New bus for London
One of the most exciting new Corgi releases for 2012 will be the New Bus for London. Part of Mayor Boris Johnson’s election promise was to bring back the spirit of the ever-popular
Routemaster bus...well here it is!
Apart from the buses running in heritage service on London’s 9 and 15 routes, the original Routemaster was phased out of normal London service in 2008,
more than 50 years after the iconic design was first shown to the public.
When he was elected Mayor, Boris nailed his colours to two controversial projects affecting London’s buses: to get rid of bendy buses, which he regarded as highly dangerous to cyclists. He said at the time: ‘We should on day one, act one, scene one, hold a competition to get rid of the bendy bus. They wipe out cyclists,
there are many cyclists killed every year by them. Boris said that the bendy buses were abused by fare dodgers, and reckoned that it was ‘not beyond the wit of man to design a new Routemaster, which will stand as an icon of this city’.
He quickly set about the 400-plus bendy buses and many of these have been replaced by more conventional buses; and he started a process that will see the first
New Bus for London (NB4L)delivered to London by the end of this year.
Many people were sceptical about the need for a 21st century Routemaster, particularly as an important feature of NB4L would be an open platform that would allow London passengers to hop on and off, as they had done for a century. Would current legislation
allow this, many wondered. Wrightbus, which has built the bodies for many of London’s
current bus fleet, won the contract to build the new bus, working in conjunction with Transport for London (TfL) and Heatherwick Studio. This was the first time in more than 50 years that TfL or its predecessors have commissioned and overseen the development of a bus built specifically for the capital.
Designer, Thomas Heatherwick said: ‘The bus is particularly special because the design is specific to London. For the first time the ‘look, feel and styling’ of the bus has been designed holistically. Some of the refinements of the design have resulted in the softening of the form, a return to a more calm and naturalistic usage of materials that echo qualities also identified with the Routemaster. The studio has also been keen to retain a sense of heritage in the design.’
When the new design was unveiled, it proved to be very different to any previous London
bus – indeed to any previous bus. The rounded domes are a nod to the lines of the original Routemaster, but there the resemblance ends. The new bus has three doors – one at the front,one in the centre and one on the rear platform; unlike the Routemaster, the rear platform on the NB4L can be closed off outside weekday peak times, allowing it to be used as a driveronly bus. It has two staircases – one at the front and one leading
to and from the rear platform; a prominent part of the external design is the glazing that follows the line of the front staircase. There is space for 87 passengers, 62 of them seated (40 on the upper deck and 22 on the lower deck).
The original Routemaster had a diesel engine at the front, but NB4L has a small engine at the rear, which is used to keep batteries charged, for the bus is a diesel-electric hybrid; London was in the forefront of encouraging bus manufacturers to develop hybrid buses, and now hybrids can be found in service in many parts of the UK, following London’s lead. Hybrid buses are considerably greener than conventional diesel buses and the use of lightweight materials means that the new bus will be much more fuel-efficient.
A prototype was built and went through tests at the Millbrook proving ground before it enters service with Arriva in London. Boris Johnson greeted it with characteristic exuberance: ‘I am thrilled that we are now able to put this lean, green and thoroughly ravishing machine through its paces. Over the next few months its mettle will be well
and truly tested. But I hope that process will confirm we have built a real eco warrior of a bus that can contribute to improving the air of our city, while transporting Londoners in great style and safety.’ The engineering test vehicle has allowed TfL to check and then re-check the physical structure, engineering and performance of the bus.
A full-size static mock-up was also built to test public reaction, which proved to be very
favourable, and visitors to the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden had the
opportunity to see it on display there alongside a first-generation Routemaster and a 1930 AEC Renown double-decker.
Announcing that all eight prototypes of NB4L would be delivered to London by spring 2012, Leon Daniels of TfL said: ‘Because I’m an old-fashioned bus person it is my view that the next job is to get thousands of miles on this prototype fleet before we take
any further decisions on what happens next, because in the history of London buses over the last 100 years the ones that have been rigorously tested before going into production have lasted 50 years and represented very, very good value for the taxpayer
and the ones that were rushed into production lasted five minutes and cost a huge amount of money.’
If the NB4L is the success that TfL hopes it will be, full production will start at the end of
2012. The original Routemaster was very much a London-designed bus, and only 50 were sold to operators outside the capital. It seems likely that the NB4L may not appeal to customers in the rest of the UK, and it seems very unlikely that the concept can be
The Corgi model in the Original Omnibus Company 1:76 scale range will be available in March, and will wear the livery, destination and numbers of the first route that this exciting new bus will serve.
By Gravin Booth