Monday, 30 September 2013

SPECIAL ~ Looking back at the X1 Excel


When I heard that new buses were on order for the X1, I knew this post had to be written. For a while now, I've wondered about how the X1 started off, and with the help of Gerard from the X1 Blog, I've finally got my head around it!

The X1 itself was introduced at the end of August 2004. Prior to that, the X94 ran from Great Yarmouth to Peterborough. It was part of the Eastern Counties Excel Network, which back then comprised of several routes run by thirty-one B10M Premieres. All of these B10's eventually appeared on the X1, although a batch of ten B12M Paragons were built in 2002 especially for the X1.

2004-2008: The Early Days

The X1 was introduced in 2004, with a fleet of several Volvo Plaxton coaches.

The B10's were numbered 20101-131 (excluding 20108/10/13) and 20140-142, so thirty-one in total. Some of these had been operating on the X94 (Peterborough to Yarmouth)  from new, and were even branded for the route, but 20101-119 were originally with Thamesway for the Southend to London express service. 20120-24 and 20141/2 were Norfolk registered and were new to Eastern Counties.

In 2002, ten B12M Paragons were bought new for the X94. Numbered 20500-9, these made nice change from the regular B10 if you were travelling on the X94 at the time. They were delivered in 2002 in the Excel livery with X94 branding. They were later re-branded with X1 vinyls on the windows, however, as windows were replaced, vinyls weren't. The effect can be seen here, on 20500 AO02RBX

In 2004, when the X1 took over the X94, the route was extended to Lowestoft, and the Premieres lost their X94 branding. With the whole Excel network renumbered, all of the B10's were debranded, meaning any Premiere could appear on any Excel route. This, however, didn't last long, as 20101 N601APU, 20107 N607APU and 20111 N611 APU were branded for the X2. Because of this, they were less common on the X1, but still made an appearance every now and then.

2008-2013: Gemini Domination (Almost)

The first service buses branded for the route were B9 Gemini's. 17 of them, in fact.

In 2008, First EC ordered seventeen B9TL Eclipse Gemini's for use on the X1. Numbered 37563-37579, these proved an instant hit, as the low floor vehicles meant disabled passengers could now travel on FEC's highest profile route. The Geminis were phased into service in late 2008, alongside five ex-FirstNorwich B7's. The deckers had twice the capacity of the coaches, and were delivered with a new X1 excel livery. 

New to FirstNorwich in 2007, 37156-60 AU07DXS/T/V/W/X became the newest vehicles in the fleet. In 2008, when it was announced that First had only ordered 17 B9's, despite the fact the route needed 22, Norwich's B7's were sent to fill in the gaps. Up until last month, these Gemini's clocked up hundreds of thousands of miles in their Barbie livery. Only one, 37156, ever received the X1 livery, and that was due to several panel replacements after an RTC. 

Just as we thought the X1 had become step-free, First introduced 'X1 shorts'. For this new Norwich to Yarmouth service, which requires four vehicles, two Paragon's were transferred from the Midlands. 20514/5 WV02EUP/R were new in 2002. In late Spring this year, First applied X1 Excel vinyls to the duo, as well as paying £2000 a piece to restore the wheelchair lift on the side. These are expected to be transferred to Essex.

2013 onwards: Alexander's Greatest

Today, the first nine Enviro400's entered service on the X1, Gemini Domination is over.

In early 2013, First announced that 22 Enviro400s were on order for the X1, they are numbered 33803-24. After nine months of anticipation, the first nine 63 reg Enviros entered service today. These were 33803-11. 

Alongside the 22 new arrivals, four FirstGreatYarmouth buses will be allocated to X1 shorts. These will be Enviro400 33423 SN60CAA, Gemini 37562 FJ08FYN and two 58 reg Gemini's that will work the route at an every-15-minutes-frequency. 

Zak had the opportunity to ride  more than one of the Enviros today, this what he says: "They are a great improvement to the Geminis. The wifi is easy to log on to and the leather seats offer a comfortable journey with ample leg room. Thanks to the air chill system, First seem to have locked all the windows. This was unfortunate today as even though it was on, and I was sat seven rows from the front, I still felt uncomfortably hot. Unlike the Geminis, the new buses lack seatbelts and it also seems that the next stop voice announcements have not yet been programmed as they were silent today, however the drivers were proud of their new 'X1 EXCEL' badges, and matching ties to finish of the look."

He also took the picture above of 33806 YX63LJL in Hopton.

Thank You
Thank you to James Excell, David Burrell, Tony Holland and David Warren for kindly allowing me to use their pictures on this report, and thank you especially to Gerard Fletcher of the X1 Blog for all his question answering, explaining, and hard work which made this Special Report possible.