The Millenium Buses: MD1-17
The Dome at North Greenwich was Britain's response to the Millennium, a year-long exhibition of Britishness. It was intended to show the spirit of innovation and engineering excellence that had characterised the Festival of Britain in 1950. It was served by the new Jubilee Line tube, which was so new and relatively untested that a large fleet of buses was held on standby just in case it failed. (It didn't.) It was also linked to two South-Eastern stations - Greenwich and Charlton - by two new bus routes, M1 and M2. For these London Central acquired seventeen brand new DAFSB220s, with stylish East Lancs Myllennium bodywork. They were supposed to be MD1-17, but appeared wearing numbers 2001-2017 on the top rear sides. They were in red with charcoal skirts, with a white design representing lines of latitude and longitude on the rear sides, and Millennium Dome Service in white on the sides too. There were no opening windows, but a large air-conditioning pod at the rear.
MD12 on M2 at North Greenwich Station
MD8, 9 and 10 were powered by gas, with red-painted gas tanks on the forward roof.
They arrived in November and December 1999, in time to take up service when the Dome opened for business. The M1 was supposed to use a new dedicated busway, to avoid the traffic. But the busway was not completed, and the queues did not materialise either. The general public impression was that the exhibition was not all that it was intended to be - an impression stoked by the ever-patriotic press.
MD15 on M1 at North Greenwich Station
486The Dome Exhibition lasted the year, despite the lack of the expected crowds. In January 2001, after it had closed, route M2 to Greenwich Station was withdrawn. In February route M1 also disappeared, but was replaced by extended route 486 (North Greenwich Station - Charlton Stn - Queen Elizabeth Hospital - Welling). The MDs still operated from New Cross garage.
In June 2001 the Millenium Busway eventually opened (only eighteen months late), and the 486 was diverted along it.
The 486 was further extended in February 2002, to Bexleyheath. Operation shifted to Bexleyheath, and all the MDs moved there. Reliability was not of the best, especially amongst the gas buses, and a variety of other types were seen substituting, including LDPs, DMLs and PVLs. The solitary Wrightbus Eclipse VWL1 was also officially allocated to the route.
During 2002 the airconditioning on the MDs became increasingly problematic, to the point where drivers refused to take them out. They were then fitted with some opening windows, whereas they had started with all fixed glazing.
They continued on the 486 until that route was double-decked with EnviroTridents in 2007. The three gas buses were the first to go off-lease in April 2007, followed by the others in July. VWL1 went at the same time.
After-lifeThe three gas buses went off to Dublin Airport, where they became Airlinks GB1-GB3. At least two of them returned to the UK in 2010, and were acquired by The Bus Business. MD8 became an air-pollution measuring laboratory for Astrium, to monitor London air quality before and during the 2012 Games.
Most of the others soon aquired new owners: eight went to Cumfybus in Southport, and four to Black Velvet at Southampton. Two failed to attract buyers, as far as I know.
The solitary Volvo, VWL1, was acquired by Wessex Connect, who used it on University contracts, especially for the University of Bath, when it was reregistered as A9UOB. After that it transferred within the group to Diamond in Birmingham, regaining its original registration.