ON and off

Saturday 11th September

It’s sad when a bus garage closes. There’s so much transport history within the fabric of the building and it always seems such a shame to lose the heritage they represent and a living reminder of how bus garages looked and worked eighty to a hundred or more years ago.

They’re also great places to develop a family atmosphere among the workforce especially in smaller sized garages where everyone gets to know everyone.

But you can’t block progress and today’s requirements for ‘state-of-the-art’ facilities for staff and vehicle maintenance and servicing using modern technology to say nothing of the need for environmental improvements is an unstoppable force for good. Outdated bus garages may be nostalgic but they’re not practical for the 2020s.

It’s also the case bus garages were often located close to town centres on land which is now prime real estate worth so much more in today’s market for housing (or to be more precise, flats) and other lucrative commercial purposes.

So it’s not surprising that Comfort DelGro owned Metroline closed the doors of its bus garage in Alperton for the final time last night after 82 years of operation.

All the more so as it’s sited right next door to the iconic Holden designed Alperton Underground Station on the Piccadilly Line and fronting the junction of busy Ealing Road and Bridgewater Road.

Metroline sold the site to Redington Developments two years ago for a reported sum of £25 million.

Not bad for 7,200 square metres and a nice tidy profit for Comfort DelGro Corporation bearing in mind the value in Metroline’s accounts was reportedly a mere £4.7 million net book value. I bet First Group were kicking themselves when they found out – having sold this and four other garages to Metroline in 2013.

Metroline has spent £7 million of the windfall on acquring a smaller alternative site (4,400 square metres) to house the displaced buses on a nearby industrial and warehouse estate in Athlon Road, Wembley.

The coach and tour company Golden Tours already have a base and garage on Athlon Road and it’s sited adjacent to a large Sainsbury’s where three TfL bus routes terminate (79, 224 and 245).

The new developer owners of the bus garage site were granted planning permission in April this year by Brent Council’s planning committee for a 28 storey tower block providing 461 new homes as well as commercial premises and a community space.

But local residents aren’t happy at what they see as an over development of the site, and when you look around you might think they have a point, with a development nearing completion completely dwarfing the bus garage administrative block.

Wembley Central and Alperton Residents Association objected describing the proposals as “a burden on neighbouring properties”. A local councillor noted perople feel as if Alperton has “not changed for the better” as a result of regeneration, suggesting many are “desperate to leave”.

Brent Council officers recommended the application be approved on the basis “no adjoining sites would be unduly affected”. A third of the properties will be deemed affordable (98 homes offered at London affordable rent levels and a further 57 up for shared ownership). Presumably this means the other two-thirds will be “unaffordable”.

The former office site on the other side of Bridgewater Road also looks ripe for development too. No wonder residents are likening Alperton to be the new Manhattan.

Historically Alperton bus garage opened in June 1939 to serve the growing expansion of north west London. It was given the London Transport garage code ON, presumably reflecting its last two letters – the only bus garage to do so (I think?).

The site next to the Underground station was ideally located to provide buses for the many routes that passed by, in particular route 83 which had been introduced by the new London Transport five years earlier, in 1934, running between Golders Green and Ealing (with some extensions to Kew Green). The location proved to be an efficient way for crew reliefs to take place on this and other routes that passed by – something which used to be very important to London Transport.

In 2016 route 83 was shortened with journeys from Golders Green terminating at Alperton bus garage and a new route 483 taking over the section of route on to Ealing Hospital (and in May last year extended a short distance to Windmill Lane). The 483 was given a new northern terminus in Harrow and provided a new link from there to North Wembley before joining the 83 route in Wembley.

Latterly Alperton have provided forty buses for the run out on just these two routes – the 83 and 483 – although as a comment below observed it also used to house routes 204 and 487 which needed another 26 buses. But it was still a minnow compared to some of Metroline’s giants including Holloway with its peak vehicle requirement of 198 buses. But now it is no more. As John Bickerton tweeted on Thursday “the most friendly depot from my time with First London, from the engineering team anyway. Most sites were great but there was a family feel here which I hope survives the move”.

Ben Wakerley added “I used to sneak over from Willesden for a brew and to catch up with Jim Brady who was the manager. Always a good garage and will be missed”.

Unfortunately the replacement facilities at Athlon Road are not yet ready to take the displaced buses. Reports say the delay may be as long as twelve months, so in the meantime, the forty buses and spares are being fitted into Metroline’s base in nearby Perivale with the code PV – which was already on display on one bus I spotted when visiting the area on Thursday.

This involves an extra bus being needed to extend the 83 on beyond its hitherto terminal point inside Alperton bus garage presumably to instead turn at that nearby Sainsbury’s; and presumably Metroline are bearing that extra cost without any increase in the contract price to TfL

Metroline are holding a farewell open day at Alperton today so if you’re reading this when first published on Saturday morning and you’re not far away it might be worth a trip over to the bus garage to take one final peak inside before it’s demolished in the name of progress.

Sadly ON has now signed off.


Roger French

11 thoughts on “ON and off

Add yours

  1. Some abandoned bus depots/stations are put to unpleasant uses by the enemies of public transport.I’m thinking of two former United depots in the north east; Northallerton is now a Kwik Fit(they fit,I think, exhausts to cars) and Hartlepool effectively an urban green sign motorway so cars can speed through the town centre.The new Hartlepool bus station, slightly east of where United had theirs,is hardly used by any buses I think only the 57/a to Durham City, National Express and some odd hour(very early morning) departures on the 7 and 36.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Had a great time there today, I have a very happy 4 year old who drove the A10 to Uxbridge. Thanks to those who organised and participated and thanks so much for this article as well as I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Having spent my formative years in the Country Bus area, I still find it difficult to reconcile 400 series route numbers with buses in the Central area. To me, the 483 is a Chelsham bus route, Croydon to Tonbridge, previously the 403A.
    I must try to keep up to date !

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For accuracy, it needs to be noted that Alperton also ran the 204 (moved to Edgware a week ago) and 487 (moved to Willesden Junction two weeks ago). So although a small depot, with a family feel (and good performance too), it was not quite as small as you imagine. Also of interest was the fact that the garage sign referred to it as a depot (not usual in London, and inherited from First). Buses may remain in the garage for a little while longer though, as the leased 59 reg Volvo buses await new owners to pick them up. With the reduction of Central London routes (not expected at the time), one wonders if the ‘new’ Alperton will actually be required ? What was great at the open day today, was that local people wanting to say goodbye, probably outnumbered the enthusiasts.


  5. My first home in London was close to the 187 bus route (which at that time ran between South Harrow and Hampstead Heath, a shared operation between Alperton and Middle Row) and I regarded ON as my local garage. It was only 28 years old at that time and has done well to reach 82 before retiring. Apart from the 83 which was its main route, I always thought the most interesting duties must be those few on the old 18 between London Bridge and Edgware which were not run from Stonebridge Park, Willesden or Middle Row. Of these only Willesden now survives in its original premises.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I lived in Alperton for 64 years until this April, moved away because of the development; knowing that the very hallmark of Alperton (the Bus Garage) was going to be yet another tower was the final straw.
    Sadly could not get back yesterday; Alperton is destroyed.


  7. I lived in nearby Manor Farm Road between 2004 and 2008. During the last two years of my stay, buses were parked along the first part of our road, because the garage was over capacity. If you weren’t woken by the bus engines, you were woken by the refrigeration units on HGVs waiting to deliver at Sainsbury’s.


  8. Ah yes. The modern “state of the art” bus garages with minimal or non-existent staff facilities.

    Mind you, the missing entrance lettering said it all.


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