Esher 1976The RF Story

Part 5 - Maturity

 

In final form, with nearside-number route blind and painted 'Pay as you enter' signage, RF536 departs Esher for Cobham on 16 Oct 76.

Photo © John Parkin

 
The Reshaping Plan

As the reduction in passenger numbers that started in the 1950s gathered pace and the attractions of cost reduction by double-decking continued, the inevitable contraction in the single-deck fleet continued in the 1960s.  The first RFs to be sold, in 1963 when only twelve years old, were the Private Hire coaches that had been converted to Green Lines but made surplus by the arrival of the RMCs; twenty four coach RFs were also sold the following year.  Primarily a casualty of the staff shortages that had also been worsening since the 1950s was the Private Hire fleet, with the RFs and RFWs being sold in 1963 and 1964.

 

However, the staff shortages and the arguments about Central Area OMO led in 1963 to the Phelps-Brown Committee of Inquiry.  One-man operation gave a new lease of life to the RF in 1964, but LT's response went further, leading to the infamous Reshaping Plan which brought wholesale change in 1968.  In both the Country and Central Areas, OMO conversion meant using the RF, providing work for surplus buses and coaches in replacing crew RTs in a reversal of the previous trend towards double-decking where possible.  This process started in the Central Area in October 1965 with the 20B at Loughton and continued in some cases to use RFs after the introduction of more modern types, with the 212 in September 1971, the last new red RF route.

 
Through the upheavals of the Merlin era, the RFs quietly kept running.  After the early Green Line disposals in 1964, there were no mass withdrawals until after the Country Area had been transferred to the National Bus Company as London Country on 1 Jan 70, talking with it 413 RFs.  That company found profits hard to come by, with an ageing fleet and rapidly falling passenger numbers.   The RFs inherited from LT fared better than the RTs, which were early targets for replacement by one man buses.  But the falling requirement as well as deliveries of new single-deck coaches led to the sale of surplus RFs from 1971.
 
In the Central Area, LT retained 233 red RFs at the start of 1970, eight more than originally delivered.  At that time, there were still four crew-operated red RF routes, the 208, 210, 227 and 236, the first three of which had operated RFs since the introduction of the class in 1952/3.  The 210 was converted to OMO RF operation in January 1970, the other routes lost their RFs for new buses (and in the case of the 208, a new number, the S2) within 16 months.  Most of the buses from the 208 provided the last batch to be converted for OMO use, the so-called 'Uxbridge RFs', but 46 from the 227 and 236 were withdrawn permanently when the routes were converted in January and April 1971.
 
Mass withdrawal
The one-person buses continued in service in diminishing numbers through the 1970s, outlasting some of their successors.  1973 saw the next withdrawal of a batch of red RFs, with the main fleet planned to finish by 1976.  By that year, London Country had withdrawn most of their RFs, but they were tougher than many of the other buses and continued to be useful in small numbers.  The last of all, RF202, outlasted the red RFs, working from Northfleet until gearbox failure in July 1979 caused an abrupt end.
 
Plans for the replacement of RFs in the Central Area in 1976 led to their withdrawn from no fewer than 16 routes in 1976, leaving RFs working just six routes - Kingston's 218 and 219, Hounslow's 202 (the second RF route to bear that number) and 237, the 234A at Croydon and Edgware's 251.  The latter two were converted to BL operation in January, with Hounslow following in April - the 237 having been in continuous RF operation since December 1952, a period of over 24 years.
 
Recertification
But London Transport had a problem.  They had planned to convert the 218 and 219 (which together needed 19 buses) to SMD Swift operation, but these buses were too long for the pits at Kingston garage, and the unions would not accept them.  There were no more BLs available, so a batch of RFs (reported as 25, but see details in the Appendix) were reconditioned and certified for a further three years' service, the work being carried out at Hanwell and Stonebridge garages.  Note however that RFs with earlier certificates (and old-style livery) continued in service until early 1978.
 
Almost the end of the roadThe 218 and 219 therefore continued as the sole operators of RFs in LT, until finally a solution was found to the Kingston problem - by transferring the routes to Norbiton garage.  So with due ceremony (and a week before the end of the RTs on the 62), the last RFs ran in London service on Friday 30 Mar 79, the last one home being RF507 in the early hours of 31 March.  RF507 had been specially prepared for the occasion, in traditional red and cream livery and still with gold-underlined fleet names, by Steve Fennell, Paul Morris and Dave Simmons of Kingston garage.  The following day, a commemorative run over routes 218 and 219 was operated by RFs 510, 511 and 512.
 
RF507 attracted a crowd for its last journey, which unlike the RTs a week later was at the end of the evening service.
Photo © John Parkin 
 
 
Back to Index

Part 1 - Development

Part 2 - Diversity

Part 3 - Into service

Part 4 - Rejuvenation

 

Appendices

Red RF Garages

Recertification

Green RFs in the Central Area

 
See also the memories of red RF operation recorded by LT staff and others.  Details of the routes worked by red RFs are in the Routes section.  General background to the London Transport route structure is here.  For more information, see the Bibliography.