Hooked on Chassis: A Bumper Selection of Pre-2002 Buses in Service

Summertime, and the buses are ageing…

Beyond the lustre and the glitz of Greater Manchester’s WiFi enabled buses, or electric hybrid vehicles, there’s still a fair number of late-20th century vehicles in continued service. Parts of Oldham and a fair chunk of Tameside’s bus routes are operated with vehicles built before the present millennium. Some of which are on routes physically unsuitable for double deckers (the 415 for example, owing to Middleton Junction bridge).

Over the last month, First Greater Manchester has seen some of its Dennis Arrows and older Dennis Dart SLFs replaced by slightly newer models (namely the Marshall bodied Dennis Dart SLFs from South Yorkshire). Some of which have reached Tameside, gainfully employed on the 38, 39, 393 and 346 services. It is the Pioneer Depot Team’s recent acquisition which has inspired this selection of photos.

Whilst the nights are getting longer, sit back, relax, put on a good album of some description and enjoy this selection.

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Hooked on Chassis: Acceptable in the 1990s

Volvo Olympian T889 KLF, First Greater Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
Seen on a rather downcast July is another Pioneer Depot Team acquisition from South Yorkshire. T889 KLF is seen loading at Ashton-under-Lyne bus station on the 346 service.
Optare Excel S928 LBL, JPT Travel, Shudehill Interchange
Waiting in the wings at Shudehill Interchange is Optare Excel S928 LBL (171, Gav. J. B). JPT Travel’s tendered Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys on the 217 and 218 services have been the preserve of Optare Excels like this one.
Optare Solo KX51 CRU, Stagecoach in Manchester, Dukinfield
Somewhat unusual for the 346 service is this 51 reg Optare Solo. It is seen on the southbound stop of the Albion Hotel stage en route to Hyde. KX51 CRU was purchased from new by Stagecoach in Warwickshire and seen with ‘Route 66’ branding between Leamington and Banbury.
Dennis Trident 2 X764 ABU, Finglands Coachways, outside IKEA, Ashton-under-Lyne
In about a few months from now, some of Finglands Coachways’ own buses may well be replaced by First Greater Manchester’s offering. Seen outside IKEA is Dennis Trident X764 ABU, purchased from new by the Rusholme operator.
Dennis Trident 2 ALX400 X239 NNO, Stagecoach in Manchester Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
Another Dennis Trident 2, this time on the 169 route to Southern Cemetery via West Didsbury. This fellow came to Stagecoach Manchester last year to compensate for a batch of Enviro400s which were deployed for the 2012 London Olympic Games. It had earlier seen service with Stagecoach London and was repainted into the standard Stagecoach livery at Hyde Road.
Dennis Arrow R443 ULE, First Greater Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
One of two left at the Pioneer Depot Team’s base in Dukinfield, and also from London. Lovers of the Dennis Arrow will be pleased to find that two have been preserved with one painted in its original London livery.
First Greater Manchester Dennis Dart SLF, Marshall body, X787 HLR, outside The Ash Tree
The Not So New Order: one of a batch of Marshall bodied Dennis Dart SLF from First South Yorkshire. This fellow has yet to receive its orange LED display hence the ’39’ printed in the Verdana typeface.
First Greater Manchester Optare Solo, Y905 KND, outside Ashton-under-Lyne Market Hall
One of First Greater Manchester’s older Optare Solos. The yellow sticker on the front denotes the fact it is on loan from Oldham depot. It is seen on the 346, literally yards away from its final destination.
Optare Solo Y902 KND, First Greater Manchester, Oldham bus station
And here’s 40322’s stablemate 40319 in more familiar surroundings. This time on the 410 Oldham Circular via Glodwick.
Dennis Dart SLF Marshall body, X787 HLR, First Greater Manchester, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
Shortly after sporting its makeshift indicator, here’s another shot of X787 HLR with the full Hanover Displays indicator treatment. It is about to begin a journey with the 393 service to Smallshaw, which is co-worked with the 346.
Dennis Dart SLF Marshall body (rear end) X784 HLR, Penny Meadow, Ashton-under-Lyne
Here’s a less conventional view of 41787’s stablemate 41784. This was photographed from the top deck of a Volvo B9TL on an Ashton-bound 348. The advertisement for a school in Rotherham offers a more obvious clue of its previous depot.
Dennis Dart SLF Plaxton body, R243 SBA, First Greater Manchester, Oldham bus station
Though the 415s have seen the Marshall bodied Dennis Dart SLFs, it seems as if their stay was short lived. Perhaps there was too many humps for them in Alkrington Garden Village, hence Plaxton bodied 40369, seen loading on a Middleton bound 415.
Mercedes CDI minibus Y344 PNW, Manchester Community Transport, Oldham bus station
More a vehicle for Social Services’ provision than stage carriage, but this fellow is seen at Oldham bus station as a driver changeover vehicle. Passengers about to board the 400 Metroshuttle would have been relieved to find that the 1250 service was operated with a state of the art electric-hybrid Optare Versa.
Mercedes Citaro, W335 JND, First Greater Manchester, Oldham bus station
We finish our feature with 60227, a Mercedes Citaro seen on the 408 service to Stalybridge. Most recently, this service has seen WiFi enabled Enviro200s. Were they just a blip, or is the return of older vehicles to the 408 the blip itself? We shall see.

That concludes our bumper selection of older buses. Who knows, we might follow this selection up with a Christmas Special. Stay tuned…

S.V., 20 September 2013.


8 thoughts on “Hooked on Chassis: A Bumper Selection of Pre-2002 Buses in Service

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    1. Hi Connaire,

      It could be a rather short sojourn, but going off the registrations, I would say they might be with us for about five years. Then again, there’s half a chance they might be seen in the present new livery – a year before another newer one is launched!

      Bye for now,



  1. Reminds me a bit of First in Wigan pre December 5th last year when apart from 21 buses out of 100 available for passenger services the average age was 14 years old in fact all were 14 years old.

    It is the bus industry’s way of saying something is barely profitable, e.g. move hundreds of older vehicles in and then wind the depot down.by making unattractive to potential customers.

    I am guessing profitability margins at Pennine are on the whole low and that certainly the local service work is possibly just about profitable based on the usage of mid life and small vehicles. I suspect where Pennine is an asset to First is as a base to use in the east and South for school contract work. Also lets not forget that Pennine drivers are on lower wages than First Manchester drivers.

    The Marshall bodied Darts have obviously been shipped in to make inroads into the Plaxton Pointer bodied examples which are in essence now life expired, the rest will possibly be replaced by other cast offs from other fleets as they obviously don’t merit investment in new vehicles as the profits cannot repay the HP or lease costs on new or recent vehicles which I guess is a sad state of affairs.

    The problem with that strategy of course is that it cancels out any growth prospects and eventually leads in some cases to the withdrawal of the service altogether.


    1. Hi Giles,

      I would say the average age of buses at the Pioneer Depot Team’s base in Dukinfield is about eleven years old if you exclude the 08 reg Volvo B9TLs and Transport for Greater Manchester’s electric hybrid Optare Solos and Versa. Inclusive of last summer’s arrival of the Volvo B9TLs and the TfGM owned vehicles leased by FGM, this brings the average age down to eight years old.

      Ever since it became part of First Manchester, First Pennine as it was then known as was treated as a low cost operating unit by its fellows in Wallshaw Street. This has been the case since September 2000. Back then it inherited among its fleet a motley selection of vehicles, mainly Eastern Coach Works and Roe bodied Leyland Olympians. Other vehicles included some Leyland Lynxes from Crosville in Birkenhead, and a number of step entrance Mercedes minibuses.

      Between 1994 and 2000, what became known as First Pennine in 1998 was hitherto under the aegis of PMT’s operations in Newcastle-under-Lyme rather than Oldham. They were acquired by Badgerline in 1994, after being the independently owned Pennine Blue, with a similar average fleet age as Wigan depot before December 2012.

      Therefore, Dukinfield garage, with the exception of TfGM’s new vehicles has never seen any new vehicles, apart from a number of M and N registration step entrance Dennis Darts. In Plaxton and Marshall bodywork, they were purchased from new by Badgerline to replace Pennine Blue’s older though more charming members of the fleet. Some of the older vehicles, mainly the Bristol VRTs were repainted in a yellow and blue version of the standard post-deregulation PMT livery.

      In relation to School Services, First Greater Manchester’s Tameside routes are:

      • 774 (New Charter Academy – Oldham, PM only);
      • 820 (Darnton Road/Mossley Road – Copley Academy);
      • 863 (Droylsden – St. Damian’s RC Science College, AM only);
      • 864 (Droylsden [Fiveways] – St. Damian’s RC Science College, AM only);
      • 867 (Godley – Alder Community High School);
      • 870 (St. Damian’s RC Science College – Mossley Hollins High School – Carrbrook – Stalybridge [Ridge Hill Estate]).

      Its Yellow School Bus routes in the Tameside area are:

      • Y48 (Oldham – St. Damian’s RC Science College;
      • Y77 (Samuel Laycock School – Cheetham Hill Road/Yew Tree Lane).

      The bulk of First Greater Manchester’s Tameside school services are outside the Yellow School Bus network, which may explain the continued existence of step entrance double deckers, and that being a big earner for the Dukinfield garage. Similar characteristics to the old Ince Bar Schools Unit though on a smaller scale I would say. Then there’s also a fair number of local routes which without patronage from schoolchildren wouldn’t exist.

      Bye for now,



  2. I find it quite amusing that Leeds gets a number of older Scanias and 2 T reg B6s from Bolton whilst almost at the same time South Yorkshire ship their older Darts over the Pennines, oh and to further add to the fuel costs, the Finglands operation is set to benefit from a number of new 13 reg B9 single deckers diverted from West Yorkshire. It’s a miracle some council official hasn’t thought there’s a frequent bus service on the M62 and the M62 hasn’t got a bus stop along it so lets put some there.


    1. Hi Leeds,

      Somehow the phrase ‘you couldn’t make it up’ would be applicable to FirstGroup’s recent fleet changes across the Pennines. At least the Marshall Darts could run light over the Woodhead Pass or Snake Pass prior to reaching Dukinfield garage.

      Though a little off-topic, there hasn’t been a decent Trans-Pennine bus route along the M62, not since the short lived express service from Bradford Interchange to the Trafford Centre (2004), or Yelloway’s 402 service from Leeds to Rochdale (1986-87)! The most likely place for a bus stop along the M62 would be Hartshead Moor Services (till the early noughties, it was also an interchange for Wallace Arnold Coaches). We could count, though just off the motorway, the stop for the 503 from Halifax to Huddersfield at Ainley Top.

      As for the last time one traversed over the Woodhead pass and around that way, the long gone X19/X20 White Rose Express from Manchester [Chorlton Street] to Barnsley via Stalybridge and Saddleworth. If I remember rightly, Mainline operated a similar route to Sheffield till the mid 1990s from Manchester via Hyde.

      Bye for now,



  3. Hi Stuart

    Although not strictly a bus service, National Express service 350 does use a bus stop on the Woodhead Pass at Crowden and you can buy tickets a few mins before boarding in Sheffield and Manchester, I think this would be the closest we’ll ever get to a bus service on this road.


    1. Hi Leeds,

      Yes, that’s correct, and probably the closest thing to a bus route on the Woodhead Pass (albeit three return journeys seven days a week, which is still better than a lot of villages throughout the UK). There is also a stop outside The Gun Inn in Hollingworth for the 350 to Sheffield.

      National Express also allows for a small number of fares to be bought on board. At one time, I remember National Express’ return fare from Oldham to Manchester being cheaper than First Manchester’s. Though with economy and luxury, it lacks the same convenience afforded from a more readily available 59, 83, or 184 between the same points.

      Bye for now,


      P.S. The single fare on National Express’ routes from Oldham to Manchester is £1.90. An Open Period Return is £6.40, whereas a specified date return is £3.80. Yet, it can cost £2.10 from Oldham town centre to Greenacres on an 83!


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