Amid all the glamour and sparkle of life at the sharp end of the East Midlands bus industry, we've been quietly getting on with a little refurbishment project in the background at TM that is actually one of the most rewarding things we've done.
A few days ago I wrote about the fleet changes that we have been making at TM Travel to meet the requirements of the PSV Accessibility Regulations. I referred to three MAN single deck buses that we have taken in as part of the campaign to replace non-compliant older Solos.
For those who like the detail, these are three 2008 MAN 12.240 single deckers with Plaxton Centro bodies, fleet numbers 1198, 1199 and 1200.
These buses were actually new to TM Travel before it became part of the Wellglade Group, but have recently had a bit of an unhappy upbringing.
Whereas MAN have a great reputation for building good coaches (as far as I can tell, not being a coach specialist), and indeed their bus products have found great success in Continental Europe, the UK market has never really warmed to their bus range. In my experience they are not well liked by engineers and have a reputation for being somewhat temperamental. As I don't want to be sued I should probably not say too much more, but it is always quite telling that MAN buses advertised for sale in the trade press tend not to move on quickly and when they do, are often available for amazingly low prices. Draw your own conclusions from that.
Certainly, this particular batch was not popular at TM the first time round. I can't speak for pre-Wellglade days, but the experience in the early days of Wellglade ownership was that they were difficult to keep on the road and accordingly some of the engineers developed a deep dislike for them. Moreover, TM was generally going through a difficult period for engineering, under considerable scrutiny from public authorities for service reliability and struggling to keep costs under control.
As part of a move to simplify the fleet and to make life easier for those charged with bringing higher standards and greater control over the fleet, these buses were spirited away, I think in the early part of 2013. They were sent to Notts & Derby, for work on University of Derby contracts, where it was hoped that the less demanding terrain and easier work would prove more agreeable to their delicate constitutions.
|1200 working for Notts & Derby, still carrying the remnants of South Yorkshire PTE livery. Photo: Matt Burley|
Less than two years after arriving at N&D they had been withdrawn and advertised for sale - seven year old buses unloved and unwanted, abandoned at the back of Langley Mill depot. Two had engine problems and all were left to the elements, with the interiors decaying rapidly.
Enter stage left the new Engineering Manager of TM Travel. Unlike many in his trade, he is a superb investigative engineer. He is never happy sticking plasters over recurring problems. Give him any troublesome vehicle or any recurring fault and he will go to huge lengths to trace the problem right back to its origin and understand what has to be done to resolve the issue - or at least understand how best to manage it.
The condition of the fleet at TM was in any event improving under the previous management team, but under the new regime has moved forwards in leaps and bounds. Breakdowns and lost mileage are tiny compared to what they used to be just a couple of years ago and the presentation of the fleet has visibly improved, even if there is still plenty still to be done.
Glenn has worked with MANs in his previous employment and had taken great trouble to understand them and work out where the problems were. He actually holds them in high regard, but insists that they have to be looked after properly. Some engines will take all kinds of abuse and keep going. These won't, but if you look after them and do the preventative work absolutely properly, his view is that they are perfectly good buses.
However, with two off the road with engine problems and only one known to be a runner, and all in need of attention to put the interiors right and address some scruffy paintwork, it was not going to be a cheap job to get them back on the road. After careful consideration, and with the backing of the Wellglade Board, we decided that it was worth the money, time and effort to get three newish buses that would knock spots off the fifteen year old Solos they would replace.
Of the three, 1200 was in by far the best condition and was still a runner and went straight on the road. The other two were towed to Sheffield and subsequently had their engine issues put right. In the process, we found that one had had its gearbox set up wrongly ever since it was new. The gearbox believed it was in a truck, and putting that right alone will solve some of the issues it was experiencing.
All three have subsequently been sent for repaint and an internal refurbishment, enjoying recoated hand poles as well as a retrim into the moquette that we are adopting as standard. We are delighted with the result.
Of course it is a little early to make any sweeping judgments, but touch wood they have performed superbly. 1200 in particular has been an almost daily performer on an all day diagram involving the Chesterfield to Buxton College service and route 65 Buxton - Sheffield - just about our most arduous route - and so far hasn't put a foot wrong. We hope therefore that while this will certainly not be the most glamorous project undertaken by Wellglade in general or TM in particular, we have given a new lease of life to three vehicles that will hopefully prove to be a great asset for the company, the second time round.