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!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. It seems EH226 you had was definitely a dud bus as I had EH255 last week and noticed it spent more time on electric mode than the battery versions! A bit more on the 321/436 allocations: the 436 is indeed allocated those G2 WHV/first gen EH hybrids and the 321 has the 59-reg diesel G2s, an allocation which has become much more prominent recently, so they’ll be staying at NX garage. Some of the 62-reg Es should be going to the 37 to make up the numbers, but (don’t quote me) the rest *should* be sold as I saw a 62-reg E on Ensign’s secondhand dealership website!

    1. Yes EH226 is an anomaly for sure.

      Isn't what you stated what I said in the post regarding the 436, but it's good to see confirmation that my theory regarding the 321 is correct.

      Hopefully the Es find a nice new home as they are decent buses.

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  4. I'd have thought another reason the 188 went to Camberwell was because of the poor reliability at Morden Wharf. It has improved since the move but it's still rough at times. Really hope the B5LH G2s stay on the 171 because they're my favourite on the route.

    1. The B5LH G2s will probably only make appearances on the 171 as strays from now, given that 80% of buses at NX will be MMCs anyway.

      Whilst your mindset regarding reliability is a conscientious one, in reality very few routes actually move garage in an attempt to improve the quality of service - in fact many routes are controlled from different garages to where they are based. The 188 was simply out of operational convenience and the fact the service has improved is merely a happy coincidence at the end of the day.

      I think the 188 will be rough for a while, it's a very demanding route which can throw up so many problems


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