Monday 4 December 2017

Ensign Running Day 2017 Part Two

If you haven't read Part One you can read it here.

At the end of Part One you left me at Bluewater having just alighted from a rather enjoyable Greenline liveried RT. I also had a phone with not much battery left, and many photos still to take so drastic action was needed. When I passed through Bluewater on MD60 I noticed Arriva Kent had got some new E400MMC's on the Medway - Bluewater 700 service advertising USB charging. Just what the doctor ordered so I decided to take a ride to Chatham and back to get the phone charged up before resuming the Running Day. There are some who really hate the new Arriva Sapphire livery, but from the front I don't think it looks that bad.

Arriva Kent 6517 entering Bluewater Bus Station
I honestly don't think that's too bad. However from the rear it's a different story..

Utterly hideous, and unblock those windows too!
At the start of Part One I said nothing rattled apart from one, and I would point that out when I came to it. Well look above and there it is. The newest bus was by far the worst of the day. To be fair it was great at speed on the A2 on a very smooth road. But run over a dead flea and you know all about it. Not only that but it was Dickensian Christmas in Rochester and the place was packed. It seemed as though Arriva had made no contingency plans whatsoever as passengers were complaining about waiting for up to 90 mins on what is only a 40 minute route. Simply not good enough on one of the busiest days for the route and it's this sort of lethargy and apparent lack of care that puts people off travelling by bus.

So let's leave the amateurish present in Kent, and return to the glorious past, where relief services were commonplace. I had a date with a DMS, but before that arrived I was treated to a couple of others in the fading light, allowing interior lights to take effect, and yes, MD60 by lucky chance was one of them!

Then the DMS arrived. I drove open and closed top DMS in London in the late 80's and thoroughly enjoyed them. I also wanted to finally meet the driver of this one, a certain Martijn Gilbert, CEO of the highly impressive Reading Buses. We have got to know each other on Twitter but this was our first face to face meeting. I am a fan of Reading Buses - and not just because Martijn shares my hatred of rattles. The are very forward thinking, and Martijn is the sort of boss who thinks nothing of turning up unannounced and mucking in with the night crew to clean and wash the buses. I like managers who see everyone as a crucial cog in the smooth operation of the business, regardless of their role.

So I decided I'd stick on the DMS until the end of the day, hitching a lift back to Purfleet. So I settled down on this good looking bus and prepared for the ride...

The DMS loading up at Bluewater
...For a whole 5 minutes until Martijn broke it! We got to the top of a hill near Greenhithe, promptly lost gears and that was that. Then the fun really started. Quite a few of us on board had experience of DMS's and with things like that normal procedure is to shut the bus down via the master switch, wait a few mins then try again, just like Sky boxes these days. However none of us could locate the switch. Everything that could be opened was opened (you won't believe how many carry T keys "just in case", me included), every nook and cranny having 4 mobile phone torches shone into, but nope, couldn't find a thing. DMS stood for Denied Master Switch! Eventually after much trial and error the DMS was declared a failure.

I know there's one in there somewhere!!!
This meant alternative arrangements had to be made to get back to Purfleet, so I jumped on a passing RT, as you do, RT 3251 as it turns out, and got chatting to the jovial Conductor, Tony Beard, who again seemed to live just for this one day a year. This led to me joining him on the platform (very much on inside bit) and the most enjoyable bus ride I have had in decades. Going through the Dartford Tunnel on the rear platform of an RT while chatting about the history of the crossing is something I won't forget for sometime.

Dartford Tunnel from rear window of an RT
I said about the Greenline RT in Part One that a bit more torque and a wheelchair bay and it would have serious potential. Well RT 3251 doesn't need the extra torque - it goes like a rocket! I then discovered who was driving, and the surreal aspect of the journey was complete. Driving was none other than Peter Newman, founder and Chairman of Ensign, who had flown in from CHINA the day before to be there to drive his favourite RT. I introduced myself at Lakeside, and he shook my hand like you would a friend you haven't seen for 25 years! He happily agreed to take me back to the yard so after a quick pic I jumped back on and we continued to Upminster, with Peter driving like a 10yo on a sugar rush driving a dodgem! For the first time in my life I fell in love with a bus older than myself that held no personal memories.

RT3251 at Lakeside
At Upminster the lights were turned off, Tony and I took a side seat each, and enjoyed a private journey on a special bus, driven by a legend of the industry. It just doesn't get any better and I only wish it had lasted a couple of hours. Back at the depot Peter continued to natter, denying any jet lag, before bidding me a friendly farewell.

I decided to wander around the shed as I had unfinished business with MD60. I had been asked by a Twitter follower for some interior shots, which obviously I couldn't do with passengers on. Unfortunately when I found her she was parked up in a dark corner and interior shots were impossible. Just then, though, a chap doing the shunting, putting the buses to bed pulled up in the RT I had just got off, and I asked if there was any chance of turning the interior lights on the MD. I hadn't finished the question before he finished it for me, gave a big grin, and said of course in a way that made me feel as though he was only there to serve my needs. Over we went, lights, camera, action and interior shots gained.

The interior of the MD
That, for me typified the day, and |Ensign overall. Nothing is too much trouble, enthusiasts are welcomed and embraced, and the sheer friendliness, happiness and contentment of those working at Ensign is overwhelming. It struck me today that if I have a regret in life it is that I didn't discover Ensign when I was driving. I have a feeling my life may have turned out very differently.

Time for bed as RT 3251 is reversed into her spot
If Santa is reading this then I could do with a book of superlatives as I have all but run out. An incredible day, with incredible buses and incredible people. Even had Ross messaging me yesterday to make sure I'd enjoyed myself. I'll tell you this - if all bus companies were run with as much dedication, enthusiasm, consideration and love, then Council bus subsidy cuts wouldn't be an issue, as they wouldn't be needed. Buses would be everyone's first choice. Thank you Peter, Steve, Ross and everyone I met and chatted to on a day I will take with me when I leave this world.

I promised a compilation video of what I took at various locations and here it is.

PS Just as I was about to leave the DMS arrived back on the back of the tow truck. Turned out to be a minor alternator problem, but we won't let that minor detail stop us from still blaming Martijn!

Ummmm someone broke the bus!!!


  1. Andrew Kleissner5 December 2017 at 16:59

    I keep thinking that that Regent V is a Southampton one c.1970! They had some well-nigh identical ones (also others with a different body style, which I preferred).

    Totally agree about the E400MMCs - I was on one the other night and the crashing and banging was simply shocking. All right, our Cardiff roads are bad and infested with speed bumps, but they are still just over 2 years old. I note that no more have been bought.

    Conversely on Monday what should turn up at my stop but a sparkling New Adventure Travel Citaro - for now, at least, rattle-free. It even smelt new and the proud driver said that this was in fact its first day in service. I don't know how its specs. compare with the Cardiff Bus variety (we rarely get the newest ones on our route).

    1. The citaro wasn't BG63 VVE by any chance, if so that was the one Ipswich had on trial rattle free - but their production examples were a pile of rubbish!

    2. Coudn't agree more, Charlie. I advised IB to invest in the Citaros after riding that demonstrator, and like you was really disappointed with the 3 that arrived.

    3. And the 3 that the following MD tried to cancel and got told on yer bike! Now we are plagued by Enviros tho Luckily, have avoided them so far on my rare jaunts into town.

    4. Andrew Kleissner8 December 2017 at 15:46

      Sorry, I've been away. There are at least two new NAT Citaros: BF67WGY/WHD, branded for route X1. Been on one today, very nice and not as grey as the Ipswich ones.

    5. See how they are in a few weeks, they'll be clattering like mad. Looks like the Citaro once again doesn't live up to the Mercedes reputation (or what reputation you might say)

  2. I'm always amazed by how much work must go in to the organisation of the Running Day. You've got to find twenty vehicles and probably thirty crews, then work out duties and allow for things going wrong. All this when you have got normal services to run and also do a rail replacement on the day as well.

  3. Sunday 24 December: Reading Buses will be running a special service over Green Line route 702 from Bracknell to London Victoria with a selection of heritage vehicles.