Metroline's Alexander ALX 400s
an introductionMetroline operated in the north-west quadrant of the Transport for London area. Before the Tridents came along it operated a large fleet of M-type Metrobuses, plus a sizable fleet of RML Routemasters on its trunk routes into London. In 1999 it started its low-floor double-decker changeover with 9.9m Trident chassis, hedging its bets body-wise with 65 Plaxton Presidents (TP) and 52 Alexander ALX400s (TL). These had full-height bodywork, unlike the Stagecoach TAs.
TA: Dennis Trident: TA66-117The Alexanders were numbered into Metroline's new double-deckers of whatever type. The first batch were TA66-TA81, in June 1999. Numerically they followed TP1-65, which went to Holloway. They were mid-staircase 9.9m ALX400s, painted in Metroline's house colours of red with a deep blue skirt and white cheat line. They went straight to work on the company's premier route, the 16 between Victoria Station and Cricklewood, based on Cricklewood Garage. The second batch, following on in August 1999 were for the incorporated Metroline London Northern, working from Harrow Weald on the 140 and 182. Livery was the same.
They were soon to be ousted from their initial routes, by larger buses. At Cricklewood longer TALs took over the 16, and the TAs went on the 32 from October 2000. Some went to Harrow Weald to work as needed on the 186. From February 2002 at Harrow Weald it was bigger Dennis Presidents that took over the 140. TA99-117 went to Potters Bar to work the 263, while TA82-99 stayed at Harrow Weald with the 182, which became their mainstay..
In February 2003 the 32 lost TAs in favour of Darts, the TAs (with TPs) displacing Darts on the 139 and gradually displacing Darts on the 189.
July 2003 saw the 263 move from Potters Bar to Holloway. Its TAs went to Cricklewood mainly, where they eased the shortage of double-deckers on the 139.
In the summer of 2004 the livery was modified presumably because TfL imposed an 80% red rule: the blue skirt was restricted to the bottom panels and bumpers, still with a white cheat line separating it from the red. There were experiments using lighter blue, with orange cheat lines, but the lines returned to white after a while.
TA 112 on 32 to Kilburn Park, September 2010, with revised skirt. TA90 on the 32 still has the original.
Cricklewood's TA114 passes along Strand on a 139 to West Hampstead, December 2003, still with the original deep skirt.
TA: longer Dennis Trident: TAL118-134The 10.5m Tridents were similar to the 9.9m standard model, but with an extra 0.6m (2foot) bay inserted in front of the doorway, and the staircase moved forward to behind the cab, raising the capacity to 69 (H45/24D). New in October 2000, they made route 16 at Cricklewood their home, displacing 9.9m TAs and seldom straying.
Victoria scenes: TAL128 arrives on the bright west side; TAL120 leaves on the shaded north side, October 2006. Both have original skirts.
TA: Dennis Trident: TA638-659After TAL134 Metroline's preference returned to the President body, either on Trident or Volvo B7TL chassis. But in the spring of 2005 the Wigan factory producing Presidents was closed down. So for the twenty buses needed to replace Volvo Olympians on route 266 Metroline turned again to the Trident/ALX400 combination, in 9.9m form due to route restrictions. TA638 - 643 arrived in April 2005, and were stored in Park Royal garage (which was about to close) until joined at Cricklewood by the others in May. They were in the low-skirt livery, with white roofs and aerial pods. Like the TALs they had the staircase forward.
TA656 in East Acton on a 266 to Brent Cross, September 2010. On the same day TA659 heads for Hammersmith.
TA 112 on 32 to Edgware, September 2010.
Ongoing changesAs time went on the red paint on the early TAs turned into a dull pink, requiring a refreshing coat of red. Skirts were tried in paler blue, some few with an orange stripe, but reverted to darker red with the white stripe - all of the short skirt nature.
A change came when four of the Harrow Weald TAs were sent to Brentford in December 2006 / January 2007 for an increase on the 237, which was worked by the ex-Armchair DT Tridents. They did not stay long. It was decided that the 237 required more up-to-date rolling stock, so the older four returned whence they had come in February, and four of the newer batch were sent from Cricklewood instead.
Then in October 2007 two of Cricklewood's TAs (100,101) were sent to Perivale West as trainers. They again did not stay, returning to service at Cricklewwod the following month. They were replaced by a pair from Harrow Weald, where most of the TAs were stood down, fourteen going into store at North Wembley in November 2007 awaiting reallocation, and a few more in December.
Then five went on loan to Travel London at Walworth, to assist the East London Line replacement program. In the event four returned before the end of January, just TA99 being retained into February. Six then went on short-term loan to London United at Shepherds Bush to help out on the 148.
The batch of eighteen were allocated to Perivale West in February 2008, where they took over the 210, which had been single-deck since its inception in 1934 (and earlier, as the 110). There was no reason for double-deckers not to be used. Some had been, on occasions. But the changeover caused quite a stir!
TA 105 on 210 stands between DE1115 on 143 and T31 on 102 at Brent Cross, September 2010.
In the autumn of 2008 East London Bus Group (aka Stagecoach) started its iBus installation programme, and bought eleven secondhand Tridents (ex Metrobus and Carousel) and borrowed eleven of the ex-Harrow Weald Tridents. They were all given numbers in the Stagecoach Trident numbering scheme, the Metroline batch becoming 18886-18896. They went to work at Plumstead, working on all of PD's double-decker routes: 53, 96, 99, 122, 177 and 472. They returned to Metroline in April 2009, going first to the CELF Centre at Perivale West then into the storage yard at North Wembley. They were not there long, going to Cricklewood in May, where they settled in on the 32 once more, with forays on the 139 supporting TPs.
All-redThe political decision that all London buses should be just red for the sake of international tourism in London (ignoring history) impinged on the Metroline fleet from June 2009. The first was TAL 123, which had its blue skirt touched up. The rate of compliance was glacial.
Early withdrawalsThe last quarter of 2010 saw most of the early batches of TAs withdrawn from Cricklewood into store at North Wembley. Perhaps oddly about thirteen of the earliest buses remained in service on the 32, while the slightly younger ones with forward staircases went in store - and then for sale to Ensignbus at Purfleet. Nearly all found good homes all over the UK, from Eastleigh to Glasgow.
The remnant at Cricklewood were finally displaced from the 32 when new hybrid buses arrived in December 2011.They went into store at North Wembley. Most were then reinstated to cover during refurbishments of the late batch of TAs at Eastleigh. These latter emerged in all-red livery, and the early TAs went back into store in May.
The 266 was lost to First in May 2012, and the TALs were withdrawn along with the last TAs, for sale via Ensign Bus.
The later TAs were deemed suitable for work with the London O*****c Games, and were thus stripped of fleetnames and all advertising and moved to temporary bases at West Ham and Beckton Park in July 2012. After the games and the Paralympics they were gradually returned to Cricklewood, where they were awaited to allow deployment of new enviro-Tridents onto their correct routes at Edgware. Two were not returned until December! The returned buses were allowed to wear fleetnames and LT roundels on their all-red liveries!
OngoingThe TAs were used wherever needed by Cricklewood, but from August 2014 were allocated to take over route 112 (Ealing Broadway - Brent Cross), which had been taken over from Abellio. Their transferred drivers were already familiar with the type. So the 112 was worked by TAs until new DE EnviroDarts arrived to revert the route to single-deck in October 2014. The TAs returned to the Cricklewood pool.
Five were placed in store at Hayes in October 2016, indirectly pushed out by extra Borisbuses at Cricklewood. Four more went to Ensign Bus in November, two going straight on to Red Route Buses at Northfleet.
But some remained. The return of route 266 after Tower Transit had had it from First brought another old stamping ground from the end of July 2017. This route was allocated EnviroTrident TEs, but TAs were seen again on it. The 32, 266 and 210, with their steep hills were where they were most appreciated, apparently being stronger on the hills than the more modern buses (TE, TEH).
TA642 on 266 to Brent Cross, near Willesden Junction, June 2018. TA648 in Holloway garage on Open Day, September 2018.
They faded away during 2019, some being scrapped by Metroline and others sold via Ensign Bus.
Some of the TAs and TALs had substantial second careers with operators in England and Scotland: McGills in Glasgow operated several for some years.
Several (TA644, 647, 652)were acquired from Ensignbus for filming a bus crash for "Eastenders". TA647 went on, unscathed, to operate schools and railway work for Cardinal Buses of Egham in a very striking red and maroon livery with a huge yellow crescent. TA651 and TA658 worked in plain red for Red Route Buses of Northfleet. Imperial Coaches of Slough had ten TALs in a striking white and black livery. Sullivan Buses at South Mimms had two TALs. Bear Buses of Feltham had a few.
Ensignbus took some into operation from its sales stock, either temporarily, used in Metroline livery, or longer term. One (TA99) was converted to a hybrid - Vantage Power - back in the days when such things were rare, and gave it an eye-catching silver/blue/green Vantage Power livery.
TA 648 went into preservation by the Bromley Bus Preservation group, whilst TA68, after a second long life with Axe Valley, was preserved in Exeter.