Friday, 25 September 2009

Chapter 26 End of the Road for Jetlink

Driving through London during the 70s there were often diversions and hold ups due to IRA bomb threats. Perhaps because I was young this did not worry me very much although Annette has since told me she would often worry about me especially when I was late, remember no mobile phone in those far off days. But one day the tables were turned when Annette along with other mums and teachers took some school children including our son Mark to the Royal Tournament at Earls Court and there was a terrorist attack in which some soldiers and horses were blown up in Park Lane. I was at home and had to sit worrying until they all turned up safely.
One morning a group of terrorist decided to plant a bomb under the M25 at Kings Langley. You can imagine the chaos this caused. All the roads around Hemel Hempstead were grid locked. At first nobody knew why. I took over my coach at Hemel Hempstead loaded with passengers from Luton who were going onto Heathrow and Gatwick, I tried for several hours trying to get to Watford, often passing other buses in very narrow back roads. Eventually the word filtered through that no vehicles were allowed to pass under the M25 and therefore we were trapped between Hemel Hempstead and Kings Langley. I explained this to the passengers and said all I could do was to take them back to our garage at Hemel Hempstead. When I arrived back, three hours after leaving, I explained the situation to our Garage Manager Neil Instrall who, to give him credit, gave all the passengers a free breakfast before arranging for them to be taken on to Hemel Hempstead railway station or in some cases back to Luton bus station.
Well after nearly thirteen years on the Jetlink and the last of the original four drivers things were, unknown to me, beginning to take their toll. I found that every time I went onto the M25 motorway at Heathrow I would begin to feel apprehensive. Sometimes I would even feel a bit dizzy. It reached the point where I thought I might have some sort of brain tumour and eventually voiced my fears to Annette. Bless her, she sat me down and explained to me that after all this time of motorway work I was almost certainly suffering from stress. Stress is of course something that most men would not admit to suffering from. Fortunately I believed Annette and once accepting I was suffering from stress the symptoms began to recede and driving on the Jetlink became more enjoyable again.
With the Jetlink services becoming more extensive now running to Brighton in the south and Cambridge and Norwich in the north and with the greater involvement of the parent company National Express there seemed no need for the involvement of two other separate companies. Hemel Hempstead was operated by Arriva and Stevenage was operated by Sovereign Bus. It was therefore decided that as from 1st January 1998 all Jetlink services would be operated from the new dedicated Jetlink depot at Ashford in Middlesex. The old Staines garage would operate buses only.
All of the drivers I've ever spoken to have agreed that the 747 Jetlink service was the best route that we ever had, and it was. Pride in the job, I was always telling my bosses, was something that had been gradually eroded over the years. I believe that the Jetlink, had for thirteen years, restored some of that pride.
During my spell on the Jetlink the 708 Greenline had been finally withdrawn. Many years earlier back in the early 70's Annette and I would visit my Mother in Edgware by travelling on the 706 from the bottom of our road direct to Edgware. Our baby son Mark in his bassinette would just fit neatly into the luggage compartment of the RF. After the 706 was withdrawn in 1975 the 708 was extended to Aylesbury, but during the early 1980's even that service was withdrawn and we found it harder to get to Edgware. By the 90's we had to travel by rail from Aylesbury to Harrow on the Hill then travel by bus from Harrow on the Hill to Edgware. More and more the travel market concentrated on commuters. In 1988 with the success of the 758 commuter route from Hemel Hempstead to London it was decided to operate a commuter service from Aylesbury to London via Amersham the 788. To operate this service the old British Road Services depot at Aston Clinton was converted to an out station of Amersham garage. Now I had to decide whether to transfer to this new out station a few minutes down the road from where we lived or continue riding to Hemel Hempstead on my motor bike and remain on the Jetlink rota and stay with my friends. That April Annette and I took Mark and Heather to visit their grandparents in Australia. I spent a lot of that time pondering over whether to transfer to the new out station. It was finally my daughter who persuaded me not to transfer, I think she realised how much I enjoyed being on the Jetlink. This in the end was a good decision as Aston Clinton depot only lasted a couple of years and all the staff had to transfer back to Amersham. Whereas I remained at Hemel Hempstead and continued on the Jetlink until its withdrawal from our garage on 31st December 1997.
Once more the question of seniority arose, was I entitled to a position on the 758 rota. Luckily by now I was near the top of the seniority list and as there were vacancies to be filled on the ever expanding 758 rota I was soon back driving on the Greenline.
After thirteen years on the Jetlink it was very strange to drive up to junction eight of the M1 and to turn right towards London rather than left to Luton. In fact one or two of the regular commuters had remembered me from my earlier days on the original 758s and reminded me to turn right, for a while I had to make a concerted effort to go the correct way.
Well since starting with London Country at Tring garage in 1972 I had completed thirteen years on Greenline, I had just finished a thirteen year spell on the Jetlink, only thirteen years to go until I retire.

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