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Buses at Go North West's Wigan depot

Ian's Transport Photo Blog

30th December 2023 - Mission Accomplished! And THE last 508 photo

So, as promised, out on the Merseyrail Electric network for the final time in 2023 to try and track down 507001 in its BR era blue livery. It was a lovely touch from Merseyrail to honour the 46 years of sterling service these units have provided to the people of Merseyside and when I caught up with it at Liverpool Central working a New Brighton service it brought many happy memories back of my early spotting trips back in 1982. Back then the 507s only worked on the Northern Line, the southern end of which was Garston station; this was before the extension to Hunts Cross (1983) and Liverpool South Parkway replacing both Garston and Allerton stations (2006). I took advantage of the 12800ASA setting on my Canon digital camera to photograph it in the underground station and then rode it to New Brighton where, despite being above ground, the light wasn't much better on this grey wintry day. En route to New Brighton, I noted that the only visible occupant of Birkenhead North depot was 508108, surely not long for this world now.

After New Brighton, I decided to head up to Southport for a good long 507 ride aboard 507018. It was getting very dark by now and so I didn't expect to be doing much if any more photography today. At Southport though, the other two 508 units (508104/14) were parked-up in the siding as a six-car formation so it had to be done. I managed a shot, of which I'm quite pleased. of two 507s (018 and 021) and the two 508s all together at the station before 021 left for Hunts Cross. I also got what will definitively be my LAST 508 shot, this being of unit 104 alongside 507018. Then it was time to go in to Southport town centre and a few pints at the excellent Tap & Bottles pub situated within the crumbling Cambridge Arcade. That's it for 2023 - tomorrow I'll drive back to Stourbridge and soon we'll see what adventures 2024 will hold. The last few posts have all been Merseyrail Electric dominated and I make no apologies for that as the PEP era draws to a close, but next year I will be back to a more eclectic mix of buses and trains from around the country and beyond. I wish you all the very best for the New Year!

27th December 2023 - Mersey Ramblings, and another "last" 508 photo...

Home for the holidays, and - alongside catching up with my lovely family and friends - I thought I'd spend a few hours catching up with local railway developments. Leaving the car at Wavertree Technology Park station (my home station for a few years till I got divorced in 2018), I bought an All Zone Saveaway and hopped on a Northern 331 in to Lime Street. At Edge Hill there were two GBRf locos parked up, 66713 Forest City and 69007. The 331 stopped alongside the 69 for long enough for me to get a picture of it, albeit through grubby, rain-spattered glazing. At Lime Street the highlight of the rolling stock on offer was Transport for Wales (TfW) 197050 on the recently reinstated service to Chester via Frodsham. It's the highest-numbered '197' I've seen in service so far.

The principal object of my visit was, of course, the final surviving 507s and 508s eking out the last of their days on Merseyrail duties before the 777s finally oust them. The only routes on which PEP units can now normally be found are Hunts Cross - Southport and Liverpool Loop - New Brighton, although there are some ongoing teething difficulties with 777s meaning PEPs can be found on other routes. As at this morning the surviving units were 507001-4/7/10/1/3-8/20/1/3/8-33 and 508104/8/14; the ongoing use of three '508' units was a surprise to me as I had been told they would all be gone by December 18th. I concentrated on the New Brighton line today due to time constraints and photographed all four units on the service (507011/6/29/31). Coming back towards Liverpool I spotted 507017 being readied for service at Birkenhead North so I got off 507011 and photographed it before riding it to Central. It was pressed into service as a result of a signalling failure putting the Bidston - West Kirby line out of action.

A quick run up from Liverpool Central to Sandhills on the Northern Line gave me a ride on 507032 after photographing 507021 heading for Hunts Cross. The short ride gave me a chance to see how Everton's new stadium at Bramley Moore Dock is coming along. At Sandhills I came across 508104 so, of course, I photographed that. My photo of the now scrapped 508103 (25th November) wasn't my final '508' photo after all. Will there be another? Maybe. I still don't have a photo of 507001 in BR blue so I will be going out after that on Saturday. If there are any 508s still running then I will do my best to get them as well!

5th December 2023 - Pacer Seeks New Home

Four years ago this month, the large-scale withdrawal and scrapping of the Class 142 "Pacer" railbus units was getting underway. Built in the mid-1980s and only intended to have a fifteen year service life, these heroic little diesel units along with the similar 143s and 144s were the salvation of many a branch line at a time when the government of the day wasn't particularly sympathetic to the railways (sounds familiar) and ended up operating for well over 30 years. It was the requirement to meet the Euroopean Union's PRM (Passengers of Reduced Mobility) directive that finally finished them off as they could not be suitably adapted for the benefit ofdisabled passengers.

Many Pacers were sold into preservation, being seen as an ideal cheap-to-run DMU to provide off-peak services on heritage railways. 142055 was purchased by the 142055 Group and moved to its new home at the Foxfield Railway near Stoke-on-Trent in 2020. In 2022 the unit suffered from some serious vandalism. It has been announced by the 142055 Group that the Foxfield Railway has told them they need to find a new home for the Pacer. I have no idea why this decision as been made - it's between the Railway and the Group and not for me to speculate - but I hope the unit can be moved to a new long-term home where it can be used.

The only photographs I have of this unit in service are three very similar ones all taken at the Grade II* Listed Edge Hill station in Liverpool, one of the world's oldest (1836). This one was taken on the very cold afternoon of 23rd February, 2019.

29th November 2023 - Solihull and Birmingham

Working in Solihull - actually for the last time as I am moving to another job on December 4th - I took the opportunity to grab a few bus shots during my lunch break. The undoubted star of the show was the final 52-registered Trident in service with National Express West Midlands, 4393 (BV52 OBT). Many of NXWM's older buses can be found operating in Solihull as there are several routes here which don't cross into Birmingham's clean air zone. Heading back to the office later on, I caught up with NXWM 4946 which is one of three buses recently treated to an all-over advertising wrap for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Clicking on the photographs will bring up a full-size (2400x1600) version in a new window.

4393 (BT52 OBT), still in the red and white livery applied to NXWM buses prior to 2015, is the last 52-plate Trident still in service with the operator, seen here in Solihull town centre.

Neither the Alexander "ALX400" body as fitted to Trident 4609 (BX544 DDZ) nor the smart crimson livery which it wears has a very long future with NXWM as new buses and the "Death Star" grey livery are fast sweeping them away.

Another endangered species in the NXWM fleet is the Wright "Gemini"-bodied Volvo B7TL, such as 4640 (BX54 DFY), seen in the afternoon sun at Solihull Station.

Another Volvo B7TL / Wright "Gemini" is 4672 (BX54 XRK) whose red and white livery is looking a little past its best here.

Priory Queensway in Birmingham is the location for this view of Alexander-Dennis Enviro 400 4946 (SL14 LRX) sporting a new advertising wrap for KFC.

Service 87 (Solihull - Coventry) is on its third operator in as many years. Following Johnson's of Henley-in-Arden and (briefly) Diamond Bus, is Stagecoach. The bus is 36753 (KX62 BSV).

26th November 2023 - Bolton

Turning up in Bolton at 3pm on a very cold late November afternoon was never going to be a recipe for the best pictures I've ever taken, but the 12800 setting on my camera coped reasonably well as the Stygian gloom descended. Having last been in the area for the launch of the Bee Network in September I wanted to see how things were going a couple of months on. I dislike the vapid shade of yellow chosen for the network but on a practical level I also doubted how clean it could be kept. Still, I was amazed at exactly how filthy most of the yellow buses were - perhaps the livery choice needs a rethink? Clicking on the photographs will bring up a full-size (2400x1600) version in a new window.

Fifty BYD D8-UR / Alexander Dennis 400EV entered service at Go North West's Bolton depot on 23rd September 2023 with the launch of the Bee Network. These buses are owned by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). Here we see 2035 (LG73 FXF) leaving Bolton Interchange bound for Manchester.

Go North West 3404 (SO19 MVX), a Wrightbus StreetDeck, was new to Diamond Bus as its 40707 in August 2019 as part of the Rotala Group's massive investment in new vehicles for the town following the takeover of First Manchester's operations there.

Taken at 3.57pm in failing light, this view of GNW StreetDeck 3434 (MX20 KXW) - formerly Diamond 40736 - shows how dirty the yellow livery gets. The Bee Network logo is barely visible as the bus heads out of town on route 22 to the Trafford Centre.

Go North West 3438 (MX20 KYB) started life as 40742 in the Diamond Bus fleet in August 2020 when the pandemic was still in full swing. Not yet repainted into Bee Network yellow, its "Brighter Diamond" livery does not show the grime nearly so badly as the pale yellow does.

Another ex-Diamond vehicle in the GNW fleet is 4040 (YY67 USL), an Alexander-Dennis E20D which was new to YourBus of Heanor, Derbyshire, in December 2017.

Fifty-two Alexander-Dennis E20D are in course of delivery to GNW as its 4101-52; at the time of writing there are 37 in service. Amazingly given how grimy it is, 4136 (SK73 CUO) was only a few days old at the time of my visit.

Also still in "Brighter Diamond" blue pending a repaint, but still owned by Diamond Bus, is 30157 (SK18 TLU). a Wrightbus StreetLite DF which was new to Hallmark in July 2018.

25th November 2023 - Birkenhead and Chester

When I first developed an interest in railways around 1982 amongst the first trains I "spotted" were the Class 507 units on the Merseyrail electric network. Now, after 46 years in service, these units along with the 508s transferred from the Southern Region to replace 503s in 1984 are facing an appointment with the scrapman's torch as the new Stadler Class 777 units take over. On my visits home to Merseyside from the West Midlands recently I have been taking the opportunity to photograph and ride on as many of these elderly units as I can before they go - the last 508 is due to be withdrawn on 18th December whilst a few 507s should last until May 2024.

On this occasion I went to Chester to visit the Christmas Market (one of the country's best in my opinion) which also gave me the opportunity to photograph three Class 175 units recently withdrawn by Transport for Wales. Whilst I was waiting to come home two COLAS Rail Class 56s (56051 & 56113) came through on a railhead treatment train but there was no chance of photographing a moving train in the dark. Clicking on the photographs will bring up a full-size (2400x1600) version in a new window.

By the time of my visit the 507 / 508 units had been replaced on the Chester line by 777s but there were still a couple of older units out on the Ellesmere Port Line, including 507011 which I photographed at Birkenhead Central.

This is a rather muddy mobile phone shot but it is likely to be the last picture I ever take of a Class 508 unit in service as they will all be withdrawn before I next go back home to Liverpool. 508103 pauses at Liverpool Lime Street on the way to West Kirby.

777036 arrives at Eastham Rake to whisk me away to Chester. The 777s are actually nice trains on which to travel and both the free WiFi and passenger information screens are very useful - but they have to be among the ugliest trains on the network!

Three of the Alstom "Coradia" units withdrawn recently by TfW Rail were parked up at Chester when I visited. 175115 and 175001 are visible in this view with recent arrival 197044 about to run past at the far left of the shot.

The third 175 at Chester was 175109. These were comfortable units on which to travel although they were very often overcrowded on routes such as the Marches Line. I hope some use can be found for them elsewhere on the network as scrapping them would seem a terrible waste.

28th October 2023 - Electric Buses in Leicester

Leicester has been a major beneficiary of UK Government funding for zero-emission buses with four different operators receiving new battery-electric vehicles. First to arrive were eleven Yutong ZK6128 for the Leicester Park & Ride network, operated by Roberts of Hugglescote. These 12m buses entered service in 2021 on services linking three park & ride sites with the city centre every fifteen minutes, and introduced a new green livery which has been used on subsequent deliveries to distinguish them from the multicoloured diesel bus fleets of First, Arriva and Centrebus. The green livery is accompanied by a multicoloured "Leicester Buses" logo which is also displayed on bus stop flags around the city and which evidences a deep and genuine partnership between local authority and operators.

In March 2023, three 9m Yutong E9s were supplied to Centrebus as its 840-2 for operation on a new free service, branded as Hop!, linking Leicester's railway station with the city centre, bus stations and Cathedral. As the service operates through some semi-pedestrianised streets the buses make a distinctive "ribbit" noise to alert pedestrians to their presence; this noise is a clever choice as the service's branding features a cartoon frog! At the risk of digressing, this creature reminds me somewhat of Beeper the frog used by National Express in its publicity back in the 1980s.

The largest batch of buses to come to Leicester was of 68 Wrightbus Kite Electroliner BEV single-deckers for First Leicester in a two-tone green variant of the Leicester Electric livery. These entered service from March 2023 onwards and are to be followed by 18 double-deckers in 2024 to complete the conversion of the First Leicester fleet to electric operation. At the time of my visit the fourth operator of electric buses in Leicester, Arriva, had received the first of its 24 Wrightbus StreetDeck Electroliner BEVs, but none had entered service. These vehicles are expected to be on the road by December 2023. Clicking on the photographs will bring up a full-size (2400x1600) version in a new window.

Roberts' no. 33 (YD21 NFK) is a Yutong XK6128, a type generally marketed as the E12 in the UK and which has found favour with a number of operators including McGill's, Cardiff and Newport.

Centrebus 841 (YD23 FMM) is a Yutong E9. At just 8.94m long and 2.42m wide this type can operate in confined city centre areas such as here and in Hereford. Total passenger capacity is 62.

A nearside view of 841 showing the dual-door layout which is unusual on small buses in the UK. This is needed as the front entrance isn't sufficiently wide to allow wheelchair access.

The GB Kite Electroliner BEV from Ballymena-based Wrights is exemplified by First Leicester 63541 (BK23 HFR), seen here on Charles Street in the city centre operating route 38.

This view of 63509 (BK23 HDD) shows the livery treatment nearside of the bus as it prepares to leave St. Margaret's Bus Station on to Burleys Way.

All text and photographs © Ian Simpson, December 2023