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Route R3
2 April 2013

First London disposed of its isolated Orpington base in December 2007 to local operator Metrobus. Most of the vehicles transferred with the routes, but have now been repainted into Metrobus livery. By that point the fleet comprised entirely Marshall Capital bodied Dart SLFs, and all but one of these have now been phased out. In the main they have been replaced with Mini Pointer Darts displaced from other routes by new buses, although some new buses featured as part of the contract renewals on the network in December 2011. The number of Capitals still in service in the capital is now in single figures.

Actually photographed well before the formal type change, on 21 June 2008, Metrobus 251 (SN54 GPV) passes through typical scenery for the route in Petts Wood Road, heading towards Poverest Road, just before the junction with Willett Way, on an inbound journey from Princess Royal Hospital.

Photo © Martin Clitheroe.

The R3 has changed much since the Roudabout network was launched in 1986. Its primary function was as a replacement for the Chelsfield part of London Country's complicated 493 service (the remainder of which eventually morphed into the R9) and Orpington local route 284. The 493 had run from Green Street Green Rose and Crown via Windsor Drive, Warren Road, Sevenoaks Road, Orpington Station and Spur Road to Ramsden Estate. During peak hours some journeys ran direct between Ramsden and Chelsfield station. The R3 by contrast ran via Windsor Drive and Repton Road to Orpington, then via former 284 along Poverest Road to Petts Wood station (east side). Warren Road was left to the R6, and is unserved today apart from school route 654.

The route remained in this form until 2001, apart from the Green Street Green terminus moving to the Queens Head to avoid using the private Rose & Crown forecourt; buses terminated on the road with an anticlockwise loop manoeuvre via Glentrammon Road. At that time, coincident with tender renewal, the Green Street Green Orpington section was transferred to route R1 on a higher frequency. The R3 by contrast was reduced from 3 to 2 buses an hour the R2, covering similar ground to the remaining section, was increased from 1 to 2 buses an hour, giving the same overall service and in theory a more even interval, although unfortunately the routes have run at similar times in both directions ever since!

The route still ran south of Orpington, as it replaced the R8 service via Charterhouse Road to Chelsfield village and Maypole loop, providing a much increased service over this leg. Chelsfield village was served by the aforementioned R6 in the original Roundabout scheme, as well as London Country routes 17 and 18 which replaced its 431 and 477, all of which continued to Badgers Mount and Halsted, as its predecessor the LC 431 had done. All three routes serving Chelsfield village were quite short lived, the area being served by a revived LC 476/477/478 group for a while before becoming part of "Roundabout" again under the R8 banner in 1992. It was the R8 that introduced the present day loop working; the reasons were stated at the time, but have since escaped me!

More radically, the R3 was extended at the Petts Wood end, via the west side of Petts Wood station, Coppice estate, Crofton Lane and Crofton Road to Locksbottom, for Farnborough Hospital. This is significant in that the whole Petts Wood area now has a direct link to the hospital, where before passengers would have had to change. To start with, the Locksbottom terminus was in Pallant Way, but the route was extended round the corner into the hospital grounds in 2004. The combined effect of these two changes is that the route is effectively a very long one, with a round trip time of one-and-a-half hours, with only minimal hesitation time built into the Chelsfield village loop to help timekeeping. Perhaps the route should revert to the R6-type structure with an extension into the Halstead area again!

Roundabout was a division of local "big bus" Selkent created to operate the new Orpington network tendered out in 1986. The R-series numbers come from Roundabout, and must seem slightly odd now that the network is no longer marketed under that name, but at least R is the second letter of Orpington! The original vehicles were smoky little Iveco Daily minibuses, backed up by a small number of much more stylish Optare Citypacers on Volkswagen van chassis. The R3 was one of the first routes to be upgraded, when four MC class of larger Carlyle bodied Mercedes 811Ds were purchased to add to one already in stock.

Roundabout was put to an end by Centrewest's audacious and successful bid for the network in 1996, and bought new buses to an almost identical design by Marshall, which had by then taken over Carlyle. Unusually these buses, also used on the 336 and R4, were replaced after only 3 years mid-contract, and cascaded to Leicester. Their replacements were DMS class low floor Marshall bodied Darts; yet more of the same type were delivered on 2002, and it was those that transferred with the route to Metrobus. The transfer means that all the R routes are currently operated by Metrobus from its Orpington (Green Street Green) base.

See also routes R9, 654, R1, R2, 477, R4, 336

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