Tuesday 24th August 2021
One of London’s most unusual bus routes makes its final journey this week. I write ‘London’s bus route’, but it’s not a TfL route and only reaches as far east as Romford.
But it does operate along a road once used by former London Transport Central Area red bus route 250 between Abridge and Passingford Bridge and which will no longer see a bus route.
It’s London General operated route 575 providing a Monday to Friday one-return-journey-a-day operation aimed at shoppers from Harlow, Epping, Debden and Abridge as well as Passingford Bridge, Stapleford Abbotts, and Havering-atte-Bower to Romford.
The southern end is largely superfluous as it duplicates TfL route 375 as far as Chase Cross, which in turn is a shadow of former LT route 175 (Ongar to Dagenham), and now runs awkwardly every 90 minutes between Passingford Bridge and Romford.
The boundary between Essex and Greater London passes between Stapleford Abbotts (in Essex) and Havering-atte-Bower (in London) by the entrance to Home Farm. Passingford Bridge is the only place a bus can safely turn round beyond Home Farm otherwise route 375 wouldn’t venture that far north into Essex.
Route 575 also runs exclusively on a short piece of Havering Road south of Chase Cross which is not served by TfL bus routes.
This was originally to serve sheltered housing but there’s no longer a bus stop on this section of road so the 575 won’t be much missed here.
Route 575 began life in November 2008 and used to run more extensively on weekdays with five return journeys on schooldays and from 2013 also ran on Saturdays but was cut back to Mondays to Fridays four years later. It leaves Harlow bus station at 09:30 arriving into Romford almost an hour-and-a-half later at 10:59 with a return journey leaving at 13:00.
It’s fitted around school bus service 804 between Chigwell and Debden but as London General have lost this contract in a recent re-tendering to Stephensons it’s goodbye to route 575.
Stephensons aren’t keen to take over the 575 and you can see why when you take a ride, as I did last Friday morning.
I arrived in good time at Harlow’s downbeat bus station looking as awful as ever, although at least the vintage timetable I spotted on my visit almost a year ago has been removed from the graffiti inflicted timetable case.
And that’s about as positive as it gets.
My concern on arrival was not knowing the departure bay route 575 uses from the ten stands and no surprise that a wander up and down the bus station gave no clue at all with no information even acknowledging the 575 exists.
Although the visitor information office was inevitably closed there was a telephone number advertised where you can get help including “the latest bus service status updates” so I optimistically gave it a call only to find I’d been put through to an answerphone on an extension from what I’m guessing is an Essex County Council telephone line. I left a message and asked for a call back.
A very pleasant and polite young man called me back, but not until an hour later, and was able to help with the stand information including letting me know about the upcoming demise of the route. Sadly I was well on my way to Romford by then so it rather missed the moment.
I’m pleased to say approaching a huddle of Arriva drivers waiting for their buses in the bus station although one told me he thought the 575 only ran once a week, on a Wednesday, another tapped away on his smartphone and was able to tell me it was bay 5. Success.
At 09:20 a London General bus duly appeared and parked up in the layover bays opposite stands 1 and 2 so I was pleased to know it would be moving off to bay 5 at the departure time rather than hang around by bays 1 and 2 which is quite a brisk walk down to bay 5.
Sure enough the bus came down to bay 5 just after 09:30 with one passenger already on board at the front of the lower deck and another, who knew him, boarding with me. They had all the signs of being interested in the route, like myself, rather than a shopping trip to Romford and indeed stayed on the bus to Romford station.
We reached Epping Black Lion spot on time at 09:49 where my friend and ex TfL stalwart, Peter Bradley, boarded with another passenger boarding at the next stop at Epping Church who also looked like a bus route basher making for five of us on board, as well as a woman with an empty shopping bag who also boarded at the Church.
It was good to see Peter again as the upper deck didn’t feel so empty. Peter was able to fill me in with the fascinating history of the route as he’d been personally involved in its establishment in November 2008 as part of his TfL work.
Blue Triangle had previously run the contract for school route 804 and used the bus in between the peaks to provide a commercial local service in the Debden and Loughton area supplementing TfL route 20. The journeys even benefitted from a share of Travelcard revenue in those days.
After Go-Ahead’s London operation bought the Blue Triangle business in 2007 Peter liaised with Colin Farrant, who ably looked after Go-Ahead London’s commercial operations, and suggested the 575 come about to help provide a limited replacement for route 500 which was, by a complicated succession, partly replacing the aforementioned LT route 250 and about to be withdrawn by Arriva.
Route 500 (Harlow-Romford) ceased in July 2008 with TfL route 375 replacing the section of route south from Passingford Bridge.
Colin reckoned, as well as continuing beyond Romford to Lakeside (which lasted until 2013), it would be prudent to divert new route 575 between Epping and Abridge through populated Debden rather than quieter Theydon Bois, as the 250 and 500 had done. This certainly looked like a wise decision as our next pick up last Friday morning saw three passengers with shopping trolleys board at the stop before Debden Broadway.
We were soon passing through the countryside section of route between Abridge and Passingford Bridge but I don’t think anyone will notice the lack of a bus route. It’s very countrified.
We passed Passingford Bridge just slightly ahead of our 10:27 time and turned right to head south towards Romford passing a bus laying over on route 375 ready for its 10:30 journey to Romford.
As we entered Havering-atte-Bower Peter pointed out the entrance road to Home Farm on the Greater London/Essex boundary ….
…. where he’d been in advanced discussions with the farmer and local authority some years ago to buy some of his land to create a mini roundabout which together with a new lay-by would have enabled the 375 to terminate at the county border.
This could have provided an hourly service into Romford utilising the one bus, rather than the current 90 minute frequency due to the extended route to Passingford Bridge to turn round. Sadly the farmer died before negotiations were completed and then Peter and colleagues moved on from TfL’s employment during the big ‘early retirement clear out’ in the mid 2010s, so nothing came of it.
It wasn’t long after spotting that before we were passing the Stagecoach operated large bus garage in Romford’s North Street and soon after that arrived in Romford town centre. The four shoppers on board alighted at Romford Market, one of the four route bashers got off at St Edwards Way and the rest of us, that’s four, if you’re counting, all alighted at Romford Station and the driver headed off for a break.
She’d be back after a couple of hours to take those four shoppers back to Debden and Epping, but I doubt the bus continued all the way to Harlow with no-one on board.
If you want a ride on a double deck ‘red bus route’ between Abridge and Passingford Bridge for old times sake you’ve only got until this Friday when the 575 runs for the last time.
Many thanks to Peter Bradley for all the background information in this blogpost including the timetable panels.