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Route 57
3 February 2014

The 57 provides a useful link across south London between Kingston, Wimbledon, Tooting and Streatham, although the original 57 concept was rather different, linking Tooting, Streatham, Brixton and Victoria. When the Victoria Line opened, bus services between Brixton and Victoria were drastically reduced, the 57 being one of the casualties.

Amazingly, the section between Kingston and Wimbledon via Coombe Lane was not served until the 1960s, and even then the 57 did not run on Sundays for many years. By contrast, during the 1990s the 57 has gone from strength to strength, now providing an 8 minute daytime service. The service is also extremely busy in the evenings, thanks to the night life available in the Kingston and Streatham Hill areas. Despite that, proposals for a night version were shelved for quite a long time – they have come to fruition now.

For a time the 57 was operated by London & Country, which split the operational load between Leatherhead and Croydon garages – neither exactly ideally located! Westlink was the original benefactor when the route was re-tendered in 1997, but had by then been taken over by London United, which has subsequently eliminated the Westlink identity. It was initially run from the rather depleted former Westlink base in Kingston, although saw operation from Fulwell for a while. After several failed attempts a replacement for Kingston garage (which was demolished and replaced by the ‘Rotunda’) was secured at Tolworth, in the former coal yard beside the rail station there. This is once again quite a long way off the 57 route, though handily located next to the A3 for quick empty runs to and from Clapham Park.

A new contract started in 2002. In addition to the frequency increase, this brought a requirement for the initial fleet of Volvo Olympians to be replaced by low floor buses, and Alexander bodied Dennis Tridents were specified. Their introduction was phased; an initial allocation of 10 allowed some of the Olympians to be cascaded onto newly won school routes from September 2002, but the remaining vehicles were held back for three months to allow for the early start of new route 148 at Shepherd’s Bush. The 148 received its own vehicles during December, so that the Tridents were finally all on the 57 by early January.

Since then, the advent of New Routemasters on route 9 meant that the VLE class Volvo B7TL/East Lancs buses formerly thereon had to be found a new home, and the 57 seemed a natural choice, keeping the batch in one place. With about 3 years to go on the contract, the VLEs will be a suitable age for retirement when the contract is next renewed. Thus we have VLE12 (PG04 WHR) in Wimbledon on 19 October 2013, presumably running late and perhaps running direct to the garage.

Photo © Au Moran.

Most of the batch of TAs originally on the 57 were also returned off lease when the contract expired in 2009, and replaced by slightly older vehicles transferred from Fulwell garage. TA231 (LG02 FAJ) heads out of Kingston on 25 February 2012. The terminus was traditionally described as "Streatham Hill, Atkins Road," but "Clapham Park" is more accurate if a little vague.

Photo © David McKay.

See also routes 131, 281

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