Wednesday 23 March 2016

Canterbury Tales Chapter 2

And verily I doth returneth to ancient and noble city of Durovernum Cantiacornum - that's Canterbury to me and you to finally meet up with a dynamic new arrival on the bus scene in East Kent - oh and the new Business Development Manager at Stagecoach South East too! Having cut his teeth at Virgin Atlantic, and then gaining a reputation at Arriva before taking a year off at Go-Coach, not to mention the invaluable experience of sharing a detention room with me at school, Matthew Arnold has taken on his biggest challenge yet, as if leading the drinking at numerous CPT meetings wasn't enough. (that is what goes on isn't it?)

Stagecoach have turned East Kent into an area that just uses buses in the extreme. 10 minute frequencies are not uncommon on many routes, and even the country routes seem to get late evening and Sunday services. So to develop an already thriving area even further is some task. However Matthew has arrived at the perfect time. One of their trunk routes, the Triangle serving Canterbury/Whistable/Herne Bay is getting new buses. I have hinted about them before but now I can give full details. Stagecoach South East are taking delivery of 30 E400MMC's, the first double deckers in the world to be fitted with Scania Euro6 engines. Today was the first time they had been seen in Canterbury, with two of them there for driver training purposes.

Stagecoach 15262 Scania E400MMC YN16 WVC
Rather nice isn't it. It looks even better in the flesh, and typical of Stagecoach they haven't cut any corners. The seats are the same seats that go in Stagecoach Gold buses only with fabric covering and look of amazing quality. I wasn't allowed on one today as they are being guarded closer than the Crown Jewels, but I will definitely get to spend a day on one before their launch at the end of May.

View from the rear
And the offside view.
Now if you remember Chapter One you'll remember that Canterbury has a few other appealing buses - if you haven't guessed look at the header pic - and there was a scramble for the camera when the pic that had to be taken presented itself. Will the MMC ever achieve the affection the Olympian has? Somehow I doubt it.

The MMC is passed by an Olympian
That got me in the Ollie mood and a journey was necessary. There were a lot more Olympians around today than last time and Matthew noted one departing on the 17 to Folkestone, which he said was just about the most scenic route they had. After he left to do manager type things I worked out when the Ollie would do its return journey, and got a bonus by another Olympian turning up on the 18, which briefly meets up with the 17 two thirds down the route at the little village of Lyminge. (stop it right now!) Even better was the Olympian on the 18 was from my all time favourite batch. New to Stagecoach in 1995 the N3** LPN Olympians had high ratio gearboxes, Cummins engines despite being on a Volvo chassis and many of them were fitted with coach seats for long distance routes. N366 LPN had old proper bus seats and the 18 route was nothing short of stunning. I thought I knew all of Kent but this part through Stelling Minis forest had eluded me. A fabulous route on a brilliant bus and a driver who is obviously going to miss the Ollies as much as I will, who was more than happy to wait for me to take this pic when I got off. Doesn't get better than that.

Stagecoach 16366 N366 LPN at Lyminge
A 20 min wait and the 17 came the other way, which was another wonderfully scenic route through the Elham Valley, but I think the 18 just edged it. This time a P reg example, which gave me the perfect chance to compare the Cummins engine of the N reg Olympian, with the Volvo engine of the P reg. I expect the following to create some debate - I hope so!

The definition of Concorde Moment is as follows: "where great leaps are made in science or engineering and are then never used or retired because they are not business effective".

The Olympian is no longer business effective. Much as I love them the look on a frustrated mum's face when she couldn't get her buggy on, and the grumbling of the old dears with their trolleys told me that regrettably the Olympian, and indeed all step entrance buses have had their day, and society has moved on. I think the Olympian is probably the best bus ever built. Yes better than the Routemaster, Leyland Atlantean, Bristol VR and so on. However there have been several incarnations of the Olympian, from the early Gardner engined sluggish plodders for London, to the glorious Olympian coaches, to the Cummins engined powerhouses to finally the Volvo engined Olympians that make up most of the surviving examples left. Not to mention infinite different bodies.

I know Matthew swears that the Volvo Olympian is the best bus ever built. I'm going to disagree here. I think the Cummins engined Leyland Olympian beats them. I remember the first time I drove one in 1990 and it was like nothing I'd ever driven. Those Cummins engines sound magnificent, and when the last ones are withdrawn I do seriously think it will be a Concorde Moment - we will never see anything that grabs the bus industry by the horns in the way the Olympian did. They were the last bus built properly before the obsessions with weight and emissions meant corners were cut and sacrifices made. I love riding Olympians but that Cummins engine today made me grin like a 10yo. I'm not sure another bus will ever achieve that. Let the debate begin!

16389 N389 LPN leaves Canterbury Bus Station


  1. Great post - thanks! It reminds me of living in Canterbury as a student at the university some 12 years ago now. Glad to see the Olympians still knocking around. There were some lovely G-plated Leyland examples back then (I think Cummins engined?), and even some Titans on some of the less high-profile routes and schools.

    Out of interest, when did the Canterbury outstation parking area close near the West station? And when did the depot get demolished? Always seemed odd that there wasn't a proper depot building when I was there, but I do remember the deckers all tightly parked in at night.

    Good to see Stagecoach have continued to make such a success of their business in the area anyway.

    1. Gosh yes I remember the Titans, and Ramsgate had some ropy ex London D/FYM Olympians too, as well as some very nice Scania 113's that had come off the 15's in London. The only G reg Ollies I remember from that time were at Dover, long wheel base and had Gardner engines, and those glorious Volvo B10M single deckers on the 100/200!

      I'll ask Matthew about the Canterbury outstation and see what he can find out.

  2. Yes, those Scanias were definitely ropey - I'll attest to a few hair raising journeys on them. It was always an interesting fleet though. The glorious Gardner-engined G-reg Ollies were definitely on Canterbury services although perhaps they were based at Dover.

  3. Andrew Kleissner24 March 2016 at 16:42

    Seeing that the new Ipswich Buses MD Jeremy Cooper has come from being Stagecoach's Commercial Manager in East Kent, let's hope for a similar revival here. I know he's rightly proud of what he did in Canterbury.

  4. Having been at the Ipswich bus rally on Sunday, all I can say is give me an older bus any day. The new ones seem soulless in comparison. For one day,I felt like a kid again. Even the wife came with me and she loved it (she even took some pics!). A credit to all who take such pride in their vehicles.

    1. After all the old dears had got off the Ollie in Lyminge moaning about the difficulty getting their trolleys off I got on and told the driver I was perfectly happy to see an Olympian. He grinned back and said "yeah - these have got character". That says it all.

  5. Speaking of new buses, what has happened to the new Streetdecks for Norwich? Haven't heard anything for a while now.

    1. They are due to be delivered very soon and should be brightening up the streets of Norwich in early April. Get your shades ready - the pink is very pink!