The Goldline Story – The Scania era - contributed by Will Hughes

By the time it came to ordering further vehicles for the “Goldline” fleet, Volvo who had for so long dominated the Ulsterbus fleet, found themselves up against stiff opposition from Scania. In 2000 Ulsterbus received a Scania L94UB Wright Solar demonstrator which they would later go on to purchase. Following the success of this, a follow up order for 38 of the type was placed for 2001 with further follow up orders following in 2003 and 2004. Volvo had replaced their very reliable and successful B10BLE model with the B7L. Ulsterbus trialled a demonstrator but were not impressed and no orders followed. Most of the rest of the bus industry were not impressed either and apart from Firstgroup, few orders followed. In truth it was something of “a turkey” and it was only after they developed their much more successful B7RLE model that their somewhat tarnished reputation began to be restored and orders started to flow in.

In 2002 Ulsterbus had received four Scania K114EB coaches with Irizar Century 49 seat coach bodies for the tour pool fleet. These were followed up by two further batches of four the following year. It perhaps didn’t come as much of a surprise that when orders were being placed for the next batch of “Goldline” vehicles, the Scania/Irizar combination would win out again, this time the lower powered Scania K94IB model with Scania Intercentury 53 seat coach body. The initial order was for 46 with fleet numbers following on from the last of the Volvo/Plaxton, (1661 – 1706, TCZ 1661 – 99, TCZ 2700, TCZ 1701 – 6).  They entered service in 9/03 (1661-7/9), 10/03 (1668/72/3/82/4-6), 11/03 (1671/4/6/87-9),  12/03 (1675/7/83/90-2, 1702/3), 1/04 (1670/8/93/9, 1701), 2/04 (1679/80/95/6, 1706) and 3/04 (1681/94/7/8, 1700/4/5) and were initially allocated to LD – 1661-3/85/6, 1706, V – 1664-6/97, 1704/5, E – 1667/8/98/9, AM – 1669/70/8-80, CL – 1671/3/4/89/90, DG – 1672/96, CG – 1675/6, NA – 1677, OM – 1681-4/93, AT – 1687, LR – 1688, BM – 1691/2, MF – 1694/5 and NY 1700-3.

1693 (TCZ 1693) is seen here on 09/08/07 negotiating roadworks on the M2 on its approach to Belfast from Ballymena. Paul Savage

A second batch of 50 of the type were ordered and delivered in 2005 and 2006, (1707 – 66, EEZ 6707 – 66). They entered service in 8/05 (1707), 9/05 (1708-12), 10/05 (1713-24), 11/05 (1725-38), 12/05 (1739-48/51), 1/06 (1749/50/2-9) and 9/06 (1760-6) and their initial allocation was CL – 1707/8/27/36, AM – 1709/44, DP – 1710/23/49/50, NB – 1711/62-6, LD – 1712/6/8/22/9/38, OM – 1713/35/54/5, LR – 1714/57/8, MF – 1715/39/51, DG – 1717/26/8, NY – 1719-21/31/60/1, V – 1724/32,  E – 1725/40-3/52/3/6, CG – 1730/7, BM – 1733/46/59, NC – 1734/47/8 and NA – 1745.

1746 (EEZ 6746) is seen here on 29/07/16 in Durham Street, Belfast as it makes its way to the nearby Europa Bus Centre. Paul Savage

By 2011 orders had been placed for the first of what would ultimately become a fleet of 78 Scania K320IB4 coaches fitted with Irizar I4 51 seat coach bodies incorporating wheelchair lifts for use on “Goldline” work. With deliveries due to commence in 2012, the decision was taken to downgrade many of the Intercentury’s to high capacity school buses. As part of the refurbishment programme, the coach seating was removed to be replaced by 69 seat belted bus seats in 3+2 configuration. In addition, they lost their “Goldline” livery, replaced by the ocean blue/stonewall grey/white livery. The prototype conversion was 1662 in April 2011 to be followed up by 1704 in August 2011. In late 2012 with the delivery of new vehicles underway, the programme of conversions was ramped up with 1663/71 being converted in September, 1664/81 in October, 1666/83/6/99, 1703 in November and 1661/87 in December. 2013 saw many more conversions with 1674/89 converted in January, 1682/4/8 in February, 1721 in March, 1677, 1700/7 in April, 1670, 1719 in June, 1705 in July, 1665/7-9/73/5/6/9/80/90/1/3/5/6/8, 1701/8-12/6/7/24 in September, 1678, 1714 in October and 1734 in December. The final conversion of the initial batch was 1702 done in January 2014 and it would be 2016 before any more were done, 1694 in April, 1672 in June and 1677, 1706 in September. There was one final conversion in October 2017 when 1727 was done. Many of the early conversions used seats removed from the former Mark IV Volvo B10M/Plaxton “Goldliner’s” which had been converted to school buses some years earlier. The coach seats removed from the Scania’s were then fitted to the Volvo’s, enabling them to be sold, many passing to Lough Swilly for further service.

Seen here in Wellington Place, Belfast on 01/06/17 following conversion to a 69 seat school bus is 1689 (TCZ 1689). Paul Savage

The unconverted examples have remained in original condition to this day with a number still putting in occasional appearances on “Goldline” duties. Withdrawals to date have generally been confined to vehicles which have suffered either fire or accident damage. The exceptions are 1738/42 which were withdrawn in June 2017 and sold the following month to Belfast Royal Academy, a long-time user of former Citybus and Ulsterbus vehicles. These vehicles can still be seen from time to time in Great Victoria Street depot who maintains them on behalf of the school. More recent withdrawals are 1664 and 1701/27 in June 2018, 1737 in August 2018, 1698 in September 2018, 1682 in May 2019 and 1673 in August 2019. All are currently held in Reserve (but are unlikely to see service again) with the exception of 1701 and 1737 which passed to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap in February and August 2019 respectively. With the delivery of new vehicles, most of the remaining “Goldline” examples are likely to be withdrawn along with many of the school bus conversions which are to be replaced by cascaded double deckers. Sadly, age and corrosion are finally beginning to take their toll and their demise could be relatively rapid. Accident damage claimed 1704 in November 2015 and 1696 in June 2019. 1696 remains in store pending disposal but 1704 passed to Hamill, Ahoghill in February 2019 for scrap. Fire damage accounted for 1692 on 26/5/12, 1739 on 26/2/13 and 1681 on 12/6/17. All three passed to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap in May 2015, July 2015 and July 2017 respectively.
By 1984 Citybus were looking to replace their fleet of Volvo B10M/Plaxton coaches used for private hire and contract work and to this end six Scania/Irizar “Goldline” coaches were transferred in to replace them, 1725/30 on 1/7, 1722 on 26/8, 1713 on 27/8 and 1720/9 on 28/8. Of these 1713 led a somewhat nomadic life moving backwards and forwards between the two fleets during 2017/18. It was initially returned to Ulsterbus on 9/1/17 returning to Citybus 24/2/17 only to go back to Ulsterbus once more on 28/2/17. Returning to Citybus on 4/4/17, it returned to Ulsterbus once more on 1/11/17 before being returned to Citybus on 1/12/17. On 11/12/17 it was on the move once more when it returned to Ulsterbus, being returned on 12/1/18. After a stay of only four days it returned to Ulsterbus before returning to Citybus once more on 26/1/18. Another four-day stint saw it return to Ulsterbus once more before it returned to Citybus on 1/2/18. 1720 also returned to Ulsterbus on 16/1/19 before being returned on 6/3/19. Its poor condition saw its withdrawal in April 2019, subsequently passing to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap in August 2019. 1729 suffered serious fire damage on 15/4/18 which led to its withdrawal and ultimate disposal to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap in 8/18. To replace it 1716 was received from Ulsterbus on 16/4/18. A third example has now been withdrawn after 1722 suffered serious accident damage on 9/3/19. It was used as a source of spare parts for others prior to passing to Hamill, Ahoghill for scrap in August 2019. Two further examples transferred to Citybus were 1678/84 on 29/6/19. These however were only to be temporary additions and both to returned to Ulsterbus on 01/09/19.

1713 (EEZ 6713) is one of a number of the type to be transferred to the Citybus private hire fleet. Seen at Howard Street, Belfast on 08/02/16, this vehicle has since been withdrawn and sold for scrap. Paul Savage

By 2015 the Ulsterbus Driving School were looking to replace their fleet of Volvo B10M/Plaxton coaches used for training work and once again examples of the Scania/Irizar fleet of “Goldline” coaches were the vehicle of choice. 1685/94 and 1731 were added to the training fleet on 1/9/15 with 1726 following on 3/9/15. 1694 did not remain long, being returned to passenger service on 4/9/15. 1695/9, 1754/64 were further additions to the training fleet on 2/7/17 (1754), 16/7/17 (1695/9) or 17/7/17 (1764). None of these remained for long, 1764 being returned to passenger service on 10/8/17, 1695 on 17/8/17, 1699 on 22/8/17 and 1754 on 25/8/17. 1713, which was on loan from Citybus, was used by the driving school from 9/1/17 to 24/2/17, 28/2/17 to 4/4/17, 1/11/17 to 1/12/17, 11/12/17 to 12/1/18, 16/1/18 to 26/1/18 and 30/1/18 to 1/2/18. One final addition to the training fleet was 1740 on 11/8/17.

Seen here in Royal Avenue, Belfast on 02/10/17 was 1740 (EEZ 6740), now with the Ulsterbus Driving School and still retains Ulsterbus “Goldline” livery. Paul Savage

Only two of the type have been sold on for further use, both going to Belfast Royal Academy for use for school transport. Both are still maintained by Ulsterbus on behalf of the school. 1738 (EEZ 6738) is seen here at Great Victoria Street depot on 05/11/17 shortly after being repainted in BRA livery. Paul Savage 

End of the road, 1737 (EEZ 6737) is one of a number of the type to have been withdrawn. It is seen here in store pending disposal at Newtownabbey depot on 27/04/19. This vehicle passed to Hamill, Ahoghill in August 2019 for scrap. Will Hughes