In 2003 the first high specification double deck vehicles had arrived on the revamped 36 service as the 'Twindecks'. These new vehicles were presented as the ultimate in public transport luxury, with impressive credentials.
New features included the GPS powered tracking system, with additional route maps and next stop graphics. High backed leather seating with improved legroom in the upper saloon, cloth moquette seats in the lower saloon with the 36 logo sewn into the headrests, again with improved legroom. Each vehicle had photographs of key locations in Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon on the staircase and rear lower saloon panels. These new vehicles were officially launched at a public event in Harrogate in the spring of 2004, with a specially produced booklet, new timetable and a 36 mug! The £2.200,000 investment of the 12 vehicles, each costing around £180,000, was a gamble, which worked well. WrightsBus of Ballymena had worked very closely with Giles Fearnley and Blazefield, to produce what was then a bespoke idea for modern bus travel. The stand out livery designed by Samantha Beeley as illustrated by number 3611 above standing at Ripon bus station, was not only strikingly stunning but also a head turner.
After its first appointment at the 2003 Bus & Coach Show at Birmingham's NEC, 3601 entered into traffic on Monday October 27th 2003, on the 07:30 trip from Harrogate to Leeds, with David Alexander on hand to send 3601 off on her maiden voyage to Leeds. In Leeds Giles Fearnley was interviewed by BBC Look North (Yorkshire) Transport correspondent Alan Whitehouse, all about the luxury way to travel on the 36. In March 2004, 3602-3612 were delivered and entered into traffic, replacing the now established Volvo/Wrights saloon vehicles.
In 2004 the original 'Twindecks' were joined by one solitary Volvo Wrights Eclipse bodied saloon, with the single deck version of Samantha Beeley's livery, number 1800 depicted above on New Briggate, Leeds. 2006 brought in a leased Volvo B7TL with Wrights Gemini bodywork, number 3613, as the passenger numbers continued to grow. Former Lancashire United Volvo/Gemini 2765 arrived in Harrogate during early 2009, with its 'Lancashire Way' branding removed this bus was new in 2005. As mentioned in another blog on my current events page, 3601-12 and 2765 were to undergo a major refurbishment and re-build programme from late 2010 until early 2012, into the new 'City Connect' 36, with new logo, new off-side single seats in the upper saloon, all the seats were now in a tone red leather high back coach seat style. These provided the new personalized space travel concept and the now familiar Wi-Fi was introduced during 2014.
Raising the bar #Riding Redefined style
By late November 2015 the new Volvo B5TL chassis with new Wrights Gemini3 bodies were taking shape across the Irish sea, over in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Earlier in 2015 Transdev's newly appointed Chief Executive Officer Alex Hornby had joined forces with renowned bus design guru Ray Stenning, who is MD of Best Impressions, who have lately given fresh appeal to Winchester's Kings City Buses, various Trent Barton coloured coded routes, Reading Buses, Go-Ahead Oxford City Bus and the recently refreshed Transdev 662 The SHUTTLE service operated from Keighley.
Again it was the generous welcome from WrightsBus, who took up this challenge again to follow up the bespoke design of the new #Riding Redefined 36 'Twindeck' vehicles. Using the 2014 introduced Gemini3 square 'Stealth' look to the lighter weight bodywork, with some unique shallow upper deck windows and improved windscreen, affording drivers a better view of the road. This new shape/style of body was debuted at the 2014 Bus&Coach Expo at the NEC, with a Streetdeck in Arriva Sapphire livery and a pink liveried Volvo B5TL for Translink, Belfast. New vehicles to feature the new Gemini3 body are working with Go-Ahead Brighton&Hove, Oxford Bus Company, Metroline and Go-Ahead in London, Lothian and First Bus in Bristol, Worcester, Leicester and Rotherham.
For the Harrogate vehicles came the high specification requirement in order for the new #Riding Redefined 36 buses to really stand out from the crowd. In two firsts for UK buses doubled glazed windows and five skylights windows along the upper saloon roof, High backed individual coach seats with own tables along the upper saloon, quilted leather seats in the lower saloon all with much improved legroom. Superfast 4G Wi-Fi internet coverage on the whole fleet of fourteen vehicles, USB power sockets available at every seat, NRM style air-con system and opening windows and finished with wood effect flooring and wood ceiling panels, giving a light and airy feel to the whole bus.
Tilt test & factory visit
It was during the final 'Blast-off' launch of the 662 the SHUTTLE event in which the old adage of if you don't ask you don't get, applied. During a conversation with Alex Hornby, the subject of the new buses was brought up. I asked if it were possible for me to go over to Ballymena and see the new buses in build, this was agreed with one vital stipulation! None of the photographs could be made public (until after the bus had entered service), which was a fair and understandable request. After several e-mails, booked flights and permissions gained, I was off to Belfast and then Ballymena.
It was an early start to venture of to Ballymena, catching the 06:30 (Ray Stenning styled) Flying Tiger to Leeds/Bradford airport, after the now familiar security checks, it was time for a quick breakfast and then onto the Fly-Be plane. After Landing at Belfast City Airport, I was met by David my driver for the day, as we travelled to the Belfast Translink Falls Road bus depot, we chatted about plenty of stuff. Soon after leaving the car, putting the High Viz coat, I was introduced to both Liz and Colin, employees of WrightsBus. It was here that I had a really good look around AM664, which turned out to be 3616 BL65YYO of the #Riding Redefined fleet. I was struck at how much better the bus looked even with the vast majority of the seats having simulated weights on, which was beneficial to the tilt test. With the arrival of the vehicle tilt test inspector Richard, the bus was then tilted on the hydraulic ramp, the test was carried out on both sides of the bus, which was tilted to 28.6 degrees. Richard explained to me the variations of a good and critical tilt test, 3616 was a good tilt test even though one of the rear back wheels was off the ramp. Richard also took the time show just how a bus at 35 degrees could be easily toppled over. Translink employee John brought the bus down from each tilt and afterwards put all the straps and blocks away from the bus.
3616 is depicted out in the rear yard of the Translink depot, it was here that another vital test was carried out the horn test. The front panel was lowered so the horn could be heard, it was Richard who stood some 30 yards from the bus directly in front, as Colin sounded the horn, with a 94.6 decibels reading, the horn had passed the test. The one of the highlights of the day was a ride on 3616 to the WrightBus factory along the main motorway and A-roads of Northern Ireland, we even passed some First Bus Streetlite saloons heading for the mainland. As for the bus, it performed very well for the half hour or so trip to Ballymena, the engine was very happy at a constant 55mph along the main roads, in all a good run out, the lower deck seats were free of any weights, so it was on these myself and Liz travelled on.
At Wrights reception I was met by Derek Allen, who welcomed me to Wrightsbus, and after a spot of lunch and the safety briefing over it was time to start my guided tour of the factory, which was amazing. Buses start at on end of the factory and end as the finished product at the other end of a line. Streetlite, Streetdecks, Volvo B5TLs and of course the New Routemasters were in various stages of build. In the new customer sign off centre, myself and Derek had a good look around 3616, which looked visually stunning in this quiet zone, a nice chilled out area for the customer to relax, this part of the complex was just finished been built. The rear of the lower saloon was to have the addition of tables to from the chill out commuter zone, here the tables would have USB sockets. As we left the customer sign-off area, Derek took me around the paint shop, the bodyshop and the final finishing line, before vehicles were cleared for dispatch to the customer.
Before my visit ended, I was given some free gifts from Wrights, a model of an OK motors saloon, a very posh pen in a presentation pouch and a 2016 desk calendar, now in use! I have to say that everyone at WrightsBus on the day were very welcoming, and friendly, I can clearly see why Alex Hornby choose WrightsBus for the Harrogate 36 fleet of buses. Derek had to continue with his day as I was taken back to reception and David kindly drove me back to Belfast City centre and a well deserved cuppa.
Many thanks to John Hartley and Derek Allen for allowing me to visit the WrightsBus factory, thanks also to John and Translink for allowing me access to the depot and the tilt test, thanks also to Colin, Richard and Zoe. With thanks to Alex Hornby for starting the ball rolling for me to record the tilt test on December 9th 2015.
Arriving next the preview days and the first day in service for #Riding Redefined the 36.