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Route 12
27 January 2012

In an earlier version of this page I featured alongside an RML an AVL class low floor double decker operating on a Sunday, and made the remark that this might be a taste of things to come. What I was obviously not expecting was that the route would in fact be converted to articulated single deckers! Much was made in the early days of the artic being the "perfect" (depending on your point of view!) replacement for London’s remaining Routemasters, but in fact, it was quite some time before any direct conversions from Routemaster to this mode of operation took place. The 73 was the first, with the 12 following; in the end, the only other such conversion was the 38, although you could count the 436, a sectionalisation of the outer end of the 36, and one of the first artic routes.

Anyhow, subsequent changes in political leadership have led to the demise of the bendy buses, which have all gone by the end of 2011 as promised. The 12 was one of the last, and has duly been converted to low floor double deckers, so my prediction sort of came true, albeit that all the AVL class buses had gone by this time and, instead, we have WVLs! Go Ahead has bought large numbers of Volvo double deckers, so far with four different bodywork styles. The Alexander bodied AVLs were not pursued, and only one batch was ordered of East Lancs bodied EVLs. Much more numerous were the Plaxton bodied PVLs, but even they have now been surpassed by the Wright bodied WVLs, although the later ones are on B9TL chassis, rather than B7TL as the rest. WVL439 (LJ61 GWY) was seen on diversion in Berkeley Street on the first day, 5 November 2011.

Photo © David McKay.

Part of the allocation has been specified with hybrid buses. These are also Wright bodied Volvos, designated B5L or B5LH depending on which source you use! They are classified WHV by Go-Ahead, and WHV12 (LX61 GXL) pauses in London Road, Elephant & Castle, on on 10 November 2011. Note the fleet number matches the route number!

Photo © RNAM200 (Robert Mighton).

In addition to the new buses shown above, to complete the picture (and the allocation) 6 existing WVLs (380-385) were transferred in from Bexleyheath garage. With the conversions of routes 12, 436 and 453 to double deck a large order for double deckers was placed, with a mixture of ADL and Volvo chassis, and including some hybrids from both manufacturers. I have lost track of exactly what was originally ordered for each route, but in the interests of standardisation the allocations were swapped around, matters being further complicated by the cancelling of the planned closure of Mandela Way garage (from where the 453 runs). In the wash there were 6 E class Trident/Enviros too many, and 6 WVLs short, to the Es were sent to Bexleyheath garage (which already had some and is getting more) to release the slightly older WVLs for Camberwell.

Thus WVL383 (LX60 DXR) is seen at the same location as the previous bus, having just been turned short at Elephant & Castle. The most obvious difference from the brand new WVL above is that this bus still carries the Go-Ahead London livery with the grey skirt, rather than all red as has now been forced on the company.

Photo © RNAM200 (Robert Mighton).

The 12 route was re-structured at the time the new articulated bus contract began. Previously the route had run in two sections, from Dulwich to Oxford Circus, and Peckham to Notting Hill Gate, although some early and late journeys ran through. The latter section was withdrawn, with an extension of route 390 to Notting Hill Gate and frequency increases both on the remaining section of the 12 and on the 148, which also links Camberwell and Walworth with Marble Arch and Notting Hill. Overall, there was a reduction in frequency between Peckham and Oxford Circus, although (theoretically at least) the artics could take almost twice as many passengers as the RMLs. The overall requirement fell from 38 to 29 buses. However, one bizarre result of the change was an increase in frequency on the quietest section of the whole route, Dulwich to Peckham!

Although still a major route with one of the highest vehicle requirements in London, the 12 is nothing like the monster it once was. Go back to the 1930s and destinations as far apart as South Croydon and Brent [Cross] Station could be seen on 12s – though whether any buses ever ran all the way through is an interesting question! The basic route was between Croydon garage and Willesden Junction via present day routes 312, 12, 148 and 260, but buses from Croydon generally ran no farther than Oxford Circus and those from Harlesden no further than Dulwich (or Elmers End for garage journeys). Someone remembers the wide variety of different destinations that could be seen on southbound 12s – Camberwell Green, Peckham, Peckham Rye (albeit rarely used), Dulwich Plough, Forest Hill, Anerley Robin Hood, Elmers End Garage, Norwood Junction, South Croydon. There was also an odd bifurcation from Harlesden or Dulwich to Park Royal Stadium in peak hours.

Equally, such a long route naturally lends itself to operation by quite a large number of garages, with anything up to five operating on the route simultaneously. Examples (though probably not comprehensive) are Croydon, Elmers End, Catford, Nunhead, Peckham, Camberwell, Walworth and Shepherds Bush. The computer scheduling system developed by London Buses in the 1970s is designed for a maximum of four garages operating on any one route. This was derived from the 12, which happened to have four garages (ED, PM, Q and S, I think) at the time!

The 12 was finally shortened in 1972, with 12s running no further south than Norwood Junction, and new Leyland National operated route 12A (now 312) taking over between South Croydon and Peckham. This was partly because the low bridge in Addiscombe (now demolished to make way for Tramlink) placed considerable restrictions on the types of double decker that could be used south of Norwood Junction.

A process of gradual retrenchment has followed: both ends were cropped on 25 October 1986, reducing the route to Penge-East Acton, while the southern terminals of the 12, 78 and 176 were rotated from 14 August 1988, the 12 being curtailed to Dulwich from the north, capacity being maintained by extending the 78 from Dulwich to Forest Hill and the 176 from Forest Hill to Penge. The western terminal was moved to Shepherds Bush in 1991 and to Notting Hill Gate in 1994, and, as mentioned previously, to Oxford Circus in 2004. The Dulwich – Peckham section was almost lost after local residents objected to the revised terminating arrangements at Dulwich – the previous stands in Etherow Street were not suitable for artics, and a reversal of the stand working was necessitated. I would, nevertheless, be surprised if any further shortenings occur!

See also routes 73, 38, 436, 36, 390, 148, 312, 260, 78, 176

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