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Route 56
27 August 2007

As trunk routes go, the 56 is quite a new service, having started on 24 February 1990 replacing parts of the 38 and 277. The route has been changed little since its introduction, and buses continue to ply between Smithfield (St. Bart's Hospital) and Whipps Cross via Islington, Hackney Downs and Leyton Green.

Leyton garage, which runs the 56, was one of the first recipients of low floor double deckers. At the time, East London (which owns Leyton) was part of the Stagecoach group and they were able to accelerate the investment programme by purchasing buses to provincial specification so that they could be cascaded out of London later on. The company has standardised on Tridents, mostly to the 10.5m length, but the first 98 were built to provincial specification, featuring low height bodywork and forward mounted spiral stairs. At this stage the builders also claimed to be unable to accommodate a rear window on the lower deck. The only non-Stagecoach feature is the fitment of a second door, which is essential for most London work. Outside London, low-height (4.2m) bodies are commonly specified as many bridges are just a little too low to accommodate full height (4.4m) buses. Most of the extra height is downstairs; bearing in mind the lower floor level on a low floor bus, the headroom downstairs is quite colossal, except to the rear where there are some steps up to the back seat.

The planned cascades have indeed largely taken place, and the 56 and other routes are now operated by standard London specification buses, with individual "bucket" seats, extra legroom (fewer seats), full height bodywork with a rear window downstairs, and a straight staircase. The merits of the latter are rather doubtful although it makes steps different shapes and sizes, a curved staircase has the advantage that passengers can lean against the stairwall on the way up and down, which makes them safer. And, obviously, it takes up less space!

However, the staircase remained in the forward position. LTB/TfL had been advocating a staircase amidships, coupled with the exit door placed immediately in front of the rear axle, the theory being to get boarding and alighting passengers as far away from each other as possible. The main counter-argument was that the forward staircase allows more seats by using the space over the front wheels, which are too high to accommodate seats; however this is not actually true, because seats can otherwise be accomodated under the stairs! Nevertheless, in my experience the forward staircase does give a much more practical lower deck layout; the earlier designs tended to be claustrophobic, and there were problems with people banging their heads under the stairs.

TfL eventually agreed to the staircase being moved forwards, but still insisted on the rear exit; this caused problems with passengers from upstairs having to fight their way through standing passengers to get off, which can cause delays on a crowded bus. But that is better than having a long distance from the entrance to the stairs as on LT's original specification! Some later Stagecoach buses had the exit door further forward, almost opposite the stairs again, which seems to give the best layout, but TfL do not seem to like this.

Photo © Lawrence Living.

Anyhow, 17418 (LX51FJF) is seen at the St. Bartholomew's Hospital terminus on Sunday 17th June 2007. Initially Stagecoach painted its buses allover red, but later introduced a new national colour scheme incorporating more modern curves and swoops. London buses also gained blue and orange in a similar style on the red base. This was later reduced to a blue skirt only to comply with the latest TfL rules. However, since the sale of the London business to Macquarie bank, allover red (which TfL prefers in any case) has again become standard, and the old pre-privatisation company logos have re-appeared!

See also routes 48, 55, 69

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