Saturday, 17 September 2011

Will Designlines Ever Run Again?

The ten Designline electric buses are still stored out of use at the Stagecoach Walker Gate depot and it is rumored that the batteries are no longer being charged. The hybrid vehicles were bought six years ago by Newcastle and Gateshead Councils and Nexus (Tyne & Wear PTE) to run on the prestigious Quayside routes, but the buses soon gained a reputation for unreliability as the batteries were unable to cope with the steep roads leading to the riverside on both the Newcastle and Gateshead sides of the Tyne. The hybrid buses were fitted with high speed turbine motors which seemed incapable of re-charging the batteries quickly enough to keep the vehicles running and it was not unusual for at least three or four of the buses to be replaced in service each day by conventional diesel buses, usually step entrance Dennis Darts.
Stagecoach operated them as part of their five year Quayside contract but wisely never owned them and when the contract came up for renewal Go North East won the tender for next five years, based on using brand new Optare Versas. Stagecoach were asked to find a use for the Designlines and tried them briefly on their 18 route but the unreliable nature of the buses saw them abandoned at various points of the route due to low battery problems and the route returned to operation by conventional buses.
 Designline in action on route Q2
61008 has just passed under the famous Tyne Bridge
and is just about to make the steep climb to Newcastle city centre
Now the batteries are not being charged there is little chance of them ever returning to service and they are  a reminder of how the road to find a reliable method of electric propulsion for buses is littered with failures.
It is pleasing to see the latest generation of hybrid vehicles in daily use in Newcastle without exhibiting such problems and it is to be hoped that battery life won't turn out to be an issue for these later generation vehicles.

David Gambles