X81: Ensignbus Running Day
Saturday 1st December 2012
Prepared by Ian Smith, 4th December 2012.
Getting to GreenhitheIt all started smoothly enough, if a little later than I had hoped. I caught a 261 from Burnt Ash Lane, boarding Metrobus' Omnidekka 479 at 0926 for the run via Grove Park to Lee Station. Odd to think that these are now nine years old and getting towards compulsory retirement age. I wonder how many will be preserved?
At Lee I had a relatively smooth transition onto a Networker, swiping my Oyster Card as I passed the closed ticket office. The train took me along to Greenhithe. It was only as I was going along that I wondered whether I would be able to swipe out at Greenhithe. Perhaps I had got too used to travelling with an OV-chipkaart in the Netherlands, where the whole country, buses, trains and ferries, is equipped with swipe-in, swipe-out ticket readers. Not so here, apparently. At Greenhithe I bought a Travelcard, and had to return to within the Greater London boundary to swipe out my Oyster, then return to Greenhithe.
X81: Greenhithe to Bluewater: RTL453As my train drew in to Greenhithe I spotted RTL453 heading up the bank to the station, so hurried through the barriers and emerged just as it pulled up at the stop, heading for Bluewater and Gravesend.
The RTL certainly looked good, wearing the RT10 roofbox body given to it in 1964, but wearing the early livery with cream surrounds to the upper windows, like RTL501 in its early days but with full blinds. I climbed aboard, and greeted the conductor, David Hunter, who was down from Cleveland like me for the weekend.
I bought my day Travelcard - excellent value at £5 for a senior citizen like me - and settled on a long seat to enjoy the short ride down to the Bluewater chalk-pit, now a major shopping nexus.
There the bus was retired from service. It was losing power, smoking a little from under the bonnet, and leaking a small amount of diesel fuel. A broken or unseated injector, probably. Anyway, the bus was sidelined to await the service van, and I enjoyed watching what a friend of mine refers to as "Cornflake boxes" buzz in and out of the busy bus station on ordinary service.
BluewaterArriva Kent Thameside's Enviro200Dart 4038 arrives on a 499, and Stagecoach Selkent's Scania OmniCity 15079 sets off on the 96 to Woolwich. This latter route is a reminder that trolleybuses stretched out along Thameside into the Country Area at Dartford, with the 696, just as today Transport for London stretches out as far as Bluewater with the 96.
Another TfL route to reach Bluewater is the 492 from Sidcup, supplied here by Arriva Kent Thameside's EnviroTrident 6465. Fastrack routes link Bluewater with Dartford, with their own specially equipped buses in a distinctive livery. This is 12m long Volvo / Wrightbus Eclipse Urban 3804.
Arriva Kent Thameside also connects Bluewater to the east: 3825, another long Volvo, works on the 700 to the Medway Towns, while slightly shorter DAF 3761 is on the company trunk route 490, connecting Dartford and Gravesend via Bluewater.
As well as the vintage bus service on route X81, Ensignbus continued its normal, now relatively infrequent, service on the X80. Ex-Stagecoach Trident 105 arrived from its journey over the bridge. Arriva's Enviro200Dart 3987 was ready to set off on the 428 to Erith.
By now RTL 453 had cleared its stand, and circulated the bus station to take up a parking stand to wait for the service van.
A DMS and an RML appeared. I was going to be able to move on...
Photos by Ian Smith. Click on any of them for a larger picture.