Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith, This page created 15th October 2011. Best on 800*600.

Centra: Dennis Dart SLF

Thames Bus taken over: the start of Centra

Central Parking Services was mainly involved in Airport work: car park shuttles to cover the many square miles of car parking around major airports such as Heathrow and Luton, and hotel shuttles. But in October 2003 they ventured into Surrey local bus work by taking over Thames Bus, the grandly named small bus company at New Haw. They used the trading name of Centra for their new bus business. With the takeover came two buses from the Thames Bus fleet: an ex-Reading Leyland Titan (YJB 68T) and a step-entrance Dart (N401 SPA). Centra moved some of its existing stock to work the Surrey bus services, including three Dart SLFs: two single-doorway 10.7m Pointers and one 11.3m Super Pointer.

KX51UDG at Hatton Cross, February 2002 11.3m SLF, Centra 11.3m SLF, Centra

KX51UDG on Staff Shuttle at Hatton Cross, February 2002.
8.8m SLF, Centra Three 8.8m MPDs followed for use on the 516 (Epsom - Woodcote - Leatherhead - Box Hill - Dorking). The first to arrive had previously been hired by Armchair of Brentford, the second had been with Connex in Sussex, and the third in far-away Lancashire. Arriving in dealer white, the last two were quickly treated to a grey skirt with blue body stripes and route-branding for the 516. The grey skirt was quickly amended to silver. (Was the grey an undercoat?)

Centra takes over Locallink, Stansted

Having tested the waters in the south-west fringe of the outer London area, Centra took another bite (to mix metaphors) in the north-east, by taking over Stansted-based Locallink in April 2004. Again it spurned the indigenous fleet, and either hired in stock or transferred buses from its airport fleet. Four Dawsons Rentals Dart SLFs were moved in, I presume for the 520 (Loughton - Romford), along with a couple of Varios. Centra operated a number of once-daily services, plus some commercial services. It improved reliability compared with its predecessor, but increased competition in the area , plus problems with the Mitcham Belle takeover, caused it to relinquish the Stansted tendered bus operations at the end of September, passing them on to other local operators (Regal Buses, Trustline and Arriva). The final commercial service, the 410, was given up after the statutory notice in November.

During the early summer another couple of SLFs made an appearance: a Transbus MPD demonstrator, which then whirred off to Reading Buses, and an ex-White Rose Caetano Nimbus, which became part of the Centra long-term fleet.

Centra takes over Mitcham Belle

10.7m Pointer, Centra Centra really stepped up a gear in August 2004, when they took over ailing Mitcham Belle. This time they did take over the fleet as well as the business and bases - and found that nearly half the buses were in serious need of remedial attention. To keep the show on the road they hired in a number of buses. Routes 127 and 200 were amenable to double-decker operation, and Centra also hired a significant number of Dart SLFs, mostly from Dawson Rentals or Ensign Bus.

Ex-London General LDP19 came for a few months, still in London General livery.

Another SLF ex-Hackney Community Transport and Connex arrived, a 10.7m Pointer.

Five Caetano Compasses that had been with Limebourne/Connex/Travel London were also leased.

DC3: 11.0m Caetano, Centra The ten ex-Sovereign Darts at Mitcham Belle were returned to Blazefield (their owner) in September 2004, but five of them were bought back by Centra at the end of the year.

The Mitcham Belle fleet was doctored, and renumbered with class prefixes (DP or DC for Plaxtons, Caetanos) and numbers reflecting registrations, in keeping with Centra's own book-keeping. Centra's indigenous fleet also began to sport DP fleetnumbers too.

Repaints of the Mitcham Belle Dart/Pointers began, first into all-red, and then with blue skirts and reflective silver flash. These Darts were all done by June 2005, as was Centra's own Caetano DC3.

Surrey and Sussex services taken over by Rotala (Flights Hallmark)

8.8m MPD, Flights In August 2005 Centra sold all its Heathrow, Gatwick and New Haw operations and fleet to Flights Hallmark, owned by Rotala, who reregistered all the services in their name. The ex-Mitcham Belle operations, now Centra London, at Beddington were retained, including 72 Darts, five Solos and five double-deckers. Flights Hallmark rebranded its Surrey operations in October, as Surreyconnect. Likewise local services at Gatwick became Sussexconnect. They hired some Darts for the takeover of Surrey routes 426 and 446, and ordered five MPDs from Dawsons to operate the routes in the long term. These were five that had previously been with Connex. Dawson fitted them with electronic blinds and painted them in a scheme very like the Centra livery, but with a green/yellow swoosh above the silver. They went into service in October on the two routes (Staines - Chertsey - St.Peters Hospital - Addlestone - New Haw - Ottershaw - Sheerwater - Woking). One was defective and was returned to Dawsons, a white one of the same series coming to replace it temporarily.

Centra London closes down

Centra London lost the 127 in December 2005, the K5 in February 2006, and the 152 in April 2006. That made most of its fleet redundant. The 200, 201, and 493, its remaining routes, were handed to other operators in May 2006, and the fleet was placed in store, pending sale, the Plaxtons mainly being stored at Ensignbus and the Caetanos at SCC, Waterlooville. The buses found homes with many operators over the next few years, some for short terms while other newer buses were awaited, some permanently.

Surrey Connect closes

Flights Hallmark closed down the Surrey Connect operation at New Haw in May 2007, transferring its Surrey Connect routes to Wiltax or Travel London West. Some buses were transferred too, including a pair of MPDs that seem to have been imported from Central Connect just to be handed on to Travel West London with the 513. The four MPDs on the 426/446 also transferred to Travel London West with those routes.

Other Flights Hallmark vehicles transferred from New Haw to Heathrow or Gatwick.

Ian's Bus Stop Dart SLF index. Centra's Dart SLFs. histories. photo refs.