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Route 128
5 November 2005

There are three east-west roads running between roughly Ilford and Romford, and accordingly three bus routes running between the two places. The most direct route is the trunk 86, while the 296 heads further north to take the A12 while the 128 heads further south via Goodmayes and Becontree Heath. The 128 was created early in 1993 as effectively a section of route 129, which had previously run from Claybury to Romford via Ilford. Route 25, which supplemented the 129 between Ilford and Becontree Heath, was being cut back to Ilford, and the overlap of the 128 and 129 between these points was designed to make up for this.

The 129 had not had a Sunday service, and the 128 perpetuated this after its creation as the route’s main functions are to complement the 129 and to provide links from Goodmayes to Romford, both of which were less needed on Sundays. Both routes were initially operated from Barking garage, with crew changes taking place at the nearest stops to South Park Drive along Green Lane, drivers catching a 145 between there and the garage. However, the routes were later transferred to Romford garage — very convenient for the 128, but less so for the 129 where buses had to run empty to and from the garage for driver changes.

From July 1997, operation of the 128 was transferred to Harris Bus, a Sunday service being added at this time. This, together with the 129 and 150, was the second phase of the company’s expansion into London Transport work, following its successful takeover of routes 108 and 661 earlier in the year. A fleet of East Lancs Pyoneer bodied long wheelbase Volvo Olympians was purchased, backed up by a trio of DAF DB250 double deckers. Although long wheelbase double deckers are now more widely accepted, they had been very rare in London until then, though Stagecoach had just started introducing them to its East London routes.

However, as has already been documented on this site, the collapse of Harris Bus at the end of 1999 eventually resulted in the routes being taken over by London Transport itself, which set up a new subsidiary trading as East Thames Buses to run them. The buses were painted in allover red relieved only by a small logo and fleetname. East Thames Buses has come to be regarded as a sort of emergency operator, and it has gained a few extra routes in cases “where no satisfactory bids were received” from mainstream operators – although the cynic in me says that East Thames must therefore effectively be putting in bids, and if they can run the buses more cheaply than the “real” operators, then they get the route.

Anyway, the 128 would have been due to begin a new contract from July 2002, after five years, but instead, whether it was because of that or simply because the leases on the Olympians had run out, the 128 was re-stocked with new low floor double deckers, long wheelbase Volvo B7TLs with the eye-catching Eclipse Gemini design by Wrights.

A surprising development as of 26 June 2004 was the re-creation of the old 129 route between Claybury and Romford, but now under the 128 number (129 being tentatively earmarked for a split of route 29 which was not proceeded with). Ironically it was once again changes to route 25 which precipitated the change, as new bendy buses were being introduced which meant additional stand space had to be found. The easiest way to achieve this was to reduce the number of buses on other routes terminating in Ilford town centre. Route 150 was extended to Becontree Heath to maintain capacity on this section, and the previous frequency of every 15 minutes on 128 and 129 and 10 minutes on 150 were replaced by a better co-ordinated 12 minute service on each of 128 and 150.

An equally surprising development (and again one indirectly involving bendy buses!) in 2005 was the placing of the 128 and 150 out to tender. This was to enable East Thames Buses to vacate Ash Grove garage to allow the new bendy buses on route 38 to operate from there. East Thames took over route 1/N1 instead, while route 128 under tender passes to Arriva, where it neatly filled the hole left by their loss of route 103.

Photo © Lawrence Living.

As mentioned on the 103 page new Volvo B7TLs with Alexander ALX400 bodywork were specified, and here VLA 134 (LJ05 GPZ) is seen on the stand at Romford Station on Sunday 16 October 2005.

See also routes 86, 296, 25, 145, 150, 108, 661, 29, 38, 1, N1, 103

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