Little Route, Big History

London's youngest bus route changed operator on Saturday morning. We're back on the grounds of Brent Cross this week - just this time on route 324. 

It's astonishing that it's already been 5 years since route 324 came about (2010). I remember when it first came about, because it was August 2010 and I was reading the local paper for Harrow. Amongst all the other interesting stories in there, one caught my eye, it was a little column: New Bus Route for Stanmore. Harrow's not that interesting when it comes to buses, right now if you go there, you'd notice most of their fleet (especially in 2010) was old - the newest buses we had were on route 186, which were 2007 plated, but the average age was probably 2001 for most buses there.

Harrow doesn't even get that many route extensions or new routes for crying out loud! Route 395 was introduced a year before the 324, which was the first new route in the area for ages. The paper said it was to run between Stanmore Station and Brent Cross, (although I immediately thought the shopping centre and not the Tesco on the other side of the A406). It was to come in October, although I had forgotten the date. 

Soon enough I ventured out to Stanmore, shortly after operations began, probably around the November time, and I saw a 324 bus for the first time. It was an SDE - I knew 1 door buses were about, but it was a rarity in this end of London. After 324, I'd say E5 and E10 (I didn't know about or use the H1/H2/H3) are the next nearest routes I knew to be served by 1 door buses and that's miles off! 

Transdev SDE22 (YX60 BZE) on route 324.

I wondered why the route had 8.9m buses - but having done research a few years into the new route, it's due to two things. One thing I knew about shortly after operations commenced and the other I actually learnt the same day I wrote this very post (mid-October 2015). Reason 1, probably the most well-known reason, is due to residents' objection along the westernmost Hail & Ride section in Stanmore. Even I was a bit peeved that the 324 had to go Stanmore, and not somewhere else a bit more useful (Harrow Weald at the very least, as it's a far more direct route than the 182). There's already the 142 and 186 to aid that link. Anyways, Old Church Lane residents weren't too happy about there being a bus service along the road in the first place, a lot of petitions were signed to stop the 324 coming through. 

However, they lost.

The residents said that Stanmore in general didn't need the bus service - acting as if they were MPs - although I could get where they were coming from at the same time. Most residents made a compromise, saying 324 could continue through to Stanmore Station, however, it must run via Honeypot Lane and Marsh Lane (via the 79 and 340) instead, which are main roads. This may end up as a loss of a link directly to Stanmore Broadway which would annoy many I'd imagine as buses turn directly into Honeypot Lane from the direction of the Station, completely missing The Broadway, which makes Stanmore a stupid place to terminate the bus. The only logical place in Stanmore to terminate it at is the Church, which creates a loss of service to the station. However, the route already passes directly in front of the Jubilee Line at Kingsbury Station, and is a 2 minute walk away at Queensbury Station.

The second reason as to why route 324 was to use 8.9m buses initially, was that originally 324 was to terminate OUTSIDE of Brent Cross Tesco on Tilling Road, it was only last minute that it was accepted inside Tesco following passenger requests. So the stop, 'Claremont Road' most likely would've been converted into a stand/stop for route 324 use only and that buses would turn at the roundabout. However, to be able to perform this motion, the route would strictly be allocated 8.9m buses. I could tell from this - as on one of the TfL documents it states:

"We held a route test on 22 April 2010 where a 10.2 metre bus was driven along all of the proposed route....The route test identified potential issues with proposed termini but concluded that the bus could safely use the proposed roads"

However, TfL like to leave room for expansion in case the route deems popular. And so after some talks with Tesco, it was agreed that buses were allowed to stand inside their premises at the front of the store (on their grounds) where buses would turn around in a layover/turning circle. 10.2m buses can clear this. 

Now you could be asking, how do you know it wasn't Stanmore Station? Simple. There's a route called H12 that uses 10.2m double decker buses and has been using those vehicles and standing there with those vehicles for the best part of over 10 years.

The Last One: Sovereign SDE21 (YX60 BZD) on route 324 on the last day at Roe Green.

Harrow Council had talks with TfL over the 324, and said that if the route was running via Old Church Lane the buses had to be 8.9m long. I've also noticed a trend that every time Harrow Council get involved in transport, the first thing they will always say is make a route go Northwick Park Hospital despite there being about 6 routes serving the hospital (one bus to Harrow roughly one every 2-3 minutes). This has happened with route 395 (unsuccessful), route 186 (successful), route 223 (say what you want - the route already serves the hospital, but they demand it does a circle from Harrow - Northwick Park - South Kenton - Wembley - North Wembley and back to Northwick Park?!). I was a bit bemused by what they had suggested: Instead of route 324 to Brent Cross, re-route 324 to Northwick Park Hospital. For those who don't know West London that well - think of it as the 25 originally going to Ilford, but instead of going Ilford, cut it between Ilford and Tottenham Court Road, then divert the route to Croydon instead. Completely different directions and places here!

The whole purpose of route 324 was to create a frequent daily service over route 972, as well as bring new links to Colindeep Lane and create better localised links. So if the route is going Northwick Park Hospital, it'd be a very impractical route to run. If they had said, change the Stanmore terminus - it'd make a lot more sense. Far more sense if anything. But what their plan was was to create another 186. Thankfully, their poorly thought plan never went anywhere other than the bin.

Maybe it's a Hospital thing, but this suggestion was far smarter than the Northwick Park re-routing. Harrow Council also suggested that at Stanmore, the route could be extended to the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in the same area. It's a large hospital hidden away inches to the London boundary, in Brockley Hill, on the 107 route. Although 107 does serve the hospital, it does not pass Stanmore Station or the Broadway, and instead diverts to Edgware. Furthermore, Harrow Council pointed out that route 324 would terminate inside the hospital grounds and not on Brockley Hill.

Anyways, Transdev were awarded the route in early 2009, however it wasn't until late 2010 that the route had actually been introduced. The route was formalised on the 24th October. It was agreed that in addition, the route had to be infrequent, which in this case was one every 20 minutes. Most people I know, including myself, find route 324 useful east of Queensbury/Kingsbury towards Brent Cross. It slashes journey times by up to an hour (rather than taking a 183/142 or 204/182). The route does run via Old Church Lane, Culver Grove, Abercorn Road and St Andrews Drive, despite strong opposition. 
But let's look at this 'rebellion'. 

I actually find it interesting, because a lot of times when residents complain, it's often for purely selfish and stupid reasons and the result of their actions tend to doom our bus services in other scenarios across London. However, this hand proved something different. The residents actually were smart enough to speak out because had the route been diverted via Honeypot Lane north of Queensbury Circle, the route would've been a) more direct b) more reliable c) cheaper to run possibly. Marsh Lane and Honeypot Lane only take 10 minutes to complete in total whereas the routing via Stanmore Church and Culver Grove adds another 6 or so minutes, but terminate the route at the Church instead (via Marsh Lane). 

I understand TfL were on a tight budget for making route 324. This paragraph actually tells you why 324 misses every other stop on the route: to save money. The route has a tight schedule so that the PVR can be 6. The route does not serve Queensbury Station, Brent Cross Interchange (towards Brent Cross, Tesco) as it actually takes the first slip road whilst every other route takes the second, or Colindeep Lane (towards Brent Cross, Tesco). If the route was to serve these stops, it means a 7th bus has to be added to the schedule, and that would increase costs. Had the route terminated on Tilling Road itself instead, I'd imagine the route would serve some of these additional stops. To terminate inside Tescos adds about 4-5 minutes in total (to go and back). 

The Last Week: DE2 at Brent Cross, Tilling Road Tesco on route 324.

The Last Day: DE15 (YX58 DVT) on route 324 towards Stanmore.

Unfortunately, one drawback on this route is the tight schedule, which has caused the route to become very unreliable at times hence the award to Metroline. In addition, the vehicles have been complained about by enthusiasts and engineers, as well as the residents. It just so happened that SDE18-24 which were 8.9m Enviro 200s used on the 324, they were a bad batch of vehicles that were often off road all the time. Sometimes too many vehicles were off road at once, and in 2013, Transdev had to request that a 10.2m bus from route 251 and later the 326 could cover at times when 8.9m were off. The problem gradually grew worse in terms of the reliability - for starters by the end of the contract only 6 of the 7 buses had made it. SDE18 exploded during a late night service towards Brent Cross whilst on the 324 last year and was written off after that due to an engine fault.

The vehicles became even more unreliable, and moreover, DEs became the norm on the route to the point where by the end of the contract, it was normal to have about 4 DEs on the 324.
Two Doors: Loanee DE73 is seen on route 324. Probably the best 324 ride I had.
Well since Saturday morning and from now on, it's the norm to have 6 DEs as Metroline have taken on the route. The new running numbers are W #131+.

The service has been boring in terms of allocation, as no strays have actually appeared on the route. Although in terms of reliability, the service has definitely improved in the last 7 days.

Now at this rate there's not much else to give the reader, other than some pictures to round off the post and a fleetlist:
Non-existent: This bus will never be seen again, as it exploded whilst on the 324.

Setting down the clothes-shoppers, picking up the food-shoppers: A logoless SDE21 is spotted at Brent Cross.

YX60 BZA - SDE18
YX60 BZB - SDE19
YX60 BZC - SDE20
YX60 BZD - SDE21
YX60 BZE - SDE22
YX60 BZF - SDE23
YX60 BZG - SDE24
There's the before, and then the after: DE860 is seen at Kingsbury Circle on route 324.

Day 3: DE873 is seen at Kingsbury Station whilst on route 324.

Cool Colours: DE866 (LK08 DWZ) is seen at Kingsbury Circle on a more quiet and cold day.

LK58 CPX - DE871
LK58 CPY - DE872
LK58 CPZ - DE873
LK58 CMY - DE874
LK58 CMZ - DE875
LK58 CNA - DE876
LK58 CNC - DE877

Well, that's all I've got. Thanks for reading this slightly lengthy post and please do stay safe! 

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  1. What's going to happen to the rest of the SDEs?

  2. What is the running number for the 324

    1. Hey RG Chill,

      For Metroline it's W #131-136
      For RATP it was BT #191-196

      Hope it helps!