London United's Alexander ALX 400s
an introductionLondon United was very much a single-decker company, because its operating territory was bedevilled by low railway bridges where the LSWR had swept out into the London suburbs keeping sufficient height to avoid Thames flooding, but not at all bothered about road traffic (there was none). But in 2000 London United still had Routemasters for its trunk routes into London, and sixty or so Metrobuses, plus about sixty Olympians (both Leyland and Volvo).
London United dipped a toe into the low-floor double-decker market in March 2000, with forty-five Volvo B7TLs (VA60-104), with Alexander ALX400 bodywork. These were followed by twenty-six Volvo B7TLs with Plaxton President bodies (VP105-130). The VAs arrived in February/March 2000, and went into service from Hounslow and Shepherds Bush.
TA: Dennis Trident: TA201-203Perhaps London United wanted to keep its options open. The low-floor Volvos were notoriously noisy, especially inside. So September 2000 saw a small order for three Dennis Tridents with ALX400 bodywork: TA201-203.
The Tridents went to Hounslow, which operated a mixed bag of routes with a mixed bag of buses. The Tridents were just added to the mixture of Ms, VAs, LAs and single deckers. The Tridents were painted in the outstanding LU livery of red with grey white and stone. How much better than plain red!
TA203 was loaned to Fulwell as a trainer prior to the introduction there of the main production batch.
TA204-225: first production series for FulwellThe Tridents were well-received. Fulwell was the recipient of a batch of twenty-two in November and December for the 131 and 267 (although they soon strayed). These were 9.9m standard models like the first three. They replaced the Metrobus allocations on the 131 and 267.
TA209, now with Transdev logos and a front dome air-scoop, at Tolworth on a 406 to Epsom from Kingston.
Later in its career TA209, now with Transdev at Tolworth, rounds the corner in Ewell on a 406 to Kingston from Epsom (April 2007).
TA229-263: second production series for FulwellMore of the same arrived at Fulwell in April and May 2002. They were due to take over the 65 from Armchair and the 71 in June, the latter again to replace Metrobuses, but, unusually, were early. An early takeover on the 71 could not be done because of street furniture limitations (bumps, mainly). The 85 was due to relinqish its Northern Counties DAFs, on hire since London Country lost the route back in 1999. New Wright Volvos were due in June, so the opportunity was taken to put in the Tridents on a temporary basis. The stored TAs were also put to use on the 411 (normally VA Olympians) and the 281 (still M). The end of May saw new TAs used for the Rugby Specials to and from Twickenham. June came, and there was a shuffle, with the TAs taking up their intended roles on the 65, N65 and 71.
Where they are supposed to be: TA231 (with scoop) on the 65 in Ham (May 2007) and TA253 on the 71 in Kingston.
TA264-292: third production series intended for Tolworth, diverted to Shepherds BushIt was a similar story in July (2002). Tolworth operated the 57 with a fleet of twenty VA Olympians, due for relegation to Sovereign London. No problem there then. But. The but was that Shepherds Bush was due to take on new route 148, with new Volvos with ALX400, bodfied by Alexander in Belfast. These would not arrive in time for the take-up of the new route. So the old Volvo Olympians had to stay on the 57 for a bit longer, while the early-delivered Scottish Tridents were stored at Tolworth and then used for crew training on the 148. Then in October they took up service at Shepherds Bush on the 148/N148. This was a new route, introduced to help with expected ridership issues with the new Congestion Charge.
The TAs stayed at Shepherds Bush until December 2002 or January 2003, then returning to Tolworth to take up the 57. February 2003 saw a rash of them also on the 418 (), which had a nominal allocation of three Ms.
The only time I travelled on a London United Trident: TA273 at Wimbledon Station (November 2007). A few minutes later we came up behind TA278 on a 57 at Raynes Park Station.
TA276 heads east towards Streatham Hill, October 2006. TA292 swings round a corner in Kingston, March 2009.
TA312 - 346: More Tridents, for Hounslow and Fulwell
The next batch of ALX400s reverted to Trident chassis (VA293-311 were Volvo B7TLs). Six TAs arrived in March 2003. TA313-317 went to Hounslow to increase capacity on route 111, which had been updated three years earlier with older low-floor Volvo/ALX400 VAs. TA312 joined them in April. Unusually for Hounslow, once in service on the 111 from May they pretty much stayed there.
The rest went to Fulwell for the 281. They of course got mixed in with the earlier Fulwell batches on other routes. Olympian VAs were displaced, either to Tolworth for the 406, or to Sovereign London at Edgware.
Rear views: TA329 on a 65 in Richmond; TA339 leaves Chessington World of Adventures on 71 to Kingston.
TLA1 - 32: Longer Tridents, for Shepherds Bush
In November 2003 thirty-two 10.5m long Tridents arrived, ready to take over the 94 in January. This would displace the incumbent RMLs and Ms from the 94. In the interim the new TLAs were placed in store, at Stamford Brook, Tolworth and Fulwell. These were stretched TAs, with a single bay inserted (like the RMLs that they displaced). Like the RMLs they worked from Shepherds Bush.
TLA4 on its customary route.
Ongoing serviceThe first major change involving the TAs came in September 2005 when Scania OmniDekkas arrived at Fulwell for route 267. Thirteen of the TAs were displaced, and were distributed amongst other TA allocations. Three began a program of repaint into 90% red, in accordance with TfL guidelines. Some kept grey skirts, some grey skirts with a white line, others red skirts. Not all were repainted: some retained the traditional plae grey roof, dark grey skirt and white trim-lines for many years yet.
TRANSDEV fleetnames: TA344 terminates on a 65 in Kingston, March 2009; TA328 on a 281 to Tolworth Broadway.
TRANSDEVRepaints and refurbishments occurred in 2005/6, either all-red or red/grey. In April 2006 the owning group applied the first rule of ownership, and mandated that the Transdev fleetname should supercede the London United fleetname. Until then the transdev squiggle in almost invible green and blue had been subsidiary to the visible London United crest and fleetname: now Transdev appeared large in white, and the crest and old fleetname vanished.
In June 2005 high temperatures and complaints about overheating on the top deck gave rise to TA231 being fitted with an air-scoop on the front dome. Others followed. There were variations in the width of the scoop: some just narrow in the front centre, later others were almost the full width.
DisplacementThings stayed fairly stable until 2008-9. New double-deckers took routes won by London United/Transdev, and the ALX400 VAs took over from the remainder of the old Olympian VAs. There was a rash of loans and temporary transfers of TAs and VAs while the fleet was fitted with the i-BUS information system. The TLAs remained closely attached to route 94 into the shopping heart of London's West End. Some of them received vinyl wraps for overall advertising, usually leaving the fronts in fleet livery.
Then a flood of Polish-built Scania OmniCity double-deckers arrived during 2009 and for the first time in several years there was a surplus of double-deckers. Thirteen of the TAs (TA251-263) were on lease from Lombard Financing - well, twelve were: TA258 had been written off in a fire. These were withdrawn in late summer 2009 and advertised for sale. More followed in December 2009 and February 2010, surprisingly leaving in service mostly early examples.
Many retained TAs were repainted all-over red with white Transdev fleetnames. Some were transferred from Fulwell to Tolworth in January 2010 for the 57, displacing VAs, while others remained as spares while the SPs settled in on the 65 and 71.
In May 2010 RATP announced that it was de-merging from the Veolia / Transdev grouping, taking away its Transdev assets (buses, crews, garages...). So early in the next year the brash Transdev logos began to disappear, replaced by a more elegant London United RATP Group fleetname in white. This included a circle and squiggle representing the course of the River Seine through Paris!) Meanwhile, at the end of 2010 the TLAs were facing displacement after their seven year stint on the prestigious route 94, and a refurbishment cycle began. It looked like they were going to stay with London United. The divorce came through in February 2011.
Red TLAs: TLA20 shines in the sun on Piccadilly, by Marble Arch. TLA5 heads west for Kingston in December murk in 2012, shortly after leaving Shepherds Bush (94) for Tolworth.RATP lost no time in applying its fleetname: London United, RATP Group in white. These went onto vehicles irrespective of livery.
The prototype three, TA201-203, went to Yellow Buses in Bournemouth in June 2011.
The first main batches, up to TA250, presumably owned by the company, soldiered on into their teens, mainly at Fulwell but with spells at Tolworth on the 57. TA251-280 and 287-292 had been returned to their lessors in 2010, and gradually found buyers over the next couple of years. (London United and Transdev had little by way of provincial sister companies to mop them up.) TA281-286 soldiered on at Tolworth, where they had displaced contemporary Volvos back in 2002-3.
The older TLAs (1-8), plus the youngest (31-32) left the 94 and Shepherds Bush for spells at other garages or sale from about 2012. Their extra length and seating capacity made them suitable for the 600 series of routes intended to serve schools at peak hours. The remaining TLAs (9-16) mainly stuck to the 94, several wearing overall advertising, then went off-lease in February 2013. TLA17 and 19-30 survived in service until July 2016.
And so it went on. The early TAs proved remarkably long-lived, unlike their unloved noisy contemporaries, the VAs. More went off-lease and usually onto other careers. The Scanias did not displace them everywhere. Some of the TAs ended up scattered around the garages as reliable spares, so Shepherds Bush, Hounslow and Hounslow Heath all had a share, as well as Fulwell and Tolworth. Park Royal had a few too.
United TransitIn 2015 six TAs went on extended loan to fellow company Selwyn's, in Runcorn, and four others were bought by uno for their University of Northampton services. In March 2016 the Selwyn's loaned buses returned and were put into the United MotorCoaches fleet: the commercial arm based at Twickenham. They were converted to single doorway, painted with a bold livery of silver-grey and red, and given United Transit fleetnames. One had high-backed seating installed.
The hybrid generation of buses began to make inroads on routes leading into London, and the remaining TAs in the Kingston area became definite second-string buses, on a wide variety of routes - some of them normally single-decked. A small number of TAs were de-roofed, most by railway bridges whilst returning empty to their garages. More of them were sold, some became trainers. But as they became elderly teenagers they were less attractive secondhand prospects, and the scrapman beckoned. They bowed out from passenger service in 2017-8, by then the oldest double-deckers in London service, and the last with comprehensive blind displays.
A particular blow was the loss of route 131 at Tolworth to London General in October 2017, which had been a final stronghold for the type. Nevertheless, twenty one remained: 14 at Hounslow, 2 at Fulwell, 1 at Atlas Road (220 spare) and 4 at Tolworth. Spares they might be, supporting new and less reliable hybrids, but they kept on going!...until January 2019, when the last TA and the last TLA were withdrawn from Park Royal and the United Transit fleet was wound down. A couple of the latter stayed in the area, still in United Transit colours, with Bear Buses of Shepperton.