Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Go Away from Northumberland Park

Another loss at Northumberland Park (NP) garage has seen route 257 move over to Stagecoach London operation under Leyton (T) garage.

Stagecoach London 10179 (SN63 JWF) on route 257
Northumberland Park (NP) have been having a hard time recently, whilst most other Go Ahead London garages have been celebrating their wins, Northumberland Park were drowning their sorrows, losing their W network presence in Walthamstow and route 259 both in March earlier this year!

The route is unique in the fact it takes an indirect routing between its two bus stations, Walthamstow Central & Stratford, running via Leytonstone and Whipps Cross Hospital, routes 69 (if it actually turns up) and 97 being the two to provide the more direct and quicker travel between these two areas, although definitely prove to be a much more boring ride in comparison!

The route has seen the inside of many garages during its young life, but for the last five years its stayed put at Northumberland Park (NP) garage, well until now. Funnily enough, when Go Ahead London first won the route back in 2012, it was originally proposed to be going to now closed Rainham (BE) garage. However following the sell of Northumberland Park from First London to Go Ahead London, its was decided to base 257 there, miles closer to the route to say the least.

As demonstrated by the picture below, the route was allocated some Wright Gemini 1 bodied Volvo B7TL which were made free from Putney (AF) garage. Were they any good? Well that depends on really who you ask or what bus you got. To me personally, I never did really like the majority of the 05-reg WVLs, they were like the Wright versions of Edmonton (EC) VLAs, slow and always roaring. However there was a glimmer of hope for the B7TL lover, the 52/03-reg. Ah many fond memories of these buses on the closer to home route 191. These lot didn't roar and could actually accelerate faster then a LT, zooming around the back streets of Edmonton, Ponders End, Carterhatch and Brimsdown always an honour on board these beautiful creations.

London General WVL192 (LX05 EZZ) on route 257

However the Golden days must all come to an end, and in this case it did on the 9th of February 2017, the day 257 tender came out announcing Stagecoach had regained the route after 5 years apart. The engineers now taking this as the news that maintenance was to become to the ENs standards, rock bottom. What ever disease the 05-reg had now passed onto the 52/03-reg, the cooling fan now continually on even in the coldest of nights. Don't mistake the cooling fan for the enchanting ones found on Barking (DX) VLAs, no these had the single fan that could deafen a whole town in minutes, and keep you up during the night... Not only that, but the acceleration I once adored and fell in love with was now killed and replaced by something out of a horror movie!

October had eventually arrived and Go Ahead were getting prepared to wrap up their stint on the route and hand over back to Stagecoach London. Some drivers were getting ready to say farewell to Northumberland Park altogether as some joined the 257 in Leyton, whilst others made them selves known to the other routes Northumberland Park houses, although I don't think the last Go Ahead London bus towards Walthamstow Central breaking down was part of the plan!

After the rather sudden stop of Go Ahead London operation in the early hours of the 14th of October, Stagecoach were now back on the scene using some existing Euro 5 Enviro 400s from Rainham (RM) and Barking (BK) along with a top up of seven brand new Enviro 400MMCs on the E40H engine & chassis. Being free on the day of the changeover I decided to try out the route under its new home at Leyton (T) garage to see how the change of face was looking.

Arriving at the rather deserted Walthamstow Bus Station after a rather annoying 230 journey, where a passenger was shouting rather obscene language to anybody he saw, I was greeted with two 257s on stand, 10163 (EU62 ADZ) with its rear blind refusing to acknowledge it was not on route 252, and the stunning looking 12431 (YX67 VBJ), I decided to go for the latter as I had already experienced the ex Rainham (RM) Enviros on the wonderful routes known as 287 & 372.

We swung out of the bus station early in the morning, quite literately with my driver having a heavy foot over the accelerator pedal and in no time we were speeding along Hoe Street, yes its possible!

Having left the streets of Walthamstow, we were now on the streets of home, slowing down through the home turf taking in the surroundings of the route new patch in London, which has much more to look at then Northumberland Park. The traffic on Lea Bridge Road did put a dent to our fast paced progress but soon we were greeted by the enormous Whipps Cross Roundabout where both 20 & 257 go into their own forests and the rest give up or head for refuge into Whipps Cross Hospital.

Our speed was back up, even higher then it was before! The trees surrounding us trying to protect the magnificent view of Hollow Pond getting a beating from the state of the art creature battling through.
Not quite Rural Britain here:
Stagecoach London 12429 (YX67 VBF) on route 257

Soon a famous sight, well if your a bus (or film) enthusiast, greets you as you pass Sir Alfred Hitchcock Hotel where the last Walthamstow Central bound 257 (WVL194) under the Go Ahead London rule passed away after its life of abuse at Northumberland Park. However we didn't ponder on the events hours earlier and we soon found our selves in the hustle and bustle of Leytonstone.

Going towards Stratford means taking the back roads, which was a tight squeeze for a bus of our size, however a bit of patience and expertise driving finds you outside Leytonstone station where a resting 66 & 145 don't make a drivers life easier forcing you to squeeze through.   

After some more tight turns and squeezing through, the patience and expertise behind the wheel is rewarded with a more straight on approach sticking to Leytonstone High Road for quite a while, even passing a train station named after it, although nothing does come free so a fee has to be paid. Speed for the steering wheel is paid but the comfort provided by the lazzerini seats engulfs you so no need to ponder on whether it was worth the price.

Soon a sight brings you up to date telling the driver and yourself only a little bit more time before the bus station comes to sight with the dark blue TfL Rail roundel and station livery of Maryland meets the eyes. The roads start to become more narrow and the bus stops more crowded but the reward at the end of the route being worth it as we struggled through helping (doing the work really) the 69 to Stratford Library where you can almost sense the end.

Stagecoach London 10173 (SN63 JVY) on route 257
Stratford got an odd layout in terms of its roads meaning not all the bus service in each direction will actually serve the (main) bus station which is rather odd in its self, however a restructure in the roads in the area should almost completely fix that. I say almost as some routes, such as 69 will still not serve Stratford bus station towards Canning Town for a reason I'm sure TfL think is 'logical'.

After effectively drawing a semi circle around Statford, the ends comes into sight with a army of other Stagecoach London buses having a rest from their own demanding routes. The route makes you depart outside the maze of Stratford Station and goes to battle for its own place to stand being rather more accepted by the Stagecoach gang now that its one of them. The WVLs used to circle the bus station in hope of a miracle forming a available bus stand for it.

Leyton (T) have so far been doing unexpectedly well on the route from day one even with the traffic the route has to face, even doing better then routes that have been in the same place for a number of years now that parallel to the route at some point, highlighting the effort Leyton put into running a service, or just the lack of effort some other garages have.

Below is a fleet list of the buses allocated on paper to the route under Leyton (T) garage:

19847 - LX12 CZA
19848 - LX12 CZB
10155 - EU62 AXT
10156 - EU62 AXV
10157 - EU62 AYB
10158 - EU62 AYE
10159 - EU62 AZA
10160 - EU62 AZO
10161 - EU62 AAE
10162 - EU62 AAO
10163 - EU62 ADZ
12426 - YX67 VBC
12427 - YX67 VBD
12428 - YX67 VBE
12429 - YX67 VBF
12430 - YX67 VBG
12431 - YX67 VBJ
12432 - YX67 VBK

The reputation of a brilliantly reliable service and well maintained buses Leyton (T) holds carry's on with the 257 and whilst Northumberland Park did a remarkable job on the route, Leyton have provided a upgrade in both service, but more so in the allocation the route now holds. Hopefully this continues throughout its time under its new home and knowing Leyton (T), I along with lots of other enthusiasts believe it will and has every faith in them.