Sunday, 12 February 2017

Route focus: 346

Welcome to a new series on this blog, 'Route focus'

The first route in this series is the 346. It runs from Upminster Station to Upminster Park Estate. The route started on 24th September 1988 and was marketed as 'Hornchurch Hoppa'. The route was pretty much the same as it is today and it only ran Monday - Saturday, but occasionally on Mondays - Fridays between the peak times and shopping hours on a Saturday, it was extended to Corbets Tey, Huntsman and Hounds.

2 Bus stop flags I received fairly recently, one for the 346 'Hornchurch Hoppa'.

In 1990, the 346 transferred to County Bus from their Grays garage, then passing to Thameside (who I believe took over County Bus) soon after. An experimental Sunday service introduced in September 1996, but this was axed not that long after (exactly one year later). A loop working was then introduced at Upminster Park Estate, with the contract being renewed multiple times up until 31st September 2016, by which time Arriva had, in turn, taken over Thameside for many years. The allocation was usually the two 9.3m Darts (PDL95 and 96 -  now moved to the 410 in Croydon), but Cadets could occasionally work the route. The odd Enviro 200 was not uncommon in the early stages of 2016 either.
PDL95, the last ever Arriva 346 in the very early hours of 1st October.

Then, on 1st October 2016, there was a contract change. It had been with Arriva or its predecessors at Grays garage for pretty much all of its existence and then it went to Go-Ahead. For the first few months, ex-MetroBus Esteems ran the short route (230, 231 and 232), but the contract was awarded on the basis that 15-reg ex-W19 Enviro 200s would be introduced.

First day bunching, tut tut tut! 230 follows 232 at Upminster Park Estate

On the first day, there were some problems (as shown above). These short, single-door Esteems continued to shuttle back and forth between Upminster and Upminster Park Estate, until a remarkable day when one of the SOEs off school routes 646 and 648 (recently transferred from AL, Merton) appeared on the route!

Ex-AL dual-door SOE24 works the route for the first time, during the peak.

That working and the single-door Esteems still show their faces occasionally, but the main buses to work it are the 3 (up from 2 at the last contract change) allocated SEs - 232, 233 and 234, which first appeared on the route on the 14th January this year.

On the first day the SEs worked the route, here is SE234 after a trip from Upminster Park Estate.

And that's how it is now. The 3 SEs and the occasional Esteem going round and round in circles at a frequency of every 15 minutes. Still no Sunday service though...

Hope you enjoy this series :-)

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