Monday 6 October 2014

X1 E400 First Anniversary Special

On 30th September last year everyone was rather excited. The future had arrived on the X1 with the first batch of brand spanking new Alexander Dennis E400 superbuses, launched in a fanfare of trumpets and rhetoric proclaiming sumptuous leather seats, soothing air chill, free WiFi and a far superior travel experience than those tired old Volvo B9 Geminis they replaced.

And so on that momentous day yours truly was out there extra early to sample the Pullman style luxury and reach a conclusion about the new vehicles. Alas this was before the genesis of this esteemed publication so there is no written report of that day. However it started with riding 33804 to Acle, then switching to 33805 to Dereham, followed by 33810 back to Easton for lunch.

33805 at Dereham on 30th Sept last year - it's first day out
What I do remember is really liking the seats, not liking the vinyls blocking vision out of the top deck windows, thinking the air chill was noisy, and basically not being too sure about them, but not jumping to conclusions. In fact going through old posts it was the new year before I reviewed another one. Instead I concentrated on the X1 shorts and the decent mix of vehicles to be found on there, especially Olympians, and I came across a post featuring by coincidence all three withdrawn Alexander Royale Olympians 34110/2/3.  I would think many of you won't have seen that post so it can be seen by clicking  here.

Then on 8th Jan this year I travelled on 33807 and was horrified at the condition of it after just over 3 months in service. I didn't report it but the next day went on a mission to compare the X1 E400's to those of Konectbus on the 8 between Norwich and Dereham. It proved to be one of my all time popular posts and created no end of controversy and discussion. Again, if you haven't seen the post it can be viewed by clicking here.

Now I was pretty scathing in that post and put a few noses out of joint, but since then a rather large amount of people have started to agree with me. And so on Saturday, as I was going to Kings Lynn already it seemed the right time to repeat that experiment, and so I started by getting Konect's 61 reg E400 604 to Dereham. Very little has changed. There was a little more background noise but no more than you'd expect from another 9 months in service. Incidentally the driver told me the mileage on the clock was 194k, so I had something else to go by when comparing the X1 vehicles which have all done around the 100k mark now.

And then, rather appropriately 33805 came round the corner. I caught that to Kings Lynn then 33817 back to Norwich. Since there was very little to choose between them I'll do a joint review and assessment on how I see the X1 now.

33804 sits at Kings Lynn Bus Station on Saturday
First things first - the rattling and general background noise was VASTLY improved on my experiences 9 months ago. I remember mentioning a few weeks ago that 33803 had given me a rattle free journey and I'm really happy to report that wasn't a one off. I'll have to look out for 33807 this week, which was the vehicle that started it all and see if that is as improved too.

The seats seem to have lasted the Summer, but to be honest don't feel as sumptuous as they did this time last year. I don't think my posterior has changed much in that time so I do wonder how they will be in a couple of years time.

The air chill and heating are plain noisy - there's no getting around that, in fact 33805 was pretty cold and I was grateful for my jacket. Acknowledged it's that time of year where temperatures fluctuate like mad  so some excuse there.

Now there are two things that I find infuriating in the extreme on the X1, the vision, which I'll get on to in a bit. and the appalling on board announcements.  First of all the guy who recorded the announcements (anyone know who it is?) has no idea how to pronounce the names of the places en route. For example since when has Swaffham been pronounced "Swaff-Ham", or Gorleston "Gorles-Tun" and as for Pleasurewood Hills Lord only knows what he's saying. But worse than that he gabbles. I'm still wondering where "Eastwinchurch" is. I was reminded so much of the Scene in Blackadder Goes Forth where the Corporal in charge of the firing squad admits that he is a gabbler with the words "ready, aim, fire" that in an effort to inject a bit of humour into the proceedings I thought I'd post it!

No style, no finesse just about sums up the on board announcements, that also announce you are approaching a stop much too late to react before you whizz past it. I recommend a complete overhaul of that system, with maybe hiring Brian Blessed to record the announcements. No one would miss their stop then!

Now the vision. Unless you are lucky enough to grab a front seat upstairs - and trust me you have to be extraordinarily lucky - if you were thinking of enjoying the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire countryside forget it. Those seats are so high even I can't see over the top of them and those blasted route vinyls are STILL hindering the vision from the side windows. It's even worse now as since nothing operates along the whole route they are also inaccurate, and there's nothing worse than inaccuracy is there Mr A!! When another blogger wrote to First last year saying he could see very little out of the windows First replied saying they were looking for a solution to the problem. I have the solution - as they are now giving false information and therefore are not needed then take them off and improve the "journey experience" for your passengers of all ages and heights.

33808 at Kings Lynn on Saturday
I also had problems with the WiFi. On 33805 I couldn't even access the log in page, and on 33817 I managed to log in ok but then couldn't do anything once logged in and had to give up. I suggest First contacts the WiFi contractors and does something about it. I gather 33812 is a particular problem.

So to summarise there are issues with vision, air chill, WiFi and the on board announcements, but the ride quality has improved no end on the vehicles I have travelled on recently. If you get on, put your music on, fall asleep and get off again they are great. If you want a country tour then not so good. I would still rather get on the 1/1A between Yarmouth and Lowestoft and Anglian's 7 between Yarmouth and Norwich unless a Gemini was available on the X1.

So what of the future? The guys I spoke to on Saturday at Kings Lynn said they would like nothing more than for ALL the Geminis to be painted up and put back on the X1 as the E400's are getting increasingly unpopular. Two are already being painted up, plus another E400, and it really wouldn't surprise me to see others follow. Will the E400's last the intended 5 years? When I asked that question on Saturday I got a unanimous and emphatic "no!". Mind you will there still be an X1 in 4 years time? This time next year even? Will the route be joined back together after the Postwick roadworks have finished? Will there be genuine competition or alternatives on the Western side of the route? Who knows, but it will be interestiing watching to find out.

The good old days? 37576 At Yarmouth showing Peterborough. Look atr the view from upstairs!


  1. Good post love that front seat at the top of the E400s the E400 getting repainted is 33423.

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    1. Harry I can't believe you are suggesting that instead of getting them specially recorded like even Ipswich P&R have done they have done it on the cheap using computer generated voices? No, surely not! Would never happen! Perish the thought

    2. Hahaha :D perish the thought indeed.

      Thinking of the announcements though - is it the male 'Siri' voice then? I ask because the voice does seem familiar to me, and as I don't have the iPhone I won't have recognised it from there. It's odd how he gets Acle right though, and that is what usually catches people from out of the area out.

  3. Oh, and with regards to the E400s - other than 33815 (I think) I've never found them particularly rattly.

    I agree with everything else though; the seats look well used to say the least, and the air chill/heating is really LOUD - I didn't actually realise just how loud until it went off on one journey. As for vision, if you use a Gemini one journey, then an E400 X1 the next, you can't help but notice just how dark the latter is upstairs in comparison with the former.

    Overall though, the E400s will last (Stagecoach buy lots of them, so they must have some staying power) the question is how well will they last. In my humble opinion, after 6 years they're not going to be as solid (but admittedly tired) as the Geminis are, there's just no way.

    1. The only response I have is that Stagecoach only use Dennis Chassis for town and short distance work. The Flagship routes get Scania chassis that are far better suited to the job. I think had the X1 Enviros been Scania chassised then it might be a different story.

    2. Indeed - I think I've mentioned that on here before actually, about Stagecoach being selective with their chassis and subsequent allocations :D I know I've mentioned Scania anyway. Point being, you're right and we agree; if the X1 Enviros had Scania chassis it likely would be a different story. In fact, there's a post somewhere on here from your good self praising the 59 reg E400s on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which have Scania chassis.

    3. I nearly mentioned them last night but wondered if anyone would remember that post - go to the top of the class!!