diamond geezer

 Saturday, July 17, 2010

1930 - 2010

Green Line Coaches Limited was formed on 9th July 1930, and ran its first service eight days later. The Home Counties weren't especially well connected to London at the time, and the new coaches helped to bring commuters into town on weekdays and Londoners out to the country at weekends. They were a fairly predatory company, all told, taking advantage of an unregulated market to reach their tentacles out into suburbia. By Christmas there were so many Green Lines thronging central London that a new coach station had to be built to help get them off the streets. Someone also came up with the idea of linking pairs of routes from opposite sides of the capital, creating extremely long cross-London journeys, simply so the buses didn't hang around in the middle too long. Most of the competition fell by the wayside, and Green Line looked set for commercial dominance until entirely swallowed by the new London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.

Soho Car ParkGreen Line's proud new bus station was immediately closed, and hasn't seen a public coach service since. It was located in Poland Street in the heart of Soho - which seems an unlikely backwater to have been able to cope with quite so much long-chassis traffic. But for a few brief years there were 25 coaches an hour dashing in and out of its sidestreet portal, linking to such glamorous destinations as Harpenden, Dorking and Dartford. That coach station is now the Soho Car Park, open 24 hours a day for the deposition of rather smaller vehicles inside a dark gloomy stack. Westminster Council are (finally) doing the place up as part of the Marshall Street Regeneration Project, which should also see the imminent reopening of the neighbouring Grade II listed marble-floored swimming pool. I hope that no planning philistine will remove the two classic adverts still pasted up by the car park entrance - one for BP Energol lubrication, the other for Regents Remould tyres.

The Second World War halted Green Line's further expansion, at least until a new network of cross-London tentacles was created in 1946. Arranged radially like the spokes of a wheel, the routes were numbered approximately consecutively starting from Gravesend and working clockwise round the capital. Like so...

Green Line routes 1951
701 Gravesend - Ascot, 702 Gravesend - Sunningdale, 703 Wrotham - Amersham, 704 Tunbridge Wells - Windsor, 705 Sevenoaks - Windsor, 706 Westerham - Aylesbury, 707 Oxted - Aylesbury, 708 East Grinstead - Hemel Hempstead, 709 Caterham - Chesham, 710 Crawley - Amersham, 711 Reigate - High Wycombe, 712 Dorking - Luton, 713 Dorking - Dunstable, 714 Dorking - Luton, 715 Guildford - Hertford, 716 Chertsey - Hitchin, 717 Woking - Welwyn Garden City, 718 Windsor - Epping, 720 Aldgate - Bishop's Stortford, 721 Aldgate - Brentwood, 722 Aldgate - Upminster, 723 Aldgate - Tilbury

a Green Line RFGreen Line's heyday was in the 1950s, with 36 million passenger journeys a year by the end of the decade. A new vehicle, the RF, was introduced - a squat solid workhorse with characteristic curved front. Green Line snapped up the first 250 buses and set them to work in smart green livery, They revved through the city, rattled through the suburbs and rumbled down distant country lanes. It was all going so well. And then all the passengers started buying cars. Fewer tickets sold and greater congestion led to the pruning of the network and less reliable services. A steady decline set in, which continues to this day.

Double decker Routemasters entered Green Line service in the 1960s, before more recognisably coach-y coaches were introduced. Most of the routes which ran through London were chopped back in half, and some new orbital routes appeared where there was no direct competition from the radial railways. Links to airports proved profitable, as did seasonal links to attractions like the new Thorpe Park. As for ownership, the Green Line family was sold off to London Country Buses in 1970, which was itself comprehensively denationalised in 1986. Various private companies snapped up the spoils, fragmenting the network and closing down unprofitable services willy nilly. What survives today is an Arriva-owned fragment, based mostly to the northwest of London.

Green Line routes 2010
701/2 Bracknell - Victoria, 712/3 St Albans - Victoria, 724 Harlow - Heathrow, 755 Luton - Victoria, 757 Luton Airport - Victoria, 758/9 Hemel Hempstead - Victoria, 797 Stevenage - Victoria [network map]

a Green Line RFHere's the public face of Green Line in 2010, a tiny ticket office to the south of Victoria station. Officially it's located in Fountain Square off Colonnade Walk, although the fountain's dry, the square's a concrete void and the colonnade smells of Subway. The ticket office is no bigger than you can see in the photo - one information desk, two rotating leaflet stands and space for about five potential passengers. Timetables are provided only for a couple of routes, and there are absolutely no paper maps apart from the one stuck in the window. As for exclusivity, nah, the staff will sell you tickets to any National Express service, they're not proud. These are no longer glory days.

Today's Green Line coaches depart from a handful of coach stops in Buckingham Palace Road, or from the exhaust-choked so-called bus station behind the ticket office. Some of the routes do well, and the all-day run out to Luton Airport is a particular cash cow. Other services thrive only during weekday rush hours, running a skeleton service (or no service) to the inner commuter belt at other times. As another coach pulls up with only a handful of cushioned seats occupied, you have to wonder how Green Line ever makes any money. But it's not a company any more, just a brand name, which means there's every chance it'll survive in one form or another for a few decades more. Today's 80th birthday isn't yet the end of the Line.

Green Line Road Run - an 80th birthday celebration departs the Embankment just after 10am today
A brief Green Line history (official)
A proper Green Line history (thanks Jonathan)
Green Line history - a book
Green Line coach map covers over the years
Detailed history of Green Line routes (click through to read more)
Green Line 80 Day at Cobham Bus Museum (April 2010)

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