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the end of greater manchester leyland atlantean operation and the demise of the first generation selnec/gmt standard, monday 7th january 2002

The impending demise of First Manchester�s remaining Leyland Atlanteans with Northern Counties body to Greater Manchester standard specification was marked by a highly successful running day on Saturday 11th August 2001, which raised �1,350 for Cancer Research.  At the time of this event the depot retained an allocation of 43 serviceable examples, at least 34 of which were in use that day as well as the two remaining examples at Wigan depot.  The latter two - 8621 / 22 - were reallocated to Bolton by early September 2001, thus concentrating all the survivors on this depot.  Although cascading of newer types from other First Group companies - and within First Manchester itself - was underway, the Atlanteans survived the projected withdrawal date of October 2001 remarkably well.   In fact, an incredible 38 remained allocated as late as Friday 23rd November 2001. 8540 had a moment of note on Tuesday 13th November 2001 when it reintroduced the type to Bury depot routes during a day on loan to that depot.  Atlanteans at Bolton depot continued to operate similar duties to those of recent years with a minimum of fuss, being particularly prolific on inter-urban routes - some inherited from Lancashire United - between Bolton, Leigh and Manchester, and also on Bolton local circular services. 

It was not to last.   A cull of the fleet took place as they came back to the depot that evening, 23rd November 2001.  Only 18 were to survive the slaughter, with the following reaching the ends of their working lives:

8508 8532 8539 8540 8541 8555 8561 8570 8573 8587
8588 8603 8606 8611 8615 8621 8652 8667 8709 8739

It was particularly unfortunate to lose some of the minor celebrities at this time.   8508 was the oldest survivor, an honour that passed to 8522 for a further couple of weeks until this too succumbed, and then 8563.   8570, the preferred choice for the GMT repaint until this coincided with its MOT expiry, had suffered accident damage.  The repaint itself, 8573, had been plagued with gearbox translator panel problems; the final straw was an act of serious vandalism to its upper deck seats while operating an early evening service on the Withins estate. 8667 had been stored at Bury between withdrawal from Oldham during June 2000 and its reinstatement at Bolton during February 2001. 

Thus the 18 survivors were to be the following:

8522 8563 8622 8623 8626 8633 8645 8650 8689
8712 8717 8721 8740 8746 8753 8756 8758 8763

Transfers of Volvo Citybus double-deckers from First Glasgow continued apace, and Bolton was soon also receiving cascaded GMT style Olympians from Wigan, Bury and Oldham depots.  Despite the transfer back to Dukinfield of loaned K-registered Olympians borrowed for schools work, the numbers of incoming vehicles effectively meant that Atlanteans could be withdrawn as soon as any defect was discovered.   Overnight there was a marked reduction in their numbers in the streets; they continued to work the long routes into Manchester but not in the same numbers as before.   By 12thDecember 2001, withdrawals had claimed 8522, 8623, 8717, 8753, 8756 and 8758, leaving only a dozen.   In the week up to Christmas, 8626, 8689 and 8712 were laid up, the latter after service on Christmas Eve.  The type was down to single figures in operation by SELNEC / GMT, predecessors and successors.  New Year�s Eve, 31st December 2001, found Atlanteans seeing out their last Hogmanay noted as follows:

8563, 8622, 8746 561 / 562 / 571 / 572 Bolton-Withins/Great Lever Circulars
8633 Depot
8645, 8650 35 / 39 / 552 / 553 Bolton-Leigh, Leigh-Manchester
8721, 8746, 8763 506 / 507 Bolton-Harwood Circular

Such was the decline in their numbers that there was a gap of three hours during the afternoon between Atlantean appearances in Central Manchester and Salford, with 8645 on the 1439 route 35 from Manchester to Leigh and much later, 8650 on the 1739 departure as far as Atherton.   8650 was thus  the final Atlantean to operate in service in Manchester City Centre in 2001, the final full year of their operation.

Even with only nine examples left, there could still be some odd workings, such as the use of 8740 on route 500 on Thursday 3rd January 2002 and of 8650 on route 575 the same day.   8650 also had the honour of being the last First Manchester Atlantean to reach South Manchester, performing on route 22 between Bolton and Stockport on Friday 4th January 2002, being noted working the 1520 departure from Stockport and proudly showing the correct �via� blind display.   The type also continued to make some appearances on route 94 from Bolton to Manchester via Whitefield, with both 8633 and 8746 in use that same day.

Despite the loss of 8563 at the start of January 2002, there was little warning of what was to come, even though the run-down had been so rapid.  The Fleetlines at Bolton had been down to 17 examples during July 1998 but these dwindled only very gradually and it was January 1999 before the last were withdrawn.  However, during the course of Saturday 5th January 2002, word spread that this was intended to be the final day of Atlantean service with First Manchester.   All bar one of the eight survivors were in use and were noted deployed as follows:

8622 506, withdrawn during day Bolton-Harwood Circular
8633 35 / 39 / 552 / 553 Bolton-Leigh, Leigh-Manchester
8645 35 / 39 / 552 / 553 Bolton-Leigh, Leigh-Manchester
8650 506 Bolton-Harwood Circular
8721 561 / 562 Bolton-Withins Circulars
8740 Depot
8746 94 Bolton-Manchester via Whitefield
8763 571 / 572 Bolton-Great Lever Circulars

Withdrawn and awaiting disposal at Bolton depot were 8563 / 73, 8603 / 06 / 11 / 89, 8712 / 17 / 58.

As it turned out, this was to be the final full day of service.   However, permission was given for the Atlanteans to be rostered to part-day duties on the morning of Monday 7th January 2002.  Where they were allocated to full-day boards, they were to be replaced by other vehicles as soon as possible.  The final workings detailed below have been ascertained by cross-checking with observers on the day and other sources and are believed to be accurate.

8633 was rostered to operate the 0718 peak-hour express service 34 from Lowton to Manchester. 8645 was noted in Leigh showing  �25 contract� on the blinds and its last service journey was scheduled to be the 0745 service 34 from Leigh to Manchester.  Following arrival at Cannon Street, the last to appear here in service, both would return �dead� to Bolton depot and be withdrawn.  8650 was allocated to be used on route 502 during the early morning, but another bus had replaced it before it was due to run �light� to Leigh for the 0820 service 552 back to Bolton.  8740 was put to work on Harwood service 506 and school route 905, but ran to the depot shortly before 0900.  Both of these were withdrawn upon entering the depot for the last time. 8746, which had remained in the depot that morning, was now withdrawn too.

8721, the example rebuilt refurbished after a serious accident during the 1990�s, was employed on service 519 between Bolton and Johnson Fold, driven by Bolton Bus Group member Paul Hoskins and carrying a farewell headboard.   She relinquished duty after the 1015 departure from Johnson Fold, retired to the depot and was then withdrawn.

The last of all to run in service was 8763, numerically the third to last Atlantean delivered to GMT in 1984 and new to Wigan depot.  After operating the 0754 short journey on route 37 from Walkden to Bolton, she then operated the 0835 553 service to Leigh before setting out on her final return trip, the 0936 39 from Leigh to Manchester and the 1056 return journey.  By the time she was ready to leave Manchester, all her sisters had already reached the end of the road.   This was also the last visit of one of the company�s normal service Atlanteans to Manchester and Salford City Centres.

The occasion was captured on film for posterity but the suddenness and timing of the final run meant that only a couple of enthusiasts were able to be present.  Two members of the SELNEC Preservation Society travelled on the final run in service.  To them, it all seemed rather surreal, just like another Atlantean journey to Leigh, a reflection of how quickly the rundown had taken place - such opportunities were commonplace just a few weeks before. 

8763 gave a good account of herself, being in good condition overall and all too soon arrived in Leigh, terminating in King Street Bus Station at 1211, where she was met and recorded on film by Adam Stephenson of the GM Buses Group.  With barely a pause, she was off on her last journey of all, empty to Crook Street depot in Bolton.   The Atlantean era had finally come to an end.

One Atlantean does remain in use with First Manchester, however.  This is 8446, another refurbished example, which is a driver training vehicle.   It was noted in Manchester City Centre on New Year�s Eve 2001 and again on Wednesday 9th January 2002.

There are remarkable similarities between the demise of both the Fleetlines and the Atlanteans with First Manchester.  Both types ended their days at Bolton depot.   The last Fleetline ran in service on 6th January 1999 while the last Atlantean ran in service on 7th January 2002.   Both the last journeys were departures from Manchester Piccadilly and both were on service 39.   On 6th January 1999, 6988 - the third highest numbered Fleetline of the LUT batch and of all the Fleetlines once renumbering to 4988 had occurred - left Piccadilly operating the 1755 service 39 to Atherton, the terminus of that particular journey.   On 7th January 2002, 8763 � the third highest numbered Atlantean prior to renumbering to 4763 � left Piccadilly at 1056 on service 39 to Leigh; ironically this was three years, seventeen hours and one minute after the final Fleetline journey.

The era of Standard operation by the main companies that once formed Greater Manchester Transport has therefore ended, but a few remain in use locally with independent operators, as well as some numbers elsewhere in the country.  EYMS subsidiary Finglands of Rusholme were expected to dispose of their remaining quartet by Christmas 2001, upon delivery of four new low-floor double-deckers.  However, one has remained and is still in use at the time of writing.  This is 8671, numbered 1756 by Finglands.  It can normally be found on services that involve carriage of both schoolchildren and the general public.  MR Travel of Rochdale have late-build metal-framed 8440 and alloy bodied 8437 and 8538 � as well as school contracts these can be seen regularly on local services.   Stotts of Oldham have a number of standard Atlanteans as well as Fleetlines 6984 and 8047, which are all used on school services.   Finally, the other Fleetline survivors are a pair with long-established independent Mayne of Droylsden.   Re-registered IAZ 4775 / 4776, these were formerly 8144 and 8145, and continue to make appearances on peak-hour stage carriage duties at the present time.  However, Rossendale have recently placed their remaining Atlanteans into store.

SELNEC/GMT standards were once so prolific throughout Greater Manchester that for three decades they were synonymous with the area and the PTE and subsequent descendants.   In some areas, for many years, there appeared to be little else.  Now, after over thirty years, they are all gone bar the above exceptions.   Greater Manchester will never be quite the same again.  The 7th January 2002 marked the end of not just one but of two eras, as far as GMT and descendants are concerned.   Firstly, it was the end of Leyland Atlantean operation, which stretched back over five decades since the pre-SELNEC undertakings received their first early examples in 1962.   Secondly, it was the end of operation of first generation standard vehicles, Atlanteans and Fleetlines, designed specifically as a standard vehicle for Greater Manchester requirements by SELNEC PTE.

It is of some comfort to remember that healthy numbers of GMT Standards survive in preservation, reflecting their popularity with enthusiasts and the fact that this was one of the most prolific operator-specific designed types outside of London.   Their numbers have recently been swelled by 8758 and possibly one other recently withdrawn example from Bolton depot.   Others already in private preservation by individuals are Atlanteans 7719, 8151, 8460, 8551 and 8697, and Fleetlines 6927 and 6931.   The Manchester Museum of Transport has Atlanteans 7001 and 8706, while the greatest concentration of them all is with the SELNEC Preservation Society.  Here, the collection of first generation standards includes Atlanteans 7143, 7501, 7960.  Also we have the very first and the very last standard Atlanteans � prototype EX1 and 8765.   The standard Fleetline collection comprises prototype EX 19, 7185, 7206, 7232, 8001, 8141 and former LUT examples 6901 and 6990, together with the unique re-bodied 6912.   Additionally, Atlantean 7070 and Fleetline 6950 have been acquired as a source of spares should the need arise.  With the hard work and dedication of all those involved with all these vehicles, the GMT standard will continue to live on for years to come.

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