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Increasingly heavy loadings on the trunk 285 across south west London prompted speculation that the route might be converted to double deck the next time it came up for tender. Indeed, a double deck option was specified, so there was naturally some disappointment when the award, in the summer of 2007, retained single deck operation. This was especially surprising given that new single deckers were specified; it seems a wasted opportunity to buy new single deckers when new double deckers could have been obtained for only marginally more cost!
Transdev in London has now followed most other operators in switching over from the ubiquitous Dart SLF with Plaxton Pointer bodywork to its successor, the Enviro200 Dart "integral" from Alexander Dennis, for single deck deliveries, though the company is keen to diversify. The 285 is the first, and so far the only, of Transdev's routes specified for the longer 10.1m version, and DE8 (YX58 DVK) picks up passengers at Hatton Cross bus station on 17 September 2008 – the first day the new type operated on the route, nearly 3 months after the revised contract began. A DPS of the old order can be seen reflected in the windows!
|Photo © Alan Herbert.|
Route 285 commenced operation on 9 May 1962, principally as a replacement for trolleybus route 605 between Teddington and Wimbledon. However, conversion to diesel operation meant the route was no longer constrained by the availability of wiring, and so it was extended at both ends, from Teddington to Feltham and London (Heathrow) Airport, and at Wimbledon to Haydons Road station, carving new territory along Queen's Road. The former extension allowed routes 90A (see 490) and 152 to be culled. The routeing was thus pretty much as today from Heathrow to Kingston (with a few differences that will be noted later), and then on to Wimbledon via the 131, then to Haydons Road (except Sundays), as already noted.
Cutbacks at the eastern end commenced fairly soon, in 1967. Route 200 took over the section from Wimbledon to Haydons Road, while the New Malden – Wimbledon section was left largely to the existing 131, though the 285 continued to reach Raynes Park during Mon-Fri rush hours, and Wimbledon on Saturday afternoons. The Sunday service was cut back even more severely, to Kingston Station. The Saturday service was cut back to New Malden in 1970, as was the weekday service the following year, when the service between Kingston and New Malden was also reduced to Mon-Fri peaks and Saturday shopping hours, though a Mon-Fri shopping hours and, later, Sunday service was subsequently restored over this section, before being reduced to Mon-Fri peaks once again in 1987!
A more interesting development took place in 1986, in readiness for the opening of the new Terminal 4. Unlike the older terminals, located in the centre of the airport, and reached by a tunnel under the north runway, Terminal 4 is located on the edge of the airfield, on the south side, and thus some distance away from the existing transport connections. However, there is a second tunnel under the south runway, known as the Cargo tunnel, linking to the Cargo Terminal, which is also on the south side. Although not available to general traffic, buses had been using it for some years, and it therefore provided a convenient route between Heathrow Central and Terminal 4, and most routes were thus able to serve both locations.
The 285 was duly diverted via the Cargo Tunnel, instead of using the main tunnel to run via the north side of the airport and Harlington Corner. Unfortunately, the Cargo Tunnel had to be closed to buses in 1990 owing to security issues, as accessing the tunnel involves going airside; Terminal 4 has been very poorly served by bus ever since, although at least now there is a direct train link to the central area. The 285 thus reverted to using the north side, initially taking a slightly quicker route along Northern Perimeter Road, though it later reverted to the previous routeing along Bath Road.
Later in the year, the route was converted to 8.5m Dennis Dart operation, on a higher frequency, and the section between Kingston and New Malden was finally withdrawn for good. Buses were also diverted via the forecourt of the new Sainsbury's in Hampton Hill, in the first of a number of minor routeing changes that took place over the following years. Buses ran every 10 minutes between Hatton Cross and Kingston during the day on Mondays to Saturdays, with alternate buses running into the airport.
Perhaps it was a pity the other buses weren't projected to Terminal 4, although in 1995 BAA Heathrow sponsored a doubling in frequency from 3 to 6 an hour between Hatton Cross and Heathrow Central as part of its drive to reduce car traffic at the airport. A few Metrobuses returned to bolster the Dart allocation. At the same time, a double run was introduced at Heathrow North to serve the new Compass Centre, which added around 5 minutes on journeys into the airport.
The route was lost in 1996, not long after the service enhancement, to London Buslines, which introduced larger 9.8m Dennis Darts to the route, all but one having appropriate route branding. Opening of the new bus station in Cromwell Road the same year resulted in the 285 terminus being re-located from Wood Street, outside Kingston station. To start with, buses leaving the bus station had to circumnavigate the eastern part of the one-way system to reach Wood Street.
Following the 5-year contract, the route was won back by London United, which took the route over from 30 June 2001. A batch of 10.1m long Dennis Dart SLFs was introduced; basic, but still an improvement over the earlier Darts. Prior to losing the route previously, London United had operated it from Fulwell, an allocation going back to trolleybus days – Fulwell, of course, having been London's first trolleybus depot. Since 2001, however, Fulwell being much busier than before, the route has run from the former Westlink base at Hounslow Heath, which is just as convenient.
Unfortunately, the new, and slightly larger, buses were unable to serve two sections of the route, the double run into the forecourt at Sainsbury’s in Hanworth, and Windmill Road not far away in Hampton Hill. The former was restored two months later following works, but the problems with the latter never did get resolved, and the route has now been permanently diverted via the full length of Uxbridge Road and Hampton Hill High Street – which is arguably a more useful routeing anyway, and some additional bus stops have now been introduced. The diversion does of course add several more minutes to the journey time, though at the other end the double run via the Compass Centre at Heathrow was removed, saving a similar amount of time.
A further change from 1 December 2001 again ran into difficulties. London United had been running the “Feltham Railair Link” route T123 on behalf of South West Trains, running non-stop from Feltham to Heathrow Terminals 1, 2 and 3 in the central area. A similar service T4 to Terminal 4 had already been dropped owing to poor loadings, and the T123 has now gone the same way, even though patronage was picking up to respectable levels in its last months.
However, some consolation was to be provided by altering the 285, which also links Feltham and Heathrow central, by diverting it via Feltham Station entrance and extending it within Heathrow central to Terminal 3. Terminals 1 and 2 are close to the central bus station, so the loss of a direct service to those was not considered serious. However, restrictions were placed on use of the stand at Terminal 3, meaning the extension had to be withdrawn after a few months. A new coach station at Terminal 3 was supposed to resolve the issue, but then only space for one bus was allocated, rather than the two needed, and so the change was finally cancelled and the extra resource for the extension removed from the schedule.
As part of the T123 package, the original Dart SLFs were removed to routes K2 and K3 (for which they were originally intended) and replaced by a further batch of similar buses. However, these had large luggage racks to help the airport bound passengers, which inevitably reduced passenger carrying capacity leading to loading problems at peak times. The buses were also branded for the route once again, with a diagonal blue stripe at the rear, and were unusually fitted with clocks in the passenger saloon, albeit that these frequently displayed an incorrect time!
Two further changes remain to record. In 2002, a new bus lane was installed allowing buses to exit directly from the Cromwell Road bus station in Kingston to Wood Street, saving several minutes from the westbound journey time. This was part of the "Rotunda" development on the site of the former Kingston bus garage, which had been moved to Tolworth.
The second occurred in two stages, and concerns the "aircraft crossing" near Hatton Cross. Although bounded by the Perimeter Roads, on the East side Eastchurch Road takes a shortcut across part of the airfield, breaking the link between the runways and terminals and some of the hangars. Aircraft crossed the road by means of a crossing similar to a railway level crossing, the road being closed for a few minutes for the purpose. However, increased security meant a much longer closure was needed, so overnight (2200-0600) buses were diverted via Eastern Perimeter Road, again adding to journey times. This arrangement began in 2003 for approximately a year, after which the hangars were temporarily closed allowing Eastchurch Road to open at all times again.
During this time, Eastern Perimeter Road was rebuilt and a new "short cut," Envoy Avenue, built across the southern side of the diversion. When this was completed, in 2006, Eastchurch Road was closed completely and permanently, and all routes now use Eastern Perimeter Road and Envoy Avenue. This required re-instatement of the extra bus that had been used for the aborted extension to Terminal 3, although the opportunity was also taken marginally to improve peak hour frequencies to relieve overcrowding.
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