One Forty

Over the course of the summer of 2016, many of my childhood routes had started new contracts. In what was a generally ageing fleet in Harrow, many of the routes have received service upgrades, with one aspect of it being new buses introduced.

Literally out with the with the new. Personally, a sad sight.

'Route 140'

It's hard to write this post. Defeating the blank canvas is a challenge with two routes you personally know well. Although I know all the routes in London now, having been a lot more well traveled, the first ever two I got to know that kick started my love of London Transport over a decade ago are routes 140 (being the first) and 114 (being the second).

Two of the more bigger routes in Harrow are routes 114 and 140, the latter being the best, most important and busiest route in the borough. For fifteen years, the route has stood strong with a fleet of some strong Plaxton Presidents. In 1999, the route was won back from RATP Group to Metroline with ALX400 bodied Dennis Trident 2s in a bid to convert the route to low floor operation. Give it two years, and Metroline had upgraded one of their flagship routes to another batch of brand new buses...Plaxton President bodied Dennis Trident 2s with a 10.6m bodywork, to you and me, known as TPL class buses. 

Good buses they were, sparking my interest in London buses. In 2004, Harrow Weald (HD) had novated the route H12 contract from London Sovereign in exchange for route H14. Metroline decided to use brand new Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7TLs (VP604-28). Obviously 25 buses seems a bit excessive for such a small route, so the rest were allocated to route 140 with a small allocation of TAs running alongside, to my memory. 

Along came 2005, and the then-new Enviro 400 model was unveiled by Alexander Dennis. It was decided the first production batch would be allocated to Holloway (HT) route 24. As a result, the LR52-reg VPs (VP317-47) we all know and love were sent over to Harrow Weald for routes 140 and 182. Note that the VPs were sent in two batches, 317-330 in 2005 with 331-347 following in 2007.
VP484 sporting the traditional old style blinds on route 140.

In 2007, one of the best vehicle types I have been on had come around to Harrow Weald (HD) to fill the void left by the departure of the TAs who were about to enter their 10th year in service. The ETs. ET765-770. East Lancs bodied Dennis Trident 2s, 5 of them, had just come off Metrobus route 261 in South London. 

I remember the first time I saw and got on an ET. I don't remember the fleetnumber at all. I just remember I was in the heights of Harrow Weald waiting for a bus going Harrow. By now, I was adjusted to every bus at Harrow Weald (HD) being a VP: LR52, LK03 or LK04 (54). But then around the corner, out of the blue (yes, it had a blue skirt), this weird martian of a bus was speeding down the hill, with it's untamed beastly noises that I couldn't put my head around at first. The bodywork was definitely different to a President, it was a lot more uglier if anything. They had blue skirts, the white stripe at the brim of the skirt and then the London red sporting at top. Their unusual looks probably explained why they were called ETs.

I went on it for a short 10-15 minute ride. Sporting a yellow and blue interior, something odd catches the right eye's attention - three tip-up seats, something unusual in London. I took a seat on the one closest to the door, to notice the slight difference in moquette. Obviously, having grown up around Metroline and not knowing Metrobus' existence, I had thought that the larger 'fries' on the seats was a new variant of the smaller 'fries' on the original Metroline moquette.

Turns out it was a Trident, although it took me time to catch on. Having been used to hearing Voith Tridents, I only clocked it was a Trident when it sounded like one of the 427's TNLs (at the time), some buses which I do thoroughly miss.

However, the bliss of the lovely ET only lasted a good year or two before Harrow Weald (HD) had gone back to fully VP, and now VPL as well. Using three ex-Edgware (EW) models 207-209, these were used on the PS5 school services, but often seen on route 140 as top ups too.
It's VPL222 on 140 in Northolt, back in my early photography days years ago.

Metroline received a contract extension in 2009, for two years with 2011 around the corner, the option of brand new buses was declined in favour of keeping VP317-347, VP466-469, VP485-8 and VP604-VP628 around much much longer, as they were healthy buses. Even though the VP3xx buses were 9 years old.

Anyone that remembers the LR52s will remember the blue skirt went above headlight level, the Plaxton and Volvo badges were visible on the body, their Esteban Civic V2 seats with the unusual grey seatbacks instead of traditional Metroline blue, whilst the LK03s had the same paintwork as the LR52s, however the seats were the rather comfortable Cosmic Fainsa seats. The LK04s were same interior wise like the LK03s, however their blue skirt was a darker shade of blue and lowered to bumper level, although headlights on many models would be a mix and match, sometimes being blue, sometimes being red.
Metroline VP626 (LK54 FWE) at West Harrow on route 140.

The refurbishment for the VPs that had ZF gearboxes (VP3xx and VP4xx) were carried out at Hants & Dorsets Trim in Eastleigh, Hampshire with a good refurbishment job done to the buses. The poles were repainted, the seats replaced on both batches with Rowan Telmacs (which I didn't like), new lino and cooling fans installed. The cooling fans would stop the buses roaring and keep the engine cool, as especially on N140 they often roared, something which residents along the more residential stretches of the route became fed up about, and wrote into TfL many times. A fully red London repaint was in order as part of TfL's new laws against 100% red buses.

The VP6xx, with the exception of 628 which was done at Hants & Dorset, were chosen to be done at Rowan Telmac instead. Whilst the former batches had a refurbishment that was nearly ensured that they would last another contract, the VP6xx unfortunately, and many enthusiasts agreed had gotten such a shoddy refurbishment job. Within weeks of being released from refurbishment, the buses had been falling apart and showing signs that they were becoming worse for wear. Shoddy paint jobs, weak or failing cooling fans, paint on the poles crumbling apart. Their acceleration had also become aggravatingly slower, taking forever to set off the mark on the worst of models such as VP619 and VP628.

It was a sad sight to see the LK04s fall into neglect. So often nowadays you hear how awful they are, but believe it or not, they were nice buses once upon a time. Nowadays, they are in such a state that even I have turned my cheek the other way, only liking about 2 particular models, of which both unfortunately have been shipped out to Hayes (HZ) route U4. More on that later. 

Lower deck interior of VP343.

Upper deck interior of VP343.

However, the refurbishment brought some exciting times to Harrow Weald (HD), memories I fondly recall. Unlike other refurbishments in London, these batches were done in large bulks, and I mean LARGE bulks - often you'd have about 15 buses off at one time, this is from a garage that only housed just above 60 buses. So what covered these ten, fifteen buses?

It was the return of my beloved TPs and TPLs! Some of the very same models that had been on the route 140 many many years earlier at the start of their working lives. The first one I had actually seen was TPL238 (LN51 KXR) randomly one day, the first President also sporting a red skirt. A few days later I saw sisters TPL237 (LN51 KXP) and TPL239 (LN51 KXS) on route 140 and then soon several displaced TPs had come to join too. TP425, TP426, TP427, TP428, TP429, TP430, TP431 and TP433 were all drafted in to act as refurbishment floats. Primarily the buses were on route 140 but it was an easy job to find them on route 182. The H12 didn't see the floats as much, but TP431 was dominant on the route. The three VPLs had their lifeline extended to act as extras.

I loved those days. That was an exciting summer. However by 2012, with VP628 being the last unrefurbished one of the batch with VP341 being the first (333 was the first one I physically saw, 323 being the first one I rode). And so off were the TPs and TPLs. And as they say, all good things come to an end.
Metroline VW1243 (LK12 AAF) on route 140, West Harrow.

So it was another two years until the 140 just couldn't cope any more. Mid contract in August 2014, it was decided that route 140 should have a frequency increase to one every 5-6 minutes during the peak hours. To accommodate this change, the PVR of the route had to be increased by 5 + 2 (it's actually 7 as the two buses are always on 140 whenever 640 isn't running, schoolday or non-schoolday). Brentford had some ex-Holloway (HT) VWs, 6 of them to fit the bill, which were sent over to modernise Harrow Weald's ageing fleet. 

LK12 AAF - VW1243
LK12 AAJ - VW1244
LK12 AAN - VW1245
LK12 AAU - VW1246
LK12 ABF - VW1247
LK12 ABO - VW1248

Now it's 2016 and route 140 is up for tender with no contract extension. Having Metroline be the sole bidder, obviously a retention was in place for one of their flagship routes. This time round with new buses. But before new buses, I want to review my last proper ride on an LR52 VP, as those are the ones I'll miss the most. My favourite model VP343 waited for me on an end to end journey on 140 at Heathrow one late evening in September, all the way to Harrow Weald.

'140 to Harrow Weald'

Route 140 at home, Harrow Weald Bus Garage.

So on the 3rd September 2016, at around 8 or 9PM, I made my way to Heathrow just as it was getting dark. I had just come from Feltham snapping the Metroline 117s, and to round off what had been a pretty awesome summer holiday and a generally good day, I got on a 90 to Hatton Cross, and then a Piccadilly Line to Heathrow Central. By chance, VP343 was about a 3-4 minute wait by the time I had gotten upstairs into the bus station. 

It had been a cold and for part of it, wet day. Anyhow, VP343 swung into the bus station, and I took my usual front upper deck offside seat. And we were off, quickly, too! Navigating around Heathrow Central Bus Station and through one of my favourite parts of the 140, or nearly every Heathrow Central route - the Heathrow tunnel. Buses go underground whilst the planes are overground, and we were breezing about 30-35mph. At the end of the tunnel, you're greeted with a larger-scale replica Emirates A380 wrapped in some sort of safari bunting, and just as you get close up, the bus delved into West Ramp, making a left.

Leaving the Heathrow grounds now and onto Bath Road. Another stretch of the route I love. It being the evening, obviously buses are less busy now, so the bus was breezing 40mph along Bath Road. Only making a stop at Nene Road, we were shooting off into the distance, overtaking a 111 in the process. Now approaching Harlington Corner, our bus had slowly killed speed, as 140 takes a left off onto Harlington High Street. 

That doesn't mean that our cruising had stopped, no, we kept going on well into our 30s (speed, not age!) behind who was clearly a skilled driver. I had been lucky that day, clearing the two sharp bends before crossing the M4 and entering Hayes Town. A new Asda opened up last year which has resulted in route U5 extended one stop to serve the Asda, although 350 and U5 are to swap routes in Hayes, potentially in Spring next year when the U5 begins a new contract.

After Fairey Corner, it's not so much straight wide roads as it has been for the last 15 minutes from Heathrow Central, as you enter a town centre, the roads become very narrow and more pedestrian friendly within a cross of a junction. Hayes Town Centre is an agility course for bus drivers, with all the traffic islands, tight corners, parked cars and bollards edging into the middle of the road. Particularly down Crown Close where buses go down a one-vehicle-at-a-time back lane behind the shops and their rubbish facilities and delivery bays. 

Hayes Town has come a long way since these vehicles began life on 140 in 2005, and over the last two years has gone under gentrification. It's not as scruffy as it used to be, I'll say. Showing the difference, it is a lot more brighter after dark and more modern. The town centre now coming to an end, we were on Coldharbour Lane, a straight road, allowing VP343 to speed up back to 30, flinging itself into the bus lane overtaking other traffic and bringing us to the front of a short queue at The Grapes.

The skies completely dark now, and the bitter chill of the wind kicking in, the warm roar of our bus came to life, only to be cooled down seconds later by the loud fans - a sound any Harrower will miss, I can imagine - leaving The Grapes. The two stops to Willow Tree Lane in Yeading usually tend to be a quick one as the bus stops are far apart and Shaftesbury Waye is a quiet stop in the evenings, so we were acing 40. 
Not the best photo, but it's from the heart: VP343 in Harrow earlier that same day. 

Rowan Telmac seats aren't the most comfortable seats, but I had by now adjusted into them, getting a bit cosy dare I say, although the chill was causing condensation on the windows which was a bit annoying as it was becoming difficult to see through the front windows. However the frost didn't become that bad, it stopped 'growing' after a few minutes, so the view was still somewhat clear. 

The bus had been generally empty, as everyone's either hitting Saturday night TV, a gig, a pub or a club, so throughout this whole trip not many people had come upstairs. I don't believe anyone came upstairs until at least Precinct Road. Yeading, White Hart now, where you are welcomed with other routes such as the 120 and 282.

Not long after, we were welcomed into Northolt, the sight of a E10 caught my attention. A small bus trying to cross the busy Mandeville Road as it runs down the back streets of Ealing. The stop for Northolt Station northbound has been relocated a lot closer to the junction with Belvue Road, to enable a zebra crossing to be implemented outside the station (it was unsafe and inconvenient to cross before the crossing was introduced). The iBus had only been re-programmed to acknowledge the change, so it was welcome to hear the iBus actually play the correct announcements at the correct times.

Straight after leaving Northolt, DP1009 that I had observed earlier on route 395 was running into Racecourse Estate into the late hours. Now, in South Harrow, my driver only had to put in about 20 more minutes of driving, and VP343 would be brought home in no time. We navigated around South Harrow, weaving in and out of a lot of car parking, some of it inconsiderate, but after we made it to West Harrow, where the 140 becomes a bit more residential. Instead of sticking to the A312, the route leaves that jobs to local routes H9, H10 and 395 whilst trunk routes 114 and 140 take the back roads around the West Harrow area, serving Shaftesbury Avenue, Porlock Avenue and Lascelles Avenue. This section is actually quick to speed through during the late hours, so it didn't take more than about 4 minutes to find us rejoining the A312 Bessborough Road. Here, buses actually go direct from West Harrow (Lascelles Avenue) to Harrow Town Centre non-stop. It's not as long as I've made it sound, but it's a three minute circle around two roundabouts and a couple of one way roads.

Harrow is a bit like Hayes, it's a maze, a small one. You have to kill your speed a lot to go around a few tight corners and involve bollards that turn one lane into two. Especially around Harrow Bus Station, one of the smaller bus stations in London where buses have to create a very tight turning for themselves to enter the bus station and to leave it. If a bus breaks down, which Arriva Garston are known to do frequently, the whole bus station is on lockdown until the bus has been removed.

Through the town centre, you end up onto the A409 High Road, past Harrow Civic Centre, which we were breezing through, and past Harrow & Wealdstone Station, the Bakerloo line's northern terminus. It was full on night time, breezing through a cold and empty high street and through the lonely hills of Harrow Weald, past Salvatorian College and terminating at Long Elmes, ready to take a 40 minute break.

As I disembarked the bus, for what could've potentially been the last time ever, I took a photo, waved at the driver and sadly let the bus go.

VP343 at Harrow Weald at the end of the trip.

And then the VWHs came, this review took place a little earlier.

On the 8th August, HD #110 sparked interest. The brand new VWHs had finally entered service. Well, just one. VWH2213 (LK16 HZE) was the first one out on route 140, and following a two hour trek - I ran to Harrow Bus Station to take onboard the something around 1050 departure, or the third ever trip that the bus had made.

Making myself comfortable, upper deck front seat, I got a taste of what 140 was now to be like. Originally, I was not accustomed to the 'frogface' variant of the Wright Eclipse Gemini 3 buses. The bus was actually really quick off the mark, with Volvo claiming they've ironed out small technical errors that have allowed the buses to be a bit more advanced than the older batches.

VWH2213 (LK16 HZE) at Heathrow Central.

The journey actually started off as really quiet, even surprisingly the usual hustle and bustle at Harrow Bus Station was absent, maybe because this was off-peaks on a working day. To be quite frankly honest, there isn't actually much to say about the brand new buses. I mean, they're good and all that, and they are quick just like the LR52s, however it's not the same thrill as you get when you ride a ZF gearboxed VP on the 140. Voiths, don't start me on them. They have smaller windows, quieter engines, you don't hear the roar of the fans day and night. Hybrid buses don't really whine. My mind, just like the crowds at Harrow, was absent for a lot of the journey just because it wasn't as interesting to ride - VPs were the proper buses. 

If you don't know how, or why, I suggest you re-read the post until you understand!

VWH2218 on delivery at CELF. Below are interior photos of the same bus.

I can't believe that I have nothing to say. They just don't have the same passion, same charisma about them. Although I had embraced for this, and I was correct in saying 'No matter how many buses come and go on the 140, the buses that made it onto the route in the noughties will always be the best and do their jobs on 140 the best....' especially the LR52s. I'll miss them. A lot of people will miss them.

LR52 BLK - VP317
LR52 BLN - VP318
LR52 BLV - VP319
LR52 BLX - VP320
LR52 BLZ - VP321
LR52 BMO - VP322
LR52 BMU - VP323
LR52 BMV - VP324
LR52 BMY - VP325
LR52 BMZ - VP326
LR52 BNA - VP327
LR52 BNB - VP328
LR52 BND - VP329
LR52 BNE - VP330
LR52 BNF - VP331
LR52 BNJ - VP332
LR52 BNK - VP333
LR52 BNL - VP334
LR52 BNN - VP335
LR52 BNO - VP336
LR52 BNU - VP337
LR52 BNV - VP338
LR52 BNX - VP339
LR52 BNY - VP340
LR52 BNZ - VP341
LR52 BOF - VP342
LR52 BOH - VP343
LR52 BOJ - VP344
LR52 BOU - VP345
LR52 BOV - VP346
LR52 BPE - VP347

I know I have been raving about the LR52s a bit, but let's not forget the LK03s who worked alongside who have also been amazing buses to ride.

LK03 GKE - VP466
LK03 GKF - VP467
LK03 GKG - VP468
LK03 GKJ - VP469

LK03 GMF - VP484
LK03 GMG - VP485
LK03 GMU - VP486
LK03 GMV - VP487
LK03 GMX - VP488

There are other ones, however they are ex-Willesden (AC) and were recent transfers, so they've not been included.

114 was supposed to be part of this post but it just became too long, and so it's segment of the post has been shifted to it's own post which will be the next post out before next Monday. As for 140, I guess here's to a good 5 years with the new VWHs, but moreover, here's to a fantastic batch of vehicles who served the route well.

And 182 got new buses too.

Green leaves at Oxhey Lane.

All change? This one's not ready to go just yet! VP343 on route 182.

Thanks for a beautiful 11 years, Metroline. Maybe it's because they're new, but further down the line hopefully the VWHs can tell a more interesting story..... Let's hope.

VPs in a line up inside Harrow Weald (HD), with a VWH joining on the far right.
Stay safe, y'all!


  1. Personally, I love the new buses. I'll definitely miss the outgoing ones which I've used extensively particularly on the 182 for many years throughout high school, college and uni, but you can't deny they've aged a lot and are in need of replacement. When I first heard new buses were to come, I was hoping for enviro 400 MMCs, and was disappointed they were getting Gemini 3s as I hated the new design. However the design has grown on me, and they're definitely the best batch of Gemini 3s in London - acceleration is great which enables the route to maintain its reputation of having drivers drive as quickly as possible, and being hybrids mean you have a smooth, quiet journey most of the time. The aircon impressed me during summer too. I think they suit the routes very well, and in two years time when the H12 needs new vehicles it'll be interesting to see what happens. (Just wish they didn't have gasket style windows because it makes them look dated!).

  2. You know they said that the 483 (if had VWH'S) would be kept at HD

  3. its about time the 182 got new Buses can't what to use them