This page updated 7th July 2001: best on 800*600.

Part2: Service in the Central Area

RT, red The RTs went to both Country and Central areas, right from the beginning. Both had a desperate need still to replace old buses. In the Central Area, the utility buses bought during and after the war, plus the post-war STDs, had enabled some of the oldest pre-war stock to be replaced, but the exigencies of war-time were catching up fast, and the vehicle inspectorate were clamping down hard on unroadworthy vehicles. The older utilities themselves were showing the signs of bodywork strain too, and the STLs were increasingly held together with external strapping and joint plates.
The RT8s continued the work that the RT3s had started, replacing STs, LT six-wheelers, petrol STLs and the worst of the Guys. There was much shuffling around of the older types, especially STLs, as the antiques were dislodged. The STs and the LTs all went by the start of 1950, many displaced by Guys in turn replaced by STLs (or RTLs). Garages complained if they thought they were being left behind in the changeovers, being left with "the rubbish". Central Area staff representatives successfully argued against having to accept the GreenLine Daimlers, displaced from the Upminster service by GreenLine RTs in October 1950, only to find that the staff at Merton wanted them rather than more STLs!
Standard 3RT8

RT935, Brooklands 1950 saw London's double-decker fleet consisting of RTs, RTLs, RTWs, STLs, STDs, Guys, Daimlers and Bristols - the last five types in mixed condition and the utility Guys and STDs rather unpopular with staff. There was a temporary lull in fleet renewal while a start was made on that other main reason for the RT type: tram replacement.

Replacing the trams

The trams carried huge loads but caused problems in traffic with their inflexible tracks. The new mood of modernity that swept the country after the war had no place for these archaic relics. And so, between November 1950 and July 1952, the trams went, replaced in the main by postwar RTs and RTLs. (The last changeover, to South-East London, required a temporary mix of pre-war RTs and STLs as well, until enough RTs were delivered). Tram depots changed over to accommodate the new diesel buses, and a new era was ushered in.
Bromley's routes, suffering with Tilling STLs, were early candidates for RTs. RT935 carries 94 blinds at Cobham Open Day, April 1998. Photo by Ian Smith. Click for larger view.

Farewell to the Utilities

RT3251 Meanwhile, the utilities too were being replaced. The utility STDs were despatched from Victoria in February 1951. Hornchurch, Upton Park and Barking started the Guy replacement programme in July 1951, using STLs that had been previously serviced and held back for Festival of Britain duties, or that had been displaced elsewhere by new RTs. RTLs displaced Guys directly at Hornchurch in November 1951. Guys at Enfield were replaced by rather better prewar STDs (displaced from Hendon by RTLs) in February 1952. RTLs also moved into Barking, pushing out more Guys. The last Guys from Hornchurch went in June 1952, at the same time as the last few in west London, from Alperton. By the end of the year the last Guys had gone, from Enfield and Upton Park.
Hornchurch-based RT 3251 at Showbus 97
(Photo by Ian Smith) Click for larger version

The small class of utility Bristols gradually diminished at Hanwell, finally ceasing in April 1953. The Daimlers, at Merton and Sutton, were the last of the utility classes to fall before the RT family onslaught, with a steady progression of replacements through the second half of 1952 and much of 1953, but they too were gone by September 1953.

The STLs were also being fast replaced. Many had been retained for the Coronation in June 1953, but once the extra traffic associated with that was over there was a purge. By the end of 1953 there were just the STDs (pre-war and post-war) and a handful of STLs remaining. All the rest had been replaced by the RT family vehicles.

The end of production

RT1702 leaves Brooklands, April 1998 Suddenly, in the early fifties, London Transport found that its predictions for traffic growth after the war were going sadly wrong. The growth in car ownership hit leisure use of buses badly: the new cars came out at weekends for trips into the country, and the long established practice of extending Central routes out into the country at weekends ground to a stop. No longer was Sunday the busiest day for buses in the Country fleet, with every Country bus in use and many borrowed every Sunday from the Central Area. Evening traffic suffered too, as cinemas withered before the onslaught of television.

Having contracted to give two year's notice of termination of body-building with Park Royal and Weymann, LT suddenly found itself with a surfeit of RTs. Even with all the other double-decker types sold off, (the remaining STDs were sold in 1955) and the "pre-war" RTs relegated to training and staff bus duties, there were too many. Sixty three RTLs and 81 green RTs were placed in store.

RT1702 leaves Brooklands Runway, April 1998.
Photo by Ian Smith. Click for larger version.
The non standard Cravens RTs were taken out of service in 1955-6, and sold, but there was still a surplus. 180 roofbox RTs were sold in early 1958, 80 of them to Ceylon.

Trolleybus Replacement

RT1599 at Brooklands 98 The next main replacement programme faced by London Transport was the wind-down of the trolleybus system, and eventually its entire replacement. The bus designed for this job was the new Routemaster, but with a surplus of RTs and a very long gestation period for the RMs it was decided to press ahead using RTs for the first three phases of the trolley replacement programme. So in 1958 the stored buses came into service, and Carshalton and Bexleyheath trolleybus depots found themselves with RTs. The service reductions in 1958, to try to match the new traffic conditions, and the further cuts following the strike, brought another flood of surplus RTs. These were used for the second phase of the trolley-replacement programme, at Clapton and Lea Bridge depots, and even for the third phase, at Bow and Ilford in March 1959.

Now at last the number of RTs available matched the number required, and the further phases of the trolleybus programme proceeded as planned using Routemasters. It had taken ten years to get the RTs fully into service - and they were already being sold before the last arrived!

Central Area RT: RT1599 at Brooklands Runway, April 1998.

Years of boring reliability

The RT fleet settled down to give up to thirty years of unremarkable service. Unremarkable in that there were so many of them, and they were so reliable, that people stopped noticing them. They just became part of the everyday normal scene for the people of Greater London.

They did not change much, either.
The semaphore trafficator arms had seldom been used - or even fitted. They would have decapitated pedestrians if they had! They were replaced in 1959 by flashing light trafficators attached to the mirror fittings at the front corners of the buses. At the rear the confusing double-arrow indicator lost an arrow-head, whilst a second flashing arrow was fitted to the nearside rear.
In the mid 60s other mild changes swept over the RT fleet. They began to lose their rear wheel discs, along with other London types, and the rear display lost the via points in favour of a single large route number (a trend only now being reversed in central London). The offside route number plates had long been disused, and were mainly replaced by a plain panel.

RT2293 in preservation at Showbus 97.
Click for larger picture.

Liveries did not change much either: the Central Area buses lost the cream band in favour of a white one, and suffered a change of pattern to the fleet-name, but that is all. No RTs suffered the indignity of overall advertising, and none lost the fleet-name in favour of a white bullseye.

RT,late red RT2177 at Aldwych, June 1999

RT2177 displays the later livery with flake grey/white band, at the RT60 celebrations, Aldwych, June 1999.
Late condition Central Area RT: trafficators, white band, no hub-covers, no o/s route board

Throughout the sixties and into the seventies the RTs remained the sold bastion of the Central Area. As bus passengers dwindled and economics turned against subsidy, the fleet dwindled, and inevitably the older RTs gave way before the newer Routemasters made surplus elsewhere.

RT1530 at B RT1581, Heathrow The London Bus Re-shaping Plan had envisaged the replacement of the RTs by high capacity single-deckers - the Merlins. But the new buses proved so unreliable that the RTs kept soldiering on. The Swifts too were tried in a RT replacement role, but again proved unsatisfactory at the task. So too did the new generation of double-deckers, the DMS Fleetlines. Unreliability among the new generation of buses, plus the paucity of spares for the Routemasters, meant that the RTs, the solid, reliable old RTs, just kept going.
In 1972 London Transport even bought 34 RTs! These came from London Country, and helped to keep London moving through its worst rolling-stock crisis.

RT 1530 at Battersea, the last RT owned by LTE.
Photo, used with permission, by BusSpotter.
Click for larger photo.

Gatewayto the world! RT 1583 bound for London Heathrow Airport.
Photo by BusSpotter. Click for larger picture.
RT2291 on the 119 Through the seventies the number dwindled, but there were still occasions when routes were converted FROM Fleetlines or RMs TO RTs! The 5 year Certificates last earned by RTs in 1970 had to be renewed in 1975, with three-year certificates going to the fortunate recipients, along with fresh paint!
As late as January 1976 Seven Kings garage could boast of having an RT-only allocation, and in March Enfield's RTs started a NEW RT route, the 217B, but sheer age and the continuimg economics of crew versus opo operation inevitably reduced their numbers.

The start of 1978 saw many of the survivors swept aside, leaving just a few pockets of RT operation at Harrow Weald, Bromley and Barking, using the dwindling number of RTs with valid certificates. Oddly, the 140 route into Heathrow was one of the remaining routes, but this went on the 15th July 1978, yielding a few more RTs to Bromley for route 94 (with forays on 119 and 47 too). Thus Bromley was one of the last garages to operate RTs, just as it had been one of the first. But the 94 succumbed too on 27th August 1978, leaving only the 62 and 87 at Barking, due to a narrow bridge on route 62 that would not accommodate 8 feet wide buses.

Route 119 was one of the last to see RTs. Preserved RT2291
pays a commemorative visit, 20 years on, in December 1998.
Photo by Ian Smith. Click for larger version.


But in 1979 the end came. The last day of passenger operation for LT was 7th April 1979, when a celebration parade was held to mark forty years of RT service. Much to everyone's surprise, including the organisers, newly restored "RT1" turned up to head the parade.

Even after that there were some RTs in non-passenger service for LT. RT2189 was still active on the Chiswick Skid Pan on the 1983 Open Day.

RT 624 on the last day of LT service,
on the 62 in Barking.
Photo, used with permission, by BusSpotter.

Continuing capital service

RT3871, Stoke d'Abernon, June 1999 Independent operators in the London area have kept RTs in public service from time to time.

Ensignbus tendered in the mid 1980's for some stage carriage services in the eastern London area, including route 62. Amongst other buses it used RT3062 in yellow and silver livery, up to January 1992.

Blue Triangle has also used a small band of RTs. In the 1980s it operated Essex route 622 from Harlow to Great Yeldham using RT2799 in red and cream livery, and during the late 1990s has operated the 204 from Loughton to Debden with several RTs in postwar red and cream livery. It also makes operating members of its RT fleet available for special occasions, so they have been seen operating for other London companies on last days (and sometimes on rail replacement services!).

RT3871 of Blue Triangle operates a public service between Stoke d'Abernon station and Cobham Bus Museum on 3rd June 1999, during the RT60 celebration.
(Note: this picture has been adjusted slightly, to "remove" a red and white tape that was waving in front of the bus. This is more obvious on the larger picture.)

Ian's Bus Stop RT contents Part1 Part2 Part3