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Monday 17th August 2020 ~ Overdue Update !


Many moons ago, I wrote one of my very occasional blog entries about the new red Scania buses brought in to operate the XL service from Norwich to Peterborough. That's all a very long time ago now, in fact almost 6 months and hasn't a lot happened since ? Or to be more accurate, not a lot has happened since !

Going back to March 27th then and a much reduced service was introduced in response to the pandemic situation. From Sunday 5th April, King's Lynn depot temporarily closed and staff were furloughed while a skeleton service was operated by Norwich. This prevailed until 30th May after which King's Lynn resumed their role in running the service. From 7th June the full timetable was restored. Initially only 18 seats were available on each service to allow for social distancing, but this has been relaxed slightly recently.

Despite the situation, there have been some unusual sights on the route which I will briefly summarise here.

33817 on its final journey to Peterborough on 10th March. Photo : Dan High

Back on 10th March, 33817 became the final (at least for the moment) blue liveried Enviro 400 to reach Peterborough. Things then settled down until April 7th when yellow line 36269 worked diagram 4 - there were only 8 turns at this time, so this was something of a shock.

On April 5th, King's Lynn's allocation were moved to Norwich and Great Yarmouth and during the lockdown timetables, the Scanias put in much useful work on both the X1 and X2 routes east of Norwich. 

36918 (top) in High Street, Gorleston on the X1 on May 1st and (above) 36913 on an X21 in Gordon Road, Lowestoft on May 19th. Photos : Roy Northcott / East Norfolk Bus Blog

36914 passes 36912 in Yarmouth Road, Lowestoft on May 20th. Photo : Matthew Holland

The Peterborough service was operated by Scanias 36901 - 36909 & 36911. 36910 had suffered an unfortunate accident near King's Lynn on March 25th and was at Full Circle being repaired, hence its omission.

Right at the end of the emergency timetable on 29th May, the blue skies of lockdown find 36906 heading east near Walpole Highway

On the same day, 29th May, 36908 is on a Peterborough bound XL passing Boskoop Farm 

On Wednesday 22nd April, Gemini 36266 appeared on the aforementioned diagram 4 and then 36184 worked diagram 6 on Monday 27th. From Monday 4th May, 36904 was replaced by 36917, also that day 36184 again did diagram 6 and a yellow line Gemini (possibly 36266 or 36270) worked the first part of diagram 4 before being replaced by 36901. Diagram 6 again dropped on May 7th (36184) and May 11th (36270). Most of these substitutions were down to 36907 being temporarily out of traffic.

Once the full timetable returned at the beginning of June, all the Scanias loaned to Great Yarmouth returned to King's Lynn and any shortfall was met by using a Gemini on one of the three Dereham 'D' turns. 36904 which had also been at Full Circle for repairs returned on June 4th just after the return of 36910.

16th June saw possibly the most outrageous working of the last decade when the bus scheduled to work the 19.40 Norwich - Peterborough had to be taken out of traffic at the last minute. In order to provide the service, Volvo B7 Plaxton President of 2002 vintage 32214 was commandeered to work in the place of 36916. It got as far as King's Lynn where 36914 relieved it and the old timer promptly returned empty to Norwich.

32214 photographed on a less auspicious occasion, but looking very smart on Charcoal Line service 41 at Woodton en route to Norwich via Poringland, 5/2/19. Photo : Zak Nelson

In the last fortnight of July, Gemini substitutions on The Dereham 'D' services once again became commonplace.

August though has been a better month so far, however, it was a case of deja vu today (Monday 17th) when Gemini 37579 put in an unexpected appearance working turn 6022 which involves two round trips from Norwich to Peterborough and the 21.40 Norwich - Dereham. For the record, the last time 37579 worked to Peterborough was almost 7 years ago when it was in white X1 livery on 5th October 2013 !

37579 returned to its old stamping ground today after a 7 year absence. Seen here working the 10.10 Peterborough - Norwich at Wisbech Nene Quay.

Overall the new Scanias have given very little cause for concern. Main hiccups have revolved around faulty destination displays and windscreen replacements taking longer to bond than on the previous fleet. Timekeeping has been excellent, although the current timetable is certainly generous in its allowances. Hopefully I will provide a further update in less than six months. Thanks to all who have continued to supply me with pictures and information. Special thanks as always to Bruce Billingham for keeping an eye on things.


Sunday 23rd February 2020 ~ The First Week

36917 near Hockering on Friday. Photo : Zak Nelson
So the first week of operation using the new fleet of Excel Scanias has passed relatively uneventfully. From what I can gather, Saturday was the first day where there were no Enviro substitutions. During the week 33805/811/817/818 were all used at various points. Of the new vehicles, all have been used on the route apart from 36901 which has had a few minor issues. 
36908 on a Dereham - Norwich service near Hockering.
Photo : Zak Nelson

On the main route on Mondays to Fridays, King's Lynn send out ten buses and Norwich seven. Three of the latter are used purely between Norwich and Dereham, meaning in total 14 are used on the Peterborough service.
33818 deputising for a Scania on a Dereham short.
Photo : Zak Nelson

There has also been great interest in the fate of the superseded Enviro 400s. 33803/07/08/09/10/13/14/15 have been transferred to Great Yarmouth with all except 33815 having been seen on the X1 group of services. 33811 has also appeared today although apparently still on King's Lynn's books. Biggest news was probably the appearance of 33814 on the X2 as well as 33821 and 33822 this week.
A change of scenery for 33814 seen here on the A146 near Stockton working an X2 service. Photo : Zak Nelson

33821 on the X2 near Stockton on Friday February 21st. Photo : Zak Nelson

Timekeeping with the new Excel vehicles has been variable, most have been seen within 5 minutes of time. Drivers have been asked some interesting questions on the new buses, my favourite is the passenger who boarded one asking the driver "Is this red bus a blue bus ?" !


Monday 17th February 2020 ~ A New Era

 Today saw the introduction of the new XL fleet, which by and large was carried out successfully. The eye catching red liveried buses have brought new standards of comfort and facilities to the route.
Drivers seemed to be taking it very steady with the new charges today and most I saw were a few minutes late, however, 36907 working the 15.40 Peterborough - Norwich was seen entering Wisbech spot on time. The 08.10 Peterborough - Norwich started at Thorney with 33805 after an issue with one of the new buses and 33816 was also out during the day, but small teething troubles are always part of the introduction of any new fleet. A couple of buses were seen in service without working destination screens, something which has been immediately rectified, but having a code letter instead of XL is something which will take a little getting used to.
Here are some pictures from our photographers on the inaugural day. 

Photo : Sam Larke

Photo : Sam Larke

36906 departing King's Lynn as the 13.10 to Norwich. Photo : Mark Pitman
36905 heads east from Thorney as the 10.10 Peterborough - Norwich. Photo : Cheryl Cleary

Interior of 36919 at Peterborough Bus Station : Photo : Sam Larke

Red passing red near East Winch. Photo : Sam Larke

This picture depicts the spacious seating in the upper saloon. Photo : Sam Larke
Photo : Sam Larke

36904 leaving King's Lynn Bus Station as the 08.40 Norwich - Peterborough Photo : Mark Pitman

The 11.40 Norwich - Peterborough with 33805 which had replaced 36908 earlier. Photo : Mark Pitman

36915 running as the 09.00 Norwich - Peterborough pulls in to King's Lynn rail station. Photo : Mark Pitman

Photo : Sam Larke

Photo : Sam Larke

36908 departs King's Lynn for Wisbech. Photo : Mark Pitman


Sunday February 16th 2020 ~ One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

Today was the last day of the 63 Reg Enviro 400s on the XL route. Preparations are complete for the first day of the new Scania vehicles tomorrow. 
High winds did see a substitution late last night and for a time today when single decker 63325 was used. 
63325 at King's Lynn South Gates with 33811 about to take eastbound passengers forward today . Photo : Zak Nelson

The Enviros performed well on their last day on the route, although 33805, 33811 and 33817 are to be kept at King's Lynn for a few days on standby in the event of any problems with the new boys.
33819 never received full route branding for the XL route. It is seen departing King's Lynn Bus Station for Peterborough at 16.20 today. Photo : Sam Larke
It made it to the final day ! 33803 calls at King's Lynn South Gates with a westbound service today.
 Photo : Zak Nelson
33817 has finished work for the day on XL, maybe for the last time and the new fleet are lined up ready for entry into service. Photo : Sam Larke
33805 is one of the buses on standby at King's Lynn in the next few days  Photo :  Zak Nelson

The old and the new, 33818 alongside 36911 at Vancouver Avenue this evening. Photo : Sam Larke

The new fleet ready for entry into service at King's Lynn. Photo : Simon Barker
Photo : Sam Larke

New timetable information at Norwich Bus Station.
Photo : Zak Nelson

The new fleet will operate an intensive service between Norwich and Dereham as well as the Peterborough services. Photo : Zak Nelson :  

A new stop for Dereham Town FC. Photo : Zak Nelson

The new timetables in new display cases at the South Gates . Photo : Zak Nelson
Many thanks to Zak, Sam and Simon for helping me out with photos and the stories from today. 


Sunday February 9th 2020 ~ It's all happening

  After what seems to be a long while with little to report, it's nice to produce a blog which is a little different.
Preparations for the entry into service of the new fleet are proceeding apace. The first one to pass through Wisbech to my knowledge was on Thursday afternoon when 36910 was used for tests on the public address system. It is seen below on its way back to Norwich and I'm sure that guy on the top deck is waving !!

Since it was announced recently that First have cancelled the sale of their bus division - this was originally announced in May 2019, it is not surprising that their branding will after all be applied to the new fleet as seen here :

The entry into service, together with a new timetable will come into effect on Monday 17th February

Meanwhile, a rather unexpected event happened today (Sunday 9th). High winds and torrential rain hit the route courtesy of Storm Ciara which has caused havoc throughout the UK. A decision was made to replace the Enviro 400s on the route with single deck vehicles while the storm was at its height.
Here are a few pictures of the unexpected visitors performing on the Excel service - all didn't go well though as one had to have panels drilled and riveted after being ripped by the winds and 63321 suffered a coolant leak at King's Lynn on return from Peterborough, so the 16.10 to Norwich left with 33816. By this time the worst of the storm had passed fortunately. 
Spot on time at Walpole Highway, the 11.10 Norwich - Peterborough passes with Wright Street Lite 63321, normally employed on the green line services 14, 15 and 15a  from Dussindale, Acle and Lingwood to Wymondham.
Photo : Bruce Billingham
63321 and 63323 seen at King's Lynn bus station. Photo : Sam Larke
63323 leaves King's Lynn westbound. Photo : Sam Larke
The penultimate single decker utilised by Norwich was 47510, a smaller capacity, shorter wheelbase example in standard First livery. It is seen here arriving at King's Lynn as dusk begins to fall. Photo : Sam Larke

The 16.10 from Norwich on arrival at King's Lynn with 47509. Photo : Sam Larke


Tuesday 4th February 2020 ~ Training in Progress

The fleet numbers for the new buses are 36901 - 36919 inclusive. They have started to appear in Norwich and King's Lynn for driver training purposes.

36912 was photographed outside King's Lynn railway station this morning by our man on the spot

It's not just drivers who are familiarising themselves with the new charges, the maintenance teams are also getting to know all about  those important details which keep the fleet on the road. At last week's press launch, the team at King's Lynn came in for special praise because of their dedication in keeping everything moving with the minimum of fuss.
Jason, Tim and Calvin are responsible for the day to day maintenance at King's Lynn and are seen here in front of a trio of the new vehicles. Photo : First Group


January 29th 2020 - All is Revealed !

Today, myself and Roy Northcott who does the East Norfolk Bus Blog were invited to attend the press launch of the new Excel fleet. Representatives from several of the manufacturers who have contributed to the project as well as the bus industry hierarchy and various other interested parties were also in attendance.
After our arrival at Davey House in Norwich, First Eastern Counties Steve Wickers (Managing Director), David Jordan (Marketing Manager) and Paul Martin (Commercial Manager) gave us an explanation of the host of features offered by the new buses. We were then addressed by Giles Fearnley MD of First Bus UK.

It was soon time to sample one of the new fleet for ourselves and we boarded bus number 36913 which along with 36910 arrived in Castle Meadow to take us to our lunch venue in Dereham at the Mid Norfolk Railway. Here guests were invited to examine the new vehicles and were issued with a commemorative booklet to mark the forthcoming launch into public service on February 17th. 

After lunch we headed back to the city, this time on 36910. The buses are certainly most impressive with a return to a 9 litre engine, Lazzerini leather seating throughout, table or airline seating upstairs, USB and wireless charging points, phone holders and bell pushes at every seat and a generous amount of legroom. The area masking the stairs has a mural on each bus, each depicting different landmarks to be found on the route.
 The mechanical design of the buses was completely bespoke, with a great deal of engineering and ingenuity to marry the Alexander Dennis E400City body with the Scania N250UD Euro VI diesel chassis. The first time this combination has been achieved. The red and burgundy livery with gold highlights was chosen as it respected the historical colour associated with 'Eastern Counties'. 
Interior design also includes wood effect flooring and a host of other features from 'Best Impressions'. The 19 new buses represent a £5.3M investment and are sure to be a huge success, in the process turning heads along the Norwich to Peterborough corridor. 
 I'd like to thank everyone at First Eastern Counties for welcoming us to the event and it was great to catch up with some familiar faces as well as several new ones. It was also great to meet Giles Fearnley who was familiar with this blog and said to me "So you really do exist" !! A very nice man indeed. 
My personal thanks go to David Jordan for inviting me and also to fellow enthusiast Zak Nelson who I caught up with at Dereham. There will be more news in future days including a look at the forthcoming new timetable, but in the meantime, here are a few photographs from the event .....
First Eastern Counties MD, Steve Wickers introduces the event

Paul Martin and David Jordan explain how the new Excel project finally came to fruition

Giles Fearnley, MD of First Bus UK pays tribute to the First Eastern team

The attractive upper deck interior of 36913

Two old bloggers (!) Myself and Roy Northcott enjoying the ambience

Stair area detail, upper deck

Upper deck information display 

The new buses on arrival at Dereham MNR

Giles Fearnley inspects 36913

Giles Fearnley stands proudly in front of the state of the art buses

Best thing was, the weather was super for January !

Side detail of 36910, the new buses will only carry advertising on this side.

The new fleet have a variety of messages on the back designed to attract the disgruntled motorist !

36913 advertises its 'at seat' entertainment

Fast frequent and direct, these new buses certainly catch the eye as we witnessed from passers by

The new vehicles are slightly longer than the existing fleet 

Some of the fittings, equipment and design team with Giles Fearnley and Steve Wickers

Back at Castle Meadow after a perfect demonstration of the new buses capabilities

Of course the new buses will mean a cascading programme which will see some of these fine old Tridents retired from work in the city