Tuesday 11th October 2022
Welcome to an occasional series of London bus rides on palindrome route numbers. And first up for consecutive number lovers are routes 123 and 321.
I’m delighted to kick off with a ride on the 123 for two reasons. Firstly this year marks 50 years since I began my bus conducting spells on the route, albeit on a section long since withdrawn in favour of another route – ie between Turnpike Lane and Enfield, now the preserve of route 329. Back in 1972 route 123 ran its long Enfield to Ilford foray strictly in sections on Mondays to Fridays with Palmers Green bus garage crews (where I was based) never venturing east of Turnpike Lane.
The second reason is the route plying its way between Wood Green and Ilford is one of London’s few orbital bus routes providing strategic links between key communities in north east London – including Tottenham, Walthamstow, South Woodford and Gants Hill – along the way. But it has a reputation for unreliability and not always being blessed with the most modern buses in the fleet. Somehow route 123 feels unloved which it definitely doesn’t deserve.
By contrast its palindrome partner, the 321, is more of a ‘spoke’ route running almost in a straight line in south east London from New Cross via Lewisham, Eltham and Sidcup to terminate in Foots Cray.
Back to route 123. It’s 12 miles long and run with 20 buses by Arriva from its garage in Tottenham, currently using nine year old Wright Gemini double deck buses. Daytime frequency is every 10 minutes.
I decided to begin my journey at Ilford and head west so after admiring the recently opened new step free and enlarged entrance to the Elizabeth Line station in the town …
… I ignored the bus stop right outside and walked through the pedestrianised section of High Street to reach the very first stop in Hainault Road.
Before joining the disorderly queue at this busy stop I wandered through to Ilford’s nearby layover point but was somewhat surprised not to find a bus showing 123 in the line up.
On consulting the real times website it was quickly evident there weren’t many buses at the Ilford end of the route with two just south of Gants Hill – one heading towards Ilford and one towards Wood Green. Not a very encouraging start.
The real time sign at Stop W at 10:48 was ominously showing only one 123 departure due in 14 minutes, and that was the tenth and last entry.
That would make it departing at 11:02. The working timetable shows departures at 10:43, 10:53, 11:03 and 11:13. I’m pretty sure the 10:43 didn’t run and the 10:53 and 11:03 definitely didn’t.
At 10:48 a bus appeared from Wood Green and headed off to the layover point. It eventually came back at 11:12 (still displaying Ilford on the blind as it pulled up) …
…. and 14 of us boarded having waited for almost half an hour and the driver changed the blind for Wood Green.
That meant there was almost a 40 minute gap ahead of us between Ilford and Gants Hill. I’d been monitoring departures from Gants Hill on the real times website and noticed controllers were obviously turning buses there leaving poor Ilford devoid of 123s.
Not surprisingly it was a very busy journey not only to Gants Hill but also after that and we soon had a full seated load and I’m sure many were standing on the lower deck.
Here are some highlights of the journey to wet your appetite for a 123 bus ride, provided you’re happy to endure a long wait before a bus appears and have a penchant for dual carriageways, flyovers, cycle lanes and a reservoir and canal or two …..
We hit the traffic queue for Turnpike Lane at 12:23 and arrived at the final bus stop in Wood Green High Road at 12:35. The scheduled time is six minutes for that journey. Our scheduled arrival should have been at 12:26.
In the Ilford direction, seven minutes is allowed between Wood Green and Turnpike Lane but buses have to dog leg through Turnpike Lane bus station which on the day of my journey was very congested …
…. causing delays for buses trying to exit.
Most times only two buses could leave in the 15 seconds of green time in every 90 second cycle causing a backlog meaning around a five minute delay for some buses.
I hadn’t seen anything else that would have caused the unreliability experienced earlier and I would suggest TfL remove the 123 from having to use the bus station and instead arrange for buses to simply turn left from High Road into Westbury Avenue. It would save valuable running time and importantly keep the service on better headways.
And that’s route 123.
I hope you enjoyed the ride but it’s taken much longer than I envisaged to tell you about so if, like me, you’re exhausted after all that and don’t fancy a New Cross to Foots Cray journey on the 321 just yet …. I’ll leave recounting that experience for another day and another blog.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS