The Oxford Connection
In the run up to starting to my new job next month I was required in Oxford this evening for a company medical. I decided to take the chance to re-sample a few bus services in the area whilst on the way. At the end of 2001 I did a run from Coventry through to Reading by bus, but today I did a shorter version, to allow the various requirements of the day to be met.
I decided to buy a Stagecoach weekly Goldrider that allows travel on any Stagecoach bus in the UK, apart from London, for a whole week for just £15. Exceptional value I thought, especially considering that a South Midlands day ticket is £5.50. I recommend it to any enthusiast, and will be making full use of it during the coming week. I bought my ticket on Volvo Olympian 16614, operating route X16 from Coventry to Stratford. I boarded near Coventry railway station at 1230, and enjoyed the full journey through to Stratford, arriving at 1337. Stratford was one of my two required stop-off points, the aim was to catch up with exReading MetroRiders 610 and 613 before they are withdrawn from service with Stratford Blue along with 611/2. It was also a handy point to get some lunch.
Former Reading 613 is also Stratford Blue's 613. 610 is still in Guide Friday livery and seems unlikely to be repainted now that the batch are set for withdrawal!
It so happened that 16614 also operated the next service that I used, route 50 to Chipping Norton at 1415. Most Stagecoach services that start in Stratford currently operate off X16s and X18s from Coventry and Leamington, and 16614 had done a round trip on route 28 and sat for a considerable amount of time on layover before moving onto my route 50. The capacity of the vehicle probably wasn't required on any of the runs that I was it on, but one assumes that it would be required at some point in its complicated schedule later on in the day. It was also a very good ride, and seemed quite well suited to the fairly rural work that it was operating. It was also very nice to have the view from the top deck. These vehicles always make a good speed operating the X12 to the University, but on routes so far away from the depot like the 50, their reliability and good acceleration seemed to be a very great asset. Being S-registered they are also Stagecoach's newest vehicles at their Leamington depot apart from the 15 Optare Solos for town services in Leamington and Warwick.
16614 in Chipping Norton ready to head back to Stratford.
Some journeys on route 50 are timed to connect with service 20 to/from Oxford because the route was previously been operated as a through service from Oxford. I picked up Oxford Dart 32629 on the connecting service at 1506 after arriving a couple of minutes late in Chipping Norton at 1502. Both vehicles left together at 1510, although my Oxford Dart was supposed to leave three minutes earlier. There seemed to be enough flexibility in the timetable to allow both halves of the Stratford to Oxford route to meet reliably because my arrival in Oxford at 1600 was not notably late. The Dart's acceleration seemed poor in comparison to the Olympian, the vehicle seemed like it would be very much more at home in an urban setting, but it did the job and the seating capacity wasn't an issue even though it probably picked up more people than the Olympian did on the 50! It is interesting to note that on Sundays Pete's Travel still operate Stratford-Oxford as a through service as part of a joint Warwickshire and Oxfordshire county council tender. The through service even extends from Stratford to Birmingham!
As it happened, today saw the launch of new Stagecoach service 7B from Oxford City Centre to Kidlington. I took the opportunity to photograph a few of the vehicles in operation, there being a mixture of branded and unbranded vehicles on the service. All of the branded vehicles seemed to have had their green 7A branding altered to include the new service. I was also very impressed by 22923, one of the route 7 branded vehicles, which is fitted with a trial high visibility LED display. What was notable about this display in comparison to all the others that I have seen is that it is able to scroll through the various via points underneath the main display. Ordinary displays just flick between them, so this display really did stand out. It's the first time that I have ever seen a bus' display do anything like this. Marvellous idea! For me the other surprising thing about this new 15-minutely service is that a Sunday service is also included, operating every 30 minutes. Whilst the operating conditions in Oxford may well require this, in many other parts of the country most companies opening up new commercial routes wouldn't even think about registering them on Sundays! Inspectors were even on hand to give out timetables and answer people's questions.
22922 showing off its new lime green route branding.
My day also contained some connections between Oxford and the different areas that Bus Zone covers. One was photographing exReading MetroRider 616 operating for Charlton Services, and another was exWest Midlands WTS 272T operating for Full Circle Tours. Lastly there is also the connection between Oxford and me, and the main reason for my visit. Did you work it out from the news page last month? From July I am going to be working for Stagecoach Oxford on a student placement (hence the close links with Warwickshire). The first thing that I am going to do is to go through the driver training school so that I can do the odd bit of driving when I'm not in the office!
Newbury MetroRiders with Blue Bus
ExNewbury MetroRiders 621-3 have now entered service with their new owner, Blue Bus of Bolton. 621 is seen here on 7th June.
Many thanks to Ben Morroll for this photo.
Meanwhile exReading 611/2 that were with Ensign Bus' Stratford Blue operation (previously known as Guide Friday) have been moved to Purfleet for disposal. The other two, 610/3 will follow shortly when the last two of four recently acquired second hand Dennis Darts are ready for service.
DMLs for First Berkshire
First's Bracknell depot has received four Marshall Capital bodied Dennis Darts from First London. One of these vehicles will regularly operate the X26 shuttle service between Heathrow terminals 3 and 4 that connects with the Reading RailAir coach service. However they are also starting to make appearances elsewhere, and here DML172 is seen at Reading Station on 7th June 2003. This photo also illustrates the diversions that were in operation in Reading that day due to the prettification works being carried out on Friar Street.
Thanks to James Cusworth for this photo.
Reading Trident Update
Over the last month or so Reading's Tridents have received Dennis Trident badges and full length tree deflectors. 471, 473 and 476 have also received MegaRear adverts.
471 at Reading Station on 6th June.
A large order for new double deckers is expected next year, although the type has yet to be decided. Optare are no longer a safe bet!