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Route 474
6 June 2012

Route 474 has the distinction of being Blue Triangle’s first mainstream LT route, the company having operated it from its introduction, on 1 May 1999, to replace the southern section of the 69 to North Woolwich in a scheme connected with the Jubilee Line extension to Stratford. Blue Triangle was well established in the fields of rail replacement work, private hires, and emergency coverage (including routes 60, T32 and 367), as well as a heritage bus operation. Having built up a sizeable operation, Roger Wright, the proprietor, sold the TfL contract work to Go-Ahead on 27 June 2007, retaining the "hairy bus fleet" in his own ownership.

To begin with, the 474 was a short route that didn’t really go anywhere much. From Canning Town it duplicated the 69 as far as Silvertown, to where the 69 was curtailed, providing extra capacity in an area that was about to see much industrial and residential development. From there it continued via the former 69 to North Woolwich, with a double run via the Woolwich Ferry terminal, before duplicating the 101 via Cyprus to Beckton. And that was it! The route didn’t seem to have much point and didn’t seem to carry very many passengers, and use of double deckers running every 10 minutes certainly seemed extravagant. The number 474 itself probably derives from the 473, which runs parallel between North Woolwich and Silvertown along Albert Road, and maintains a direct link to Stratford.

The 474 has gone through quite a few different bus types in its short history. The route was started off with MCW Metrobuses, as that was all that was available, as the new Dennis Tridents with East Lancs Lolyne bodies that had been ordered were delivered late. The initial batch of Tridents was soon joined by more ordered for the 248, also won by the company, and the two batches were mixed in practice. Originally classified DL, this was later altered to TL. However, these buses have all now left the fleet.

The 474 received a substantial extension to East Ham and Manor Park on 17 December 2005, duplicating route 101. The idea of this was to provide a better match between frequencies and capacity. The 474 extension allowed the 101 to be reduced, as the section north of Manor Park was more lightly used, though capacity was nonetheless maintained by converting the 101 to double deck. The 474 was also reduced in frequency, with both routes running every 12-15 minutes and theoretically providing double the frequency on the overlap, though as is typical in London no attempt was made to co-ordinate the timetables.

These changes co-incided with opening of the Docklands Light Railway extension to London City Airport and King George V, which was expected to reduce demand for parallel bus services – indeed, the 69 was curtailed to Canning Town at the same time, giving the 474 a unique section of road between Silvertown and Canning Town. The 474 also gained a further unique bit of road at the same time, as the 101 was withdrawn between Cyprus and North Woolwich, being diverted to Gallions Reach. The 474 was also diverted to double run via London City Airport, in order to maintain the link previously provided by the 69.

The net effect of these changes was to increase the peak vehicle requirement, and some additional vehicles were needed. Blue Triangle decided to go for the Scania/East Lancs Omnidekka, 5 of the type being added to the allocation. These still ply the route, and SO4 (BV55 UCX) passes Gallions Point in North Woolwich. At the time it was stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, caused by a closure of Blackwall Tunnel, with two other 474s behind!

Photo © Chris McKenna.

After Blue Triangle passed to Go-Ahead there was a re-organisation of routes and the 474 passed to Docklands Buses based at Silvertown garage, which it passes, more efficient operationally than Blue Triangle's yard at Rainham. This followed the tender win of route 364 from First Capital from 3 November 2007; the 368 went the other way in exchange. The Blue Triangle logos were removed, hence this vehicle's rather bare appearance. At the same time, the 474 gained a half hourly all night service – curiously restoring a service, formerly provided by the 101, between North Woolwich and Manor Park, which had been withdrawn in 2004!

East Lancs bodies tend to have a rather square finish, in contrast to the designs from Plaxton, Alexander and Optare which are covered in curves and funny shaped bits. Another feature of the Lolyne and Omnidekka (which is the same design family) is the very deep windows. These are a mixed blessing; the idea is probably to give a better view and a lighter interior, which it certainly does, but it also lets the heat in (or out)! They have been described as “goldfish bowls on wheels” with a certain amount of justification.

Another effect of the new Go-Ahead ownership was that the TLs were disposed of, as mentioned earlier. Various buses took their place, all being cast-offs from Go-Ahead's existing London Central and London General operations, the most numerous being the PVL class, the most numerous of Go-Ahead's types. However, a further contract renewal from 30 April 2011 called for those vehicles to be replaced by new buses, and again creeping Go-Ahead standardisation meant these would be WVL class Volvo B9TLs. WVL420 (LX11 CXC) was photographed in Beckton on 2 July 2011.

Photo © electrostar379.

Another type which appears quite frequently is the all-Scania Omnidekka. Nine of these were bought for new route 425 in 2008, and are in practice mixed with the buses on the 474 and now D7. SOC3 (LX08 ECF) was also photographed at North Woolwich (near the free ferry), this time on Thursday 16 October 2008. This was during the transition period when the TLs were on the way out, and had been joined by some President bodied Tridents amongst other vehicles, so there were five or six different vehicle types in operation on the route all at once!

Photo © Brian Creasey.

See also routes 69, 60, T32, 367, 101, 473, 364, 368, 425

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