Friday, 19 December 2014

Once again the Newman Family operated their now annual Ensignbus Vintage Bus Day, the 2014 event held on Saturday 6th December. Two regular routes were run the X55 and X81, along with a new addition in the shape of the X86. Generally the routes ran from 0900-1700 hours, with one or two exceptions before and afterwards.

Buses from their 'heritage' fleet were used most being halfcab members of the AEC stable, although there were one or two other types to provide some interesting contrasts.

Two splendid sets of images have been provided courtesy of Haydn Davies and Mark Lyons, to whom Focus Transport are very grateful. Mark's are identified by his name on the respective images, Haydn's being clear of such additions and are displayed below in route order.


This ran every 30-minutes from Upminster Station via Corbets Tey, Aveley, Lakeside, Greenhithe Station and Bluewater to Gravesend, West Street.

Illustrated here on the route is AEC Regent RLH 61, one of seventy-six supplied to London Transport between 1950 and 1952. The first twenty of the type were painted green for country area routes, and actually a diverted order from Midland General in 1950. A further fifty-six came later by 1952 in the red central area livery. All featured lowbridge Weymann bodywork and featured an offside sunken gangway on the upper deck. Generally these were used on routes restricted by low bridges.

The RT-class reached the dizzy heights of 4,825 units before production ceased, the last one appearing in 1954. The bus was the mainstay of the London fleet through the 1950 and 60s and into their final revenue-earning days during the 70s. Whilst the majority were produced post 2nd World War, the first 151 of the type were built in 1939, all with LPTB bodywork. 
Post war several bodybuilders were tasked to provide for the class, being Cravens, Park Royal, Saunders and Weymann.
RT 3251 here features the bodywork supplied by Weymann and is shown here as it departs from Lakeside  bound for Upminster Station.

One of the most splendid of preservation pieces in the Ensignbus 'heritage' fleet is this pre-war AEC Regent, fleet number RT 8. In comparison to the post war version hardly any of the pre-war versions survive and especially one in perfect working order. The bus was repainted complete with white window surrounds and white-tipped mudguards, all for blackout operation during the war. Another distinguishing feature of LPTB body design was the drooped driver's cab windscreen.

With a distinction between Central and Country areas defined by in part by livery, many of the RT-class were painted green for the latter. Although vehicle specifications were identical for both, the respective areas of operation were in the main distinctly different. The red area fleet operated predominantly high frequency routes through the more densely populated areas, whereas the green area was more of an 'open road' operation through large areas of countryside with townships of moderate population. Some of these though were of the 'new town' design, built post war to accommodate the growing population of London. 
Included within the green fleet were a number that sported Green Line livery and black on yellow blind displays for the Limited Stop '700' group of routes. Again though apart from the liveries, all interior design was identical. Both with bodywork from the Weymann factory, RT 3232 (upper) illustrates the 'Green Line' livery whilst RT 3251 (lower) shows off the central area's red livery. One other noticeable difference was the lack of advertising on the 'Green Line' operated buses, perhaps a method to distinguish between the two different types of route operation.

In addition to the AEC RT type, there were also the RTL and RTW class of buses built for London operation, both types with Leyland Titan chassis and mechanics. Looking reasonably identical with Park Royal bodywork RTL 453 was built in 1949 and sports a roof route number box and white upper deck window surrounds, to provide some variety to the basic red livery. Period dated advertisements from the 1940s to the 1960s is an additional feature on almost all of the Ensignbus fleet wherever pertinent.

But time time moves on and a new bus was required for London.

In 1959 after years of development the AEC Routemaster first appeared in regular service, when 74 buses were allocated to Poplar and West Ham Garages to replace trolleybuses under Stage IV of the trolleybus Conversion Plan. Designed by London Transport with assistance from AEC Ltd and Park Royal Vehicles Ltd, eventually 2760 assorted models entered revenue-earning service in London. 
The standard model was 27 foot 6 inches long and 8 foot wide, capable of seating 64 passengers, eight more than the standard RT type, but achieved with a similar weight limit. RM 1843 (above) is an example of this type. Note the period change in design of the advertisement for BOAC on this and the earlier RT 3251. 
RCL 2226 (below) though, was a longer 30 foot example, originally designed as a coach version along with the shorter RMC class. However, unlike the earlier Green Line liveried RTs, the RMC and RCL were fitted with doors and slightly more comfortable seats.


This ran every 30-minutes from Shenfield Station via Brentwood High Street, Brentwood Station, Great Warley, North Ockendon and Lakeside to Grays Bus Station.

With the need for increased numbers of the RT type, London Transport looked towards the Sheffield-based Cravens company, who eventually supplied 120 of their bodies on a batch numbered RT 1402-1521. The bodywork differs considerably from other producers, being more or less of the Cravens standard all-metal construction, modified to LTE's requirements as regards appearance and finish. Most noticeable was the seven upper and five lower bay windows as opposed to the respective six and four of other RT types. The front upper deck is squarer and there is curve to the back of the upper body. RT 1431 (upper) and RT 1499 (below) illustrate the respective red and green liveries applied. Another contrast is that provided by a lack of advertisements on the former, with fine period-style examples on the latter, Ensignbus's self promoting version being a particularly clever addition.

Another version of the Routemaster is RML 2588 a 30-foot 72-seater version of the standard design. The insertion of a half-bay in the centre of the bus provides the additional eight seats. Two batches of this length were produced, the first in 1961/2 was an experimental batch of twenty-four as RML 880-903. Upon production some of the earlier buses were classified with ER fleet numbers, although this was never proceeded with.
A later and larger batch began to be delivered in 1965 at RML 2261-2760 in either red or green liveries for both red Central and green Country operations.

Possibly one of the highlights for many on the day, was the re-appearance of MD 60. This was once one of the 164-strong fleet of Metro-Scania Metropolitans supplied to London Buses between 1975 and 1977. This bus was a combination of Scania-Vabis running units and MCW bodywork and all 164 operated out of garages in South London. 
Sadly reliability and corrosion issues took their toll and the fleet had a short life within the London operations. This was regrettable as they proved popular with passengers, so it was with great delight for many that this fine example of the type returned during 2014.
Looking absolutely resplendent the perfectly painted bodywork, gleams in the winter sunshine, as the bus passes through Great Warley on the X81 bound for Grays.

The natural progression from the MD-class visually appears to have been the M-class MCW produced Metrobus.

Having been impressed by the MD type apart that is from the corrosion issues, In the late 1970s London Transport required large numbers of new buses to replace less efficient and reliable types. Having been impressed by the MD type, apart that is from the corrosion issues, LT embarked on the acquisition of the MCW Metrobus, along with a smaller fleet of Leyland Titans also in build at the same time. The first five production models appeared in 1978-9 and were originally classified as MTs. However, and perhaps this is lost in the mists of time, someone took one look at that classification and thought, perhaps not. MT buses was not something to be bandied about in conversation, so the T was dropped and they became the plain and simple M class. The first one M1 is illustrated passing through sylvan surroundings of the Essex countryside.

And now for something quite different on the X81. Ensignbus have not been confined to acquiring just London centric buses and coaches for their 'heritage' fleet. One fine example is this former Leeds City Transport Roe bodied Leyland PD3 built in 1959. Here it makes a fine contrast amongst all the red buses on duty and appeared to be a popular mode of transport on the day.
Unsure though whether the upper deck front nearside passenger was shielding his eyes from the low winter sunshine, or waving a greeting to the phalanx of photographers on the approach to the Lakeside Shopping complex.


Introduced new this year, the route ran every 30-minutes from Brentwood High Street via London Road, Nag's Head Lane and Hall Lane to Upminster Station.

What better way to end this seasonal feature, than with a couple of absolute 'crackers'

Making a surprise appearance was this former St.Helens Corporation AEC Swift with Marshall dual-door bodywork built in 1971. Fleet number 248 is privately owned but is now being looked after by Ensignbus and is shown here complete with driver and conductor as it passes along Nags Head Lane in Brentwood. Watch out for another interesting acquisition though from the same area, when it appears in due course.

And finally. We started, so we'll finish with it. T 499 a LPTB bodied AEC Regal from 1938, made its 'heritage' debut at the 2013 pre-Christmas running day but in quite a different guise. Then it appeared in an allover grey livery as it depicted the time during the 2nd World War, when several of the type were requisitioned as ambulances for the United States forces. 
However, by the 2014 event it had been restored to this fine Green Line livery, and was sort of back to its roots (or should that be routes), the signboard on the sides above the windows showing that the type once operated over the local Essex route Z from Grays to London. Hall Lane in Harold Wood played host to the coach as it conveyed a full loading of passengers between Brentwood and Upminster Station. 

Watch for news of the 2015 event when we become aware of the date and details during next year.


Wednesday, 19 November 2014


Ken Jones has been on his travels again, visiting more private light railways.

The Moseley Railway Trust 
Located at Apedale in Staffordshire The Moseley Railway Trust has an historic collection of industrial narrow gauge locomotives and artefacts.It became established in 2006 at Apedale but can trace its roots back to 1969 as a railway society at Moselely Hall Grammar School for boys in Cheadle Cheshire. It has 4 steam locomotives and numerous narrow gauge diesels.
Picture 1 below This is Kerr Stuart & Co Ltd 0-6-0WT + TOC known as "Joffre" or "Decauville" class locomotive and was built in 1916. It was ordered by the French Commission for their artillery railways and was delivered new to Nantes. Kerr Stuart built 70 of these locomotives of this type in Stoke on Trent. It was repatriated to the UK in 1974. Following a chequered history in preservation it joined the Moseley collection in 1998 and restoration was completed in 2011. A problem with a cylinder has seen it out of use for much of the last 2 years and a new cylinder has been cast.
Picture 2 below This is Kerr Stuart & Co Ltd 0-4-0STOC known as "Tattoo" class and date from 1917. Used by civil engineers / contractors Holloway Brothers up until 1930 when it was bought by Durham County Water Board for use on the Burnhope Reservoir contract. Six "Tattoo" locomotives were used on this project and all were given names after local villages such as Stanhope, which the locomotive has carried ever since. In the 1990s the locomotive was in parts and these were sold separately to various bodies. In 1999 they had all been reunited and restoration completed. It moved to Apedale in 2010. Behind the locomotive is the large War Department Light Railways water tank wagon, used originally to supply water to front line positions in WW1

Apedale Valley Light Railway
This is a 2 ft gauge line in the Apedale Valley Country Park at Chesterton in Staffordshire, next to the Apedale Heritage Centre and the Moseley Railway Collection whose locomotives and stock are used on the short running line.
Picture 1 below is Hudson Brakevan NGB 8502 [works number 200870059]. This brakevan and two similar ones were built by Hudson Raletrux [immediate successors to Robert Hudson Ltd] at their Ilkeston works in 1991 for the British army's Chilmark ordnance depot in Wilshire. it is likely that this was one of the last carriages built under the Hudson brand in the UK.
Picture 2 below is Baguley Drewry 4WDH of 1982. It has Brockhouse transmission - no clutch or gears. It was built as a 30 inch gauge locomotive for the RN armament depot at Trecwmn in South Wales. It entered preservation in 2009 and was regauged at the Statfold Barn Railway and arrived at Apedale in 2010.

The Shipley Glen Tramway [West Yorkshire]
The Tramway has a gauge of 20" and there are two tracks with a tramcar on each line. The maximum gradient is 1 in 7. Opened to the public on May 18th 1895, the Tramway was powered by a Suction Gas Engine, then Town Gas and then Oil (1915) before being converted to electric in 1928. The operator was a Sam Wilson who erected several other rides on the Glen.
After a short closure, the line reopened in summer 1969 and continued until early 1981 when a right-of-way dispute prevented operations. The Tramway was saved by members of the Bradford Trolleybus Association with the financial assistance of Bradford Council. Operation then continued under the stewardship of Mick Leak, and his family and volunteer supporters.
Today it is under the care of the Trustees of the limited preservation company and is staffed solely by volunteers.
The two pictures show the new trams which date from 2011. There is a small museum at the bottom of the tramway.
Above The blue tram in service
and below 
the red tram at the bottom station


Friday, 7 November 2014


The opportunity of a return visit to the Meditteranean islands of Malta and Gozo was not a hard a decision to make, thus Mrs.W and I did just that during October 2014. 

We had first visited the islands back in March 2011, a few months prior to the end of the 'vintage' years of bus operation. A selection of images from that period can still be viewed in the archives of the Focus Transport site if you click here. Whilst there was still something of interest on the stage service front to capture with the Box Brownie, we also took the opportunity to take in some of the touristy sights from the open top decks of the various Tour buses.

First though a little bit of history.  Back in 1993 two companies Cancu Supreme and Garden of Eden each imported three double-decker buses from the United Kingdom as open-toppers. However, Government policy and administrative red tape prevented any such operations until after many legal battles, a ten year contract was awarded to Cancu Supreme. This allowed them to operate two routes, a North/Blue and a South/Red Tour. More buses were then acquired from United Kingdom sources and the South Tour began in July 2007, followed by the North Tour in January 2008.
Later that year Garden of Eden won its own battle and were able to join in on the Tourist Trail with their own versions of the North and South Tours.
And the rest as they say, is history.

Since our visit back in 2011 much has occurred on the bus front, details of which have been widely reported in other more informed publications. Indeed the islands await the arrival of yet another operator to take on the bus routes.

But in the meantime herewith a snapshot of the open top network as of 2014.


Almost all of the Tours are run as either City Sightseeing or Malta Sightseeing. The vehicles for these are sourced from a number of operators and range in age from circa 1965 to 2011. The oldest observed in service an AEC Routemaster, the youngest, various purpose built open top King Long double-deckers acquired new from 2011.

The offside of the Routemaster is shown as it circumnavigates the roundabout at the top of Triq Girolamo Cassar with the Castille as a backdrop; the nearside as the bus departs from the stop again with the Castille in the background. 
With the United Kingdom registration FPT 588C this bus had originally provided stirling stage service in North East England on routes between Newcastle and Durham in closed top form as fleet number 3102. 
In 1978 it was retired from front line stage service and passed through several owners hands including in order Ensign, Brakell, Obsolete Fleet and Brakell until in 1992 it was acquired by the Big Bus Company and used on their own Round London Sightseeing Tours. Eventually it was shipped over to Malta and continues to provide daily service during the tourist season.

Next up with a London connection a trio of Leyland Titans originally operated by London Buses from the 1980s.

Operated for Malta Sightseeing by Supreme Travel based in Zejtun, they are colour coded (sort of), for the respective tours of the island. At the top what was fleet number T811 sports the blue and white livery for the North Tour, in the middle T1056 liveried red and white for the South Tour, and finally at the bottom T720 a little confusingly in a green and white livery, but written up for the South Tour. It had previously operated over on the island of Gozo in the green. The two nearside images are taken as the buses pass through Ghadira Bay/Mellieha Bay on the Shuttle/connecting services that provide links from the north end of Malta to the main departure/arrival point for all tours at Sliema. An offside aspect is illustrated in Valletta with the impressive Phoenicia Hotel as a backdrop. 
All three had operated on bus routes around South and South East London until the late 1990s, when retired from front line revenue-earning service.

Continuing the London connection two images of former Go-Ahead Group London General subsidiary, low-floor Plaxton President bodied Dennis Tridents.

The nearside aspect of what was fleet number PDL28 heads through Ghadira Bay with the Red Tower as a backdrop around 9.00am on the North Shuttle down to Sliema. Then the offside of a sister vehicle PDL19 as it stands outside one of the main hotels in Mellieha awaiting passengers. Behind one can make out another group waiting patiently (!) for stage service buses to Bugibba, Sliema and Valletta.

Away from the London connections and to other buses sourced from mainland United Kingdom.

From two slightly different angles and in differing surroundings. One of three Alexander bodied Volvo B10M originally supplied in 1989 to Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive as their fleet number AH53. The upper taken from the top of the Maritim Antonine Hotel in the previous image, the lower at speed through Ghadira Bay, both with healthy loadings on the North Shuttle service. 

From a G-prefixed Volvo to a Y-suffixed MCW Metrobus.

Like the Routemaster, unique on Malta is a Mark II MCW Metrobus operated by Oasis Tours based up at St.Paul's Bay nearby to Bugibba. Previously one of a large number operated by the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive from the early 1980s, what was number 2592 circumnavigates the roundabout with the Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta as a backdrop. The road to the right of the image is one of the main entrance/exits to the main bus station.

Bit of a difficult one to initially identify.

After some serious attention with the hacksaw this former Maidstone & District Leyland Olympian sports Northern Counties bodywork. Later it passed to Arriva's operation in Southend before it ventured to warmer climes in the Med. Now operated by Garden of Eden on the City Sightseeing franchise, the offside is shown at the busy town of Sliema across Marsamxett Harbour from Valletta. The nearside as it approaches the stop on Triq Girolamo Cassar.

Now for something a little different.

Two images to illustrate the off and nearsides of another unique vehicle and probably the only converted single-decker on Malta. This Berkhof bodied Dennis Javelin began its working career in 1991 as a touring coach with Mayne of Buckie in Scotland. Thus a far cry from its origins in more ways than one, and with roof removed, the coach now plies its trade with Island Sightseeing on the City Sightseeing franchise. 
Somewhat confusing though it displays information for both the North and South tours as it passes through Valletta.

The final second-hand acquisition from the United Kingdom.

Quite a departure from most open toppers seen before, was the appearance during the early to mid-2000s of the Volvo B7TL chassis with purpose built open topper Ayats Bravo bodywork. Originally registered EU04 CZR it was supplied to Guide Friday at Stratford-on-Avon for Bard-based tours in that town and surroundings. However, in April 2011 it was acquired by Island Sightseeing and is here on the Shuttle service at Ghadira Bay.

And so on to the buses supplied new to operators on the island.

Between 2009 and 2011 nine Scanias with purpose built Optare Visionaire bodywork were gradually introduced onto the tourist trail network of tours. Eight are in the respective blue and red liveries for the Malta Sightseeing North and South Tours on Malta. The ninth is in green for operation on the island of Gozo. One each of the blue and red liveried buses are shown here in Valletta both carrying maximum loadings on the top decks, and illustrate the popularity of the tours.

Nearsides are shown with a blue one on the shuttle service at Ghadira Bay gathering passengers on way south to Sliema, whilst the other on the Red Tour pauses on the dockside at Marsaxlokk Harbour.

The Chinese Connection

Whilst the main bus stage services have been operated since 2011 with a host of Chinese built King Long single-deckers, August 2011 saw the arrival of six purpose built King Long open top double-deckers, two for Malta and six for operation on Gozo. The two on Malta are operated on the City Sightseeing franchise by Oasis Tours with prominent advertising. One is for Meditteranao/Super Gold jewellers, the other as illustrated for Mdina Glass.

From the top deck

A couple of views from the top deck of a Scania/Optare Visionaire on the South Tour, looking across the Grand Harbour in Valletta, at some of the visiting seafarers.

Malta Sightseeing North/Blue and South/Red Hop On Hop Off Tours operate every 30-minutes as does the City Sightseeing South/Red Route. However, the latter's North/Blue Route is combined with a central/Violet Route to provide a mostly 30-minute headway, but 60-minutes for the extended North element. Hope you are keeping up. If not let us now go to Gozo.

A short trip across the waters from the north side of Malta at Cirkewwa and one arrives on the quaint island of Gozo at Mgarr Harbour.

Docking one can observe the presence of the tour bus fleet assigned to the island, in the shape of a King Long open topper on the quayside.

Four King Long open toppers are operated by Lepeirks Travel based in the island's main township of Victoria, one shown on the quayside at Mgarr, the other in the aforementioned town. All are operated for Gozo Sightseeing in the green and white livery on behalf of Supreme Travel based on Malta.

Staying a while in Victoria.

Four further King Long open toppers are operated by the Gozo Joy Rides company of Victoria on the City Sightseeing franchise and all sport the red livery. Here one illustrates the narrow streets these vehicles have to contend with, and how close up and personal they are at times with the population, as they dine on the pavements outside the various restaurants and food outlets.

These Hop On Hop Off tourist tours are each run at 45-minute intervals between 0940 and 1740-hours

The Old Guard.

However, our preferred mode of transport on the Gozo Tour was this splendid 36-year old Eastern Coachworks bodied Leyland Fleetline, also operated by Lepeirks Travel. It is one of three previously operated by Thamesdown Transport of Swindon as their fleet numbers 191-193. 
We boarded at the ferry terminal and spent the next 2-hours and 25-minutes on a trip around the island's sights until we reached Victoria. On the way we paused at various locations for short breaks, including the one here at Calypso Cave.
Refreshing in Victoria and with tours every 45-minutes we later caught one of the King Long double-deckers for the short 15-minute ride back to the ferry terminal. Of the two buses ridden upon, I leave it to the imagination of the reader to guess which was the more interesting and indeed comfortable.

Despite their years of service the Daimler Fleetline, the Leyland Titan and the AEC Routemaster continue to provide stirling service on the tourist trail and come highly recommended.
And here is where we came in.


But not quite.

Two sets of images that illustrate the current bus and coach scene, can now be viewed on the new Focus Flickr site if you click here and here