Omnibuses’ Northern but temporarily redesignated Midlands Correspondent ventured south to unfamiliar territories, to mark the end of Leyland National service in Walsall near Birmingham...Or so he thought...
Indulge Omnibuses as we pay tribute to the last major centre of Leyland National operations in the world.
Actually, this was *not* to be the last day of Leyland National operation in the Midlands. Owing to a paucity of substitutes, even after Chase
bus services are fully integrated with Arriva Midlands
tomorrow, there will continue to be up to seven LNs for as long as it takes for Arriva to tool up with newer kit - expected to be mid-May, by which time there's to be a grand auction. So, National aficionados have just a little longer to indulge their passion.
Therefore, was Arriva Midlands
being a little disingenuous in flogging the event as the last day of National running? Yes and no. It marked the end of Chase’s
colourful LN operation so, in a sense, the commemorative day was justifiable as well as worthwhile. And never again will nearly *all* services be National operated, even if there will still be Nationals out on Monday.
But, it did get a fiver off each of the 100 plus enthusiasts present *and* the prospect of more revenue from a very-last-though-slimmed-down running day, to come. Canny. Post-dereg operators really know how to operate commercially.Chase – a Brief History Chase
evolved from coach to bus operator in 1986 after winning several Staffordshire council contracts. Building on two Leyland Leopards used at the time for works services, Chase
acquired three Bristol REs in 1986. These were joined by five Leopards, interestingly all in Midland Red
or local Chaserider livery.
Then the Nationals began to arrive, during a period of bus service expansion for Chase. The first two were ex-Greater Manchester
, in orange. Others to arrive also operated initially in the livery in which they were acquired rather than the fleet blue and cream, till the adoption of Manchester’s orange, brown and white as standard. For the next ten years, Chase then standardised on second hand Nationals, though interestingly the last 1997 purchase only saw service from 1999.
At its height, Chase
operated a mixed coach and bus fleet of some 70 vehicles, though Nationals were the largest single vehicle type. Chase
ran down its coaching side and, indeed, withdrew from private hires in 2006. In latter years, there was also a slimming down of local services. Of the 29 vehicles owned by Chase
, only two were Darts and one a DAF/Ikarus.Walsall – a Heritage Haven?
Enthusiasts may have flocked to Walsall to savour a last ride on a Leyland National but, surprisingly, there was more to see than expected.
You always get the impression that National Express’ Travel West Midlands
has an up-to-date fleet, including low floor double decks and a sizeable articulated bus fleet. Walsall was different. Here, there was still the opportunity to view and ride upon nearly 50 MCW Metrobus MkIIs as ordered originally by West Midlands PTE
, the oldest being from 1982. There were even four Leyland Lynxes allocated, dating from 1989 & 1990. Rather like Chase’s
Nationals, all appeared in excellent condition for their ages.
Where can you see Lynxes and Nationals side by side, these days?
The other interesting feature of Walsall is its area of operation. Unlike Birmingham City Transport
, which hardly ventured beyond the city boundary, Walsall Corporation Transport
spread its wings, both following 1930s local acquisitions and an enterprising management. This is why many of the current Walsall TWM
services extend into the country areas.Chase – Keeping them on the Road
Though there were signs of ageing, Chase’s
Nationals were in remarkably good condition. How come they were continuing to provide such sterling service at ages of up to 27 years old?
Not without sweat and tears! Chase’s
fitters had become quite adept at keeping the vehicles on the road and, in addition to the usual cannibalisations, were used to making modifications to do so. These ranged from little things to engine transplants. One vehicle had home-made two leaf doors (and this will be continuing in Arriva
service this week). Another was reported to have a Leyland 420 engine from a refuse collection vehicle. A third had a rear nearside body modification to house a Leyland 680 engine.
Parts, however, were getting scarce towards the end. There were reports that exhausts and gearbox parts in particular were a cause for concern and in short supply.
These Nationals may have been a tribute to their type, but this all comes at a cost, in parts and engineering overheads. But tribute must be made here to Chase’s
fitters who for the last 10 years must surely be the country’s National experts.Arriva – Takes Over
Chase drivers have been in Arriva
uniforms for some time. Arriva
liveried buses will take over Chase routes tomorrow. There are few timetable changes, save for the 860 Cannock-Lichfield, which doubles in frequency. Arriva
itself will be using an eclectic mix of vehicles, including older buses of its own (though none as old as Chase's
network vehicles, all of which will now operate from Arriva's
Cannock Delta Way premises, include the aforesaid seven former Chase
Nationals. These are all-over advertisement vehicles. These were the natural choice: they retain advertising revenue and require only a front-end repaint.
Never a robust combination, Chase’s
two unusual UVG-Caetano bodied Darts will also join the Arriva Midlands’
fleet. These will undoubtedly never last anywhere as long as their sibling Nationals. One was parked in Walsall town centre yesterday, promoting the switch. Arriva
had Leicester-based staff in Walsall bus station, too.TWM
may be feeling a little uneasy at the prospect of full-on Arriva
services on its Walsall doorstep, especially as Go Ahead’s Go West Midlands
has also established itself from 2005.Text: Omnibuses “Midlands” (Northern) correspondent, with editing by and additional information from Busing
Pictures: Omnibuses “Midlands” Correspondent.