09 June 2007

My first Paladin!

I'd been thinking recently that, of the three occasions I'd travelled on the new Service X1 linking New Waltham - Cleethorpes - Grimsby - Laceby - Humberside Airport - Hull, I'd never managed to use a vehicle intended to operate the route! On all three occasions I'd travelled on Leyland Tigers with East Lancs bodywork (re-bodied in 1992) from the RoadCar fleet based in Grimsby - Stagecoach Grimsby-Cleethorpes of course being the operator of Service X1.

I had planned to catch the 1648 Service X1 home from Bradley Crossroads last Monday, but after waiting 29 minutes opted for a boring ADL Dart on Service 13 to Manchester Street instead. As it turns out I would have copped my first Paladin-bodied Volvo B10M-55 on that occasion had it not broken down in Hull!

Today though I was very pleased to see 20284 (R724 RPY) arrive punctually at the stop near my house! Moments earlier 20286 (R726 RPY) passed in the opposite direction, very on time (if you get my meaning) in a new coat of paint! It looked very smart. But enough of that, on my fourth ever occasion on the new-look X1 I boarded a Plaxton Paladin bus!

The vehicles are very rare in another sense as they were the last examples of the Paladin body built; initially named Northern Counties Paladin, the company passed to Plaxton as this last-ever batch were produced, seeing them officially badged as Plaxton Paladin, reputedly the only ones in existance. Grimsby depot now have 5 of these to operate the 4-vehicle X1 service and are as follows:

20282 (R722 RPY)
20283 (R723 RPY)
20284 (R724 RPY) - all are Volvo B10Ms with Plaxton Paladin bodies and 48 bus-style seats
20285 (R725 RPY)
20286 (R726 RPY)

They seem to be a good compromise for the route in question - they have enough power to manage travelling at top speed for a fair distance along the A15/A63 north of Barnetby, and yet have suitable accessibility for older passengers and the infirm when operating through the back streets of Cleethorpes and the residential housing centres. They certainly don't appear any less accessible than their predecessors, ex-London N-reg Dennis Darts. Their overall length and monsterous rear overhang is likely to be the only problems drivers will encounter.

I travelled a mere 10 minutes into Grimsby bus station though my return journey was from Stand E at 1504. I'd planned to get off opposite my house at 1512, though found myself on board right to the very end, at the terminus stop in New Waltham. This vehicle was 20282 (R722 RPY). The driver, a guy with a Geordie-accent, as it turns out, had been on the same rota until its recent demise as I'd been on until I left to work for National Express in November 2003: The Peter Sheffield Rota, latterly the "Chicken Run" rota, on account that the main contract worked was to/from the 2 Sisters Chicken Factory in Scunthorpe.

He confirmed my suspicions, during the 8 minutes stand time he had at New Waltham, about the length of the vehicles causing problems along Mill Road, Fairview Avenue and Bentley Street, and was also pleasantly critical of the top-speed of the buses, citing it as "barely 55mph". Certainly, with a Volvo B10M engine you'd expect at least 60mph, if not a limited top-end of 100km/h (62mph); I've driven examples in Chesterfield, though with Alexander PS bodies, that were capable of 62mph and they were L & M-reg examples.

The vehicles, now 10 years old, had spent their whole lives operating in Hull and before that Stockton-on-Tees, to urban routes and timings, and had never been regularly sent on lengthy quasi-express services with no stopping points for miles and miles and where a top speed had been required.

There seems to be a lot of time at the Cleethorpes end of the route compared to how it was when I drove the then Service 12 with initially Mercedes-Benz 709D/Alexander Belfast B25F minibuses; then Dennis Dart SLFs/Alexander ALX200 B37F "lo-liners" before they left and N-reg Dennis Dart/Plaxton Pointer B40Fs were used.

The timings used to be:

New Waltham 05
Belvoir Road 13
St. Peter's Ave 25
Fiveways 33
Bus Station 40
Laceby Square 55
Laceby X Roads 00

This saw a 20 min overall time for travel between New Waltham - St. Peter's Avenue, now 25 mins is given (ex New Waltham at 45, arr St. Peter's Ave 10). It seems only fair the additional time has been given as the vehicles are a lot bigger and have come from Hull with plentiful occasions for delays to occur en route

The vehicle interiors seemed in pretty good shape, too, with full, new-style Stagecoach seat trim throughout and no outward signs on grafitti in either of the two vehicles I travelled on today. There is an odd rear-facing seat on the offside immediately before the rear and the lack of a suitable provision for luggage is the other "biggy" I identified, though the number of passengers who actually used the old coach-style X1 to transport their luggage at the same time never appeared to be massive. This may put some travellers off, and as a National Express driver I know all too well how badly-stacked luggage inside a coach can cause serious injury to others.

To summarise, the new X1 service provides a very punctual, efficient service between all points en route I've hitherto partaken; loadings seem very encouraging and the vehicles adequate. My initial reservations about mixing an express and a local, intricate bus service haven't disappeared completely as I know all too well how little it takes for the Humber Bridge to be closed to buses and the likely chaos this would have on the reliability of the X1 as a whole. The luggage situation needs to be closely monitored, otherwise the service, drivers and publicity for the route can do no more in order to attract new patronage and allow the X1 to thrive - far more than it was doing 18 months ago when Stagecoach threatened to axe the route due to the then high Humber Bridge tolls seeing the route operate at a loss.