I had the opportunity to drive a brand new coach last week. Always on the lookout for odd jobs to keep me busy during the winter, I accepted this one with with a mixture of tredipation and curiosity.
It proved to be a very long day, thanks to the rail network. The driving sector went like clockwork, fortunately! I can’t tell you much about the coach in question, except that it’s a TC12 made by Yutong in China with a DAF 10.8 litre engine. It was delivered to Crosville last autumn, wearing the livery you see above, after attending a trade show. Before entering service it needed to carry the more usual all-over-green Crosville coaching livery and that’s where I came in. It was my job to drive the coach – as yet unregistered – over to Marden Commercials in South Benfleet, Essex.
After a full hour of preparation, during which trade plates were attached, I was ready to set off. It was a voyage of discovery, even before leaving the yard as I had to find out where all the relevant switches were located. Headlights, wipers/washers, door controls and so on were laid out in front of me on a dashboard that wouldn’t look out of place on the flightdeck of a bizjet! The final task was to take on a full tank of fuel. The provision of a fuel gauge on the central digital display was a luxury for me. None of the heritage buses I drive normally have one at all. I have to rely on a makeshift dipstick and a Mark One Eyeball!
Engaging forward gear, like most modern vehicles with automatic transmission, involves pressing on the footbrake before selecting the ‘Drive’ button on the console to the right of the driver’s seat. The digital display confirms the selection and the parking brake can be released and we’re away. The display also tells the driver which of the 6 forward gears is being used.
I eased out of the yard very gingerly, being very conscious that I had been entrusted with a very valuable asset. Everything about it shouted ‘new’ and my brain was in overdrive as I evaluated everything I did very carefully. The biggest impression I got as I guided the Yutong’s 12 metre length out onto the main road was how quiet and smooth the ride was. With the engine right at the back I could barely hear it. In fact when the coach is loaded with chattering passengers, with some of them perhaps watching a DVD on the overhead screen, I doubt whether the driver would hear the engine at all.
By the time I had reached the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare I was reasonably happy with my progress so far and soon we were floating along at 62mph on the M5 heading north. The first annoyance hit me as I reached the M5/M4 interchange north of Bristol where I turned to head due east. The low winter sun glared through the windscreen, making me squint for a bit. A quick scan around the many switches led me to the controls for the electric sun shade, which lowered itself obediently in front of me. That’s better!
There’s not much to say about the majority of the journey. It was easy and uneventful, punctuated by a relief/lunch stop at Reading Services, which is where I took the photo at the top of this post. I skirted around London on the M25 before taking the Southend road. As is my usual practice, I had prepared a large-print sheet of A4 which lay conveniently on the dash in front of me. It listed the junctions and route cues that would remind me of the route I had planned the day before. Yes, I could have used a Sat Nav (and I had the route already loaded on my phone’s map app just in case) but my system seems to work best for me. If I relied on solely on technology, which subsequently failed, I would be in a sticky spot.
There was only one tricky turn and that was almost at journey’s end. I had to turn left at a traffic light controlled junction so, being unsure how much clearance I would have, I claimed half of the outside traffic lane while at the same time indicating left. This gave me enough room to swing the coach round the corner without coming to grief on the railings. The rear view mirrors on modern coaches are excellent – far better than on any heritage bus. They are mounted on stalks in front of the vehicle, rather like antennae on a beetle, and give the driver an unimpeded view of the entire length of the vehicle. When reversing, a camera mounted above the rear window displays what’s behind the coach on the dashboard’s digital display. How cool is that!
A few minutes later I had arrived outside Marden Commercials. The trade plates were removed and I handed over the keys. In an interesting coincidence, this was the same company that painted the Leyland PD2 that I drove last year for the English Riviera Sightseeing Tours. It was acquired in 2013 from nearby EnsignBus, who regularly use Marden for paint jobs. Marden’s boss kindly gave me a lift to Benfleet railway station but I just had time to fire off a quick phone shot of some heritage buses receiving attention in Marden’s yard. Two Routemasters, an RT and an open top Guy Arab (I think) can be seen.
My return journey by train was rather tortuous, due to having to cross London by Tube during the rush hour! Several connections and a meal break later, I arrived back at WSM in the late evening. Part Two of this adventure will be posted after I’ve collected the newly painted coach in a few days’ time.