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  • John Woodman

Boris's Bus is Culled

One of London's Routemasters now freshly out of Rigby Road Paintshop and resplendent in a rendition of original Tramways fleet colours. John Woodman Archive

A shoal of the RM replacements - 'Borismasters' heading towards Piccadilly Circus with their unusual rear end treatment. Might look even more interesting in green and cream if any second hand sales make it to Blackpool.

Announcements emanating from the capital this month show the 'Borismaster' has fallen out of fashion especially with London's Mayor and also with Transport For London (Tfl). The cost of the new buses is well above Blackpool's now standard double decker produced by Alexander Dennis and launched last year with an initial delivery of ten examples and twenty five more on their way soon.

It seems London's streets will still maintain their individual look for years to come given the eight hundred or so 'Borismasters' in service. Nevertheless a litany of technical and design issues coming to light in extended operation is causing hundreds to be recalled for remedial work on the vehicles. The latest problem involved an opening door at the rear of the vehicle whilst between stops. This caused the bus to come to an immediate halt at an admittedly low speed. One passenger was slightly hurt causing an official investigation which revealed issues with the rear platform doors. Originally the design envisaged a roving conductor who would either operate or oversee the open rear platform when the doors where not being used. Later withdrawal of conductors meant that the driver had responsibility for ensuring the rear platform doors were closed when the vehicle was moving (at any speed).

This most recent incident meant that several hundred of the buses will have to undergo checks by the coachbuilder (Wright). An embargo has been placed this month on further orders by Tfll and this seems to have drawn a line under the design (at least in London). It will be interesting to see if the model may attract other takers.

Blackpool experienced a not too dissimilar incident with the 'Brush' cars which had air operated sliding centre entrance doors (on both sides naturally). These could be controlled by the driver as well as the conductor from the platform. The slowness of the opening doors when compared to manually operated jacknife folding doors was one of the reasons this type was not approved for service on the Marton route from 1950. However they were very much a feature on the North Station service 1 to Fleetwood. This attracted travellers to and from the station which at weekends meant mounds of luggage piling up on the offside of the centre platform. Apparently the driver pushed the wrong switch opening the offside doors on one occasion allowing holidaymakers' suitcases to spill out into the roadway, no doubt with disastrous results for those concerned. Thereafter Conductors were solely in charge of opening and closing doors (as they were on all other trams in the fleet). Below :

A Brush car heading towards Dickson Road at speed with its trademark 1 indicator blind in view (for North Station or Fleetwood). Those offside sliding doors could be concealing luggage packed next to them on the inside - anything could happen.......

Photo Copyright : John Woodman

The impact of the 'Borismaster' has been considerable in terms of its unique styling and interior layout. Having ridden on examples I cannot summon great enthusiasm for the low windows on the top deck, nor the claustrophobic experience of deep roof line with lack of rear top deck glazing. Much akin to Southampton's enclosed double deck trams requiring similar low roof to pass under that city's important BarGate in the days when Southampton operated electric trams. One example (11) of this class has been retrieved years back and undergoing detailed restoration by a local group. Blackpool Transport is noteworthy for having operated original London Transport Routemasters in a distinctive red, white and black fleet livery. Whilst Catch22bus also made a point of running its own examples on their Promenade service up to the end of the 2016 season. Blackpool bought a secondhand batch of trams from London United Tramways in the immediate aftermath of the Great War - but that's digressing too far.

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