Since 1986 West Midlands bus services have seen plenty of changes, with a blue, silver and red livery as Travel West Midlands from 1987 until the advent of National Express. Who changed to white with blue and red, then white and red with National Express grey lines, finishing off with equal amounts of red and white with route branding.
Then in late 2014 came the announcement that a new two tone red livery would became the standard scheme, along with a new two tone grey livery for new Platinum services. This also saw the additional announcement that NXWM would purchase some 177 brand new ADL E400MMC and E200MMC vehicles for delivery throughout 2015.
Thus started the ball rolling for the next stage of the National Express West Midlands fleet, as older buses were being withdrawn in favour of new Euro6 emission vehicles. It all started in March 2015 when the first handful of new ADL E400MMC double deckers arrived at the NXWM Pensnett depot. Numbered in the 6100 series, to easily identify the new fleet of vehicles, with the first service up for MMC deployment was the 9 Birmingham to Stourbridge service. The first seven vehicles numbered 6101 Alana, 6102 Aman, 6103 Anisha, 6104 Bella-Lilly, 6105 Bethany, 6106 Bronwyn and 6107 Dakota, were given extensive route branding for the 9 with full rear end adverts.
Your author visited Birmingham on March 11th 2015 to have a look at these new vehicles and photograph them in service. With tickets booked on the 10:00am National Express service to Birmingham, the trip took only 2 hours and 30 minutes that's with the 50mph limit between Sheffield & Nottingham (24 miles!). With a quick lunch taken, it was of the Colmore Row to see what was what with the new look 9 service, the MMCs were mixing in with the various Alexander ALX400, Volvo Gemini/Eclipse vehicles around the area.
Seen above working the 9 service on March 11th is 6107 Dakota in the new NXWM red livery with lime green and yellow route branding for the route, entering Edmund street from Newhall Street. As ever the NXWM drivers were very polite as your author took pictures of the vehicle they were driving, which makes it an enjoyable experience to venture into the West Midlands. At this stage the side adverts were to be sorted out and placed into the boxes, as can be seen on the shot of 6107. Judging by the reviews on Twitter and other social media its seems that the new buses were going down a storm. The interior trim is very smart and neat with decent cloth covered seats and ample leg room for passengers, plus the now familiar use of Wi-Fi for those in need of a catch up on the web. The NXWM Wi-Fi is accessed by simply giving your E-Mail address and the number of the bus service in use and its play time.
The next route to gain the new two tone red E400MMCs was the now 24 hour 50 Birmingham to Druids Heath service, from Yardley Wood depot which happened in May 2015. This time the vehicles were given blue route branding with several rear end adverts, like the other MMCs these buses also have a girls name added. The 50 is a popular service taking around 29 minutes to reach either end of the route, with a 4 minute headway Monday to Friday, a five minute headway on Saturday and an eight minute headway on Sunday all during the daytime shopping/working hours.
Above 6127 shows off the full 50 service branding and side advert, looking very smart as it rounds Moor Street Queensway before returning to Druids Heath. Yet again the positive feed back on Twitter and other social media shows that NXWM have got this mix right, even with some timing issues, but lets face Birmingham is one busy city its bound to happen.
The next services to under go transformation is the very busy combined 900 Birmingham to Coventry and 957 Birmingham to Solihull, which was one of the first high spec Platinum services run from Birmingham Central depot. The 900 service the city Airport, National Exhibition Centre and then Coventry, taking around an hour and ten minutes for the whole one way trip. While the 957 takes in the pleasant surroundings of the Solihull town, which went your author visited on June 15th was still having the main High street redesigned.
The new Platinum vehicles are smartly turned out, as your author found out when boarding 6712 (babs) on the 957 to Solihull, with ticket purchased, I ventured upstairs getting a front seat which was lucky. The seats are smartly turned out with leather sides mixed with a grey and red cloth moquette, with a good thick base to sit on and a reasonable back and headrest. The trip to Solihull was pleasant enough, with plenty going on in the vehicle, stop announcements featuring a 'Jamie Theakston' sound alike. Next stop scrolling bar with a monitor showing all the CCTV cameras working in the bus. The ride quality was good, with smooth acceleration from stop/start and gradual braking. The Cummins 6.7litre ISBe Euro6 engine coupled to the 6 speed ZF Ecolife gearbox worked well as the bus delivered its credentials as the purpose built modern day driver/passenger bus. Production MMCs retain the top deck air blowers for the front windscreens and a full air cooling system, with plenty of opening windows too.
Above is illustrated the upper saloon forward of the long staircase, are the nicely spaced seats and the wood effect floor along the main central walkway, with a grey patterned floor underneath the seats. Coach style hand grips are mixed in with the bell push poles along the saloon, with roof coving adverts for both the 900 & 957 services giving various pieces of info about the services. The lower saloon has dedicated buggy and wheelchair zones with a reasonable amount of seats, including flip-up seats in the zones, which lead up to the staircase which for various reasons is rear assending and quite long. 6712's driver was polite and happy to give an opinion about the vehicle with favourable tones, which is nice to know that drivers are liking the new E400MMCs.
Then off into Solihull for a spot of lunch before making a return journey on 6711 (betty) back into Birmingham, which again was a smooth trip, as other Platinum buses ventured from Birmingham on the both the 900 and 957 services. For the record the ADL E400MMC is a modern day Olympian, with all the basic needs for the driver and refinements for the passenger, such as good seating, ample leg room, Wi-Fi and power sockets.
NXWM have got the mix right for the new look livery and using the MMC vehicles to fast track the new two tone red livery, which is now being repainted on several older ADL E400 buses, which looks very smart. But the new look doesn't stop there, as in July 2015 the next selection of vehicles station at Acocks Green depot are given massive push. Yes the new look ADL E200MMCs are being placed into service on the 37 Birmingham to Solihull service, via Acocks Green, which was the last depot to run the MCW Metrobuses in July 2010.
The 500 service operated for a number of years by Transdev in Keighley has to be the ultimate rural bus service in Yorkshire, with visits to the Bronte town of Haworth and the ramble over the Oxenhope moors, down to Hebden Bridge.
With the route finding many twisty and winding roads along the tops, with tight turns in Oxenhope, Transdev used to operate the route with Volvo B10BLEs and B7RLEs until 2014, when with the arrival of two new Wrights integral Streetlites, it was all change at the 500.
The Streetlite itself is a new vehicle, competing with the likes of the Optare Versa and Metrocity mid range saloons, but it is an integral vehicle, using as standard the 4.5 litre Cummins ISBe engine with a small 4 speed Voith gearbox, with engine option of the Daimler OM934, a 4 cylinder engine and since 2014 the micro hybrid version has became available. The Streetlite is made of two versions the Solo style Wheel Forward (WF) or the Door Forward (DF), the WF has as the name suggests the wheels forward of the door. This version has various lengths from 8.9metres to 9.5metres, with Euro5 and Euro6 diesel engines, the micro hybrid units and a selection currently with Arriva using inducted electric power boost. The DF version has 9.5 to 11.5metres lengths with the 11.5metre version marketed as the Streetlite MAX.
Transdev continue to look at the ever changing market with new vehicles now arriving into production, Harrogate have the latest Euro5 Mercedes powered Optare Versa saloons, working on the Harrogate Connect local services. Meanwhile over in Burnley the Optare Versa saloons were gradually being withdrawn, with the new 64 plate Streetlites being placed into service. Burnley also tried the Streetlite demonstrator vehicle before purchasing the new buses. Which were used in a smart two tone red livery, by March 2015 the buses (601-9) were branded for Burnley Connect and some even ventured to the Boundry Mill shopping hall near Colne, on the number 4.
Around the same time as the new Streetlites were settling into their roles over in Burnley, the Keighley Streetlites were getting to grips with the 500 Hebden bridge service, which as mentioned in the introduction is quiet a testing route. Your author photographed the Streetlites in early March 2015, as they were being placed into service. Both 610 and 611 were finding there feet, as I joined one Keighley driver on a trip in 610 from outside of Hebden Bridge, for a trip into Keighley, then returned to the moors for some late March evening photographs.
On June 30th 2015, your author had a longer turn on the new Streetlites. joining 611 at Haworth as it started from Keighley at 15:05. The trip to Hebden Bridge was pleasant and the Streetlite coped well with the twists in Haworth very well, it was on the Oxenhope loop that the drivers skills were put to test, with some extremely tight corners and parked cars all added to the journey. Thankfully after more twists and turns the Oxenhope moors were in view, passing 610 in the process, the moors section was long and with the sunshine out. It afforded passengers some fantastic views of the surroundings with Oxenhope behind and the barren but beautiful moorland stretched out in front. The small Cummins ISBe engine worked hard in this section of the route, but without the constant braking which was an unfortunate result of some tight corners in Oxenhope. As the journey continued 611 passed through the nice little village of Peckett Hall, which was surrounded by again some magnificent views. The Streetlites gearbox was again given some lower range testing, even when the bus also arrived in Hebden Bridge 611 was carefully and skillfully taken through some very tight conditions, due to yet more roadworks. With all this action going on before arriving in Hebden, the rounding off to the train station was mellow to say the least. With a few minutes pause in the station forecourt, it was time to grab a couple of shots and interior view (above) and rejoin 611 back for a return trip, which was less taxing for the driver, much to his relief possibly.
With more of the fantastic moorland views, your author swapped Streetlites for another trip out to Peckett Hall, which allowed time for a shot above of 610 passing the local pub. With the bus vanishing down the hill to Hebden Bridge, there was time for well deserved pint in the beer garden, another shot of 610 passing through Peckett Hall, then a nice late afternoon walk along the fine moors to catch-up with 611 on its final run to Keighley. The bus was the 18:10 departure from the Hebden railway station and it was a pleasant trip back to Oxenhope, just me and the driver enjoying the vistas of the moors. The Streetlites were worked hard on the very twisty turning parts of the route, with drivers making the job look easy, but one wonders how the Streetlite would perform with the 6 speed ZF ecolife gearbox instead of the Voith unit, especially on the hilly sections of the route.
Here are my personal views on bus activity in my area and beyond