The forgotten N-Types
by Will Hughes

As the ‘N’ type nears the end of its long service life with Ulsterbus, we take a look at the other ‘N’ types built for use in Northern Ireland.

We are all familiar with the fleet of 534 Leyland, Gardner and Volvo engined Leyland Tigers and 7 Leyland Lynx with Alexander (Belfast) ‘N’ type bodies built for the Ulsterbus and Citybus fleets between 1984 and 1990. The last few years have seen this once large fleet rapidly decline and at the time of writing only one of the Volvo engined examples remain in traffic, 1335 (RXI 3335) at Ballymena. New deliveries over the next few months will see the type eliminated from the active fleet leaving only a handful of examples which will be retained as engineering vehicles.

However it is often overlooked that the Alexander (Belfast) plant also constructed a further 35 ‘N’ type bodies on a variety of chassis types for the various local Education and Library Boards.

For many years Northern Irelands Education Boards had relied on first the Albion and later Leyland Viking to fulfil their ‘big’ bus needs. Occasionally they had purchased Bedford’s and to a lesser extent Fords but at the end of the day generally returned to the tried and trusted Viking.

However by the late 1970’s/early 1980’s Leyland was phasing the Viking out of production and the boards were forced to look elsewhere for their ‘big’ bus requirements.

First to break ranks was the SELB who in March 1984 received a batch of three Ford R1115, which were fitted with Alexander (Belfast) 53 seat ‘N’ type bodies, HIB 1370, 1710 and 1930. In May 1985 a further two were added to their fleet, HIB 8670 and 8690, and a final batch of four were delivered in April 1986, IIB 7180, 7190, 8010 and 8020. By the mid 1980’s Ford had decided to pull out of PSV production making spare parts difficult and expensive to obtain which no doubt contributed to their relatively short operational lives. Withdrawn between 2001 and 2003 and given the fact that they were not built to PSV standard meant that their resale potential was limited. At least four crossed the border to Co. Louth dealer Ardee Trim where they lay unused for a number of years, HIB 1370, 1710 and IIB 7190, 8010. All were probably subsequently scrapped and there is no record of any others of the type finding subsequent owners.

SELB Ford R1115/Alexander (Belfast) HIB 1710 seen at
Cookstown school busdepot not long before withdrawal.

With Ford pulling out of PSV construction, the SELB once again had to look to an alternative supplier for their big bus requirements. For the 1989 deliveries, an order was placed for six Leyland Tiger TRBL10/2RL with Alexander (Belfast) 53 seat bodies. Body wise they were similar to the contemporary Ulsterbus vehicles being built at that time but on the mechanical front they were somewhat different having Cummins L10 engines and manual gearboxes. They were also the first large buses in the Education & Library Board fleets to be built to full PSV standard. Registered MIB 3840/50, 4370/80 and 4870/80, they were placed in service in 4/89 (MIB 3850, 4370), 5/89 (MIB 3840, 4380, 4870) or 6/89 (MIB 4880). They survived in service until 2005 when MIB 3840, 4380 and 4870 were withdrawn and sold, the remaining three surviving until 2006. Being built to PSV standard, they were of interest to local private operators with at least four finding new owners in Northern Ireland. MIB 3840 and 4870 passed to Matthews, Hilltown (although MIB 3840 has since been scrapped), MIB 4370 passed to Eamon Rooney, Hilltown and MIB 4380 to McTeggart, Enniskillen although both have since passed on to new operators.

SELB Leyland Tiger/Alexander (Belfast) MIB 4880 and MIB 3840
parked up at Dungannon school bus depot.

In the event the six Leyland Tiger’s were to be the only true ‘heavyweight’ chassis to be bodied for the Education Boards and for all subsequent deliveries to the boards, it was the 11 metre Dennis Javelin chassis that was chosen. First to receive a batch was the WELB who received nine in March 1990 (MJI 7208 – 15). For many years the WELB had been the poor relation of the education boards, starved of new investment and frequently having to survive on other boards cast offs. In addition they received sizeable batches of Alexander (Belfast) and Wright bodied Albion Vikings in the mid/late 1970’s which were now coming up for replacement. It appears that these vehicles did not enter service until September 1990 by which time they had become fleet numbers 1350 – 8 and had been re-registered NJI 3017 – 25 (ex MJI 7208/10/11/13/12/15/16/14/09). By the time they entered service, a further two vehicles had been built becoming fleet numbers 1359/60 and registered NJI 3026/7. The first withdrawals took place in 2006 with the last surviving until 2009. Whilst a number passed to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap, several passed to mainland dealer Central Bus and Coach, Kidsgrove. This firm specialises in exporting vehicles to mainland Europe and further afield although as far as can be ascertained, none found subsequent owners. Fortunately 1355 (NJI 3022, ex MJI 7215) has survived, being acquired for preservation in October 2009 by Trust member Stewart Graham from Kesh.

WELB Dennis Javelin/Alexander (Belfast) 1359 (NJI 3026), one of the two
additional vehicles added to the 1990 order, at Strabane school bus depot.

In late 1990 the SELB received four similar vehicles, OIB 2510 new in August 1990 and OIB 2520/30/40 new the following month. OIB 2530 was to have a short life, being maliciously destroyed during ‘Drumcree’ disturbances in July 1995. Of the three survivors, OIB 2520 was withdrawn and sold in 2005. This vehicle subsequently made its way to England operating for a short time in the fleet of Martin Perry, Bromyard before being scrapped in October 2007. The remaining two soldiered on until 2008, OIB 2510 being recorded as exported (probably south of the border) in 8/08 and OIB 2540 passing to local private operator Jeffers, Portadown in October 2008.

SELB Dennis Javelin/Alexander (Belfast) OIB 2520 at Dungannon school bus depot in as built condition. On withdrawal this vehicle passed to an operator on the mainland but has since been scrapped.

The NEELB had little requirement for large buses, usually having only two in the fleet, both based at a school in Garvagh. Latterly these had been a pair of Wright bodied Fords new in 1985. However in May 1990, both were maliciously destroyed in an arson attack on the school. Replacements in the short term were in the shape of a couple of Albion Vikings borrowed from other boards. In February 1991 however permanent replacements arrived in the shape of a further two Dennis Javelins, similar to those purchased by the SELB and WELB. They were registered JDZ 3168/9 and both subsequently passed to the WELB in February 2003 and June 2004 respectively, becoming fleet numbers 1362/3. Both however had relatively short lives with their new owners as both were auctioned in November 2005 and are believed to have gone for scrap.

In January 2003, the WELB received a further three Dennis Javelins, 1371 – 3 (PJI 6488 – 90), which were the last of the type to receive the Alexander ‘N’ type body. These three were to survive to the end of Dennis Javelin operation in late 2008/early 2009. PJI 6488 and PJI 6490 were to receive a new lease of life, being acquired by Spruhan, Bagenalstown in June 2009 and March 2009 respectively, being re-registered to 93-CW-1735 and 93-CW-1737.

WELB Dennis Javelin/Alexander (Belfast) 1354 NJI 3021 (ex MJI 7212) at Strabane school bus depot. In later years these vehicles had the black surround to the windscreen and side windows painted out which gave the Javelins a much brighter appearance.

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