The London Country Coaches

This page created 22nd November 2002 by Ian Smith

Preserved RCL2233 at Showbus, September 1998. When London Country was established in January 1970 it had no real coaches. London Transport had divested itself of its hire business many years previously, and although it operated the Green Line services as limited stop "coach services", with coach stops to match, the vehicles used were in most cases hardly distinguishable from ordinary buses. Some, the purpose-built Greenline RFs and the RMC and RCL Routemasters, had deeper-cushioned seats, no handrails, luggage racks and a "suitable" internal paint scheme, but they were still essentially buses. London Transport had invested in 1964 in 14 AEC Reliance vehicles (the RC class) to upgrade Greenline services, but these were again buses with big windows and better seating - as well as chronic unreliability .

London Country, desperately needing to cut costs, had to single man its Greenline fleet, and quickly bought another 90 AEC Reliance buses for Greenline (the RP class). These too proved less reliable than expected, but nevertheless displaced the Routemasters from Greenline work. They were solidly appointed in traditional Green Line fashion: decent seats and reasonable visibility.
Preserved RP90 at East Grinstead, April 2002.
Twenty one AEC Swifts with Alexander bodies (SMA class)were diverted from South Wales Transport in 1972, primarily for use on the southern inner orbital route 725. These looked like coaches, and had excellent seating and a ramped floor and large windows, giving excellent visibility for customers.
Meanwhile Greenline was suffering increased competition, primarily from the railways. The Great Eastern, Great Northern and Midland lines had been electrified. The new trains offered much faster commuter services, and a much improved ambience over the relics that they superceded. Greenline still succeeded with commuter traffic from corners that the railways had never reached or had relinquished, or where the London service was slow, dirty or noisy or indirect. Then came the Leyland National. Early examples were to sweep away the old, reliable and comfortable RFs and the newer, unreliable but comfortable RPs. Unfortunately the new Nationals had plastic seats, no luggage racks, and were noisy. Green Belt ridership did not approve. The Greenline network contracted rather rapidly.

Meanwhile London Country had realised that it needed something better for private hire work. In 1973 it bought five AEC Reliances with proper Panorama Elite III coach bodies by Plaxton, exclusively for private hire work. Unnumbered at first, these later became P1-5. They were joined towards the end of the decade by secondhand coaches from National Travel, P6-7 (1976), P8-12 (1978), D13-18 (1979) and P19-22 (1980), which were used for increased commitments to the National Express long-distance network and to National Holidays and increased excursion traffic.

The same style of Plaxton body appeared on the RN-class in 1977. But the contents were rather different. The coach shell was fitted out with 3+2 bus seating, giving a capacity of B64F. RN1-7 were bought secondhand from Barton Transport in Nottinghamshire, and immediately took over on the 418 (Kingston Stn - Bookham Stn). They were downseated slightly to B60F! This still made them a one-person-operated double-decker replacement. They congregated in the south-west corner of the Country Area, and specialised in contract work and schools runs, although there were occasional Greenline appearances.

Greenline, on the verge of collapse by 1976, was given a major facelift and network re-evaluation. A new fleet of coaches was hired, fifty a year for three years, for Green Line. These had proper coach bodies, by Duple (RB) and Plaxton (RS), and were hired on five-year leases to ensure that the fleet did not subsequently slide back into senility. With proper thought given to the market, the market-places, and marketing, the Greenline network was dragged back from the brink. The long cross-London services disappeared, and tube / railway feeders made their return. London Airport (Heathrow) began to be served by passing Greenline routes! Commuter routes changed their stopping patterns to suit the clientele. By 1980 Greenline had been transformed and ridership was increasing.

The 1980 Transport Act brought new opportunities and challenges. London Country was free to operate outside the old boundaries, but was also open to challenge from outside operators and newcomers. But some imagination was applied, and cooperation with other operators meant that Green Line became a joint brand-name for joint services to places such as Oxford and Brighton. Excursions, long-distance tours, and out of area hires proliferated, and required new stock. It became commonplace to see the Green Line label all over the U.K. (and even into Eire). On the other hand, some ventures produced route branded vehicles with no apparent link to Green Line, and some tour and long-distance vehicles wore the bland white of National Express or National Travel.

AEC Reliance production was suppressed by Leyland, so London Country began trials to look for the next generation of Greenline coaches. Two Volvos, DV1-2, with Duple Dominant II bodies formed one of the trial elements in 1980, matched against a pair of Leyland Leopards DL1-2, with the same bodywork. Leyland won this trial, and another thirty Leopards, bodied by both Duple (DL) and Plaxton (PL) were delivered in 1981.

1982 saw the introduction of 42 Leyland Tigers with ECW bodywork for Flightline and private hire work, the TL class. Forty-five more Leyland Tigers followed in 1983, with Duple bodies: the TD class, for Greenline, private hire, National Travel and airport use.

1984 saw a return to Plaxton bodywork on Tiger chassis, forty of them 11m long (TP) for various duties and twenty 12m long (TPL), divided between private hire and GreenLine. More followed in 1985, fifteen TP and twenty TPL. Also in the 1985 order were twenty-five BTLs: Berkhof-bodied Tigers, with tall luxury bodywork for prestige services, including the Airport links and National Express duties.

High loadings on commuter work produced another attempt at the Green-Line doubledecker in 1984, with the advent of the LRC Leyland Olympian with long ECW bodywork. More followed for the Luton and Stansted Airports traffic.

Another old class designation came in 1985, when twelve more Leyland Tigers were ordered, with Plaxton Paramount 3500 bodies for private hire or Jetlink duties, forming the STL class. Twenty more Tigers, but with higher specification Duple 320 bodies, formed the TDL class. More Tigers arrived, secondhand, with the takeover of control of the National London fleet: two were quickly transferred to the London & Country fleet, followed by a third the following year. These were the NTL class. This takeover brought a variety of coaches into the London Country fleet. Some were disposed of quickly, while others went mainly into the Kentish Bus and London Country South-West fleets.

To be continued...


Please note that many of these pages have not been prepared yet: but producing the list and the summary gives me something to aim at! * = not yet ready (histories may be available)

Ian's Bus Stop LC Coach Index P,D text