It is with great sadness, as a discerning enthusiast of all things Birmingham-built, that I am writing about the end of an era.
Yes, I am talking about these, faithful blue and silver wheeled 73-seater boxes on wheels, that have been as big a part of Brummagem (Birmingham in local dialect) culture as Balti houses, Aston Villa, British Leyland, Slade, and the Bull Ring.
The Metrobus was first introduced in 1977 by Birmingham-based constructor Metro-Cammell Weymann (or MCW). MCW mainly focussed upon bus bodies, but they have also been responsible for most of the London Underground stock – the current trains on the Circle, Hammersmith & District, Victoria and Bakerloo lines were MCW-built.
The Metrobus was an integral (all-in-one) product, powered by a 180bhp 10,500cc Gardner 6LXB diesel engine mated to a Voith 3-speed gearbox. West Midlands Travel was the second biggest buyer after London Transport, buying a total of 1400+ examples. No Metrobuses are currently working in London, having been replaced by far less-characterful Dennis Tridents and Volvo B10s. NXWM have allowed the old workhorses to soldier on long after they should have been replaced. The oldest buses still running in the West Midlands are 27 years old, the youngest being 19. Not bad, eh?
However, no doubt down to the incessant breeding of the high chav population of the West Midlands, NXWM expressed a wish to have a completely low-floor fleet by March 2010 so something had to give. That was the Metrobus.
Growing up in 1990s Kings Heath meant that I was surrounded by these old beasts and spent many a young day on them. On a recent trip to Birmingham (I moved away in 1997) in the summer of 2009, I made it my mission to have one last Metrobus trip – and I did – on #3028 F28 XOF, running route 95 to Chelmsley Wood, to be exact.
Okay, so it ended up being an hour trip to the worst bit of Birmingham, but still, it was worth it. Now just 24 of these remain in service (as of November 2009), with 143 taken out in 2009 alone.
Here, then, endeth an era of a great, reliable old British bus (albeit with German transmission.). RIP MCW Metrobus 1977-2009.
Fortunately, all isn’t lost. The spirit of the Metrobus lives on. Any city running Stagecoach bus services has this privelege. The predominant single-decker in Stagecoach fleets (save for the yawnsome Dennis Dart/Enviro200) is the Anglo-German MAN 18.220, bodied almost always by Alexander in their stylishly bug-eyed ALX300 style. These beasts are, like the Metrobus, Voith-transmissioned and their screaming retarders and whining gearboxes carry splendid echoes of the old faithfuls. Even the Stageoach-issue orange print-on-dark blue moquette adorning the interiors reminds one of the TWM beasts.
They even share the dubious trait of clunking reluctantly into top gear, just like the MCW…
The spiritial successor to the Metrobus, the MAN 18.220/ALX300 single decker beloved of Stagecoach. This is AE51 RZN, of Cambus. MCW logo added for irony.
so, if you miss the clanky Brum-built double decker, just step on a Stagecoach ALX300-bodied MAN 18.220. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed!