Emerging from the modern shacks that constitute the City Station, I was immediately served by a stream of buses: 3457, an Alexander-bodied Volvo B10BLE of Arriva The Shires, hurried through, bound for Hemel Hempstead. It was promptly followed by Green Line liveried 3906, a Mercedes Citaro, heading for terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport.
More colour was added by Uno's Citaro 308 on service 655 to Hatfield Business Park, whilst Wright Endurance bodied Volvo B10 3845, like 3457 showed just how badly blue shows the dirt. Weather conditions like this, with roads drenched in salt, give few liveries much of a chance, but blue has always been notorious. A shame no-one told Arriva.
Then a part of short Darts came in on local services, illustrating one of the major changes in St.Albans since last year. What were Centrebus Darts 582 and 569 are now part of Uno Buses Ltd, and have been repainted in uno livery, 582 with a whole side advert for the Galleria at Hatfield, and 569 with a horribly clashing rear ad for Busy Bees Childcare.
Then SNB218 appeared, turning down the ramp into the station bus stands. (Sorry about the sign pole in the picture: I haven't got the hang of the shutter delay on my digital pocket camera yet). This Leyland National has had a varied history, serving at many parts of the London Country system before going to Southend Transport in 1990. It went back to Guildford & West Surrey in 1997 and worked as a trainer until early 1999. Now it is in preservation, and this was the first time I had met it.
I climbed aboard and we headed east to the Hatfield Road, and climbed up to St.Peters Street. That, as usual on a Saturday, was a slow-moving traffic jam, full of cars, buses, and the Saturday Market. Amongst the buses was a newish narrow Solo, ex-Centrebus and now with Uno, working the local 359 service. Another ex-Centrebus Dart was 568, heading for Hemel Hempstead on the 320.
I travelled along St.Peters Street aboard the National. I had hoped that they were next off to Abbey Station, but they were going to refuel. I alighted, and watched as SNB218 and RF308 crossed in the market street. RF308 continued up the street to turn at the roundabout.
Now came two of the more prestigious local services, with modern rolling stock to match. On Arriva's 321 trunk service between Luton and Watford was brand new Mercedes Citaro 3914, while Express 634 between Stevenage and Hemel Hempstead was provided by uno's Scania OmniCity 532.
The apparently less important back-street route 320 between Hemel Hempstead and Watford was in the hands of ex-Centro Dart SLF 576, still wearing the livery of the operator before last: Sovereign. Even the fleetname was still discernible, where the vinyls had been peeled off the front of the bus. Uno Bus likewise provided Dart 573 in similar condition for local St.Albans route S1, although the parent company had a significantly posher brand new Citaro 313 on the 602.
Also ex-Sovereign, but taken over by Arriva some years ago, Volvo / Wright Renown 3302 still looks good in inter-urban rich blue livery for the 301 service. Much newer is DEL858, Metroline's Enviro200 Dart bought specifically for the 84. Every year that I have been to the St.Albans Running Days the rolling stock on the 84 has changed. Perhaps this time the change will last!
At the other end of the age spectrum, Marshall-bodied Dart 423 of 1995 still sports Universitybus' white livery, and was back in service operating the 304 after a spell on staff bus duties during 2008.
RF308, in a different age league altogether, was almost ready for a station trip, this time to City Station. I climbed aboard.
We crawled along St Peters Street. The slow moving traffic was no faster once we had turned the corner to head for the City Station. We crawled down the hill. It would be nice to say that we progressed from traffic light to traffic light, but that was far from the case. Often only one vehicle at a time would get through on a complete sequence. But after a while we climbed up over the hump of the station bridge, and turned down into the little bus station. There was a small crowd waiting for us after our delays, so we quickly loaded and completed the loop up to St.Peters Street via the Hatfield Road. The blinds were reset for the next trip to Abbey Station.
For once the two event buses providing the free service in connection with the Chiltern Model Railway Society's show at the Alban Arena, were together on St.Peters Street, SNB218 ready for a 361 round turn to Abbey Station.
Now it was time for me to find some lunch, so I retired to a cafe for twenty minutes or so, for a panini and coffee. When I emerged SNB218 had returned from Abbey Station. I would have joined them, but they were just starting their lunch break. RF308 was not ready yet to go on its next turn, so I looked around a bit more at passing buses. Many of the local ones I had already seen today, but Arriva's new but very dirty Citaro on the 321 gave me a different view of these long beasts.
Centrebus' continued participation in the town was demonstrated by smart Dart 522 on the 34 service from Dunstable, while uno showed its normal allocation on the 602 with Caetano-bodied Dart 152.
I rejoined RF308 for their trip down the hill to Abbey Station. Apart from the congestion in St.Peters Street the journey went smoothly. A train was waiting in the station platform, and we exchanged a few passengers and climbed back up the hill past the Abbey. Back on St.Peters Street an orange, blue and white Dart approached. I assumed it was one of the old Centrebus Darts, but it turned out to be 144, which had been taken over by Uno Bus Ltd in 2008. This elderly Dart started out as DRL34 with London Buses at Holloway. Today it was working on the 304.
We stopped in St.Peters Street to unload, and gather a few souls to take down to City Station. This explained the blind seen at Abbey Station: it wasn't the wrong blind, just indicative of where the bus was going next as it worked between both stations and St.Peters Street.
This trip down to the station, via Hatfield Road, was rather quicker than the usual struggle westbound along St.Peters Street.
I alighted at City Station to head back to London. I would be back the next day...
Part Two: Sunday Morning
Photos by Ian Smith. Click on any of them for a larger picture.
Back to Ian's Bus-stop Part Two: Sunday morning