All aboard the new Routemaster – it’s big, red and made in BritainPosted on 9th December 2023
From fabrics to flooring, London’s new Routemaster bus is helping to keep British companies in the driving seat.
They were a triumph of post-war British engineering. But when the final Routemaster bus, with its familiar hop-on, hop-off platform, was withdrawn from regular service in December 2005, London lost one of its most famous symbols.
Now, a new take on the old classic is about to be re-introduced to London’s streets on a permanent basis. A new, more environmentally friendly Routemaster bus will become a familiar sight on the capital’s roads from June 22, when 27 vehicles take over route 24, which carries 28,000 Londoners and tourists each day to destinations between Pimlico and Hampstead Heath.
A prototype of the new vehicle, commissioned by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has been in operation on the number 38 route between Victoria and Hackney since February last year. However, next month will mark the first time a route will be served entirely by the diesel hybrid bus.
But as well as marking the return of a great British institution, the new Routemaster also showcases the best design and manufacturing from the UK. It was designed by Thomas Heatherwick, founder of the Heathwerwick Studio and the man who brought us the stunning Olympic cauldron – in contrast to London’s unmourned “bendy buses”, which were designed in Germany.
The Routemaster buses – 600 of which will be rolled out by 2016 – are manufactured by Wrightbus, a family-owned company based in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Transport for London is spending around £212m on the new fleet and claims the modern Routemaster will sustain 220 jobs at Wrightbus’s factory in County Antrim over the next three years.
But, in addition, most of the components, from the seat covering to the wheelchair ramps, are also sourced from UK companies – a boost for British manufacturing and engineering.
Writing in The Daily Telegraph last week, Mr Johnson said: “It is the embodiment of the point I often make, that investment in London boosts the rest of the UK economy, directly and indirectly. We have stimulated the very best of British technology, creating jobs in this country, and yes, we are now looking to potential export markets”.
Chassis: WrightBus, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
WrightBus was named the winner of a competitive tendering process to manufacture a new fleet of London buses in January 2010. The company, part of a family-owned transport group which employs more than 1,400, has set up a new manufacturing facility to build the chassis for the Routemaster. The chassis plant currently employs 40, but its workforce will rise to 90 when it reaches full production. WrightBus will build 600 Routemaster buses by 2016. The average price of a new bus over the life of the contract will be £354,500.
Seat covering: Camira Fabrics, Huddersfield
Camira Fabrics, a textile manufacturer in West Yorkshire which employs around 600 people, has provided a durable red fabric referred to as “moquette” in the industry (French for carpet) for the Routemaster’s seats. Each bus requires about 40 metres of fabric, which has been based on the design of the original Routemaster’s seats and modernised. The long-term contract has safeguarded 220 jobs at the firm’s Meltham Mills engineering site. Ian Burn, marketing manager at Camira, said: “The new bus is a contemporary interpretation of the much-loved Routemaster buses, and the fabric is a twist on the design Camira has previously provided for those buses”.
Engine: Cummins, Darlington
Cummins Ltd is part of US company Cummins Inc and has been in Britain since the mid-1950s. It employs around 5,000 in the UK. Manufacturing products include diesel engines, turbos and power generation units. It is a past winner of the Queen’s award for export and worked on re-powering a number of the original Routemaster buses to improve fuel efficiency and reliability.
Destination signs: McKenna Brothers, Middleton, Greater Manchester
McKenna Brothers, a small family business with 27 employees, provides the destination signs – or blinds – for all of London’s buses. London is one of the few remaining cities to maintain the traditional black and white blinds rather than moving to LED destination signs. The signs for the new Routemaster are made using traditional screen-printing techniques that were used to create the blinds for the original version of the bus.
Seats: Rowan Telmac, Telford
Rowan Telmac, a UK company set up in 1981, manufactures the seats at a plant in Telford, Shropshire. Originally set up to produce parts for use in the manufacture of electric wheelchairs and scooters, it has since expanded to manufacture tubular steel frames for bus seats. It has made more than 100,000 bus seats, used all over the country.
Wheelchair ramps: PSV Transport Systems, Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire
Each Routemaster will be fitted with a wheelchair ramp manufactured by PSV Transport Systems, which has 75 staff. The ramp is made using components sourced from the UK.
Flooring: Tiflex, Liskeard, Cornwall
Tiflex, which employs about 150 in Cornwall, is a manufacturer of rubber and cork products and has supplied the non-slip Treadmaster flooring for the new buses. The company has supplied around 2,500 floor panels for the fleet.