Wright, forget you Scania ... Part 2

Last year saw Transdev introduce hybrid buses as a result of cascaded Scania buses. Now Metroline are to follow in the same fashion.

A new addition to the Metroline family. Perivale, ©Will Swain.
Route 7 is one of London's most notable bus routes. It has been in service for over a century and its routeing has differed little to how it is today. Its story begins when a previously unnumbered daily service operating between Wormwood Scrubs and Liverpool Street Station was given the number 7. In 1917, the route was extended from Wormwood Scrubs to the Acton area. The numbering of the route may have been in jeopardy as The London Traffic Act of 1924 made the Metropolitan Police responsible for route numerals in London, meaning many routes were renumbered. However, with the 7 operating in the central London area, its numbering stayed the same.

A common curtailment back in the day.
Bishops Bridge Road. ©Peter Doble.
During the next few decades, additional services to route 7, suffixed 7A and 7B, were introduced, withdrawn and reintroduced as either extended versions of route 7 or shorter ones to assist the normal route. Many minor reroutings and the introduction of the Red Arrow services mirrored the suffixed routes, leading to their permanent withdrawal. Soon, main route 7 was curtailed to a terminus in Bloomsbury, during which a westward Sunday extension to Richmond Station was introduced for a brief amount of time. 1992 saw an extension from Bloomsbury to Russell Square, with the Sunday service cutback from Richmond to Kew Green and soon after to Acton's Old Tram Depot. The noughties arrived with the introduction of route 70, relieving route 7 to a terminus at East Acton Station and from 2003 the service made a minor extension to the Brunel Estate in East Acton (although notable curtailments observed by myself left me baffled as to whether it was the 7 or 23 that terminated at Westbourne Park).

Operated by Metroline Travel from Perivale West (PA), not only does the route have a reputable history but it plays a major part in all the areas it serves. From its start in East Acton, it's already the most popular route in the area connecting East Acton to Ladbroke Grove. From Ladbroke Grove Station, its main competitor the 23 ventures off into Notting Hill giving the 7 a bit more breathing space as it assists the 70 around the houses of Portobello to Westbourne Park - or maybe 'breathing space' is not the right choice of words, Westbourne Park Road leaving vehicles claustrophobic with its narrowness as they deliberately attempt to get past each other without hitting each other or the parked cars on either side of the road.

Chepstow Villas follow this accomplishment with their spaciously rewarding roads, before route 7 rejoins and parallels route 23 all the way to Oxford Circus. From here, the 23 turns down to Regent Street en route The City as the 7 continues to Tottenham Court Road Station. After turning left onto the Tottenham Court Road, an abrupt duck into a side-street takes the route to the British Museum, sharing this route with no other, and before you know it you have already arrived, the bus making a final duck into Russell Square where it dominates the terminus shared by the 188, with more buses on the 7 being accounted for on stand.

As for the allocation, Metroline acquired route 7 back in 2007 from rival operator First London (now defunct), only three years after the route became one-man operated after the demise of the AEC Routemaster. Metroline bought new and brought the existing East Lancs Olympus bodied Scania N230UD (SEL) buses from route 205 to make the 7 the first London bus route to be fully converted to buses of such an unorthodox bodywork design.

The most distinguished part of the design.
It's not just the distinguished wide-sized top deck front window which provides an intimately outstanding view of the road ahead and surroundings: the bus is humongous, leaving immediate presumptions of a heavy vehicle with laboured acceleration. However, the bulky bodywork contradicts the bus' capabilities because the acceleration is impeccable and the Scania chassis enhances its agility; taking corners are adrenaline-charged as you momentarily anticipate contact with a bollard or traffic light for the bus to swiftly skim past, thus making rides on the 7 so thrilling.

The chassis is not the only contribution to making such a bulky bus so predatory in speed. The seats are insufficient in padding, decreasing the overall weight of the bus, thus making the bus lighter to guarantee increased acceleration and top speed. This may make the early drivers' lives much more difficult, but that is a shame for them and them only. However, the inadequate padding makes journeys extremely bumpy depending on how fast a driver is willing to go, bringing in another guarantee for passengers: a shattering of bones and a numb bum. But that is what makes rides on the 7 so thrilling.

Therefore, I was unsure when Metroline announced in October 2013 they were retaining the route with new double-decker hybrid buses from 21 June 2014. I could approve of Metroline retaining the route, as there were atrocious rumours of the route moving operators. I was more concerned about the future of such a unique yet oppressed batch of buses: many hopefully suggested they would be withdrawn from London service, with less concerned enthusiasts focusing their speculations on the type of hybrid buses Metroline would opt for. Some implied Transport for London would introduce Wright Borismasters, which would be a shame to the extent that I felt route 7 needed something new and unusual to central London. Others implied that Volvo B5LH buses would be a definite future allocation of the 7, but I solely suggested MCV should return to manufacturing for Metroline to opt for the first MCV DD103 hybrids so that the 7 could continue its personally impressive allocation of unusual and, unfortunately, unpopular bus types. Many months later, it became public knowledge that Volvo B5L hybrids were to be indeed introduced with the new Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 bodywork. These weren't to be the first buses from The Wright Group to see service on the 7: very few Volvo B9TL buses from routes 79 and 297 have covered a duty on the 7 on a maximum of five notable occasions I can account for with photos in my collection (see here for uploaded batch of photos), photos of this rarity being scarce to unavailable elsewhere.

These refurbishments boast the coruscation accustomed to
the glamorous urban street life of European public transport.
Of course, the purchase of new buses jeopardised the future of the existing buses: would these buses transfer to Harrow Weald (HD) to modernise the garage's ageing fleet, transfer to Holloway (HT) to add to their fleet of various bus types or would they simply be withdrawn? All speculations were falsified, although the theme of continuing service elsewhere was partly correct, when Perivale West (PA) announced the retaining of their innovative buses to continue allocation of route 611 but to become a permanent allocation of routes 79 and 297, the buses already commonly in service for both routes (more route 297). This was the result of the current shared allocation of Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 bodied Volvo B9TL (VW) buses moving out to Harrow Weald (HD) and Holloway (HT) for routes 640 (joining Metroline from September) and 43 respectively. More updates included the refurbishing of individual Scania buses: with the interior unchanged in design except for the renewing and repainting of bodywork, the more noticeable changes include the Metroline blue skirt repainted red and the introduction of the new Metroline logo to the bus type, SEL746 (LK07 BBE) being the first and most notable of the refurbs from February 2014 with SEL750, SEL760 and SEL763 following. On a personal note, these refurbishments shine more at night where the buses now boast the coruscation accustomed to the glamourous urban street life of European public transport.

The new buses were delivered on time and were seemingly ready for service on contract renewal date. On the supposed last day of Scania bus service on the 7, I made a day of getting a final journey before the buses moved to serve routes 79 and 297 ... to be told by the driver that the drivers had not yet been type-trained, so the new buses should be in service a week late. Make that two weeks late. Meanwhile, very few enthusiasts and school children enjoyed a hybrid afternoon journey home whilst the rest of us waited for the new buses to enter service on their assigned route.

A few started service on 1 July 2014 and many were phased in pretty quickly after this, in spite of a few East Lancs Olympus buses remaining on the route - to this day, in fact. My first new bus journey on the 7 was a short one on VWH2006 (LK14 FAU) and it was not impressive - maybe because I boarded Willesden (AC) allocated VWH1413 (LK13 BHZ) on a previous journey, but I still felt there should have been more internal differences between the two buses of different Gemini generations. However, from Marble Arch to the end of the route's section of Edgware Road, every traffic light except one stopped us from travelling any faster than what felt like 15mph and if we had a momentary opportunity to go faster, road users ahead of us made sure we couldn't. So I don't think VWH2006 or its driver were to blame.

Yet I was disheartened aboard VWH2014 (LK14 FBJ), a bus I was most looking forward to photograph with its fleet code coincidentally replicating the year we're in. And this time, it was down to the driver. The photo itself was a poor start, but only due to the inopportune arrival of a parking vehicle reflecting its shiny white surface onto the bus.

VWH2014 and VWH2010 in East Acton.
The acceleration of the bus was short of abysmal, yet I could feel and hear constant gear-changing as if 4th gear was set to 10mph. But it was only Edgware Road: we had not yet approached the advantageously accelerator-flooring temptations of Sussex Gardens or the long bus-only rally of Eastbourne Terrace. I was not yet disappointed, until we reached the two sections of the route where I relieved my body of anticipation and expectancy with a sigh of dismay. To keep myself from sedation, I photographed passing buses on the 7 as we meandered past the parked cars and passing vehicles down the narrow Westbourne Park Road. Inevitably, though, I got bored of that and by Wormwood Scrubs, I was embarrassingly nodding off. Many decades later, we arrived at the Brunel Estate of East Acton, where my fatigue had returned to the driver who I witnessed rubbing his eyes, evidently shattered hence the cautious driving, his tiredness that extreme that it had transferred through the ceiling of the bottom deck onto the floor of the top and through me by W'Scrubs. In this heat, can't say I blame him, so I wasn't annoyed when I got off his bus.

I departed East Acton on VWH2010 (LK14 FBD) - this was a complete contrast to the previous journey. We sped down the Old Oak Common Lane before being held back by an acute turning and traffic on the junction of Du Cane Road. We escaped that and all the way to Oxford Circus, the driver provided the perfect demonstration as to why the Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 bodied Volvo B5L hybrid is worthy of succeeding the East Lancs Olympus bodied Scania N230UD allocation of route 7. Of course, the speed of the Scania buses cannot be compared but it can be at least attempted, and it was, although agility was asking too much of the Wright-bodied Volvo. The journey was so great that even Oxford Street did not seem too bad a place to be onboard a bus, notwithstanding it being around five o'clock when everyone has finished school or work and the shopping district is generally at its busiest and most congested.

From alighting VWH2014 (LK14 FBJ), I wondered how I could possibly fork out any advantages from these new buses, but this particular experience represents the fact that one experience does not represent the performance of a whole batch or outweigh any other experiences, both past and present. This way of thinking was rewarded with a fantastic journey on VWH2010 (LK14 FBD), and now I am forking out the drawbacks:

There have been mixed reviews about the rear-end of the new Wright Eclipse Gemini 3, its paintwork combination of black and red inspired by that of the Wright Borismaster. I've mostly encountered negative reviews, primarily perpetrated by the rear's inspiration. Both enthusiasts and people in general, when asked on their opinions of the rear, have gone as to answer: 'hideous', or 'ugly.' My view on the rear? It has an unnecessary but interesting colour scheme, but more importantly, where has the 100% red rule disappeared to?

The Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 has had some perceptible differences to its predecessor, including the extra band of headlights underneath the main headlights, and the multicoloured rear. One other difference that comes as a disadvantage is the elevated positioning the route and destination displays, which gives the face of the bodywork a somewhat stretched distortion. The top deck externally looks smaller, however this is misleading as it is of normal size and level with the top deck seats instead of being usually beneath.

In addition, the air-conditioning is not as effective as it should be - I noticed that if you are located nearer to the back of the bus, you can feel the system cool you off into your own paradise at the cost of a more limited view of the road ahead. The view of the road and scenery is better at the front, of course, but you have to be sitting in between the two dual seats - on the floor - to get the most of the air-conditioning, and then the view is not that great, either. So if you want to be cool under this ridiculously hot weather, your viewing of the area must be limited.

Metroline own only the second batch of Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses, the first at Plumstead (PD) for Stagecoach: Selkent route 53. A question being popularly asked is which is the better batch? Looks: Metroline have won with the sophistication and class of batch VWH2001-2023. Performance ... find out in an article to be published next month, but if you're not too keen in waiting, comment with your own verdict.

For now, though, route 7 has gained good buses but they are not entirely worth a trek if you live too far to the route as it depends on how fast the driver wants to go and you will not be certain of the excitement the East Lancs Olympus were guaranteed to bring, regardless of the driver. At least the Scania buses live on on routes 79 and 297 and for the meantime as a minority on route 7 - we have not yet forgotten you.


  1. You're so Wright, it takes a lot to better Scania's! Excellent post though, even if it did take me nearly 15 minutes to finish, lol.

    1. Sorry for the length, funnily enough I tried to make this concise but it was difficult. I wanted it divided into three sections: history, previous allocation, new allocation. Route 7 being a prestigious London bus route, conciseness was asking a bit too much! Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed this article.

  2. An exceptional post (as always)! I'm extremely sad that SEL763 is going from my favourite route in London, as now my favourite vehicle and favourite route are separated. Once question: Are the 7's Gemini 3 buses brighter than the ones on the 53? If they are, then I will use the 7 again, if they're not, I'm going to avoid them

    1. Thanks! I want to see that bus on the 297 but especially on the 79 as the latter looks dull every time I encounter its buses. The 7 looks slightly brighter at night, but during the day, I can't really say. Don't avoid if you see them, they just don't have the guaranteed worth of a specified trek!

  3. If you want speed try the N7 with these buses, and their not designed for speed, they're limited for safety more than anything, but if you travel in peak times of course it's gonna be slow, try the last bus at night or around 21.00 yes night time you can't see much but if you wanna run with the speed theory, travel all the way to Northolt on the N7, trust me you think the SELs are fast during the day try the first N7! I personally can't wait to try the B5LH on a long night route and the N8 with Borismasters.

    You guys need to be a bit more adventurous, enthusiasts travel day and night!