Thursday 5th November 2020
I thought I’d take my last trip out before ‘Lockdown 2.0’ to an area of the country that’s seen excellent positive bus developments in recent months. So I found myself in north east England taking a look at the continuing transformation of the region’s inter-urban bus links and other bus route brands operated by Go North East.
The ever energetic, enthusiastic and highly regarded Martijn Gilbert and his ‘TeamGNE’ are slowly revitalising and refreshing the myriad of route brands introduced by the late and much missed managing director Peter Huntley in the early 2000s. In particular this has seen those routes which fill gaps in the region’s rail network brought together under an X-lines brand to raise their profile and attract passengers.
It’s a work in progress as new buses are delivered and existing vehicles get a makeover and repaint and the network expands.
First route to be X-lined was the X20 between Durham and Sunderland via Houghton-le-Spring in May last year. I took a ride on this soon after the change which included speeding up part of the route. It was already evident the new livery featuring a gold coloured common branding, with different colours for each route, stood out extremely well and would be a winner.
At the X20 launch Martijn was quoted as explaining “this is just the start of us reinvigorating, improving and investing in our network of fast and direct commuter bus links to key towns and cities across our region”. He’s been true to his words in the ensuing 18 months.
The idea is an X-line route will pretty much take a direct trajectory much as you would if you drove a car between the communities across the region. Meandering routes are left for other bus services.
The X-lines branding is a Best Impressions production and comes with the usual attention to detail of every aspect from livery, to the specification of new and refurbished buses and supporting printed leaflets and maps. It’s a complete package and certainly creates desire, as Ray Stenning, and Martijn, are passionate to achieve.
The X20 is the only X-lines route operated by single deck buses with another difference from the otherwise double deck mainstay is routes X9/X10 between Middlesbrough and Newcastle via Peterlee which will soon be receiving some of the redundant coach fleet from sister Go-Ahead company Oxford Bus as used on the Oxford London service before its demise. These coaches are currently being refurbished and repainted at Hants & Dorset Trim, another Go-Ahead company, and should be on the road in the next few weeks.
In the meantime coaches once used on National Express services now resplendent in a variety of heritage liveries are providing temporary cover.
In more recent months Go North East has taken delivery of a significant number of Wright StreetDecks for X-lines, the very latest just introduced on to the X1 between Newcastle, Gateshead and Washington, Houghton-Le-Spring and Easington Lane in their very smart two tone red version of the X-lines livery.
The former ‘Pronto’ and ‘Castles Express’ branded route X21 running between West Auckland, Bishop Auckland, Durham and Gateshead and Newcastle has been brought into the X-lines family with upgraded and refurbished buses and much better the buses look for it too.
I always found the Castles Express livery and it’s application across windows on the lower deck highly annoying – almost an insult to passengers on the lower deck wanting to see out.
It almost brought on eye strain to look through the windows when sitting downstairs.
The new arrangement is a much welcomed development especailly as route X21 is a key south/north link in the X-lines network.
The brand now has its highest profile in Consett where no less than four route groups have been brought into the X-lines fold with both refurbished and brand new buses.
Three of these routes use two tone green shades of the livery and link Consett with Newcastle, each with a route variant along the way while the fourth route group links Consett across to Durham and takes a yellow/orange colour.
I took a ride on this route to begin my travels yesterday – the X5 from Durham to Consett. Together with sister route X15 the frequency is half-hourly with each route taking a different approach into Consett (the X5 via Delves and the X15 via Leadgate) with both routes continuing beyond Consett bus station to Shotley Bridge, north west of the town.
The buses have been given a refresh and very nice they look too. As with all X-lines branding the main destinations served by the route are listed on the sides.
It’s a very pleasant ride across County Durham and although we branched off the A691 to serve a couple of delightful villages (Witton Gilbert and Lanchester) it feels like you really are making good progress on the 44 minute journey (reduced to just 38 minutes towards Durham due to taking a more direct route into the city).
Consett bus station is rather basic, but gives a much better impression than Durham’s bus station which is looking more down-at-heel every time I visit. Whereas Consett’s has windows on both sides of the waiting area as well as a glass roof so is nice and light. Martijn tells me there are plans for improvements – a leaflet rack for timetables is imminent and he’s hoping the County Council will allow attractive vinyls to be put up. Let’s hope they do.
Consett has seen major investment in the town with significant regeneration measures while Go North East has introduced a great new local brand for the town routes – Venture – with another great Best Impressions designed livery. Venture Transport at one time was the largest independent bus company in the North East until it sold out to Northern General (the predecessor of Go North East) in 1970 so it’s great to see the name resurrected.
It really is a great idea to recreate a brand associated with fond memories locally, even fifty years on; and the smart livery really is superb.
Even better, Go North East have produced a timetable booklet for Consett containing copious maps as well as timetables for all the V numbered Venture branded local routes and the X-lines routes as well as other routes in the area.
Until that leaflet rack appears in Consett bus station, you can pick copies up from on board buses. I’m sure it’s a popular read and something other bus companies could do well to copy.
The three X-lines routes linking Consett with Newcastle comprise the X30; X45/46/47; and X70/71. They’ve seen £4.5 million investment in new buses by Go North East for the Consett to Newcastle corridor which followed £3.5 million invested in a new depot for Consett in 2019.
The X30 runs hourly from Consett taking a route via Stanley, Sunniside and Whickham. Between Stanley and Newcastle it’s joined by another hourly journey to make for a half hourly service, as well as another two buses an hour on an X31 variant which runs via Gateshead instead of Dunston (on the X30) making for a fifteen minute frequency between Stanley and Sunniside for Newcastle. End to end journey time from Consett to Newcastle is 61 minutes.
The X45, X46 and X47 provide a ten minute frequency between Newcastle and Rowlands Gill with two buses an hour on the X47 continuing to Blackhall Mill and the other four buses an hour on a 10/20/10/20 frequency continuing to Consett albeit two of these each hour (X45) and two (X46) take different routes into Consett making for even half hourly frequencies. End to end journey time is an hour.
These routes used to be branded ‘Red Kite’ in the old regime to reflect the importance and prevalence of these birds in the area. A red kite has been included on bus sides in the new livery….
…as well as inside too.
All three route groups between Consett and Newcastle have similar journey times but quickest by a smidgeon are routes X70 and X71. They provide a half hourly frequency and take 55 minutes (X71) or 57 minutes (X70) in the off-peak both taking a route via Gateshead, Sunniside and Burnopfield before splitting with the X70 via Leazes, Tantobie and Dipton and the X71 via Medomsley.
As you’d expect all the details including maps, timetables and ticket prices can be found in the aforementioned timetable book and very easy it is to follow and understand too. Even better there are leaflets for the routes with even more detailed maps. Here’s the one for the X70/71.
Buses on all these three route groups carry the X-lines green coloured branding. These include both refurbished as well as brand new buses.
These all offer the latest gizmos you’d expect from a new bus specified by Go North East, as well as the very latest batch being introduced on to the X70 and X71 having the facility to carry two bikes.
Regular readers will know from my previous commentary on similar buses recently introduced by sister company East Yorkshire, I’m a bit of a sceptic of bikes on buses, but I’ll be pleased to be proved wrong and hear that this innovation has been a great success, encouraging more passengers to take a bus and a bike ride along the scenic Derwent Valley that this route serves.
I understand there are plans to interwork buses on the X70/71 with the X30/31 which will include a significant expansion of bike bus facilities added to buses on the latter routes too. This will make for a significant increase in the availability of bike spaces over the common sections of route and no doubt raise the profile, and use, of the facility.
Even more positively, more new buses are on their way to upgrade the currently branded Tynedale Express routes X84 and X85 between Newcastle and Hexham (with the X85 continuing hourly to Newbrough) and bring them into the X-lines family. These new buses will also include bike racks.
Martijn tells me there’ll be a ‘bike guarantee’ in case someone is left behind due to the two bike spaces already being occupied or a non-bike bus having to be substituted.
While Arriva down grade or ditch their Sapphire and Max brands for key inter-urban routes, and Stagecoach abandon the high profile Gold brand, it’s good to see we still have forward looking bus companies developing excellent branding to encourage passengers to travel, and Go North East is up there leading the way.
As I commented earlier, Go North East’s X-lines is a work in progress, and very impressive it is too, with exciting developments ahead including those new buses for the X84/85 and refurbished coaches for the X9/10 on their way.
Also on their way is the introduction of the new Yutong electric buses mentioned in Tuesday’s blog, and which are now arriving in Gateshead to be prepared for service.
They’re to be used on the Saltwell Park routes 53/54 and are already being trailed with teaser branding on the sides and on Go- North East’s website.
Here’s one of some preview photos of the new buses Martijn tweeted out yesterday. They look mighty impressive, even before vinyl application.
I enjoyed my visit to the north east yesterday, albeit it was brief, with lots of positivity to last me through ‘Lockdown’, and with more exciting developments ahead, it hopefully won’t be too long before I can make a return visit.
Go North East. Better than ever. Definitely.
Martjn Gilbert and his team deserve to succeed given the attention to detail and the impressive liveries – much better than Stagecoach’s latest efforts!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Poor old Hartlepool is left out of the X Links.it use to have 2 express services to Newcastle the X5 and X55 plus the slower 231.the X5 and 231 where joint services between United and Northern and the X55 just run by United but only 4 times a day and it only took around 1 hour.the X5 despite the X was pretty slow and I don’t think much less than the 231.perhaps there wasn’t much usage which is why all three where cancelled but as I recall they where quite popular particularly the X55.Interesting seeing that bus in OK livery they use to run mainly around Bishop Aukland before deregulation and another large private company was TMS.Diamond was another I use to see when I went to Durham City but it didnt
come south of there so I never caught it.i think Weardale is the only private one still going from before deregulation in the co Durham area.they did Bishop Aukland to Cowshill and I use to catch them a lot as I had friends up by St John’s Chapel.the United number 19 to Bishop Aukland and then the Weardale 101 up the dale.
Unfortunately Hartlepool has not only missed out on X-Line, but GNE have abandoned operations in the town altogether. The 55, final successor to the routes you mention, was quietly dropped when it failed to return after lockdown V1. I’d think the opening of Horden station swayed them to retreat, rather than compete. Hartlepool now at the mercy of an apathetic Arriva heading north and a long incumbent Stagecoach locally.
Tees Flex is the ray of hope for Hartlepool in my opinion. If we set aside what we expect a bus service to be, and assess Flex on its ability to move passengers around in the gaps left by the commercial network and a cruel local authority, it seems to fit the bill very well.
We’ve seen it time and time again, whenever companies give routes individual branding, and make all of the routes different colours so it’s easy to see exactly which route and which bus you want, it is always very successful and encourages more passengers. For the X-lines, the great livery, new nice buses, frequent buses and good paper booklets, it is obviously gonna work. I don’t understand why other companies don’t copy, or (perhaps even worse) they deploy this strategy in certain areas, see it work and then just leave other areas as they are, even though they will have the data showing that this technique works. It’s not even like it’s that much of a difficult change.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I think Martijn and GNE team have done amazingly well am surprised that GNE do not do Hartlepool anymore under a XLines brand someone suggested a while back having a Middlesbrough to Scarborough service competing with Arriva but ran by East Yorkshire using redundant coaches to start the trial in the summer of popular then new vehicles the buses on Arriva for X93 are well appalling the leather seats are like sitting on a pavement for about two hours with a numb bottom when I went to Scarborough once I got a single decker there but wasn’t pleased with the Temsa Avenue product before Martijn was Manager at both GNE and East Yorkshire pointless brands were introduced at GNE some do not exist now some were ok but some were outdated and needed replacing for example even the vehicle choices were bad at GNE at one point ordering Wright Streetlites the last ones were for Deptford depot for Black Cats 2/2A as well as Black Cats 39 am not fond of any Wright Streetlite but when the first orders were announced after Martijn became company director like the ADL E200MMC and ADL E400MMC plus the two Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Citylines at firs I thought someone was having a laugh I can understand Wright Streetdecks but not these I am proud that GNE are turning a corner at last and I am looking forward to seeing Pelican Yutongs on Voltra 53/54 and the ex Oxford Bus Company Coaches on XLines X9/X10 and even more impressive of the unique vehicle in 6377 which made its debut on 21st October 2020 as for East Yorkshire they have improved there image introducing a new corporate livery replacing the outdated livery which I still like to this day I prefer both if you ask me but East Yorkshire have not only improved there image but new vehicles like ADL E400MMC some are branded as East Rider but as East Yorkshire already had 2 ADL E400MMC already some had deja vu moments the two ex demonstrators now with Go North East as 6336 and 6337 both in genetic XLines black along with two other former East Yorkshire ex Demonstrators 6334 and 6335 as mentioned also in Genetic XLines Black some Ex East Yorkshire Volvos have found there way to Go North East 6935 to 6941 originally used on the main events fleet like Tall Ships and Airshow Weekend and then seeing use on Scholars and work routes until withdrawal East Yorkshire were supposed to gain a couple of Scania Ominicity but unfortunately they changed there minds and these returned to GNE as 5234 to 5237 however GNE will soon transfer 6118 to 6121 mainly because these do not have a interior designed for XLines network and were ex dealer stock deckers where down at East Yorkshire they have a few ex dealer stock deckers so these should well fit into the fleet down there
Appreciated the hard works and what been achieved by Martjn but personally I preferred the separate identify launched by Peter Huntley. Those routes were established with individual strong branding, locally linked, such as the Red-Kite. While they are replaced by the X-line branding, individual image had been diluted, I am uncertain how success it will be creating a unified express product across the region trunk routes, and I do hope it will success. Still, in my opinion, the route to Consett and the route to Middlesbrough are products sell to different group of users which, a unified branding may not add much extra value. In particular, the standard of vehicle and the service do vary across these routes, coaches vs buses on the X10 vs the other ones, bicycle friendly or certain routes only, etc. As a customer, I would expect unified branding does provide similar level of service provided.
I think that, unless it’s stopped very recently,Go North East still come to Hartlepool on their Sunderland service.this had an X in the number if I recall?I was looking at an old time table for the joint United/Northern 231 service and in 1979 it was possible to leave Newcastle’s Worsick Street Bus Station as late as 2104 for a direct,but slow service to Hartlepool and vice versa,7 days a week too!looks like the X5 only ran Monday to Saturday and stopped about 18hr..and was about 25 minutes quicker than the 231.another largeish north east town that had direct services to Newcastle but no longer seems to is Darlington as I recall these where the 722/3 again a joint United/Northern service and must have taken 2 hours.Go North East miss Darlington out of their X Lines too and I don’t think that they go there any more?
||I find GO NE are one of a few bus companies who are trying very hard to attract more passengers I like to visit the North East just to travel by bust to see the improvements made and the lack of improvement made by others ,i live in an area served mainly by Transdev and they too are trying hard to attract custom
There has been an awful lot of investment in Gne in the last couple of years and some very hard work with it from managing director and the rest of the team . In the current economic situation we are in Gne should be applauded for there investment in vehicles infrastructure and people. You will never please everyone but on the hole I think the people of the north east can see the change and effort that is being made On a personal note as an engineer with the company I have seen the changes and hope it long continues
Remembered in 2005 there was still the X5 ran by double decker Newcastle to Hartlepool, discontinued maybe in the 2010’s. There was also a Wear Tee Express from Sunderland to Middlesbrough via Hartlepool and Peterlee, later shortened to Sunderland to Hartlepool only. It’s bit of surprise for me to see GNE get out from Hartlepool, what I remembered the X5 was quite a high profile route with Citaro and dedicated brand.
Whilst not a particular fan of route branding (it is inevitable buses have to stray merely for efficient scheduling purposes), surely those at the helm in Arriva, and sadly now Stagecoach, must see the difference a well-crafted, rich coloured and strong livery makes to a bus? The Street-Decks particularly look magnificent in their new guise and well done Go North East.
Like you, Roger, I am a sceptic about bikes on buses, even though I’m a cyclist myself. It would be interesting to understand how Martin’s ‘bike guarantee’ is to work. The prospect of being left at a remote place, after a long, tiring cycle ride cannot be much fun, if the bus cannot accommodate you.
Will the bike guarantee be just a pice of paper offering a future reduction, or a genuine ‘get me home’ facility ?
It’s a genuine ‘get me home’ facility – our friends at Stanley Taxis have bike enabled taxis and will be dispatched asap, should we ever need it!
Thanks, Martijn. That’s really good – and so much more thoughtful than we have become accustomed to from other players in the bus industry. Let’s hope you rarely need it, though.
It’s all a case of history repeating itself.
Back in the early – mid 60s Northern General introduced a new network of inter-urban express services criss-crossing the north east and to a large extent filling gaps left by railway line closures, although some DID compete with remaining train services and drew objections in the traffic courts from British Rail(ways), most notably the X2 Newcastle – South Shields; this service doomed to be withdrawn in the early 80s as part of the Tyne & Wear integrated transport network with the need to remove any direct competition for the new Metro system.
Some routes were joint with United (which took their vehicles to the decidedly non-United territory of South Shields on the X2) and/or Sunderland District (all three companies jointly operated the X5 Newcastle – Hartlepool service). Most vehicles were either downgraded coaches or dual purpose vehicles (remember those?), with the only “route branding” being the use of yellow on blue destination blinds (for NGT group only) which had a stylised yellow flash to display on the third line of the number blinds. While limited stop, journey times weren’t spectacular due to the nature of the vehicles used coupled with limitations in the road network. No sections of motorway, no dual carriageway A19 and the A1 ran right through the main shopping street in Newcastle. Mind you, United did on occasion use some of their green liveried London service Bristol RE coaches interworking the X1 Newcastle – Durham – Middlesbrough (pretty much the current Arriva X1/X2 route) with the X2!
Bringing the clock full circle, what chance an X-Lines version of the Crusader services 26/27?
A fast Newcastle – South Shields service, numbered X2 would not only give the unreliable Metro a run for it’s money but bring back one of the original “X-Lines”.
Would the stagecoach x34 already serve what used to cover by the x2 Newcastle South Shield service? Actually I could not find South Shield to be an area with interest from GNE in recent years. Not any new service launched to my memory, possibly due to competition from Metro.
What a pity there isn’t a single word for the concept.
Such as “fares”, for example.
The Stagecoach X34 doesn’t serve South Shields town centre. The original X2 used to terminate on Mile End Road, opposite the railway station so it was centre-to-centre and took the then most direct route between the towns. Perhaps linking the peripheral housing estates to Newcastle City Centre via en-route retail parks is the way Stagecoach want to develop the market these days. By comparison, GNE seem to avoid running everything via Gateshead MetroCentre which would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.
The X34 does shadow part of the original NGT X4 Newcastle – Sunderland route, at least between Newcastle and the turn off to Boldon Colliery (or Business Park as it is now referred to on road signage). It even terminates just around the corner from the original Newcastle terminus of Worswick Street Bus Station.
It can’t be said that GNE have completely abandoned South Shields just yet, however not having a local base (unless you count Sunderland Deptford, Washington or Gateshead Riverside depots as being local) does mean it is stuck out at the end of a couple of limbs, route wise. At least two of them continue to be strongly branded, Prince Bishops and Crusader.
Worsick Street Bus Station is still there just not used.it was owned by Northern.Haymarket Bus Station by United,Eldon Square Bus Concourse by the PTE,Gallowgate by United although I think only long distance National Express’s ever used it, Marlborough Cresent Bus Station is a tad before my travelling days so not sure if United or Northern owned that one and I think it was by the wall of Newcastle Rail Station?so Newcastle was quite well blessed having 4 central bus stations!
I am not keen on route branding. It is an unnecessary extra cost and rarely do the right branded buses end up on the right route. Bus Companies as well seem to rapidly lose interest in the branding and the buses end up on any route
I dont thing the branding does anything to increase patronage it i just that they tend to invest in these routes whilst neglecting the other routes