Tuesday 26 December 2017

Vintage Christmas Part 2 - All The Best Plans....

Christmas Eve was a funny old day. It started very early, with a 93 mile drive from chez Steve to Ensign's depot in Purfleet. Those magnificent men in their vintage machines were supplying 2 vehicles for the Greenline 702 Running Day. This running day had been pretty hastily arranged due a strange anomaly and was in aid of charity.

On 27th December Reading Buses take over from First Berkshire in the operation of the Bracknell - Windsor - Slough - London Greenline 702. However First ceased operation on the 23rd December, leaving the 24th without an official operator. So the inspirational Martijn Gilbert, CEO of Reading Buses called a few mates to see if they'd like to bring their buses out for the day on the route. The idea got a big thumbs up, and so Sunday saw a plethora of buses on the 702. Some with links to the route, others not.

My plan was to meet up with Ross Newman at Ensign, who was booked to drive Greenline liveried RT3232 and who had invited me along. However, with Ensign's hectic Christmas schedule Ross quite rightly decided to put family first. No worries, I was still able to travel up on the RT and back on Ensign's magnificent ex Southend Transport Van Hool Astromega. So I arrived at Ensign at 0730 only to discover the RT had departed at 0700, an hour earlier than Ross intended to. That meant my plan to stay with the RT to Slough then catch one of the Scania Omnilink tri axles Reading Buses have acquired for the route back to London was well and truly scuppered.

So I was forced to wait for the Astromega to leave. I know I know, sheer torture but you have to take the rough with the smooth. While I was waiting a Private Hire driver turned up to take one of the BCI Enterprises out. I've yet to meet an unfriendly person at Ensign, so a good chat about the Enterprise ensued, and a photo opportunity.

The Enterprise being prepared.

Incidentally just to the right of the Enterprise was a sight that I doubt could be replicated anywhere in the world. If anyone knows different then I'll be happy to be corrected. Back to the 1950's anyone?

No words needed
Then entering stage left came a chap with a big smile and just as big handshake. Glyn Matthews, who was already bringing me back, discovered he was taking me there too. I got my first look inside the Astromega, and I'm pretty sure it was my first ever look inside one. I grew up with Olympian coaches, but pretty sure I never experienced an Astromega. I missed out.

The Astreomega prior to departure
The lower deck of the Astromega
To say the seats are comfy is an understatement. I started downstairs but soon realised this needed a proper ride test and went upstairs. The obvious comparision was with modern tri axle coaches, and at a stunted 13"1 the obvious comparison was with my adored Plaxton Interdecks used by Megabus. Quite simply I couldn't split the ride quality, but the Astro nicked it on seat comfort. That led to a conundrum - was the Astro decades ahead of its time, or has there been little progress in comfort and ride quality of tri axle coaches over the last 35 years? Yes obviously there have been improvements in fuel economy emissions, accessibility etc, but your average passenger isn't going to notice that - indeed as the Running Day was incorporating the regular service we picked up regular passengers. One chap boarded at Hammersmith and asked if we had USB chargers on board. They woudn't look out of place. Why are 35yo seats more comfortable? Is that progress. Anyway we arrived at The Collonades in Victoria and immediately got the chance to get the picture to go with the comparison. A trio of tri-axle triumphs with the Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite Interdeck, and the latest Van Hool decker passing the trailblazer.

Nice line up
It was at this point I realised Glyn, apart from being a nice bloke and good driver, was also an avid bus enthusiast. I watched him scurrying from place to place taking pictures of everything that moved, including every single Levante that passed through. I was later to discover Glyn's knowledge is truly extensive, and he could even discuss the old Boro'line fleet with me, fleet numbers and all.

We left Victoria with an old Greenline relic. RF226 looked really good, and I know carried quite a few distinguished passengers. We played leapfrog along the route, and as extensive journey times had been given, there were plenty of photo opportunities, although to my shame I appear to have concentrated on the Astro!

The RF at Victoria Collonades

The Astromega at Kensington High St
Some photos just beg to be taken, and when Glyn pointed out the shop we were parked outside this one just had to be captured. Luvvly Jubbly!

Kensington becomes Peckham!
The amended plan ws to jump ship at Hammersmith, then catch a vintage Leyland National back to Victoria. However, 500 yds from Hammersmith we passed it running seemingly empty. Glyn has a truly impressive turn of speed when it comes to stopping a monster bus safely, grabbing his camera and getting a perfect picture! Even better he's sent it to me to use!

Alder Valley now Kennetbus Leyland National KPA 369P        pic (c) Glyn Matthew
Glyn also managed to get a better picture of the Scania Omnilink tri-axle I had intended to catch. Ex Stagecoach Scotland, Reading Buses have acquired three of them.

Scania Omnlilink SP57 CMJ           pic (c) Glyn Matthews
 So onto plan C, which was to stay onto Windsor, then return to Slough for lunch and a little GWR spotting before catching Glyn on his return journey. Windsor was heaving with enthusiasts, but there was a chance to get a picture of the RT I should have started on, with the Astro behind.

RT3232 and the Astro at Windsor Parish Church
I decided to catch a local First Berkshire service bus back to Sough to give me more time, so jumped on a number 8, a rather nice 57 plate Mercedes Citaro. Quiet, few rattles and smooth. So nice, in fact, I didn't pay much attention to where we were going until it dawned on me that I recognised nothing, until I saw a signpost to Runnymeade which set off all kinds of alarm bells. A quick check of the online timetable and yes, your experienced, intrepid blogger had got on the wrong bus. I was actually heading for Heathrow. So I got off God knows where, and waited the 20 minutes for the bus back to Windsor, while phoning Glyn to ask him not to leave Windsor without me and to stop laughing! It was 15 mins late, and to punish me even further was a Volvo 7900, by far and away the worst bus ever to leave the Volvo factory.

They look good but really aren't!!
Sharp eyed observers will notice how clearly Slough rail station is displayed. I'm not in that club!

Just before we left Windsor one of the buses I wanted to see rolled in. Reading Buses have utilised 2 of their own Enviro E400's for the route, and due to a mechanical problem on one of the planned buses one of them was pressed into action on the Windsor - Bracknell shuttle. Now I'm not a fan of green, and certainly not a fan of E400's, but my word this livery is dazzling. It was a very dull day so the picture does not do it justice. I intend to ride the 702 to try out the various vehicles in the coming weeks and I'm actually looking forward to riding this one! I've just noticed the registration. Very clever!

Reading Buses E400 GO11 LDN

And that was just about it. A return journey to London on the Astro, with noticeably more traffic, and a smooth journey back to Purfleet. I did very little of what I actually wanted to do, some not my fault, others definitely down to my dimness! But you know - it didn't matter. I had made two new friends, one with 8 wheels, the astonishingly good Astromega, and one with two legs, Glyn. I sincerely hope I get to ride his taxi again. Thanks, Glyn, it was a great day and I'm looking forward to the next one. Thanks to Ross Newman for letting me travel on Ensign's buses and using the yard as a base, and well done and thanks to Martijn Gilbert for organising the day, and I wish Reading Buses all success with the 702. And thanks to those lovely people coming up to me in places I never expected complimenting the blog. Really appreciated. Incidentally the last bus from Victoria to Windsor and Bracknell, going onto Reading was OPEN TOP RmC 1510. I know it's been a mild Christmas in the South but that must have been a bit parky upstairs! Adam Green Tweeted this picture to the official Greenline Twitter team, who retweeted it, so I hope Adam doesn't mind me using it!

RMC 1510 at Victoria on the last trip to Bracknell.     pic Adam Green

One last pic of the Astro, back at base, getting a well deserved feed before being put to bed. See you for the Rochester event on 30th, and in that post I'll reveal what I got for Christmas!!

Night night everyone


  1. A fantastic write-up of a day I'm sad I missed.
    What are your issues with the Volvo 7900?

    1. Blimey Lewis where do I start! Firstly most of the seats are uncomfortable, even on the First ones. The electric engine is a gimmick, and by time the diesel engine comes in you've lost most of the momentum anyway. It rattles like a bitch, the engine vibrates and the suspension is poor. Does look good from the outside though!

    2. Very interesting - I went on them when new and loved them so they've obviously deteriorated fairly drastically. Newer Volvo hybrids (Euro 6) drive much better than the E5 ones and don't vibrate as much.
      The trouble I have is that I want more variety in our buses, so I want to like things like the Volvo 7900 and the Irizar i3 before I've even been on one, just because they're new and different.
      I have far less experience than you when it comes to buses (don't really remember much before 2008), so it's very interesting hearing someone who travelled in the days of Olympians commenting on modern products.