Sapphire Gets Closer to London

Lewis returns with a new article indebted to Arriva Sapphire and their new services moving closer to our capital.

Darlington to Durham
Leicester to Oadby
Wrexham to Chester
Aylesbury to Oxford
Ashington to Newcastle
Chorley to Wigan
Wigan to Bolton
Rhyl to Llandudno
Stenson Fields to Derby

...and now Arriva's premium service is moving closer to the capital with Garston(GR)-based route 321 (Watford Town Centre to Luton Rail Station).

The order was announced at the beginning of this year - 10 new Wright Streetlite Max buses to the splendid Sapphire specification. These are the first of a batch of 70 Streetlite Maxes for all over the country, including a few more impending Sapphire conversions . The Streetlites are the new 'max' length of 11.5m and numbered 3651-3660. They also feature micro-hybrid technology, which involves a system that can recover lost energy from braking and use it for the onboard electronic systems such as lighting, meaning that less energy is required from the engine at any one time, reducing emissions and fuel consumption. This is why Arriva have decided to opt for the integral, lighter Streetlite model instead of their previously favoured Pulsar which is built on a VDL chassis.

The actual details of the order for these new Streetlites has been subject to change over the course of the first few months - originally the new buses were to completely replace the current Citaros - but soon the order was downsized to 11 buses with 2 refurbished Citaros, and a month later it was confirmed that only 10 new buses were to arrive, with 3 Citaros (3911-13) to be refurbished. The Citaros were duly sent to Hants & Do
rset trim, where they remained for some time whilst the very thorough refurbishment was undertaken.

Towards the end of June, the new Streetlites for the 321 were spotted at Heysham Docks on their delivery from the Wrightbus factories in Northern Ireland to a special storage location near Wolverhampton station. 3651 was delivered to GR for driver training in late June, however spent much time in the engineering pits for ticket machine application and mechanical familiarisation, before the drivers were given their 15-minute tour of the new cab.

The fleet of 10 buses is numbered as follows:
3651 - LK14FSZ          3652 - LK14FTA
3653 - LK14FTC          3654 - LK14FTD
3655 - LK14FTE          3656 - LK14FTF
3657 - LK14FTJ          3658 - LK14FTN
3659 - LK14FTO          3660 - LK14FTP

© Simon Ayres
On Friday 29th August, all 10 buses were ceremoniously launched at a park in St Albans in the usual Sapphire manner, complete with free cake and ice-cream, and the sparkly face painting for the younger bus enthusiasts. The event lasted from 10 until 4, following which the Sapphire buses have been gradually delivered to GR over the weekend. On Sunday 31st August, 2 of the new buses entered service, with one Citaro completing its work on the route for the final time.

The new Streetlites are very well equipped; it is clear that a large investment was put into this spectacular upgrade what with the plug sockets, leather seats and free wi-fi onboard as well as the beautiful two-tone blue livery on the outside. They have white LED displays to emphasise the shine of the new branding, which for me is much smarter than the standard orange LEDs.
Once you get on, the new smell hits you and you can hear the constant patented whine from the Voith gearbox. The interior is very welcoming, but on the move the gearbox can be a bit jolty at times - perhaps due to the new micro-hybrid technology which is constantly trying to recycle lost energy.

The Citaros have now arrived as well, looking very smart indeed in the new Sapphire livery. Whilst they were on refurbishment, no spare buses were given to GR so it was very difficult for them to find spares. Versas from the 10 went out on the 321, and a TFL-spec bus had to be utilised for other of the commercial services.

Now the Sapphire buses are in service, the Citaros have gone to Aylesbury to replace some of the older buses there.

For more information about the 321, please see the Sapphire web page here.

For those in south east London, another new Sapphire route will be launched running from Gillingham to Maidstone (route 101) from September 7th, also with new Streetlites.

In the meantime however, I do wonder if it would be possible for Arriva to upgrade a TFL London route to Sapphire, perhaps the 29?

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and please comment below if you have any further queries or suggestions.


  1. Tfl are trialling out wifi and other cool gadgets for buses : would be good to see your post about that this includes the bus stop live maps thing and seat counter! Also the 29 to be a sapphire route is a great idea! Also route 176 to be sapphire would be awsome!!

  2. I'd appreciate most routes to be Sapphire :P I don't think the seats will be good [to me], but if it's good on 176, why not try on cousins 2 and 133 (also N133/N137)? Lol

  3. Thanks for that link Anon, it's good to see that TFL are following the tech-craze!
    And in reply to you both, I think it would be great to see most routes as Sapphire, unfortunately it is a great investment and I suppose the fact that it is only on a few routes in the country makes it unique and special.

  4. Would someone tell me the PVR for the route 321 please?

    1. If my memory serves me correctly, it's either 11 or 12.

  5. sapphire buses are all specialty available. i enjoy your service.