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Monday, 11 April 2016

50 years of the Red Arrow bus service



MEC50 repainted to the classic Red Arrow livery.

Am I referring to the Red Arrow service by Trent Barton? No, but there is one in Central London which is still regulated by London Buses today, currently they are routes 507 and 521.

Here is a brief history of the Red Arrow bus service.

The Red Arrow service was first formed in 1966 as part of the Bus Reshaping Plan. Their purpose was to have long single deck buses with a reduction of seats to enable increased passenger standing capacity.


The concept was first introduced on 18th April 1966 with six AEC Merlin buses on a new express route (500) which ran between Victoria and Marble Arch. It was extended during shopping hours to Oxford Circus.

Moving on to 7th September 1968; London Transport introduced more AEC Merlins which formed more new Red Arrow routes, 501-507. Then over the following years LT made minor adjustments to some of the routes.

By 1972 the routes for the London Red Arrow Network were:

500 - Victoria station - Park Lane - Oxford Street - Marble Arch - Park Lane - Victoria station
501 - Waterloo station - Aldwych - Holborn - St Paul's - Bank - London Bridge station
502 - Waterloo station – Aldwych – Fleet Street - St Paul's – London Wall - Liverpool Street station
503 - Waterloo station – Westminster Bridge - Victoria station
505 - Waterloo station - Aldwych - Holborn – Old Street – Shoreditch Church
506 - Victoria station – Green Park – Piccadilly Circus
507 - Waterloo station – Lambeth Bridge - Victoria station
513 - Waterloo station - Aldwych - Fleet Street - St Paul's – Cannon Street - London Bridge station

During the early 1980’s they were replaced with the Leyland National II’s. Further expansions and re-numbering of the service then occurred, but the Red Arrow network remained throughout the 1980’s. The London Buses operation was divided into 12 businesses which led to the Red Arrow services being operated by London General, and during the mid 1990’s London Buses business units were privatised which led London General to be sold off to the management. After that, London General was bought by the Go Ahead Group which remains to this day.
London General MAL9 (BX02 YZO), on route 521.

On 2nd June 2002, the last two Red Arrow routes, 507 and 521 became the first London Bus routes to be converted to articulated buses. A fleet of articulated Mercedes-Benz Citaro O530Gs entered service on that date.

Due to the unpopularity of the bendy bus the withdrawal began first with route 507 in July 2009 followed by route 521 in September of that year, which was converted to 12 metre long Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses featuring standing space allowing capacity of up to 90 passengers. The service also retained open boarding which allowed regular passenger entry at the middle door. The Red Arrow brand was silently dropped during the conversion.

In late 2013, routes 507 and 521 saw the first single deck electric buses enter service. Two of these were first manufactured by BYD from China. The bus type is known as BYD eBus which trialled on both routes. Then in mid 2015 we saw another two electric buses, this time manufactured by Irizar, which brought the total to four electric buses operating on routes 507 and 521.

Moving forward to August 2015; Go Ahead London General retained routes 507 and 521. They will be fully served with electric buses after a successful trial. The electric buses will have an Enviro200 body based on the Enviro400H City design manufactured by Alexander Dennis, whilst the chassis is manufactured by BYD. The name of the bus type is the BYD K9E/Enviro200. The full conversion of routes 507 and 521 will commence on 27th August 2016.

In April 2016, to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Red Arrow service, we can see that the MEC50 has been painted to a classic Red Arrow Livery and the fleet number has been renamed to MBA50.

As the Red Arrow routes will convert fully to electric buses, the existing MEC’s will move to route 108 which runs from Lewisham to Stratford via Blackwall Tunnel. A small number of the MEC’s will move to Blue Triangle garage in Rainham for the single deck school service in Havering.

I am looking forward to seeing a full conversion of routes 507 and 521 to battery electric buses, which is the way forward to help combat diesel emissions in London. There are other routes which operate with zero emission buses; route RV1 is operated with hydrogen buses which run from Tower Gateway to Covent Garden via the South Bank and also route 312 which has battery electric single deck buses and runs from Norwood Junction to South Croydon Garage.

Zero emission buses are the way forward! They can be hydrogen or battery electric buses because both combat diesel emissions which pollute our atmosphere.

I would like to give a special thanks to Richard (@Ritchhh on Twitter) for allowing me to use the photo of MEC50 in Red Arrow Livery which is hosted on his Flickr.

To finish off this article, here are some videos of the Red Arrow buses.



Please share this article and follow me on Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and Google Plus which is @CLondoner92

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Image attributions
By Les Chatfield from Brighton, England - Red ArrowUploaded by Ultra7, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6520785
By Arriva436 - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10736867

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