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Route 345
13 July 2009

Once again route 345 is gaining new buses, this time Alexander Dennis Enviro400s (which are based on a Trident chassis with the latest engine technology). London General, its operator, has now built up a sizeable fleet of the type such that fleet numbers are into 3 digits, justifying the single letter class code which keeps the overall length of the fleet number number down to a manageable length! E115 (LX09 FBF) is seen in South Kensington on Sunday 5 July 2009.

Photo © Brian Creasey.

A fair few older buses linger on. A substantial batch of Plaxton President bodied Tridents were introduced at Stockwell garage, which runs the 345 (of which more later!), during 2002-2003, and although now in process of withdrawal, being non-standard, a few linger on. Examples of Volvo B7TL with similar bodywork are also to be seen, though no photos are available at present. Anyway, the Trident variant is typified by PDL39 (PN03 ULY) at Clapham Junction, opposite the Meyrick Arms pub – a long-standing bus terminal – about to venture into the "tunnel" under the 18 tracks of "Britain's busiest railway station" – on Tuesday 5 April 2005, when the type was very common on the route.

Photo © John Bennett.

Other than the batch of PDLs mentioned above, London Central and London General (the route’s operators, both in Go-Ahead ownership), had standardised their double deck orders on Volvo B7TL chassis, taking 790 in total before the chassis ceased to be available for London work in 2006 as a result of concerns about noise levels of their engine cooling fans. They had batches of B7TLs with every bodywork style that was available! The first order for 46 was specified with the popular Alexander ALX400 bodywork, but most subsequent buses had Plaxton President bodies. Sutton garage received East Lancs Myllennium Vykings, but for the 345 a different type again was ordered, Wright Eclipse Geminis, and many more followed. One of the first into service was WVL 8 (LG02 KHE), caught on 30 April 2002 at Stockwell changing driver on a short working to Battersea Bridge Road.

Photo by John Delaney.

From its inception in the mid-1990s as a direct replacement for route 45A, itself the western wing of the long U-shaped 45 service, the route was operated by London Central's Camberwell (Q) garage. However, a small New Cross (NX) allocation was soon added, and this was the precursor to a whole sequence of very frequent allocation changes. The route passes near three of London Central’s garages, and the purchase in May 1996 by owner Go-Ahead of neighbour London General brought a fourth at Stockwell (SW). Subsequent tender losses at London General resulted in a small allocation being introduced at Stockwell from May 1999, in place of Camberwell. Peckham (PM) garage also was brought into the fray during a difficult period, contributing just one bus for about five months.

Indeed, all four garages were involved simultaneously for part of that period, which is a very rare feat these days. Routes with so many garages operating used to be a lot more common when there were very long and big routes, a notable example being the 12 which at one time was split between four garages: Shepherds Bush (S), Walworth (WL), Peckham (PM), and Elmers End (ED).

A new operating contract began in September 1997 and was specified on the basis of single deckers running at a higher frequency, which was quite a popular arrangement at the time (popular with the planners that is, the passengers were not so happy). Titans were replaced by 10.2 metre long Dennis Dart SLFs with single door Plaxton Pointer bodywork, which quickly proved to be highly unsuitable for the job both in operational and mechanical terms. The route reverted to double deck when a new contract began in 2002.

That September 1997 timetable may hold a record for the number of different duty schedules fitted to it. 16 different schedules have applied to my knowledge (and there may have been more), with almost monthly changes through 2000 and early 2001! In some cases, however, only one or two of the garages were involved in the change.

Monday to Friday allocations have been as follows:
 #  Date      NX PM  Q SW  Reason for change
 1  24/09/97  13 --  9 --  --
 2  08/11/97  11 -- 11 --  Changes to 21 at NX and introduction of 321 at NX/BX (Bexleyheath).
 3  14/11/98  17 --  5 --  Loss of route 1 at NX.
 4  29/05/99  17 -- --  5  Loss of routes 49 and 337 at SW.
 5  05/02/00   9 -- 13 --  Loss of routes 3 and N3 at Q.
 6  29/04/00   9 --  9  4  Driver shortages at Q (certain Q duties were covered by SW in the
                             preceding weeks).
 7  17/06/00   9 -- -- 13  Loss of routes 200/201 at AL and transfer of route 155 from SW to AL.
 8  01/07/00   9 -- -- 13  Re-scheduling of NX duties, eliminating most daytime dead runs to and
                             from the garage for driver changes.
 9  02/09/00   9 --  5  8  Extension of route 88 at SW.
10  30/09/00   8  1  5  8  Driver shortage at New Cross.
11  28/10/00  --  1  5 16  Loss of route 295 at SW.
12  02/12/00   8  1  8  5  Gain of route 188 at SW; reductions on M1/M2 at NX.
13  24/02/01   7 -- 10  5  New route 486 at NX (replacing M1).
14  17/03/01  -- -- 13  9  Gain of route 225 at NX.
15  16/06/01  -- -- 10 12  ?
16  29/09/01  -- --  3 19  Gain of route C10 at Q.
    02/02/02  -- --  5 19  New timetable to improve reliability.
    27/04/02  -- -- -- 24  New operating contract with increased evening service.

Although there were spare Darts allocated for the 345, their very poor reliability resulted in a large number of substitutions by other types. Again because of the number of garages involved, including two different companies with rather different tastes in vehicles, the 345 has seen quite a variety of different vehicles. Even some of the general types have variations! Of course there is much less variety now, with only one garage involved. The following applies to the period 1997-2002:

The only vehicles that could conceivably have worked that did not are Routemasters from New Cross or Camberwell; Millennium MD class DAF/East Lancs buses from New Cross; standard floor DW/DEL Darts that were based at Camberwell; and 8.8m mini-Darts at Camberwell for the C10. It is likely that these did not have suitable blinds.

So, all in all, a route with quite a bit of variety! Nowadays only WVLs, PVLs and PDLs are likely to be seen alongside the Es, and the whole allocation has been concentrated at Stockwell garage – which will hopefully reduce the inter-garage feuds that became all too common with the joint allocation.

See also routes 45, 12, 21, 321, 1, 49, 337, 3, N3, 200, 201, 155, 484, P5, 88, 295, 188, 486, 278, 171, 133, N12, 37, 87, N44, 225, C10

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