Countryliner: Dennis Dart SLF
Countryliner began as a coaching arm of London & Country, sold off as a separate concern by Arriva in 1998. Its work then was coaching and contracts. It was in an unpromising location for bus work. Surrey was a difficult county for buses, with high car ownership, expensive property and a Tory council not totally enamoured of public services such as buses. There was Arriva Surrey and West Sussex too, with a firm grip on the old London Country work, plus Safeguard of Guildford and Tillingbourne Valley with experience in independent bus operation in the Guildford and North Downs areas.
But in spring 2001 Surrey had a bus upheaval: Tillingbourne went belly-up. There was a flurry of temporary contracts, and Countryliner ventured into bus work in the Woking area, with routes 72, 73 and 463. Then in 2002 Arriva in Surrey suffered a crisis of confidence: its shareholders' required high rates of return were not compatible with much of Surrey bus work, and it withdrew from the Crawley area and restructured its Surrey offering. Countryliner took on the 479 (Guildford - Epsom).
DP1-3: MPDs for Woking routesIn January 2002 Countryliner bought three MPDs, 8.8m Pointer2s. They were in pale cream with an apple green skirt
The RF was still remembered in this area, and these were the closest approximation, even if a trifle shorter and a little broader. The MPD became the company's choice of bus for normal work in the Surrey area for some time. These three replaced Varios on the 463, 72 and 73, operating from a garage at Slyfield.
Then perhaps having seen and taken notice of the fate which befell several bus companies in the area which grew too quickly and bought/hired too many new buses, Countryliner bought some secondhand step-entrance Darts from Armchair, which took numbers DP4-6.
DP7: an MPD for Guildford 10, 11In September 2002 Countryliner took on Guildford local routes 10, 11. To service the routes they acquired Y39YVV, which erstwhile White Rose had used ostensibly for a Sainsbury contract until its demise (White Rose, that is). It had then been with Kent County Council, before coming to Countryliner. It did not stay long, being acquired by Tellings Golden Miller in December. I suspect it was part of a deal that brought two Caetano Compasses from T-GM with route 48.
DCL40, 50: two Caetano Compasses for route 48In September 2002 Countryliner took over route 48 (Woking - Farnborough) from Tellings-Golden Miller for whom the route was rather distant from its Byfleet base (They had taken it on after the Great Surrey Bus Debacle). T-GM had bought a pair of 10.7m Caetano Compass to operate the route, and passed these to Countryliner with the 48. They stayed with it until August 2004, when they were returned to T-GM at Burton's of Haverhill.
DP8-13: More MPDsSlow expansion continued during October 2002. Two more short SLFs were hired, one 8.8m orange MPD, and one 8.9m white ALX200 that had been on hire with Epsom Buses. These were subsequently taken into stock as DP8 and 9. Another MPD, ex Connex, was acquired in November and became DP10.
DP11,12 and 13 were another three secondhand MPDs acquired early in 2003.
DP9 at Weybridge Statuion on railway replacement work, October 2006
DP14-17: 10.0m secondhand SLFsThree 10.0m Pointers that had originated with Armchair and had recently been hired by T-GM were acquired in March 2003 to replace the three step-entrance Darts (which went to Guernsey, where their narrowness would be appreciated). For some reason they did not receive their fleetnumbers until October. Perhaps they were repainted at that stage, having started work in Armchair orange/white.
DP17 at Tunbridge Wells Station on Sunday 13th May 2012, on the 278.
DP18-21: More secondhand MPDsEarly 2004 saw another four MPDs acquired. Two came from Courtney Coaches in Bracknell. One of these, DP20, was repainted in an overall yellow livery for a contract with the National Trust to run the NT1 service to NT properties in the Dorking area, such as Polesden Lacey.
DP20 passes Dorking Halls on the NT1 to Polesden Lacey, Sunday 1st September 2004. Later in the day I met it coming way back down from Ranmore Common in pouring rain.DP21 was an ex-airport parking bus from Birmingham. The owners wanted to keep the registration, so it was duly reregistered on transfer.
Countryliner expands into SussexIn January 2006 Countryliner expanded into East Sussex, taking over RDH Services with its fleet, including some Darts. The fleet there started to go into Countryliner cream and green, but did not immediately impact the Slyfield fleet in any way.
Then, having hired some Darts to Compass Bus in April, in May Countryliner took over their Burgess Hill (West Sussex) operations.
These changes resulted in a shakeup of the fleets, with more buses acquired and some re-distributed. Four MPDs that had been with Connex and then Travel London were hired. These later became DP28-31, after a while operating in red or white, either at Burgess Hill or Guildford.
DP28 at Tunbridge Wells Station on 278, Sunday 13th May 2012.
Mixed Pointers taken on at Guildford: DP22-27June 2006 saw several more Pointers taken on for the enlarged fleet.
DP22 and DP23 were a pair of ex-rental MPDs.
DP24 was a 10.7m Pointer 2 ex-Centra (DP7).
DP25 and DP26, also 10.7m Pointer 2s, had been with Connex Bus in their Lewes operation in East Sussex (DPL1,2).
DP25 was working the 40 from Brighton to Cuckfield on a very wet 24th January 2012.
A trickle more DartsDP32: one of Compass Bus' MPDs at Burgess Hill was assumed with the June 2006 takeover, and was formally bought in October.
DM33 In September 2006 Countryliner bought a long Marshall-bodied SLF that had originated with Halton Transport. This went to Burgess Hill, and from photos appears to have been the regular bus on route 33 (Haywards Heath - Brighton).
DP34 Countryliner actually bought a new Alexander-Dennis MPD in November 2006 for Surrey work.
DP35 was a third-hand MPD from Kilwinning Shuttle Bus, arriving in January 2007.
This too was used in Surrey.
Countryliner expands into HampshireIn January 2007 Countryliner took over some Petersfield routes from Minerva Accord, and opened an outstation there. They acquired a Mercedes/Koch Sprinter and a Dart MPD (DP36) from Metrobus to service it. At the end of May they expanded the Petersfield offering, and bought three step-entrance Darts from Metrobus. This time these were numbered into a separate DS sequence.
MCV Evolutions on Dart SLFCountryliner had already acquired some MAN chassis with MCV Evolution bodywork, numbered in a MRM series. Now they tried the same bodywork on a Dart chassis. First up were two hired examples in June 2007, tried out in East Sussex.These were returned by the end of the month, but two were acquired from Whitelaw's of Stonehouse, also for the East Sussex operations. These were numbered MRD9 and MRD10.
Ex-Centra Nimbuses: DC37-39Five Caetano Nimbuses from the ex-Centra, ex-Mitcham Belle fleet were inspected, of which three were acquired. Converted to single-door layout they became DC37-39, in cream/green. DC37 spent most of its time on Surrey routes, the other two in Sussex.
Slyfield closes, Merrow opensIn early 2008 the Surrey services moved from the Slyfield depot near Guildford to one at Merrow, near Woking. By this time the company had depots at Burgess Hill and Piltdown in West Sussex, and outstations at Heathfield (East Sussex) and Petersfield (Hampshire).
Ex-Metrobus 10.0m early Pointers: DP40-42In June 2008 Countryliner took on three elderly 10.0m Pointers - the shoebox model - from Metrobus. All were single doorway, two being a pair of London General's early LDPs (24 and 25), and one originating with Limebourne (2307). The third (at least) of the trio stayed in Metrobus blue/blue livery for some considerable time, not improving the image of the company.
Another Marshall: DM43The Pointers from Metrobus were followed by a short (8.9m) Marshall SLF from Metrobus, which had originated with Centrewest. This was repainted in house colours, and became the regular on the Lewes town service.
More ex-Metrobus LDPs: DP45, 46Two more of the ex-London General LDPs (26, 27) that had latterly been with Metrobus, arrived in August 2009, and after repaint were set to work in Sussex.
Ex-Arriva DSLs: DP47-50Four of the Arriva Guildford & West Surrey Dart SLFs that had been taken over by Metrobus with the Horsham operation in October 2009, which Metrobus considered surplus to their requirements, were passed on to Countryliner in November 2009. These too were elderly 10.6m single-doorway "shoebox" SLFs, and Countryliner seemed in no hurry to repaint them into house colours. They were used on Sussex operations in turquoise and champagne, with Arriva fleetnames removed but still discernible, for over a year.
Ex-London United: DP4,5In May 2010 two MAN/MCV buses that had been in Sussex went north, presumably back to their lessors, and Countryliner replaced them with a pair of twelve-year old Pointer 2s from London United, where they had been DP2 and DP3 ("Donner" und "Blitzen" on the 2007 K50 Park & Ride service). Again they were pressed into service in London United red and grey livery, on the Sussex routes.
Countryliner has problemsIn March 2011 the Countryliner Group was called before a public enquiry because of various irregularities in some of the companies. The Group had several companies, and one at Guildford had its local bus licence revoked after tax and vehicle maintenance issues. One company at Heathfield also had its licence revoked from July, after numerous tachograph infringements, chopping off its local bus work. The other Guildford company, having had a high rate of MOT failures, received a warning. Countryliner Sussex had no action taken against it, and increased its licence to enable it to continue some of the bus work surrendered by other parts of the group. Several routes were abandoned, and contracts not renewed after completion, and the whole group was put on notice that its financial standing would need to be affirmed every six months. (The Petersfield operation in Hampshire was unaffected.)
Running a fleet of old buses is not always the answer. It MAY be cheaper than leasing new buses, but only if the company can stay on top of the maintenance.
One waits to see (Nov 2011) which buses have had to be disposed of to fit within the new licence arrangements.
Countryliner closed down its Guildford & Uckfield operations on Monday 8th October 2012, leaving a considerable gap in services that other operators endeavoured to occupy without suffering the same fate.