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Route 251
2 April 2013

The 251 is an old-established service, having linked Burnt Oak, Mill Hill, Whetstone and Arnos Grove since at least 1933! The route was extended on Monday to Saturday from 7 September 1968 to Edgware and Stanmore, replacing the 245 (itself the replacement for the old 645 trolleybus route along Stonegrove). These were the only routes ever to serve Edgware and not serve Edgware station, but double running to Edgware Station was introduced from 24 January 1990, and the section between Edgware and Stanmore was replaced by diverting the 142 in 1993 (which also double runs via Edgware Station). The Sunday service was also lost for a few years, but the route has now been standardised as Arnos Grove – Edgware daily.

The routeing between Mill Hill and Edgware is not the most direct, buses still running along their historic routeing via Burnt Oak, but the link into the large shopping centre at Edgware not only from the east end of the route but also from Watling Avenue is no doubt very useful. Although the 251 is the only regular route through the picturesque – not to say exclusive – Totteridge area, it is quite possible to run right through without stopping! East–West links in this part of London are, however, few and far between, due to the geographical layout, with only the 107, 251 and 221 providing such a service north of Hendon, and the 251 certainly justifies its existence.

The 251 was the last route to be operated by BL-class ECW-bodied Bristol LHs, before these were replaced on retendering of the 251 by Optare Starriders. On retendering again in 1996, some of the last new step entrance Dennis Darts were introduced, these also being amongst the few examples of the 9.8m long model to enter service in London. This was surprising, as the low floor version of the Dart had already been available for nearly a year when the EDRs were purchased. A further tender, and retention, from 2001 saw new low floor Darts specified, but only from the following Spring. This was somewhat fortuitous, as a growing trend to convert busy single deck routes to double deck operation has seen a considerable surplus of Dart SLFs, and such a conversion of route C2 set up a cascade, obviating the need for the new buses.

In a strange twist of fortune, in the September 2006 re-tendering exercise the route was again specified with existing vehicles ... but a need for newer single deckers for driving tests meant Metroline decided to buy new vehicles for the 251 after all, at its own expense! The choice of vehicles was a surprise though. Rather than order more Darts, or their replacement the Enviro200Dart, Metroline opted for MAN chassis with MCV Evolution bodywork. Like the similar MANs ordered by Metrobus for route R2 there were some delays in getting them into service, which they eventually did in April 2007.

But the MANs did not last long. Closure of North Wembley garage (as a result of the loss of route 245) in May 2009 resulted in several route re-allocations, including that of route 251 from North Wembley to Cricklewood and 232 from North Wembley to Perivale. To avoid introducing a MAN allocation at Cricklewood, the MANs were switched to the 232 instead, and the 251 reverted to Dart operation. However, the 232 was due new buses for a new contract, and agreement has been reached with TfL for those to be put on the 251 instead – the MANs now on the 232 are nearly new anyway. The upshot was that, after using old buses again for a few months, the 251 received its second batch of new buses in 3 years that September, when it was not due to have any!

Metroline had however evidently not bargained on losing the route, which meant the new buses were redundant already – they have, of course, been redeployed elsewhere. But London Sovereign took over operations from 3 September 2011 and was able to accommodate it within its section of Edgware garage, being one of only two main routes to operate from there which actually serves Edgware, while many other routes that do serve Edgware are based elsewhere. The consequence is a third batch of new buses for the 251 – they are the same type as the previous batch, Enviro200Darts, and even share the same DE type classification, inherited from former parent London United. DE62 (YX11 GBY) is seen turning into Edgware Bus Station (historically known as the Sidecourt - as opposed to the Forecourt which is a taxi rank) on 13 September 2011 in the second week of Sovereign operation. The bus is devoid of fleetnames pending a decision on identity by the newly restructured Veolia-Transdev.

Photo © Ian Armstrong.

See also routes 142, 107, 221, C2, R2, 288, 303, 305, 245, 232

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