The history of the Routemaster

(Copyright: Phil Wilson, published with permission from the author by Theo Vereecken )

The Story of the Routemaster

Where are we now? The RM in brief and what is now happening

The Routemaster was the last bus to be wholly designed by London Transport. The first examples of the 1950's design were to complete the replacement of the once large London Trolleybus fleet. Built between 1958 and 1968, it was the last open platform bus to enter service in London and was designed for a 17 year life. Some 50 years after its first appearance in 1954, just under 1000 examples of this popular and famous London bus still exist in the British Isles out of the 2876 built in total.

However, at the time of writing, the RM is being phased out fast and is expected to leave the streets of the capital by the end of 2005. 12 routes have been converted to modern vehicles since August 2003, leaving just 8 routes soldiering on with RMs. Today, in 2004, the Routemaster has definitely become a legend in its own right. It remains a symbol of London and the buses being released from service are being sought by people all over the world. Soon they will be in many of the world's major cities - but not in London itself! A heritage route has been promised and the latest word is that the details are being finalised with an operator, but most enthusiasts remain sceptical, if still hopeful.

Four prototypes (left) were completed between 1954 and 1957. The first two were assembled at the now demolished London Transport works at Chiswick, although in close co-operation with AEC at nearby Southall and Park Royal. The other two prototypes had bodywork built respectively by Weymann at Addlestone and Eastern Coach Works at Lowestoft. Numbers 3 and 4 both had Leyland engines fitted, the fourth being an experimental double deck Green Line coach.

Although the Routemaster was designed in the 1950's, one should not forget what an advanced design it was for its time. By using a light alloy body, it was possible to produce a 64-seat bus within the weight limits of the older 56-seat RT bus. The RM also differed from earlier London designs in being of integral construction. Instead of having a traditional body and chassis, the Routemaster has a strengthened body which does not require a chassis to take the stress. The mechanical units are mounted on front and rear sub-frames rather than a heavy fixed chassis. Other novel features for a bus of the 1950's, but fitted as standard to the Routemaster, included independent front suspension, power steering, fully automatic gearbox and power-hydraulic braking. In 1961, 24 vehicles were built and then lengthened by the insertion of an additional 2ft 6in bay in the centre of their bodywork. Classified RML, this version with its 72-seat bodywork became the standard product from 1965 and remains the most common type in London today. At approximately 7 3/4 tons, the RML is still some 2 tons lighter than modern double deck vehicles of similar passenger capacity.

Many modifications or variations took place during the production of the fleet. During 1962/63, 575 RMs were fitted with Leyland engines from new. From 1964, several batches of vehicles were built with offside illuminated advert panels. Other design changes affected the radiator grille, head lamp panels, heater grille, offside route number panel, brake cooling grilles and upper deck front windows, to name just a few examples. This list does not include the many variations to the mechanical components or the interior of the vehicle. What may appear a standard bus is far from it!

Following on from the fourth prototype, 68 similar vehicles (right) were built for use on Green Line routes from 1962. This production batch, classified RMC (Routemaster Coach), were built as 57-seaters, with fully enclosed platforms with electrically-operated doors, air suspension, fluorescent lighting, different interior trim, luggage racks and twin headlamps. In 1965, 43 further Green Line coaches were built to the longer (RML) 30ft length and classified RCL. These were 65-seaters and were equipped with larger AEC engines.

From May 1964, 50 vehicles were delivered to Northern General Transport of Gateshead. These vehicles, known in London as RMFs, were to the 30ft length, fitted with Leyland engines, forward staircase and entrance. With different windows, interiors and many other features, they were quite distinct from the London examples. Despite these variations and the hilly operating environment, they were another successful Routemaster variant.

British European Airways (BEA) was the only other customer for the Routemaster. A batch of 65 vehicles was built in 1966/67 but to the shorter 27ft 6in length. Like the Northern General examples, they were forward-entrance and had non-London interiors, but mechanically they were fitted with the larger AEC engines and were capable of running at up to 70 mph and towing luggage trailers.

In 1966, a final prototype was completed, namely FRM1, the front entrance Routemaster. It was built with some 60% of standard RM parts, an AEC engine fitted at the rear, and staircase and platform doors fitted at the front. One wonders how different the story of the London bus would have been if this vehicle had been allowed to have gone into production ?

From January 1970, 69 RMCs, 43 RCLs and 97 RMLs all passed to the newly formed subsidiary of the National Bus Company, namely London Country Bus Services. However, at the end of the 1970's, the majority of these vehicles were re-acquired by London Transport and were put to variety of uses. Of these, most of the RMLs became intermixed with the original red examples and remain in service to this day.

Withdrawals from service were commenced by British Airways (formerly BEA), Northern General and London Country in the 1970s and London Transport from 1982 onwards. Many were relegated to driver training duties, including the infamous Chiswick skid pan (left). Nearly 1500 Routemasters have been scrapped but many have been sold for further service around the United Kingdom or around the world; others have been used for a variety of non-pcv duties and numerous examples have been preserved. However, from 1985 onwards examples were acquired by operators around the British Isles as a competitive tool for use in the newly privatised and deregulated world. By late 1988, examples could be seen operating in Southampton, Blackpool, Glasgow, Perth, Dundee, Hull, Carlisle, Bedford, Kettering, Manchester, Southend and Burnley to name some of the major operators. During the early 1990s, with the recession biting hard, their vehicles in most cases having completed their roles and rationalisation was the name of the game, most Routemaster operations were withdrawn.

Meanwhile in London, between 1990 and 1994, all but two of the 502-strong RML fleet together with more than 100 RMs, were re-engined with new Cummins and Iveco engines. In addition, between 1992 and 1994, 500 RML's have been refurbished for a widely quoted "further ten years" service. A further variation to the standard Routemaster specification occurred in 1996 with the commencement of the fitment of Scania engines to London Central's RM fleet for route 36.

At the end of 1994, the privatisation of London Buses was completed and most of the Routemasters in London were in private company ownership. However, the 43 RML's for routes 13 and 19 remained owned by London Transport and were leased to the operators. From 1996, London Transport Buses offered the individual contracts for the RM operated routes for re-tender. A all but one of the routes remained with Routemasters, which seemed to confirm that Routemaster operation would remain a common feature on London's streets at least until the year 2007.

A further statement of confidence was made when another refurbishment was carried out on 50 standard RMs between 2001 and 2004. Buses were acquired from many sources, including preserved examples, and most were refurbished by Marshall Bus of Cambridge. This company ceased trading in late 2002 and Arriva London continued the work. The main changes were the fitment of new Cummins Euro 2 or 3 engines, Allison automatic gearboxes and the swapping of the wind-down windows for the hopper variety. Many other cosmetic changes were made and again they were said to be fit for a further 10 years of service. Bold statements were made by the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, about how important the RM was to London and the advantages of conductors etc. but suddenly that has all gone very sour and Transport for London have made it very clear that the RM will be gone by the end of 2005.

Where do we go from here?

The era of the bespoke London bus appears to be nearly over. The saddest aspect is that all the lessons learned in 60 years of continuous development have largely now been lost.

There is a very interesting proposal for a modern vehicle that takes account of present day requirements and uses many of the ideas on which the Routemaster was based to fulfill them. It has everything a passenger and an operator would want - comfort, accessibility, flat floors throughout, ease of maintenance, strong lightweight body, low fuel consumption. It's called the Q Master. However, it needs development and, therefore, funding. If anything happens to further the project then we will report it on this website.

 

Routemaster types:

RM = Routemaster

RML = Routemaster Lengthened

RMC= Routemaster Coach

RCL = Routemaster Coach Lengthened

FRM = Front Entranced Routemaster

RMF = Routemaster Front Entrance

RMA = Routemaster Airways

SRM = Silver Routemaster

 

Technical specifications


The production of the Routemaster saw the following types


4 Prototypes
2120 RMs 27,5 ft. standard length
524 RMLs 30 ft. standard lengethened
68 RMCs 27,5 ft. coach
43 RCLs 30 ft. coach
1 RMF 30 ft. front entrance
50 RMFs 27,5 ft. built for Northern General
65 RMAs 27,5 ft. built for British European Airways
1 FRM 27,5 ft. prototype with front entrance and engine at the rear

 

Routemaster RM

Built from : 1958 - 1965
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 8,38 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 64 passengers, 28 downstairs and 36 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 590 9,6 liter diesel of Leyland 0600 9,8 liter diesel 115 HP 1800 x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 7468 kgs unloaded, 11864 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster RML

Built from : 1961 and 1965 - 1968
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 9,14 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 72 passengers, 32 downstairs and 40 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 590 9,6 liter diesel 115 HP 1800x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 7823 kgs unloaded, 12700 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster RMC

Built in : 1962
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 8,38 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 57 passengers, 25 downstairs and 32 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 590 9,6 liter diesel 115 HP 1800x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 7925 kgs unloaded, 11864 kg loades
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster RCL

Built in : 1965
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 9,14 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 65 passengers, 29 downstairs and 36 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 690 11,3 liter diesel 150 HP 1800x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 8355 kgs unloaded, 12751 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster RMF (Northern General type)

Built in : 1964 - 1965
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 9,14 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 69 passengers, 38 downstairs en 31 upstairs
Engine : Leyland 0600 9,8 liter diesel 115 HP 1800x/min
Gear : semi automatic
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 7823 kgs unloaded, 12700 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster RMA (or BEA Routemaster)

Built in : 1966 - 1967
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 8,38 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 56 passengers, 24 downstairs en 32 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 690 11,3 liter diesel 175 HP 2200 x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 8355 kgs unloaded, 12751 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries the engine, the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
B frame carries the rear axle and suspension

Routemaster FRM

Built in : 1966
Width : 2,44 m
Length : 9,59 m
Height : 4,37 m
Capacity : 72 passengers, 31 downstairs en 41 upstairs
Engine : AEC AV 690 11,3 liter diesel 175 HP 220x/min.
Gear : AEC direct automatic 4 gears
Brakes : continuous hydraulic
Steering : power steering
Weight : 8400 kgs unloaded, 13200 kgs loaded
Body : aluminium
Chassis : 2 seperate steel chassis frames (A & B)
A frame carries on the front the steering system, frontwheel axle and suspension
A frame carries at the back the engine
B frame carries the rear axle