LONDON’S UNLOVED BUSES

The first unfortunate creatures in this category to hit the streets of London were the AEC Merlins in 1967. I use the term “unfortunate” because in my observations there really wasn’t much that was wrong with these buses, they were just the wrong type in the wrong place.

This was the result of a decision forced upon London Transport in the mid 1960’s by the government to buy “off the peg” models and save the cost of designing their own. The Merlin was a version of the AEC Swift chassis, admittedly not one of AEC’s most successful products, but it managed to find several satisfied operators elsewhere across the UK.

The London version came in three variants. Firstly the MB, a 36 ft long 50 seat single door bus to be used as a conventional driver only single decker. Perfect for the job so it would seem. A two door version was supplied to the country area, some replacing RT double deckers on town services, others replacing RF single deckers on rural routes. The trouble in all cases was that at 36 feet they were just too long for the roads along which they operated.

London Transport MB crop

Next came the MBS, designed as high capacity people carriers with the emphasis on 34 standing passengers in the front section and seating only 32, mainly at the rear. Their intended use in the central area was on short hop local journeys and in the country area on town services with “Autofare” self service ticket machines where they soon became referred to as “cattle trucks”, especially after the Autofare machines were removed and the MBSs found their way onto longer rural or trunk services where again their length, along with their minimal seating capacity proved problematical and unpopular.

Buses and bits 230

Finally, the MBA class to which I’ll return shortly.

The Merlins were somehow dogged by unreliability and were unpopular with garage staff. But then, for many LT engineering staff at the time if it wasn’t an RT, an RF or a Routemaster and couldn’t be dealt with easily at their Aldenham or Chiswick works then it simply didn’t stand a chance. I’ve also been told that where they were used on routes converting to driver only operation the timetables were not altered to take in the extra boarding time for fare collection and the vehicles had to be “thrashed” to maintain timekeeping

MBA blog

So, back to the MBA class, built for and run exclusively on the central area RED ARROW express services, linking several London main line rail termini with shopping or business areas. Although seating only 25 at the rear, the vast space at the front providing standing room for 48 made them the most perfect inner city people carriers of their time and the RED ARROW services were an instant success. The MBAs seemed to thrive on these services, especially on route 500 where for nearly twelve years they whizzed passengers up and down Park Lane on a punishing schedule between Victoria and Oxford Street, not bad for a supposedly unreliable vehicle!

AFBook SM114

The 36 feet length problem was addressed when a shorter version of the Merlins, the SM/SMS classes arrived in 1970 but like the MBs were similarly deployed where they couldn’t fit in. LT just didn’t like them. By this time double deckers were back in fashion and the notorious DMS arrived to be loathed just as much as the Merlins and dogged with the same unreliability. But these were Daimler Fleetlines, they worked perfectly well in other cities so why not London?

My gut feeling is that it’s simply because they weren’t an RT or a Routemaster………

Geoff Nash.

EAST GRINSTEAD MODEL RAILWAY CLUB 2015 EXHIBITION

Our fourth year at the East Grinstead Model Railway Club’s exhibition coincided with the club’s seventy-fifth anniversary. Arriving around 8.0 on the Saturday morning we were pleased to find ourselves setting up next to ‘Simply Southern’, our regular trading neighbours at this event with whom we always manage to spend the weekend sharing humorous banter and life philosophies. Meeting up with regular friends be they exhibitors, fellow traders or customers is always a joy at the events we attend throughout the year, even if we do only see some of them once a year!

Having enjoyed the traditional railway show breakfast of bacon rolls and tea, at 10.0 it was time to open the doors to the public and for the real activity on the displayed layouts to begin. Not surprisingly the exhibition featured many layouts with a Southern bias, but there were also those representing continental and American locations.

For me, the railway element of a layout is only part of the attraction. Many contain beautifully crafted townscapes and street scenes. Jean Luc-Pineau’s ‘Bohemia to Albion Road’ depicted a fictitious line somewhere in West London in the late sixties, with a wonderful period feel to the surrounding roads and buildings.

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‘Cannon’s Reach’, displayed by the host club showed us a small dockside on the Kent side of the Thames shortly after the First World War, with three levels depicting a busy street complete with an operating tramcar, the main line to London and the dockside at river level respectively.

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Others afford us a glimpse into old rural England as we like to imagine it such as Chris Bassett’s ‘Hobbs Hill’, a Southern Region layout somewhere in Devon around 1960.

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The EGMRC Exhibitions are now a regular feature of the Junction Ten events calendar and we would like to thank them as always for their hospitality.

For information of the East Grinstead Model Railway Club visit http://www.egmrc.org.uk.