21/09/2015

THE END OF AN ERA

This post actually works out rather well because I can actually write about the ends of two completely different eras, both of which affect this blog.


The First (aha, get the joke...) is momentous and quite sad really, because it is the withdrawal of First Beeline in the Bracknell area (hence the one-off yellow background). Here on WLTM we have written a number of posts about the 'war' between First Beeline and Courtney Buses, each competing which each other's services and the council tendered services also ran a hokey-cokey between the two operators. These posts are here:

  1. Courtney begins to attack
  2. Thames Travel surrender leaving Bracknell to First and Courtney only
  3. Developments in Maidenhead, now dubbed the 'Berkshire Bus War'
  4. First make some radical changes in Bracknell
  5. Courtney spread their wings
  6. More changes at Bracknell, including the introduction of B-suffixed routes
  7. Courtney has won
        (click on the post to view it)



And this is the eighth post, detailing the final day of First Beeline and in the process we will look back through the history of Beeline in Bracknell including a synopsis of all the above seven posts. So here we go...


In 1986, when the Government-owned National Bus Company was split up, the Berks Bucks Bus Co. was created, with the trading name BEELINE. The company took over the allocations from the Bracknell, High Wycombe, Maidenhead, Newbury, Reading and Wokingham garages. The company became wholly private when it was sold to Q Drive in late 1987. Q Drive had just also set up London Buslines in 1985 to run the TFL tendered route 81, which is probably where you've heard that name before. In 1988 the company also bought the operations of Aldershot & District.

After only a few years' operation, Q Drive sells the High Wycombe depot to the Go-Ahead owned Oxford Bus Company, creating the Wycombe Bus Company (which is now Arriva) in 1990. Also in 1990, the Aldershot & District services were sold to Drawlane Transport to create a new network in Guildford and West Surrey. In 1992, the depots at Reading and Wokingham became publicly owned once more under the new, and still growing, Reading Buses. The remaining Aldershot services are bought by Stagecoach which also still operate in the area under the Hants & Surrey blanket.


However, after many losses as detailed above, Q Drive then buy the Slough Depot from Luton & District to integrate it in with their other operations in 1993. At the same time, the depot in Maidenhead is closed.


In 1996, the whole network of Beeline, Railair, Londonlink and London Buslines are sold from Q Drive to CentreWest (based in London), and only a year later the nationwide First Group buys the whole of Centrewest, including the new Q Drive operations. First continued the Beeline brand until 2001 when it was renamed First Berkshire & Thames Valley.

LT52WXB(1)
A brand new Citaro for the Slough-Heathrow routes
sits at a rally just after entering service, showing the
original livery.
CC Steven Hughes


In the interim of 1997, when Beeline transferred to First, to 2003 many new vehicles were introduced including the ubiquitous Dart but with slightly more unusual Marshall and Alexander ALX200 bodywork, along with Mercedes Citaros for the airport routes.


Since then, the operations have changed little, with minor reworking of route networks and service alterations as times changed and passenger numbers grew or depreciated. First Berkshire & Thames Valley have fought many battles in their 18 years so far, including a battle fought with Courtney in Maidenhead, from which First waved their white flag and withdrew in 2004.


One of the most successful Beeline routes is the Greenline 702 which runs from London Victoria to Bracknell via Slough, Windsor & Legoland. Peak 701 journeys run to Great Hollands missing out Windsor, and a newer 700 service does not stop at Slough. These routes received brand new double decker buses in 2008, 2011 and 2013; the final batch of which was covered in the first post (link above) on the Bracknell Bus War (30/11/2013).


First Beeline 64602 (Route 191), Thames Travel 503 (Route 108), Bracknell
Two things you'll no longer see - a Thames Travel 108 is picking
up behind a now withdrawn First Solar on route 191 to Windsor.
CC Aubrey
First had already set up a fairly slick operation at Bracknell with town circular services as well as services to Wokingham, Reading and the aforementioned Greenline to London. They had only just relaunched the Beeline brand, as that name had not been mentioned since the millennium, with a new yellow version of their interurban livery. Thames Travel ran the few council-tendered service, and Courtney just poked around echoing the already established First routes 171/172 and 194, running the tendered evening and Sunday services and then their own competitive day services as well.
Smart Dart
A Dart transferred from Hampshire & Dorset works
the 153 from Bracknell to Warfield Tesco.
© Lewis




When Thames Travel surrendered the council-tendered contracts for Courtney and First to take up, things began to look up for the First who took routes 53, 108 and 153 (see the second post, 18/01/2014). They brought in some old Darts from Hampshire & Dorset to work these routes. However these contracts had only 4 months left, leaving the future for these routes uncertain.


As mentioned before, First left Maidenhead in 2004, leaving the main routes there to Courtney. However, in late 2013, First set up their own 8 (and interworking X9 to High Wycombe) to compete with Courtney's similar service. Their main advertisement included free journeys on the first weekend of service and a prominent WE GIVE CHANGE on the destination screen which highlights that Courtney do not offer change and First wanted to challenge that paradigm (see the third post, 23/11/2013).

First Beeline 64001 on Route 190, Reading St Mary's Butts
A rather smart looking 64001 leaves Reading on the
soon to be withdrawn 190 route.
CC Aubrey
In mid-2014, First Berkshire changed their services in Bracknell including various renumbered routes, new routes and routeing changes. Route 155 became the B5, routes 171/172 were replaced by new routes B1, B2 and B3, and the 190 was split into two 90s with one running direct via John Nike and the other via the Southern Estates. Route 194 was also altered to differentiate it from the Courtney equivalent, renumbered 94; the X94 was withdrawn (see the fourth post, service changes on the 16/08/2014).

Early Morning Blues
A Blue Solo on the new 192 to Windsor.
CC Aubrey
Courtney was the next to make a move, offering alternatives to First's 190 and 191 services with the 189 and 192 respectively. The 189 was very similar to the 190 (this was before the change to the 90) but ran to Jennett's Park. This did seem a strange move as the new 90 via Southern Estates would also serve Jennett's Park from the end of the month. Up to Windsor, the 192 offered a peak-time alternative to the 191 using the buses which would then take up service during the day on Windsor routes 6/6A/16. With First's 171/172 withdrawn, Courtney took this open opportunity to up their publicity on these routes and the 194, which now had separate branding (see the fifth post, 05/08/2014).

First Beeline TN33153 on Route X1, Reading Station
A Trident leaves Reading on the X1 service express
to Bracknell then all stops in the Southern Estates.
CC Aubrey
The sixth post (24/11/2014) covers the changes mentioned above. It also shows the short-lived X1 route from Bracknell & Southern Estates running direct to Reading via the A329(M). Also at this time, Beeline received some newer Enviro200s for the Bracknell routes replacing the old and worn-out Darts.


Things stayed as they were for about 6 months, possibly the longest time with no changes for a while in the area, but the biggest hit was yet to come. Courtney won all of the Bracknell Forest tenders. Yes, all of them. It would mean that routes 53, 108, 151, 151A and 153 would all transfer from First to Courtney on 13th July 2015. It came to light that First were no longer making enough money to keep the services in Bracknell going, so it was announced at the beginning of Summer 2015 that they would withdraw from the area and close the Bracknell depot. Both variants of route 90 passed to Reading Buses on 26th July and were rebranded as the 4/X4 on the last day of August. The final Beeline routes (191, B1, B2, B3, B5) were withdrawn on 28th August 2015, when the depot was closed for the foreseeable future. Stagecoach took up operation of route 94 from the next day.



Beeline Variety
64013 (L) and 33143 (R) on route B1 on the last day of its operation at
Bracknell Bus Stn.
© Lewis

IMG_7269
32348 on route 94 on the last day of its First operation at Bracknell.
© Aubrey
Been there B4
64020 (L) and 64012 (R) on routes B3 and B5 on their final day of operation at
Bracknell Bus Stn.
© Lewis

First Berkshire 33143 on Route 191, Legoland
33143 on route 191 on the last day of its operation at Legoland entrance.
© Aubrey

Bye Bye Bracknell Forest
64018 on route B2 in the Bracknell Forest / Southern Estates area on the
final day of its operation.
© Lewis

The Greenline routes 700/701/702 have been rerouted along the 191 between Windsor and Bracknell following a petition from the area as there are no other services along that corridor. Now worked out of Slough, the 700 and 701 will be put to sleep for the winter very soon leaving only the 702 left of First in Bracknell.



IMG_7114
37999 climbs Legoland Hill on the last day of its Bracknell operation.
© Aubrey
London via Datchet
37985 at Bracknell Bus Station on its last day of Bracknell operation,
on route 700 which is set to be withdrawn soon.
© Aubrey
The Last Proper One
The final Bracknell-worked 702 to leave for London was in fact this
Trident, no. 33179, seen here en-route at Slough. Farewell, Bracknell.
© Lewis
The last day of First in Bracknell was momentous - enthusiasts of all ages came down to Bracknell to catch the Beeline in its last moments. Out of a Beeline Citaro and a Courtney Solo, I know I'd choose the Citaro in a heartbeat, but unfortunately the people of Bracknell no longer have that option. So here's to First in Bracknell and the second end of Beeline, but perhaps it will return again...


Bye Bye Beeline
64018 displaying route 702 as an appropriate tribute to Bracknell's
Beeline operations. Many thanks to the kind driver (who's smiling in
this shot!) who changed it for me.
© Lewis


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And the second 'End of an Era' is that our very own Aubrey has now left London to study at the University of Coventry for the next 3 years. I think all of our readers will join me in firstly congratulating him and wishing him the best of luck.
As his commitments rise, Aubrey will be able to contribute to the blog less, so I will step up to cover more of the changes in and around London whilst he is away. It also does mean, however, that our scope will widen even further to cover changes in the area of Coventry and the wider West Midlands (which is why that county now appears on our fabulous new header) - a change which I'm sure you will all welcome.


The End of an Era
'AU1' to Coventry University: a little fake pic I did as an appropriate image to encapsulate both the bulk of this
post about the loss of Beeline, and Aubrey's move to Coventry. I've attempted to mimic the typical Berkshire
display style, including a LED mortarboard to the left of the main destination.


That's all for now; I hope you enjoyed this long post as much as I enjoyed writing it. Don't forget to comment below, along with making the WLTM Transport Blog part of your blog list and hitting the 'Like' button on our Facebook page.

Written by Lewis J N, September 2015.

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