Sunday 26 November 2017

Anglianbus 1981 - 2017

This is a post I always thought I'd have to write, but one I always prayed I'd never have to. It's one of the most difficult I've had to write, because I know so many of the people involved, and have been witness to a lot of pent up emotion, sadness and anger - not just over the last couple of weeks since the announcement of Anglian's absorption into Konect - but over the last 4 years. You may have read some of the comments in the post I published with the news. If you haven't please do - you can find the post here.

In 1981 Anglian Coaches was formed by David and Christine Pursey. A small, family concern, they ran coaches of weird and wonderful shapes and sizes out of a site in Loddon, and soon became a familiar sight in Suffolk and Norfolk. I'm grateful to Dave Marshall, engineering supremo at Anglian for over 25 years before joining Andrew Pursey to launch Borderbus, for sending me a great selection of pictures of some of the early coaches, including a magnificent early Setra. I won't go into details over them - anyone interested can do so at their leisure by Googling the registrations.

In 1999 the decision was made to expand the company into bus work. The contract to operate the Diss - Yarmouth 580 was won. Realising that expansion meant extra capacity was needed Anglian relocated to their purpose built depot at Ellough in 2000, complete with a shiny new pit I have a feeling the Chief Engineer at the time is still rather proud of..

The brand new pit at Anglian 2000
More contracts were won, and in 2003 the first Commercial route was launched, the 588 Halesworth - Norwich service. It proved to be a great success, eventually knocking First off the route. The bus side grew so quickly in 2004 another depot was opened at Rackheath to stable the Norwich City services, of which there were many. The coach side of the business gradually declined and was finally abandoned, with the bus side flourishing and continuing to expand. Here are some of the early vehicles.

By 2012 Anglianbus was so successful it was the largest independent in East Anglia, with some 90 buses and over 100 drivers. From Ipswich to Great Yarmouth to Diss to Norwich not much of the area was untouched by Anglian, with the huge majority of rural community routes operated by them. The company attracted interest from more than one of the big operators, but one showed more interest than most. Go Ahead tried twice, unsuccessfully, to buy Anglian but David Pursey refused. Then fate stepped in. David Pursey became seriously ill, and recognising he was unlikely to recover he accepted a third and much higher bid from Go Ahead, firstly to guarantee his family's financial future, and let's face it who wouldn't make the same decision, and secondly, because Go Ahead promised nothing would change, that it would be business as normal, all jobs protected, and that the company would continue to flourish and expand. On 20th April 2012 Anglian became part of Go Ahead, and here is Go Ahead's statement. The final paragraph is particularly poignant.

 One thing that should never be forgotten is that it was David Pursey who sold Anglian, not Andrew. David owned the company, he founded it, and it was his to do with as he pleased. Andrew played a massive part in Anglian's success, but his dad was the boss. I'm lucky to have been given a very rare picture of David Pursey standing by one of his buses. I never met him. I wish I had. I've never heard a negative word said against him.

David Pursey by one of his Beavers
So a new era dawned on Anglianbus. Andrew Pursey remained in charge with Dave Marshall as Chief Engineer. The most significant purchases arguably ever in East Anglia arrived in the form of 13 MAN Eco City gas buses and Anglian made national headlines. The gas buses were employed on the 146 between Norwich and Lowestoft, in competition with First's X2, but in a sign of things to come the route was short lived. Andrew and Dave may have been in charge, but as Dave quite astutely said to me the other day; "We were in charge of something we had no control over". Practices that had got Anglian where they were were suddenly abandoned, and it soon became clear that Go Ahead were intent on running Beccles like a London depot, not a country depot. There is a huge difference between the two. London passengers couldn't care less who are driving their buses. Country passengers like to know the name of the driver who'll be receiving the pot of jam every Autumn. As different as chalk and cheese, something Go Ahead refused to acknowledge despite many people advising them. Indeed I wrote this post over two years ago. Why didn't they just listen?

One of the gas buses at Kessingland Beach, no longer served by buses.
Andrew was getting increasingly frustrated. In the end seeing everything he had helped to build being eroded in front of his eyes proved too much and in 2013 he left, along with Dave Marshall, to form Borderbus. That left Anglian at the complete mercy of Go Ahead, and Konectbus. Much of Anglian's newer buses transferred to Dereham. The Rackheath routes were transferred to Konect with Rackheath eventually closing, only to be re-opened as a Part & Ride depot by Konect. A new manager with a brief to streamline Beccles was installed, and streamline he did. First the popular Ipswich routes 164/5 were summarily scrapped. The 165 club, formed by passengers and drivers of the route still endures to this day. Routes were merged, with another popular route, the A47 being scrapped leaving places like Blofeld and Brundall suddenly without a Yarmouth link. And the fleet was slashed. 90 became 50 almost overnight. This left too few spares resulting in maintenance standards dropping, despite the best efforts of the staff. Again Anglian were warned by many, and some started to predict the beginning of the end. Staff morale plummeted, and the turnover of drivers reached ludicrous standards. Routes and frequencies continued to be cut.

The 60 between Beccles/Bungay and Lowestoft/JPH which at its peak ran to a 20 minute frequency became virtually nothing overnight. The 62 between Lowestoft and Halesworth was scrapped, affecting many communities, and the 80/81 between Diss and Yarmouth trimmed to its bare bones. Yes, Council subsidy cuts played a part, but not all of it. There was no desire from Anglian management to save the routes. The public wasn't consulted, and Go Ahead continued to run Beccles as a London depot, wondering why it wasn't working yet still refusing to listen.

The very last 62, gas bus 100 operating
 Then just when you thought it couldn't get worse it did. The 7 was taken over by Konect, who cleverly extended journey times by incorporating the 7 into the Norwich P & R brand - that had them flocking on! It lasted 6 months before being scrapped. The gas buses were transferred to Plymouth, a move that many saw as the final nail in the coffin. The 61 changed routes more often than an indecisive rambler, pulled out of Southwold, now doesn't even serve Yarmouth and in January is being scrapped altogether, when 3 years ago it was one of the longest routes in the country, a successful 20 min frequency route running between Norwich (as the 7) and Southwold - a 2 and a half hour journey. Anglian gave up on the 80/81 Yarmouth to Diss in the face of fierce competition (2 buses) from Borderbus, and are now losing passengers hand over fist to First on the Bungay corridor. In January the PVR on ex Anglian routes will be 10. What a debacle. Konect haven't escaped unscathed either, with routes including the 2 between Norwich and Sheringham, and the 1 between Watton and Kings Lynn going along with the 71/72 Yarmouth services. Hedingham have closed Tollesbury depot and Chambers have reduced frequencies. Overall Go Ahead have murdered a huge number of bus services in East Anglia, and they don't appear to give a damn. I said three years ago that East Anglia needs Anglian, if only to keep First in check. But more importantly Anglian were part of the community, they were popular, successful, friendly, and reliable. That changed in 2012. Now they are consigned to history, except of course we'll have the reminder with Anglian lveried buses running around with Konectbus on the side, just to rub it in.

I visited Anglian's Beccles depot the other day to take a couple of final pictures. The only thing missing was the tumbleweed.

On 20th November 2017 all Anglian services became Konect. Anglianbus Co Ltd still exists so the drivers can continue to be paid at a lower rate than Konect drivers, but all services are now operated by Konect.

So thanks for the memories, Anglian. Thanks for buying (not leasing) the best single decker bus ever built then trashing them. Thanks to all the drivers who became mates, too many to individually name but a couple of them have become close friends. Thanks to everyone who has given me their memories and opened their hearts up over the last couple of weeks. Those hearts are broken at what Go Ahead has done. As Andrew Pursey said to me when I asked for his thoughts "It's like watching a family member die from cancer. You can't do anything about it, it's tortuous and upsetting when they die, but in a way almost a relief too".  This has,indeed been a tortuous death, but now maybe it has paved the way for something or someone new to succeed where Anglian self destructed. I hope so, or Suffolk will become a very barren patch for bus services. RIP Anglianbus

I'll leave the final words to Bernice Carver. An engineer at Anglian for many years (and my invaluable mole) she only left a few months ago, and was witness to the carnage around her. She has written a poem, which she has given permission to publish, as well as her name. I think it conveys perfectly the raw emotion evident in those who truly cared about Anglian. Bernice even had pet names for her buses, and this last pic of 452 is for her. The last bus with Anglian fleetnames I have taken. Yes on a Konect route but I guess that's appropriate. Thanks, Bernice and I hope your anger becomes calm soon.

Anglian 452 Scania Omnilink AU58 AUV in Norwich 17th November
Anglian Bus

Anglian Bus years ago in time,
was at it’s peak, and in it’s prime.
The staff were happy, the buses well kept,
more and more passengers, they did collect.
Yellow was the colour, with the bottom half blue,
always seen in villages, towns, and the city too.
Anglian ruled, for a while at least,
competitors realising, it was a defeat.
Passengers were happy, offering congrats,
to the Pursey family, we took off our hats.

Then one sad day,  Anglian was sold,
NOT due to debt, as we were all told.
Love and compassion, were the reasons it went,
words that Go Ahead, cannot comprehend.
In came the vultures, known as Konect,
management taking, all they could get.
Swapping the buses, from the new to the old,
the warmth in the depot, had suddenly gone cold.
Robbing Anglian, to pay Konect,
I’ve never seen, such a disrespect.
They sent in the bully, and the idiots too,
saying they could do, what we couldn't do.
Well, that they did, they left us in disgrace,
and now they only option, is to go and close the place.
So due to the management, at Go Ahead
they have killed Anglian, Anglian is dead.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

A Little Taste Of Heaven Part Two

Apologies for the delay in this post, it has been rather manic since the Anglian demise was announced, combined with other non blog related issues. But here we go, with the Anglian tribute, which looks like being pretty extensive to follow in the week.

In Part One I was rather enjoying myself, taking advantage of a free rein at Ensignbus' magnificent HQ in Purfleet. We pick it up where I left off, in the Aladdin's cave of a shed with vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Something I didn't expect, though, was a full fleet of BCI Enterprises doing not much. Ross Newman, Head of Operations at Ensign, explained that the Enterprises only go out on schools and rail replacement, never in general service. Since it was half term they were all in residence. A shame for anyone wanting to ride them, but there again Ross rightly pointed out there are no routes in that area where 100 seater monsters are required.

3 of the 100 seater Enterprises
From very large to quite small, and tucked away, almost trying to hide was this fine specimen. BXD 628 is a 1936 London Transport Leyland Cub, like every vehicle in that shed in full working order. It is rather dwarfed though!

That's quite an ambitious journey!
As you can imagine wedding hire is quite a lucrative part of the preservation side of the business, and RM54 was ready for the next happy couple.

RM54 LDS 279A ready for the big day

 Now listen to any school playground and you will hear claims of "my dad is cooler than your dad". In most cases this will be bravado, but in the case of the Junior Newmans it is right on the money. How many kids get taken to school in their own custom made open top mini Routemaster. I mean it just doesn't get any cooler than that. Let me introduce you to MRM 1.

MRM 1 BNK 217A
This little gem is built on a chassis from a 1960's Mini, inspired by The Italian Job, although it must be said it' got be the longest Mini chassis ever built, and it spends the Summer months in Southend, taking little Newmans to school and brightening up the seafront. Ross, with a definite air of satisfaction, told me bedtime chez Newman is no problem as all he has to do is threaten withdrawal of MRM 1 and there is a stampede to get to bed. Quite brilliant.

MRM 1 in all her glory
You will have spotted that behind MRM 1 is a bigger, yet still small Routemaster. That one is built on a Ford Transit chassis. Unfortunately it was too hemmed in to get a decent picture, but there will be a next time.

Leaving that magnificent oasis of bus preservation we crossed the yard to another big shed where single door conversions and other big jobs were taking place. However on the way we passed a BCI Excellence in an odd livery. Ross explained that they aren't that keen on loaning vehicles in Ensign livery (First and Borderbus must have been honoured!) so a couple are painted up in this green livery which I actually think looks rather smart.

BCI Excellence 150 in loan green livery
Now for what I found to be the most fascinating bus of everything there. As I have stated before, I can give or take most things that predate me, but, like steam, there are the odd exceptions. Unfortunately I can't tell you either the registration, or make of this piece of history from Jersey. What I can tell you is it's petrol engined, which makes it unusual for a start, and it was one of 3 double deckers on the island at the time of the Nazi invasion in June 1940. They were subsequently commandeered by the Nazis to move troops around the island. Absolutely incredible one has survived. I admit to being quite awe struck.

The Jersey WWII survivor
I was wandering around, wondering what to photograph next, when I saw two young engineers busy stripping down a bus engine. I stopped for a natter, and was rewarded with a lovely 10 minutes chatting to a couple of people clearly loving their job. One of them is following a family tradition, with her dad and brother both working at Ensign. Yes I said her - both of the engineers were girls, and it made my day. I explained to them that in Suffolk and Norfolk we are probably at least 50 years from what I was looking at, and that a few mouths would be hanging open. The older one said her own dad told her she'd never be an engineer so every time she pulls the overalls on she gets a buzz of satisfaction. Down South this isn't as unusual as it was - heck I know a 16yo girl who has her own bus in Kent (hi Liv!) which again is almost unthinkable in 19th Century East Anglia. It's quite incredible how the A12 passes through so many time warps. My thanks to the girls at Ensign for sparing me a few minutes of their time, and for accepting that I wasn't being patronising in expressing surprise at what I was seeing!

And that was it. Well actually no it wasn't it, as I mentioned that Ensign's yard backs onto HS1. This means the coolest dad in the world also has probably the coolest office window view if you are a transport enthusiast. Ross insisted I stand on a chair and take a video of a Southeastern Javelin hurtling past. Well it seemed rude not to accept!

And for good measure I took another video in the car park of a Class 373 Eurostar heading the other way.

And that really was it. My foretaste of Heaven was complete. There aren't enough words to satisfactorily thank Ross and all those I met at Ensign for giving me such a treat. I will certainly take up your kind offer to return, although probably not on another day the QE2 bridge is shut! What an advert and endorsement for independent operators, how to treat enthusiasts, and how to take such pride in the industry, its vehicles , its history, its future and most importantly the people making the business tick. Without staff you have no business and it was obvious how well Ensign's staff are regarded and treated. A lesson other operators could learn.

Ensignbus have a running day on December 2nd, where many of the vehicles featured in these posts will be out doing what they do best. 3 long routes including Gravesend, Bluewater, Tilbury, Lakeside, Brentwood and Upminster. An all day ticket costs a mere £10. Full details by clicking here.


Monday 13 November 2017

Anglianbus RIP

It has been announced on the Anglianbus website that Anglianbus will operate as Konectbus from Monday 20th November. This puts the final nail in the coffin of Anglianbus, who under the stewardship of Go Ahead have suffered one of the longest, tortuous, embarrassing and predictable deaths in the history of public transport.

A full post commemorating Anglianbus will follow in a few days, once I've got some research done regarding the early days. Lord only knows how Andrew Pursey and Dave Marshall are feeling tonight. It is a sad day that everyone has known was coming, but that doesn't make it any easier to take. Business as usual doesn't sound promising.

Monday 6 November 2017

A Little Taste Of Heaven Part One

I wonder how many of you remember the gentle qame show "Call My Bluff". It involved two teams of 3 well known people giving alternative definitions to obscure words, and the aim was to decipher which was the correct definition. More often than not the definitions would start with the phrase "Imagine, if you will..." before the viewer was transported to a world where the word was relevant.

Well if the word I had to describe was "Heaven", my definition would probably go something like this: Imagine, if you will, a Mecca of all things bus. A huge site, crammed with vehicles. It is a working bus depot, a bus dealership and a bus museum. There are happy, friendly staff, a boss who is clearly extremely popular, a couple of young women busy stripping a bus engine down, a mini open top bus the boss takes his kids to school in, and just to put the icing on the cake a high speed rail line running alongside. My guess is not many would believe that definition, but that is precisely what I experienced when I visited Ensignbus last week.

After reading my reviews of the two BCI buses that were loaned to First and Borderbus I was invited by Ross Newman, one of the owners of Ensignbus, to take a look round. Many notable names in the bus industry had told me it would be an experience I'd never forget, and they were right.

A mix of Ensignbus's working fleet.
The place is huge. Two storage yards for sold and purchased vehicles lie either side of the main complex, which apart from housing all the working fleet has two big workshops including one where body conversions take place, and a truly mouth watering warehouse full of heritage vehicles.

Ross met me in the impressively airy and relaxed office section, all the more surprising as the QE2 bridge had been closed all day and Ensign's services were in utter chaos. yet there was no sense of panic, just quiet competence in getting as much running as possible whilst fielding a barrage of phone calls. Hi-viz vest on it was time for the tour to start. Ross explained the basic organisation of the depot, including a dedicated place for drivers to park vehicles with reported defects, so engineering staff could sort them out asap without having to hunt for them. All the time staff were greeting us and smiling. We entered the main warehouse and the first thing I saw was a freshly converted ex Tower Transit Volvo B7tl Gemini still rather pleasingly showing what I presume to be the last route it operated.

Now an open topper former Tower Transit VNW32410 LK04 HXW
I'm pretty sure Ross told me it was going abroad, but I can't for the life of me remember where! That's possibly because I had spied what is known as MCW corner. My good friend at Stagecoach, Matthew Arnold, had told me what to expect and I'll admit I did rather swoon. A couple of posts ago I said if I could go on just one bus again it would be the Metropolitan Scania. Decades ahead of its time it gave an astonishingly smooth ride, and as Ross accurately said; "two gears - fast and very fast!" Just a shame the bodies corroded as quick as they drove! And there, in front of me was the country's only preserved Metropolitan Scania with a Class 6 licence - ie it can be used for anything anytime. Indeed last year it was in public service during the Tube strikes.

The 1976 Metropolitan Scania.
But that wasn't the only icon in MCW corner. A couple of Metrobuses, and another rare beast I remember well, a former Kentish Bus and Northumbria MCW Metroliner, that at one time was the bastion of National Express. Now an open topper, still in Northumbria livey I got the impression this was one of Ross's favourites - he spoke with pride about it as one would a child who has achieved something special.

MCW corner, with the Metroliner standing out proud
Next to the Metroliner was an absolute beast of an American bus. YYR 832 is an MCI MC9 Greyhound coach, like everything else in the warehouse in full working order. It has the most incredible door mechanism - total overkill - and apparently not a rattle on it! I should think not - it's built like a tank!

Not to be argued with - the MCI MC9 Greyhound coach
Next to that is an ex Southend Transport Astromega, again a familiar sight from my commuter coach days. It's wonderful to see these memories preserved for others to enjoy, and the fact they are all kept in full working order makes it even more special.

The ex Southend Transport Astromega
I will freely admit that I don't have much affection for vehicles I have no memory of. There are, of course, exceptions, one of which will be coming up in the next post, but as a rule not. I do know, though, that some of you will be swooning over these RT's as I was the Metropolitan, so just for you here is a rather handsome trio!

I believe these are pre war, so again very rare.
Of course no bus museum is complete without an Ollie, and this ex Bristol In Sight Olympian did the trick nicely.

Ex Bristol In Sight Olympian P757 SWC
I'm reliably informed the Newmans like to buy each other odd presents, and I'm pretty sure this is one of them - a 6 wheel drive, erm, thing! Not completely sure the orange light is totally necessary! I think you'd notice it coming..

A proper boy's toy!
And of course there were Routemasters. Lots of Routemasters of all shapes and sizes.

Just some of the RM's (and 1 RT) in the museum.
I should point out that I took all these photos on my own after I had finished the tour and Ross had given me total freedom of the depot to photograph what I wanted. "We have no secrets here", he said, which compared to some places I've been to down South knocked me for six a bit. The reason I didn't take any while being shown around was because we were talking. And then some. Ross is one of those instantly likeable blokes, extremely interesting and easy to talk to, and the passion for what he does shines through. Far too much for one post, but coming up in Part Two we'll see a bus once temporarily owned by Hitler, a mini Routemaster and an office view to die for!