting as spares at different garages, or as refurbishment cover. However, now they have an allocated route and are also compliant with the demanding emission standards in Central London, which the 18 briefly enters. However, not all of the brand new 67-reg Gemini 3s were ready for the new contract, so some existing ADL Enviro 400 vehicles have been used as a temporary measure to make up the numbers, with some of them coming from the 220 allocation, whilst others have received a full refurbishment before transferring down to Park Royal (RP) garage. This mixture of bus types kept enthusiasts busy in the first week and I was lucky enough to obtain a couple of pictures during this period of time. There aren't many E400s on the 18 now, although occasional strays from the 220 can still occur from time to time.

London United VH45229 stands at Euston Bus Station.
Understandably, the operation of route 18 has been shambolic so far, with frequent 30 minute gaps and ludicrous bunching, with up to eight buses in a convoy! The busy nature and length of the route were difficult to comprehend with for London United, a relatively small company, who were also beset by a massive diversion in the Wembley area, which caused horrific disruption and effectively destroyed any hopes of running an adequate service. A large number of buses were curtailed en route, with common destinations including Baker Street, Stonebridge Park and Wembley Stadium and unfortunately this terrible state was seen consistently for a considerable amount of time after the contract date. Metroline's expertise allowed them to handle the route appropriately and London United simply didn't have this experience, which explains some of the absurdities that were seen recently. In terms of reliability, there have been signs of improvement with some weekdays having a service on par with what Metroline consistently provided, but on event days the service still falls apart. When I sampled the service last Sunday, the football at Wembley Stadium tore the route to shreds, I ended up killing 25 minutes in Caffe Nero as the next bus wasn't due for half an hour, which is pathetic for a route which should run every 5 minutes at this time! Naturally, three buses turned up at once, whilst another two which were originally part of this convoy terminated early at Baker Street. Therefore, service-wise, some development is still necessary, although instances of a good service are becoming more frequent and I'm confident that London United will eventually be able to operate the 18 as well as their predecessors.

London United ADE40412 crawls through Baker Street traffic en route to Sudbury, complete with a refurbishment.
The new vehicles are just average Gemini 3s, they seem to be capable of reaching high speed eventually, although there is nothing particularly outstanding about them. They have a welcoming green interior and comfortable seats and will provide a sufficient environment for commuters. The more interesting part of the allocation, in my opinion, is the ADL E400s, especially as they are only being used on the route temporarily (most of them have moved on to rail replacement work now anyway). This common type hadn't actually been used on the 18 before and these vehicles were praised for their speed at their previous garage, Hounslow (AV), so the possibility of fast stints in the Royal Oak underpass were certainly promising. Some enthusiasts were successful in finding this, although the introduction of loose schedules has resulted in drivers frequently dragging the bus at 10mph in clear traffic conditions on the 18, to prevent running early. If you like noisy, busy trunk routes that travel through congested parts of North-West & Central London, the 18 might be one to try out, especially with the introduction of new buses. I wish London United the best for the next few years in operating the 18, in the hope that they overcome the initial challenges presented to them and flourish in providing for the users of this service.

Go-Ahead London PVL310 pauses along Grays Inn Road en route to King's Cross.
The 45 runs between King's Cross and Clapham Park, via Clerkenwell, Southwark, Camberwell and Brixton. It runs along many busy corridors, where it provides valuable assistance and is a popular commuter route from South London to the offices in the City. It runs at a 10-minute frequency and sometimes takes 90 minutes from start to finish, particularly due to traffic hotspots in Brixton and Elephant & Castle. The service was previously operated by Go-Ahead London, with an eclectic mix of bus types found at Camberwell (Q) garage, conveniently located in the middle of the route. These included Volvo B7TL President vehicles, Wrightbus Eclipse Gemini buses and some more modern examples like E40H MMCs and Gemini 3s, which became much more noticeable towards the end of the contract.

Go-Ahead London WHV168 stands at St Pancras.
The Brixton "Green Bus Corridor" kicked in towards the start of November, which means that every route that runs along it needs to have a full allocation of euro 6 Hybrid vehicles. As a result, the ageing Presidents and Gemini 1s that usually dominated on the 45 were displaced to the 468, with some brand new Gemini 3 B5LH vehicles which now work the 188 being drafted in to work the 45 temporarily. There were no real issues with Go-Ahead's service on the 45, it was reliable despite the endless and pointless "Cycle Superhighway" works, making the loss to Abellio was a little surprising as a result, although one can infer that this route was lost intentionally, to make space for the more profitable 176, which was nabbed on the same day. Abellio also have a deal with ADL which means that they can obtain Hybrid vehicles cheaper, so naturally some E40H MMCs were ordered for the new contract.

Abellio London 2595 pauses at Loughborough Junction on route 345.
The new MMCs entered service prematurely on route 345, between South Kensington and Peckham, in an attempt to iron out any initial teething issues. On Friday 10th November, the last day of the old contract, a large number were found on the service, making it easy to catch one from Stockwell. My journey was disappointing, mainly because the driver was dragging the vehicle at 10mph everywhere, taking 25 minutes to travel between two places that normally only take a quarter of an hour to travel between. However, the bright and warming Abellio interior was still present and these MMCs still had potential, in my eyes, to be good buses. My theory was proved to be successful when I finally took a ride on the 45, with a much faster driver. Although Abellio do have better MMCs out there, notably the 344 and 427 batches, they don't seem to stand out as being worse than most of the others and are a satisfactory replacement of the older kit previously found on the Go-Ahead 45.

Abellio London 2601 stands at St Pancras before departure to Clapham Park.
Overall, Abellio have been successful in taking up the 45, with a smooth transition from the previous contract. Despite the Lord Mayor's Show providing some difficulties and a lengthy diversionary route, the reliability was bearable throughout the day and the occasional, expected blips in service have been rectified quickly, with a remarkable lack of curtailments throughout the few weeks Abellio have operated the service. The buses are based at Walworth (WL) garage, which is just down the road from the old garage at Camberwell, so no real advantages or setbacks can be noted in this area. There haven't been many strays of other bus types, with only a couple of "classic" E40Hs and some existing MMCs allocated to the 415 appearing in the first few days of the contract. In conclusion, Abellio's takeover of the 45 can be deemed a success and I wish them the best in maintaining their promising start for the next few years.

The other two changes, involving routes 176 and 188, will be documented separately in another post, which will be published on Thursday.

For now, thanks for reading and stay safe!

1 comment:

  1. The 196 will probably be even better when it moves to Abellio as the route doesn't go to more popular areas unlike the 45!


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