Old Bus Photos

British European Airways – AEC Routemaster – NMY 641E

NMY 641E

British European Airways
AEC Routemaster
Park Royal H32/24F

From 6 October 1957 until 1 January 1974, British European Airways operated a passenger transfer service between its West London Air Terminal at Cromwell Road, Kensington and Heathrow Airport. The rolling stock fleet was staffed and maintained by London Transport, and this was reflected in the vehicle types operated. By the 1960s, the increase in size of airliners meant that the BEA fleet of AEC Regal IV observation coaches of 1952/3 vintage were offering inadequate capacity, and were approaching replacement anyway. In 1961 an evaluation of the practicability of employing double deckers for the job was undertaken, initially using AEC Regent V, 220 CXK fitted with a Park Royal H38/17F body, the limited lower deck capacity arising from its adaptation to accommodate luggage in the rear portion. Between 1964-66, the 30 ft long front entrance Routemaster RM 1254 was tried out towing a separate luggage trailer, and this experiment was deemed to be successful. Thus, in 1966/67, BEA took delivery of 65 front entrance Routemasters of the shorter 27ft 8ins length with the slightly reduced seating of 56 to allow space for hand luggage at the rear of the lower deck. They had semi automatic gearboxes and AEC AV 590 engines, but were geared for 70 mph running with trailers on the M4 motorway, which would surely not be allowed today. Marshall constructed 88 luggage trailers so that the buses would not suffer luggage loading/unloading delays at the terminals. The Routemasters were delivered and initially operated in the traditional airline livery of blue and white, but, in 1969 the emerging distressing vogue for the use of orange in bus liveries gravely infected the BEA fleet. Mercifully, the merger of BEA and BOAC into British Airways in September 1973 saw the consignment of the execrable orange to oblivion with the restoration of a blue /white livery. The RMAs were progressively withdrawn from airport work from January 1975 until mid 1979, when the entire fleet of 65 was sold to London Transport, thereafter to suffer a curiously chequered, and somewhat wasteful career. In the photo taken at Heathrow in March 1972, orange adorned BEA 41, NMY 641E stands alongside BEA 32, NMY 632E. These vehicles were renumbered RMA 53 and 49 respectively on acquisition by London Transport in 1979. It is thought that both survive – somewhere!

Photograph and Copy contributed by Roger Cox

06/09/17 – 07:00

Not one vestige of luxury abounded these vehicles – just a normal inside. Not the way to start an air flight, even with non-Transatlantic flights.
Was there an equivalent BOAC system such as the one BEA operated here, or did one have to make one’s own way to Heathrow?

Chris Hebbron

06/09/17 – 09:19

BOAC operated some Metro-Cammell bodied Leyland Atlanteans during the 1960s between Buckingham Palace Road, London and Heathrow Airport. They were fitted with higher backed coach type seats more suitable to long-haul airline passengers.
Photographs may be seen here:

David Slater

07/09/17 – 07:36

BOAC’s fleet pre-dated the Atlanteans and consisted of a fleet of single-deck vehicles, although I am not sure about the technical details. Unlike BEA, operations were not subcontracted to London Transport.

David Wragg

08/09/17 – 06:42

We have to remember the vogue for these colours in the 70’s- bright and striking and definitely non-traditional- a reaction against formal "liveries". Having said that it was a bit dire!
What does seem naff is the choice of vehicle- high floor with perhaps a noisy transmission and speeds for which it was not really designed- with trailer! A Neoplan Skyliner type would be better- but a lot dearer and less patriotic?! Was luggage checked in at the city terminal- so why not just use a van?


09/09/17 – 06:41

Here is a shot of one of the Routemasters at the west London Air Terminal in 1969 in the original livery: www.flickr.com/photos/
At the same time BEA was still using the one an a half deck AEC Regal IVs from London Transport. they were new in 1953 and had Park Royal bodies.
BOAC also had their own fleet of vehicles which operated from their terminal close to Victoria Coach Station. In 1966 they acquired a fleet of Leyland Atlanteans with MCW bodies.

Stephen Bloomfield

09/09/17 – 06:42

Joe – I think you’ll find BOAC left Buckingham Palace Road in the early/mid 70s. My 1978 office looked out on to it and I can remember, at one point, it being used for South Western Services on peak days to relieve pressure on the Coach Station itself. In the days of much smaller coaches they were accommodated in the underground car park of the Coach Station but I feel we’re talking about an era far before Neoplans came on the scene with Trathens.

Nick Turner

10/09/17 – 06:38

Nick- the Skyliner is celebrating 50 years this year – would it have filled the bill?! So would the Atlantean or even Bristol VR but they weren’t Routemasters!


11/09/17 – 06:26

I bow to your knowledge, Joe, but I can recall when Trathens of Plymouth introduced them to their London – Exeter and Plymouth contract for the newly created ‘Rapide’ brand, they were billed as state of the art. Certainly new to the likes of me. They must have been in use elsewhere, I presume, but they’d certainly have done the job!

Nick Turner

11/09/17 – 06:28

The BEA Routemasters were fitted with AV690 175 bhp engines. In my opinion, these vehicles were the right ones for the job. They had well padded comfortable seats , superb suspension, were nimble and quiet (certainly no problem with transmission noise). They were also a reliable and proven design. The Atlantean may have looked better, but as a tool for the job, would have been inferior.

Allan White

11/09/17 – 06:32

I can vouch for the basic seating of these RM’s, plus also on the "smart" clippies that made a lot of money because arriving travellers had no sterling.

Stuart Emmet

11/09/17 – 09:07

Re: Joe’s question "Why not a van?"
Surely using a trailer made it much more likely that the luggage got on the same plane as the passengers.

John Lomas

12/09/17 – 06:39

Why not a van? Why not? One summer, I drove for a major London Operator – a cruise transfer from Central London to the Liner at the coast. American Tourists with huge amounts of luggage. How will I fit it all in? Oh, don’t worry, there will be a van for that. ….. and there was, a big curtain sided vehicle just for the luggage.

David Oldfield

12/09/17 – 06:41

Nick, Although launched in 1967, the first right-hand drive UK versions were in service in 1981.
Joe, Regarding a van: I was working in Cork in 1975 when the hotel was invaded by by a C.I.E. coach with 40+ American tourists doing the Irish heritage circuit. As they all had about 5 large suitcases, the coach was accompanied by a C.I.E. container wagon.

Dave Farrier

12/09/17 – 14:44

Regarding the trailer, it was seen as a simple, effective solution whereby passengers and luggage travelled together. Even in 1960s London traffic, a bus and a van could easily have become well separated and the essence of the operation was to check in passengers at Cromwell Rd and give a smooth transit at Heathrow for both passengers and luggage. Keeping them together was the key to this.
The RM was chosen because BEA had long used LT as its contractor and the RM was its current vehicle just as the Regal was the basis for the half deck coaches and LT’s RF in the 1950s. The shorter version of the RM was chosen as BEA Tridents, Vanguards and 1-11s in service by the late 1960s had seating capacities between 100 and 135. Based on experience of the split between passengers checking in at the airport and those using Cromwell Rd, 56 seats was deemed to be the most viable option allowing room inside for hand baggage. Outbound to Heathrow vehicles were assigned to specific flights with the luggage in the trailers going directly to the aircraft. There were enough vehicles for duplicates if necessary, but in practice this was rare. Inbound passengers picked the first available bus and trailer as they had to pick their luggage in arrivals and, if necessary, clear customs, so it was impossible to keep passengers from any given flight together. Buses departed for London either when full or after a predetermined time after the first passenger had boarded so as not to delay arrival in Cromwell Rd.
BOAC and TWA both successfully used Atlanteans with internal luggage space between city terminals in London and Heathrow. To say the Atlantean was inferior is a nonsense as BOAC re-ordered Atlanteans and TWA’s contract with Hall’s of Hounslow specified the Atlantean based on BOAC’s experience.

Phil Blinkhorn

13/09/17 – 06:34

As Allan White correctly states, these did have AV690 11.3 litre engines, though I suspect that they might have been de-rated a bit. This, however, raises an interesting point. If these powerful, very highly geared, fluid flywheel coupled double deckers could run regularly at high speeds without problems, why did the Halifax Lolines suffer such transmission trouble?

Roger Cox

14/09/17 – 06:53

Maybe something to do with the terrain

Roger Burdet

14/09/17 – 06:55

Forgive me for straying from the main subject to mention the problems with Halifax’s Lolines for a moment.
A mechanic (and also an enthusiast) at Halifax Corporation with first hand experience of dealing with their five Lolines once wrote a piece in the local bus club’s newsletter (and I am taking the liberty of quoting him here):
"The transmission was unusual in that there was a transfer box at the rear of the engine which altered the rotation of the propellor shaft and gearbox, but allowed the propellor shaft to run along the chassis side, thus permitting a low floor level.
The Dennis mechanic from their Manchester service depot spent so much time at Skircoat Garage that it began to be said he was on the payroll. He was an odd fellow in that he would not show anyone how to do the job or even let them see him working. If an HPT mechanic passed near him he would stop work and cover the job up………………..
…………….Mounted at the back of the engine was the fluid flywheel coupling driving into the transfer box. A major fault on this was a lack of ventilation around the flywheel and transfer box for cooling purposes. So the flywheel got hot, then hotter and hotter still until the oil within it boiled, leaked through and spoiled the oil retaining seal. Alternatively the same might happen to the transfer box. Whichever it was, it was expensive – for Dennis Bros. anyway!
The other main problem was the gearbox. Most gearboxes have the input and output shafts rotating the same way i.e. anticlockwise – the same as the engine – but the Lolines were different, they had to have non-standard clockwise rotating gearboxes which were almost impossible to obtain, as no-one else used them.
The verdict? It was a love/hate relationship. When they were healthy (and new) most drivers (only short men could drive them comfortably) seemed to like them, but when they were poorly the Lolines were unloved (and unlovely). My opinion? Best left unrepeated!"
I do remember being told his opinion – and it was indeed best left unrepeated!
I knew many Halifax drivers who had driven them and most agreed that as long as they were going they were great buses to drive (but then to many bus drivers of my acquaintance A Fast Bus=A Good Bus. The main complaint seemed to be that they didn’t like the driving position, with the raked steering wheel (i.e. different to what they were used to) and that the cab roof was too low and had a prominent section of trunking passing across it just above where the driver’s head would be, causing taller drivers to constantly be striking their heads on it. Otherwise they would have to lower the seat to the point where they had to adopt an uncomfortable posture.
Speaking purely as a passenger with enthusiast tendencies at the time, I thought they were marvellous vehicles. Even Hilditch later went on to imply that it was a shame at the time he sold them that he hadn’t known that his undertaking would shortly afterwards take over Todmorden JOC with its requirement for low-height double deckers – so even he must have still have harboured positive thoughts about them.
Could there have been a certain amount of pressure within the NBC/APT part of the JOC to help West Riding out with Wulfrunian replacements and slightly raise the age profile of the fleet with these comparatively new buses (considering all the older Lodekkas they were having to take on) and it just seemed like a good idea at the time – especially if they’d offered a good price for them ? Who knows ?

John Stringer

14/09/17 – 07:01

Dave – I now live 50 miles from Cork City and was actually there yesterday. I think the governing factor behind the CIE van in ’75 would have revolved around the fact that Ireland only established bespoke bus/coach licences comparatively recently. With trailers already a reality, anyone being tested without a trailer on the back of the vehicle would have received a simple ‘D’ entitlement. Now, old fogeys like me, as long as we took our tests on a decker with manual box, would be entitled to an ‘All Types PSV’ which was literally converted to ‘D+E’ when trailers became recognised.
When I arrived here in 2007, and not being averse to a few extra Euros in my pocket, I spotted an ad in the local paper for D+E Drivers to drive a tourist road train round a local town. I got the job and found the other, main driver was also English. Any Irish drivers had worked in the UK where they, too, got an old ‘All Types’ licence but actual native D+E licences were as rare as hen’s teeth and I’m suspecting CIE had no option but to use a separate vehicle if they had no D+E drivers.

Nick Turner

15/09/17 – 06:37

An enlightening posting, John. However, several batches of Lodekkas had the SCG semi auto four/five speed gearbox, and this driveline must have incorporated a step down box in the transmission, reversing the direction of rotation, unless an intermediate cog was used to turn it back the "right" way. Does anyone on here know anything about the Bristol/SCG setup? As for the Dennis engineer’s singular secrecy, perhaps he was out of his depth himself, and didn’t want the customer to witness his struggles. The Lodekka/Loline driving position issue is often debated, and surely comes down to a matter of familiarity – the unusual is generally unpopular with bus drivers (enthusiast types like us are exceptions, of course). All I can say is that I liked it.

Roger Cox

15/09/17 – 06:39

The Routemaster, having a conventional height chassis and the gearbox remotely mounted towards the back axle, has much more room for cooling air to flow around it. Unlike the Loline which hasn’t. That could have also been a factor.I assume, because of constraints of space under the chassis, the Loline and the Lodekka had their semi auto gearboxes close coupled to the engine, under the stairs, where air flow over them would be even more restricted. Maybe it would have been kinder in retrospect, to have ripped the semi auto boxes out and retro fitted them with constant mesh units. Although, given the hilly terrain of Halifax, that may have created more problems than answers.
It would be interesting to know how the West Riding Auto Co. got on with their acquired Lolines. Maybe someone out there knows. Regarding the Dennis fitter. If you are called upon to solve a problem, but are mainly used to working on refuse disposal vehicles and not too sure how to go about working on a bus and its added complications, it must be tempting to avoid public scrutiny, retain an air of mystique, and hide what you are doing from people, who you feel may know far more than you do. But I bet the Lolines must have given him many sleepless nights! Regarding the reversal of drive through the transfer box into the gearbox on a Loline/Lodekka reminds me of a story. In the mid 1970s the Northern General Transport Group, found themselves short of serviceable vehicles, which prompted them to acquire a number of ex Crosville Bristol LD6Bs. It was not long however before the driving staff were complaining about their low power Bristol AVW engines and slow change constant mesh ‘boxes. In an attempt to remedy this the engineering staff successfully managed to fit a Leyland 0600 engine into one of these Lodekkas. However they must have forgotten about the transfer box and its reversal of drive, as they ended up with one forward and five reverse gears. Under those circumstances I do not know whether you would be tempted to laugh or cry!

John Anderson

15/09/17 – 06:40

The lack of DE licences in Eire might have been a factor in 2007, but surely not in ’75 when Dave saws the CIE container.
D and DE categories only came into being in June 1990 before that HGV and PSV licences were separate documents.

John Lomas

16/09/17 – 06:51

My reasoning, John, is that, whereas I’m told the UK introduced bespoke PSV licences in 1931, it could have been well into the ’70s before they were brought in in Ireland and, if they were already aware that trailers existed, there MAY have been some sort of exclusion written into them. I honestly don’t know, so it could have simply been that CIE didn’t have vehicles with tow hooks or trailers to put on them.
As something of a side issue, I remember petrol companies advertising for tanker drivers with a note ‘PSV drivers preferred’ because, in those days, you could drive 5,000 gallons of petrol around on a car licence.

Nick Turner

16/09/17 – 06:52

Roger Burdett’s comment about terrain deserves further exploration. The BEA Routemasters were dedicated to one service which involved sustained high-speed running, without, I imagine, a lot of gear changing. I wonder also if perhaps they had dedicated drivers. The Halifax Lolines were purchased for a long-distance contract, but were also used on local work in hilly terrain, for which their gearing must have been wildly unsuitable.
Drivers switching between high and low geared vehicles do not always make the necessary adjustment in driving style. I certainly experienced this every evening going home from work in Bristol, when a cascaded RELH was allocated to one trip on a service otherwise worked by RELLs. None of the drivers seemed to know what to do with it, and the transmission must have suffered significant punishment from being in too high a gear most of the time.

Peter Williamson

17/09/17 – 06:50

A few observations about the operation of the BEA and later BA Routemasters.
Whilst geared for high speed running, the first 4.4 miles from the Cromwell Rd Terminal to the end of the M4 was through London Traffic which, even in the early days of the service, could be very slow. The motorway sector to the airport was just over 9.5 miles but though the vehicles could attain 70 mph, they rarely did. From personal observation regularly driving that stretch of the M4 between 1967 and 1976 and, from time to time using the service, 50-60 mph was the norm, as traffic permitted on the motorway sector.
The first trailers were built by Marshalls. With different baggage limits in those days, a full bus could be pulling a fully laden trailer with a gross weight of 2 tons. The trailers were replaced in 1973 when check in was moved to the airport.

Phil Blinkhorn

17/09/17 – 06:51

The semi-automatic Lodekka had its gearbox amidship, there being a raised cover beneath one of the offside pairs of seats. The Loline, I am not sure about, but a photograph of the flywheel and step down gear cover in "A Further Look At Buses" (G.G.Hilditch) shows that, next in line, is a U/J and shaft, thereby implying a remote gearbox.

Allan White

18/09/17 – 07:25

This has turned into a most fascinating thread: Front entrance Routemasters v Atlanteans; trailers v vans; BEA livery variations; Halifax Lolines; Loline and Lodekka transmission differences. Wonderful stuff and all grist to the mill.
John(S), I enjoyed reading your comments regarding the semi-auto Dennnis Lolines and how and why they performed as they did (or didn’t!) at Halifax. Roger(C), you may well have hit the nail on the head with your point about the Dennis fitter being out of his depth with the foibles of the semi-auto Loline, hence his secrecy – or could he have held the view that "knowledge is power" and didn’t want to share it? Fortunately most manufacturers’ technicians I came into contact with were generally very helpful in troubleshooting, problem solving, offering advice and giving useful tips, but as the saying goes, "there’s always one".
Relating to Lodekka gearboxes, the design of the manual gearbox was quite clever. Most gearboxes on a conventional chassis of the time would have the input and output shafts on the same plane, rotating in the same direction, with a layshaft running underneath allowing the various gears to be selected. With the Lodekka having a dropped-centre rear axle and consequently requiring a lower transmission line to match up with it, the drive from the rear of the engine had to be taken down to a lower level in order to mate up with the prop shaft. Bristol did this in effect by using the gearbox layshaft as an output shaft. The input shaft remained at the usual level, but the layshaft beneath now became the output shaft, giving the required drop for the transmission line. (The engine also sloped down slightly to the rear and across slightly to the offside to assist with this). However, by utilising the layshaft in this way, the direction of drive from the output end was reversed, but as the dropped-centre rear axle took the drive from the lower level back up to wheel-centre level by means of an extra gear, the correct rotation of drive to the wheels was restored. Simples! (I do hope all this makes some sense).
The manual gearbox was bolted onto the rear of the engine.
On rear entrance Lodekkas it was partly beneath the rearward facing seat for five behind the front bulkhead, whereas on front entrance models there was a small protruding cover on the front bulkhead at floor level to accommodate the shape of the gearbox. When semi-automatic transmission became an option on the front entrance Lodekka in late 1966 (the last year of rear-entrance Lodekka production), the semi-auto gearbox was squarer and a little bulkier than the manual version, and couldn’t be mounted in the usual position. Bristol solved the problem by mounting the semi-auto ‘box remotely under the floor partway down the offside of the chassis. (Locating the semi-auto ‘box under the stairs was not really an option, as on F-series Lodekkas that position was taken up by the fuel tank). As Allan mentions, a shallow cover under a pair of seats on the offside gave the game away as to the transmission type. In order to bring the drive down from fluid flywheel to prop shaft level, Bristol used a pair of transfer gears behind the fluid flywheel, which gave rise to the distinctive transmission whine of the semi-auto FLFs.
I am unfamiliar with the transmission layout of the semi-auto Loline, but it sounds like it may have been similar in principle to that of the semi-auto Lodekka. Peter, you may be on to something regarding Roger(B)’s comment about terrain being a factor in the Lolines’ reliability problems. Presumably they would have had higher ratio rear axles for their higher speed duties, but which would have made them sluggish on town work. Does anyone know if West Riding considered fitting lower ratio diffs to improve reliability and performance or had they settled down by then on suitable routes? Also, does anyone know of any problems encountered with the semi-auto FLFs, and if so, what were the remedies?

Brendan Smith

21/09/17 – 06:34

The statement by Geoffrey Hilditch in in his book “A Further Look At Buses” suggesting that the five speed gearboxes of the Halifax Lolines were unique to the batch was certainly true when the vehicles were delivered, as the semi auto version of the FLF Lodekka was still several months in the future. However, Dennis had pioneered a four speed semi automatic transmission option right at the beginning of Loline III production in 1961, when it supplied a solitary example to Belfast, and built another for the China Bus Company. A year later the semi auto demonstrator EPG 179B appeared. It must be the case, therefore, that the semi automatic drive line, including the step down gear train, was designed by Dennis. The step down gearing must have been quite costly to produce, particularly since only three examples were made up to the delivery of the five Halifax Lolines in February/March 1967. The Halifax order was preceded by a batch of eight (constant mesh) buses to Reading in December 1966 which marked the resumption of Loline production after a gap of no less than 13 months. These Reading Lolines were fitted with the Bristol gearbox and rear axle, whereas all previous Lolines had Dennis’s own gearbox and axle options. The Halifax Lolines also had Bristol rear axles. By late 1966 it must have been apparent to the Guildford firm that the limited future demand for the Loline did not justify the resumption of manufacturing penny numbers of its own gears and axles when entirely suitable Bristol components could be bought off the shelf. One wonders, then – did Dennis really retain all the casting/tooling equipment from five years previously just to manufacture a mere five more of the complicated step down gear train behind the flywheel, which surely cannot have been a cost effective exercise for Dennis. We know that there was contact between Dennis and Bristol during the Loline production period. Did Dennis subsequently make the step down gears for Bristol, or did the Guildford firm, perhaps, sell/pass on its design work and tooling to Bristol for its own semi auto version of the Lodekka? If only we knew for certain.

Roger Cox

22/09/17 – 07:11

Roger – Your mention of The China Bus Co (Hong Kong?) reminds me that that was the destination for the Southdown Guys (Arab IVs) when they were eventually pensioned off, but one modification they underwent for service there was some form of auto or semi auto gearbox, much to the disgust of most of us. Does this tie in in any way with your last post?

Nick Turner

27/09/17 – 06:16

Where did the problem with the Halifax Lolines transmission lie? Was it the fluid coupling, gearbox, back axle or all three, does anyone know.
Eastern National’s semi auto FLF coaches must have been high geared also, although their operating territory flatter than Halifax.
I would have thought that as Dennis presumably owned the the tooling for the step down gears they would supply Bristol, if an apropriate price could be be negotiated. But its little more than a guess.

John Anderson

24/10/17 – 06:51

Even today "airline" luggage presents problems for coach operations. For many years I was involved in dealing with moving passengers from flights by road and each task had to be looked at specifically. A 49 seat coach could often only carry around 25 passengers because of the weight and amount of passengers baggage and it really depended on the airline and the destination/origin on the passengers concerned. We used trailers and even drafted in Pickfords on occasions. For one task we undertook to move an entire cruise from Liverpool Docks by road to Southampton. For this job we drafted in a large number of Pickfords pantechnicons to carry the luggage as it was so much easier. Luggage was sorted into appropriate vehicles prior to loading and was delivered to the right points on the quay for immediate loading. Meanwhile some 40 coaches moved all the passengers without problem as the nightmare of baggage had been removed!

Bill Headley

26/01/19 – 06:42

In response to John Anderson, one particular feature of the Halifax Lolines that was a cause for trouble was that it was not a ‘pure’ fluid flywheel but the type with a lock up clutch: to paraphrase the late GGH, this was to give engine braking, but if done wrongly engine breaking is what happened.

Stephen Allcroft

07/10/19 – 07:12

This picture now appears in an intriguing little book published by https://www.safehavenbooks.co.uk  called ‘Seats of London’ by Andrew Martin, best known as the author of a series of novels about a Victorian railway detective, and also as the presenter of some informed (as distinct from ‘celebrity’ auto cue fronted) television programmes on railway subjects. It covers in great detail the many varied moquettes that have graced the seats of London’s trains, trams, buses and trolleybuses for over a century, and is a fascinating look into a hitherto unresearched world. Within Andrew Martin makes some references to Old Bus Photos, which he describes as, ‘an excellent website that does what it says on the tin’.

Roger Cox


Quick links to the  -  Comments Page  -  Contact Page  -  Home Page



London Transport – AEC Routemaster – WLT 339 – RM 339

London Transport - AEC Routemaster - WLT 339 - RM 339

London Transport
AEC Routemaster 4/5RM5/4
Park Royal H36/28R

The 630 trolleybus route took over from the former South Metropolitan tramway that ran between West Croydon and Mitcham on 12 September 1937, and was extended northwards over ex LCC tramway routes to a destination that, on the vehicle blinds, rather indecisively declared itself to be “Nr. Willesden Junction”. It was actually about half a mile short of that point, and, many years later, the displayed destination was amended to “Harlesden”. The 630 trolleys ran speedily, quietly and reliably for 23 years, until the cheapness of diesel fuel against the price of electricity, coupled with the costs of overhead maintenance, spelt the doom of the trolleybus, not just in London, but nationwide. The 630 route fell victim to the diesel bus after operation on 19 July 1960, and brand new Routemasters on rebranded route 220 took over the following day. Here is RM 339, delivered to LT on 16 May 1960, approaching the West Croydon terminal point shortly after the introduction of the 220 route – the trolleybus overhead wires are still in situ. Today, the Croydon transport scene has changed beyond recognition, and route 220 no longer serves the town.

Photograph and Copy contributed by Roger Cox

23/10/16 – 13:37

As we know, hindsight is a exact science, and it was probably a mistake to get rid of trolleybuses. They were quick, clean and quiet, but they were restricted to where they could go by the overhead wires, they were capable of traveling short distances when disconnected, and had they been allowed to advance, its quite possible they would now be able to store energy and travel quite long distances when disconnected. They could use a pantograph instead of poles which could be dropped at the push of a button, thus allowing them to overtake each other, or go away from the wires altogether, and a single wire would probably be sufficient. Given the world we live in today, the biggest problem would probably be cable theft, or am I just being cynical?

Ronnie Hoye

23/10/16 – 13:37

I bet a lot of people wish the trolleybuses had stayed, given current concerns over pollution in towns, not to mention fluctuating fuel prices. They were quiet, comfortable and electricity could be generated in many different ways.

David Wragg

24/10/16 – 07:15

How would a trolley with pantograph and a single wire work without a return to earth. Surely a conducting strip rubbing on the road surface wouldn’t work.

John Lomas

24/10/16 – 07:16

I have seen photos of early trolleybuses, where the vehicle had a half-cab layout and even a representation of a radiator. Seeing this one under the wires, I wonder why I looked for the poles on the roof!

Pete Davies

24/10/16 – 07:18

And it’s a further irony that this section of road supports the overhead wires of the Croydon Tramlink.
The wheel has turned full circle, but I do regret the passing of London’s fabulous trolleybus system.


24/10/16 – 07:19

The 830 route reminds me of my having a girlfriend who lived in Croydon and I used to catch the last trolleybus across to Mitcham – they could do 60mph across the common, according to a driver, with a lot of shuddering! I’d then get a 118 to Morden and walk the last two miles home. It will cause no surprise to learn that the relationship was short-lived! We did go to the Majestic Cinema at Fair Green a couple of times.
London’s trolleybuses were quite sophisticated, with regenerative braking and many had chassisless bodies, not repeated until the Routemaster. LTE had to pay a wayleave on each pole, unlike municipal operators. Also, much of the electrical infrastructure dated back to the trams and was worn out, as were the trolleybuses by the 1960’s. Electricity costs (already mentioned)and limited flexibility with route changes or new, expensive suburb extensions sealed their fate. However, to ride on them with their silence, amazing acceleration and hill-climbing ability was exhilarating!

Chris Hebbron

24/10/16 – 08:58

I think I’m right in saying that in the initial stages of design of the Routemaster there was the possibility of a trolleybus version being made.

David Chapman

24/10/16 – 10:28

John, I don’t know the ins and outs of how it would work, but I’m sure its not beyond the bounds of possibility. Remember, in 1969, the Americans sent a man to the Moon with less computer technology than there is in today’s mobile phones

Ronnie Hoye

24/10/16 – 13:22

Ah, Ronnie, you’re referring to what my son calls a camera that makes phone calls!

Pete Davies

25/10/16 – 06:41

I don’t think a pantograph would work as the big advantage of trolley poles was that if a trolleybus had broken down, all that had to be done was to lower the poles and following vehicles could then creep past it – there was that amount of leeway in the system. As a matter of interest, the very early and very short-lived Dundee system used buses with single trolleys, with the current being returned to the road surface using a trailing metal strip.

David Wragg

25/10/16 – 08:07

Never heard of that method before, David W. Why was the system shortlived; for being quirky or some other?

Chris Hebbron

25/10/16 – 14:00

The use of a single trolley pole with a return via the ground was used in the early days of trolleybuses when operators were testing them on existing tram routes. The trolleybus took the positive feed from the single overhead tram wire and used a skate running in the tram track for the negative return. I am pretty sure it was only ever used as a temporary measure under trial conditions.

Philip Halstead

25/10/16 – 14:01

This Dundee link shows picture of the first Dundee trolley which seems to have double poles/wires. www.dmoft.co.uk/2011/04

John Lomas

25/10/16 – 17:02

The system was short-lived because of the damage the trolleybus wheels inflicted on the poor road surfaces and the damage the road surfaces inflicted on the trolleybuses. As John L writes, the image he refers to does show twin trolley poles, but ‘British Trolleybus Systems’ by Messrs Joyce, King and Newman says that the trolleybuses used the existing tram overhead. The whole concept was seen as a feeder to the trams, not a replacement, giving the impression that once traffic built up or the city’s residential area expanded, the trolleybuses would be replaced by trams.
The system operated from September 1912 to May 1914, so it was Britain’s first trolleybus system, and also the first to be abandoned.

David Wragg

26/10/16 – 06:16

David, perhaps the Dundee trolleybuses were the first to operate in Scotland, as the first trolleybuses to operate in the UK were those of the Bradford and Leeds Transport Departments in 1911. Both undertakings first operated their trolleybuses on 20th June 1911 on their respective inaugural runs, but whereas Leeds then continued to operate them in service from that date, Bradford’s entered public service a few days later on June 24th. The Bradford vehicles operated on a short route from Thornbury to Dudley Hill via Laisterdyke, and connected with the tram routes on Leeds Road and Wakefield Road at either end. Leeds decided to close its system in 1928, when the trolleybuses and electrical equipment were apparently in need of replacement. In contrast however, Bradford continued to expand its network over the years and operated trolleybuses very successfully until March 1972 – the system being the last to operate in the UK.

Brendan Smith

26/10/16 – 06:17

Birmingham used the Skate to travel between depots and their overhaul works probably at night I guess.

Patrtick Armstrong

26/10/16 – 06:19

Two of those Dundee trolleybuses went to Halifax for the Corporation’s only trolley route between Pellon and Wainstalls. They were joined by a new Tilling-Stevens machine, but the route operated only from 1921 until 1926, when trolleybuses were abandoned forever by Halifax. During those five years, the trolleys ran between Pellon and Skircoat Road depot by connecting the positive trolley boom to the tram overhead and dragging a metal skid in the tram track to give the negative return to earth.

Roger Cox

27/10/16 – 08:19

If you would like an idea of what a Routemaster trolleybus might have looked like go here www.britmodeller.com/forums/ to see one modeller’s ideas and how he developed the idea and the advice he received.

Phil Blinkhorn

02/11/16 – 05:55

In Ken Blackers book he does mention that the option of electric power was considered,although given that by this times sentence had been passed on the trolleybus.
The trolleybus route 630 was intended to be worked from Thornton Heath and crews from there were provided with a staff bus whilst waiting for the wires to reach into Surrey which they unfortunately never did.
Trolleybuses should be the environmental public transport vehicle of choice, cheaper and more flexible than Trams

Patrtick Armstrong

03/11/16 – 06:20

Not quite sure, Patrick, what you mean about "the wires reaching into Surrey which, unfortunately, they never did". Croydon and Thornton Heath were in Surrey until 1973. Even Mitcham was, if I recall rightly.

Chris Hebbron

03/11/16 – 14:45

WLT 334

Here is another shot (rather less clear – it was taken in a heavy thunderstorm) of a Routemaster under the trolleybus wires at West Croydon. This is RM 334, taken into LT stock on 12 May 1960. If there ever was a project to make a trolleybus version of the Routemaster, it must have been abandoned early in the development programme, since the decision to abandon London’s trolleys was absolutely cast in stone by 1954, the year in which RM 1 appeared. On the subject of trolleybuses running in Surrey, parts of Croydon may well have been in the postal district of Surrey (some fell within the London SW postal area), but it was a self governing County Borough from 1889 until 1965 when it was incorporated into the GLC. Thus, trolleybuses never did run in the county of Surrey proper.

Roger Cox

04/11/16 – 06:16

With apologies to Chris H, he is right. Mitcham was a municipal borough in Surrey from 1915 to 1965, so yes, trolleybuses on route 630 did just enter the very northern tip of that county.

Roger Cox

06/11/16 – 09:52

That’s a lovely shot of RM334, Roger, ploughing through rain. I like evocative photos like this, as my recently-posted one of Morden Tube Station forecourt, in driving snow, testifies.
Apologies graciously accepted about the 630 route going through Surrey! I had kept some of my powder dry to mention the Fulwell Depot trolley routes 601-605, some of them working their way through Kingston to Tolworth and Wimbledon. Kingston-upon-Thames was only a borough, albeit a Royal one (I’m on one knee as I type this)! I’m old enough to recall travelling from Raynes Park to Kingston/Hampton Court) on the ‘Diddlers’ that frequented the 604/605. Poor things, sound chassis but frail bodies, even when extensively rebuilt, they creaked their way around and were replaced none too soon. I’d hazard a guess that they were the most worn-out vehicles London Transport ran at that time, lasting from 1931 to 1948. But I digress (again)!

Chris Hebbron


Quick links to the  -  Comments Page  -  Contact Page  -  Home Page



Northern General – AEC Routemaster – EUP 405B – 2105

Northern General - AEC Routemaster - EUP 405B - 2105                Copyright Ronnie Hoye

The Northern General Transport Company
AEC-Park Royal Routemaster
Park Royal H41/31F

Pictured at the Seaburn Bus Rally, this 1964 Routemaster has been beautifully restored to its original livery and is now part of the North East Bus Preservation Trust Ltd collection; it was one of the second batch to be delivered. I know the two batches differed slightly, but I’m not sure if it was only that the first ones had rear wheel spats. Prior to the Routmasters, the last front engine half cabs to carry the Northern name were the 1958 PD3’s with Orion bodies ‘Sunderland District’s were rear door Burlingham bodies’ before the Routemasters arrived on the scene their were then three or possibly four batches of PDR1 Atlanteans with both MCW and Roe bodies. Northern ran a lot of longer routes alongside United, when they introduced the front entrance Bristol Lodekkas Northern decided it was time to replace the rear door Park Royal bodied PD2’s on these routes with a more modern vehicle, but rather than use Atlanteans they bought the Routemasters specifically for the purpose. I think reliability may have been a factor as the early Atlanteans were ‘A tad temperamental’ Northern specified the Leyland O600 engine and the same gearing as the Green Line RMC’s, as far as I’m aware they gave excellent service and reliability was never a problem. Our depot didn’t have any so I must be one of the few drivers at Percy Main to have driven one on service, I was on the number 1 which ran between Whitley Bay and Lobbly Hill Gateshead, my bus ‘an Atlantean’ broke down at Team Valley and a replacement was sent out from Bensham depot, it turned out to be a Routemaster. I only drove it for a couple of hours but found it a very nice vehicle to drive.

Photograph and Copy contributed by Ronnie Hoye

13/05/12 – 08:41

…..and I spent many a happy hour driving AEC and Leyland engined ex LT RMs in Reading for Reading Mainline. I now have the occasional charge of a preserved green RML. Still nice to drive but unfortunately, like most RMLs, re-engined.

David Oldfield

13/05/12 – 18:49

What make was/were the replacement engine(s) and did the conversion entail any gearbox/transmission changes, David? In the back of my mind, Iveco comes to mind.

Chris Hebbron

14/05/12 – 07:43

There several experiments using Cummins C (Javelin 8.2), Scania (9.2), DAF (?) and IVECO (7) engines. DAF never got beyond the one experimental, the others went into "mass" production. I don’t know the numbers, nor how it was decided to allocate which engines to which (batches of) vehicles.
These vehicles tended to keep their AEC/LT (semi)automatic gear-change. The vehicle I regularly drive – and will be doing so next week in Slough – is a 1966 RML with IVECO engine with original gearbox which still operates in either semi or fully automatic modes.
From the cab it is very obviously a re-engine although, surprisingly, from the saloon it sounds more like a "proper" vehicle. I can only surmise that this is because it still has the original gearbox. It does not, however, have the performance of an AV590 or 0.600 – nor the real sound.
The last refurbishments, however, were also made to comply with "Euro…" regulations and have the Cummins B (5.9) engine and Allison fully automatic gearbox both found on the Dennis Dart. They are therefore cruelly, but aptly, known as "Dartmasters". The latter have also totally changed the character of the cab.

David Oldfield

14/05/12 – 09:29

Thanks, David, for that interesting background information. It’s also interesting that the original engines performed better than their replacements. Maybe some of it is strapping the engines up with ‘save the world’ technology, understandable, but not conducive to performance or fuel consumption!

Chris Hebbron

14/05/12 – 14:57

As a P.S. to my comments above. It’s all speculation, but given the reputation for build quality and reliability that the Routemaster built up with Northern, I think it’s safe to assume that if the RML had gone into production AEC would have loaned a couple to Northern for evaluation purposes, then who knows?

Ronnie Hoye

14/05/12 – 18:30

Ronnie; do you mean RML or FRM? The Northerns were front entrance RMLs (or RMFs in London language). FRM1 was the rear-engined prototype which Leyland knocked on the head because it competed with its own new Atlantean.
There should have been three prototype FRMs – one of the other in Sheffield Transport colours. Alan Townsin said that both Yorkshire Traction and Northern General had already shown an interest in the new model "off the drawing board". Having tested it for "Bus and Coach" in August 1967 he concluded that "…..the general impression was of a vehicle which made everything previous seem out of date, in much the same way as the RT in its day."

David Oldfield

14/05/12 – 18:46

It’s an age thing David, I did mean the RMF

Ronnie Hoye

15/05/12 – 07:34

It’s an age thing for most of us who use this site! What day is it nurse?

David Oldfield

15/05/12 – 07:36

I wish I’d been issued with fingers instead of thumbs, FRM, the one that Leyland couldn’t wait to kill off, in much the same way that they did with the Fleetline, as the Americans say ‘if you can’t beat them, buy them’

Ronnie Hoye

15/05/12 – 07:38

Chris, can I just point out that David’s comment about the performance of replacement engines was specific to IVECO, which was the smallest of the units in the original experiment. I recently had a ride on an RM with a Scania engine and it went like a bat out of hell! It also made some nice traditional sounds which were entirely compatible with the RM’s transmission.
As regards FRM1, this still exists of course, and it is very special. I once had the pleasure of riding on it, and it felt like meeting the Queen!

Peter Williamson

15/05/12 – 13:31

Very interesting comments, David, on the FRM. I never saw the ‘Bus and Coach’ article, (yes, I ought to have seen it!), and have never seen any pictures of the prototypes, but it sounds as if it had great potential. Leyland, as Ronnie points out, were eager to kill off anything that competed with a Leyland product. Operationally, the Fleetline was a far better bet than early Atlanteans, being more economical and less expensive to maintain, and it would have been a boon to the industry to have had an AEC alternative, too. Leyland’s arrogance, which manifested itself in many ways at that time, was a tragedy for the whole of the British motor industry.

Roy Burke

15/05/12 – 18:00

There were other interesting possibilities which Leyland killed at birth. The only really decent and successful rear-engined single-decker was the Bristol RE. It eventually had the option of Leyland engines (which I approve of) but another option "on the books" which was neither promoted nor taken up was of the AH691 AEC engine. Ulsterbus (and all offshoots) had shown a great interest in the AEC option but were dissuaded by Leyland from taking it up – just as later, New Zealand were "persuaded" to take the Leyland 510.

David Oldfield

16/05/12 – 07:47

In some ways fitting a Scania engine into a Routemaster is the supreme irony. The Routemaster started life with AEC, they in turn became part of British Leyland ‘not to be confused with Leyland Motors’ At the time of the ‘merger’ AEC had designs for a new vehicle, but BL in their wisdom or otherwise decided not to go ahead with it, all the plans ‘including those for a new engine’ were sold to Saab and the result was the 80 and 100 series and every vehicle since, so I suppose you could argue that by using an AEC designed Scania engine in a Routemaster the wheel has in effect turned full circle

Ronnie Hoye

22/09/13 – 07:51

Regarding the allocation of re-engined Routemasters in London, the rough rule was by operating group: South London and London General got Iveco re-engines and everywhere else got Cummins. The reasoning was, the DMS buses also had Iveco engines at these garages.
I used to like the Routemasters on the 130 from Newcastle to Sunderland as a boy.


22/09/13 – 14:35

When were the last of these vehicles withdrawn and what happened to them afterwards?

Chris Hebbron

23/09/13 – 05:57

The answer to the first question is that Northern last used them in service on 16th December 1980. Someone else will have to answer the second bit!

Dave Towers

25/09/13 – 18:18

I have a Classic Bus magazine from 1994. The article must have been about the late 1950s, when they were in the process of creating the Atlantean. In it were clear, side by side pictures of the two prototype Leyland’s running on a route for evaluation by a bus company. One had the engine in front of the front axle, with a front wheel drive. It made the steering very heavy & would tilt up without the conductor on the rear platform. During tests they always made sure they had a conductor on. The other type had the engine on the rear platform & a full front. There is also a rear view picture of a top secret third type, which from memory only got to the test track at night, but was later broken up & the parts used on a conventional layout. If anyone would like further information I will read it again for more accuracy. If anyone would like the magazine, you can have it, for postage costs only.

Andy Fisher

26/09/13 – 06:30

I drove a Routemaster just once, at an LT Open Day – OK I paid a few circuits "on" so had a few laps. Compared to the PD3 on which I did my PSV training the Routemaster felt like a real driver’s bus – everything light to the touch and set up just right, although the horizontal gear-selection gate felt odd to start with. However, I’d take a PD2/3 over a Lodekka anytime – for me the Lodekka’s driving position, with that raked steering-wheel, was just uncomfortable/awful.

Philip Rushworth

26/09/13 – 14:53

Philip, don’t forget that the horizontal gear-selection gate was probably specified to replicate the pre-selector used on the many thousands of RTs with which all LT drivers would have been familiar (to say nothing of the many municipalities who operated pre-selector Regents).

Stephen Ford

26/09/13 – 14:53

The disposal details of all 50 Northern General Routemasters (2085-2134) are to be found at www.countrybus.org/RMF/RMFa.html  
This site, Ian’s Bus Stop, has full life histories for most London Tansport classes and closely related classes, e.g. London Country Leyland Nationals. Well worth a visit.

Dave Farrier

28/09/13 – 16:14

Thx, Dave F.

Chris Hebbron

01/10/13 – 06:30


Whilst on the subject of the Routemaster, has anyone seen a photo of the Chinese Youtong-built vehicle destined for Macedonia, designed with more than a nod at London’s Transport’s ubiquitous product!
(Copyright unknown).

Chris Hebbron

01/10/13 – 10:45

Oh – if only Colin Curtis could see this!!!!!

Michael Hampton

01/10/13 – 17:46

The Youtong vehicles were ordered as an up to date version of the buses that Skopje took second hand from LT in the early 1960s. Those of course were RTs but they have always been regarded as something special in the minds of the citizens and, obviously, the authorities. As they didn’t buy any second hand Routemasters at the time LT were withdrawing them, the new vehicles can probably be regarded as competing with the Borisbus in terms of using old shapes and ideas in a modern format. Neither would win a beauty contest but both are at least interesting and controversial. Just a pity that no British manufacturer could cater for Skopje’s needs.

Phil Blinkhorn

01/10/13 – 17:47

Yes, he only missed out on the news by a few months.

Chris Hebbron

01/10/13 – 17:48

Is this going straight into the Uglibus section?


26/10/13 – 17:11

I was very interested in your section on Routemasters, particularly in the Tyne and Wear, County Durham areas 1970’s. One of your correspondents notes the 130 route, Newcastle to Sunderland. I can remember this being route 40 prior to 13O and continuing to Hartlepool or Middlesbrough. I am interested in obtaining any further info on this. I am also keen to bring back some more memories of routes south of the Tyne from this period and can recall a lot of them but would like to see a list. Do you have any idea where I can access such detail?

Dave Alcock

27/10/13 – 16:12

The 40 was a rather hybrid route, dating historically to the owners of various parts of it before ‘grouping’. From the thirties until NBC days it was really two overlapping routes; United’s 40 ran from Middlesbrough to Sunderland via West Hartlepool, and that of Northern / SDO ran from West Hartlepoool to Newcastle via Sunderland. The overlapping section was a joint operation, with all of the companies running journeys from West Hartlepool to Sunderland to give a more frequent headway.
The United / Northern territorial boundary was at Easington Village, where passengers had to rebook, and United would run further short workings within their section, as well as frequent duplicates to fit in with mining shift times. In the same way Northern had short workings between Newcastle and Sunderland.
The United timetable only showed the Newcastle journeys as brief details, and the Northern timetable ignored the Middlesbrough section altogether (indeed anyone travelling from Sunderland to Middlesbrough would have found the Durham District routes D1 / D2 to be quicker.

David Todd

31/12/13 – 07:20

It’s great reading all your comments,I was a conductor on the trollybusses in NW London 1958-1961 then went onto the RMs we changed overnight. The RM was a wonderful bus but in those early days some of them were experimental. We had RM 1134 at Stonebridge Park and the first time I took it out as a driver I pulled into a bus stop applied the brakes which came on then went off I braked harder and was nearly thrown through the windscreen. Then we had different suspension Dunlopillow was one where after a short while the conductor was sick because the rear of the bus just kept bouncing up and down all day. All garages were told to drive the bus in different ways we were told to drive in automatic at all times, Cricklewood were told to drive in manual it was supposed to save on fuel, I found that when the bus was fully loaded in the rush hour because the gear change from 1st to 2nd was so quick you lost all power so I used to pull away in auto click into second manually gun it then back into top. I last drove an RM in 1965 when I left, I am now 72 and have the chance to climb back into that wonderful bus for one more run {only on the test track at Canvey Island Essex} but I am looking forward to it you never forget how to drive them.

Bix Curtis

24/04/18 – 06:47

Just to say in my opinion the last Routemasters front design was the best looking and handsome bus to this day.
The bonnet, grill, lights etc., never seem to get dated.
Anybody agree?
A real Bus!

Chris Campbell

EUP 405B_lr Vehicle reminder shot for this posting

10/06/18 – 08:50

Can anyone help me with info for a model of a Northern Routemaster in yellow. Three were painted in yellow for Tyneside area operation but one carried ‘GATESHEAD’ fleetnames, the other 2 ‘Northern’. Can anyone tell me which one it was that carried ‘Gateshead’ please.


11/06/18 – 05:56

Whilst the undermentioned website lists all 50 Northern General Routemasters with photographs of each one (and in some cases a history of allocations, liveries etc) some vehicles have only the dates new, date renumbered and date sold. http://www.northernroutemaster.co.uk/
There is a photograph of FPT 595C (Fleet number 2125 renumbered to 3109) in yellow but I can’t read the fleetname but it looks like Northern.
On the SCT61 website there is a photograph of RCN 687 (Fleet number 2125 renumbered to 3109) in yellow with the Northern fleetname. On the Northern Routemaster website there is a note regarding this vehicle: ‘In August 1975 this was one of two Routemasters to receive a less striking version of the Newcastle PTE yellow livery’. Photo here: http://www.sct61.org.uk/ng3071
Hope the above helps narrow down your quest I don’t know.

David Slater

23/06/18 – 06:51



These pictures of a Northern General Routemaster in a sorry state were taken in June 2014 at the yard of Carnell’s Coaches, Long Sutton , Lincolnshire. Carnell’s had previously gone into liquidation in November 2013, though the site still seemed to be in use, though access was not possible when I took the pictures. I cannot identify the actual bus because no number plate or fleet number can be seen. The destination blind shows "Eastbourne", and "Hailsham" is also just visible, which might give some clue to its earlier operation and hence identity. I returned to the site again shortly after to take another look, but the vehicle had then gone.

Roger Cox


Quick links to the  -  Comments Page  -  Contact Page  -  Home Page



All rights to the design and layout of this website are reserved     Old Bus Photos does not set or use Cookies but Google Analytics will set four see this

Old Bus Photos from Saturday 25th April 2009 to Friday 18th October 2019