National Express Coaches
|Parent||National Express Group|
|Service area||England, Scotland & Wales|
|Service type||Intercity coach services|
|Hubs||Birmingham Coach Station
London Victoria Coach Station
|Chief executive||Andrew Cleaves|
- 1 History
- 2 Operations
- 3 Fares
- 4 Fleet
- 5 On-board services
- 6 Accidents
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Pursuant to the Transport Act 1968, the National Bus Company was formed and many local bus companies were nationalised. Many of these bus companies also operated coach services and these were initially branded as National, the National Express brand was first used in 1974 although the actual coach services continued to be operated by the individual companies.
Coach services were de-regulated under the Transport Act 1980 and buses by the Transport Act 1985. In March 1988 the National Bus Company was privatised in a management buyout. In July 1989 the company bought ATL Holdings with operations in Sheffield and a 50% share in Yelloway Trathen, which was renamed Trathen Travel Services.
In August 1989 the Eurolines services from London to Alicante, Barcelona and Paris were purchased from Wallace Arnold, and the express services in Scotland and to London from Stagecoach with 29 coaches. These were operated under the Caledonian Express brand.
For most of its existence, National Express had little, if any, competition in the long-distance coach market. A number of operators had attempted to compete with the company after deregulation in 1980, the largest being the British Coachways consortium, but most had given up competition by the end of the decade. However in 2003, Stagecoach introduced Megabus, a no-frills service whose £1 fares sparked a price war with National Express in autumn 2004. The competition intensified in 2007 when Megabus transferred its London terminus from the Green Line Coach Station into the main Victoria Coach Station.
In November 2007 National Express announced plans to re-brand all its operations under a new unified National Express identity. As part of this the coach operation received a slightly different livery, retaining the red white and blue theme, but with a new lower-case logo. Coaches started appearing in the new livery from December 2007.
National Express offers many standard routes to destinations across the country. In addition, shuttle and airport services are also operated, although there is no obvious difference to the passenger between a standard, shuttle or airport service with regard to branding.
Many National Express coach routes pass through several town centres, which increases journey times for longer journeys considerably. A smaller number of Shuttle services operate at least once an hour over faster direct routes.
National Express operates Airport services to a number of different airports, including East Midlands, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton and Stansted. The Airport brand was created in 2003 when the National Express image brand was updated merging the former Airlink, Flightlink, Jetlink and Speedlink brands. In the 2007 re-brand, the Airport branding was dropped, although the 'Airport' coding is still used on tickets.
Accessible coach routes
Nearly all National Express services are scheduled to use vehicles with a wheelchair lift. These vehicles feature a wider entrance and a completely flat floor throughout the coach to aid mobility for all. The NX Magic Floor Lift is incorporated into the passenger entrance and when deployed, the wheelchair is locked in place and the customer safely and securely uses the same standard three-point seat belt as other customers.
A very small number of regular coaches on the network do not yet contain wheelchair access, although with pre-booking it is often possible to schedule an appropriate vehicle where necessary. All these vehicles are expected to be withdrawn from normal service by mid-2013. Certain one-day a week journeys and duplicate services are not operated using vehicles featuring the 'Magic Floor Lift'.
Newer vehicles include reclining leather seats, plug sockets, air conditioning and a large toilet.
The majority of National Express services are contracted on long-term agreements to local coach companies, known as Partner Operators. As part of the contract, operators are required to use coaches in full National Express livery. On occasion, an operator will use its own branded vehicle due to lack of availability, but will be penalized financially for doing so. A wider list of additional operators are also available to 'bid' for occasional work on the network - usually providing a one-off duplicate service to meet demand. Whilst still having to meet strict criteria, these coaches are usually not in National Express livery.
Below is a list of partner operators
- Ambassador Travel, Great Yarmouth
- Bennetts Coaches, Gloucester
- Bruce's Coaches, Salsburgh
- Chalfont Coaches, Southall
- Chenery, Dickleburgh
- East Yorkshire Motor Services, Hull
- E Stott & Son, Huddersfield
- Epsom Coaches
- Excelsior Coaches, Bournemouth
- Galloway European, Mendlesham
- Go North East, Chester-Le-Street
- Johnson Bros, Worksop
- Lucketts Travel, Fareham
- Park's, Hamilton
- Peter Godward, South Woodham Ferrers
- RATP Yellow Buses, Bournemouth
- Salisbury Reds Buses, Salisbury
- Selwyns Travel, Runcorn
- Silverdale Tours, Nottingham
- South Gloucestershire Bus & Coach, Patchway
- Stagecoach South East, Dover
- Stagecoach Yorkshire, Barnsley
- Stuarts Coaches, Carluke
- Travelstar European, Walsall
- Travel de Courcey, Coventry
- Travellers Choice, Carnforth
- Ulsterbus, Belfast
- Whittles Coach & Bus, Kidderminster
- Yeomans Canyon Travel, Hereford
- YourBus, Durham & Heanor
National Express tickets are available in a variety of methods and different pricing structures. Traditionally, tickets are sold through National Express ticket offices at coach stations, or by third-party agents at various bus stations and travel agents. These sell tickets generally at the 'Standard Fare' or at 'Advance Fares' when booking in advance. A similar ticketing structure also applies with the telephone booking service.
With the introduction of competition from Megabus, more competitive internet-only Funfares were introduced. These often have stricter conditions imposed, such as being non-refundable, and are restricted to certain corridors only.
Other ticket types include 'Season Tickets' and 'Multi-rides', aimed at frequent travellers, although in many cases FunFares are cheaper; and BritXplorer, which allows foreign tourists unlimited travel for a specified period.
National Express currently offers a range of four coachcards to customers which allow discounts on National Express tickets. These are:
- Young Person Coachcard – Available to young people aged under 26 and to full-time students of any age. This discount card allows a third off the standard fare, plus 10% off events services.
- Family Coachcard – Available in a '1+1' or '2+2' format, this enables one child (3–15) to travel for free with one full fare paying adult (or 2 children with 2 adults).
- Senior Coachcard – Following the Governments scrapping of the Concessionary half price fares for the over 60's in October 2011, National Express introduced a Senior Coachcard which enables the holder one third off the standard fare. Initially, these were not valid on services to/from airports, however following complaints from passengers, this restriction was removed in March 2012.
- Disabled Coachcard – Following the government's scrapping of the concessionary half-price fares for disabled people in October 2011, National Express introduced a Disabled Coachcard enabling the holder one third off the standard fare. Initially, these were not valid on services to/from airports but, following complaints from passengers, this restriction was removed in March 2012. Students and those under 26 can also get 10% off events services.
National Express and its franchises operate a number of different vehicle types.
The primary coach type on the network is the Caetano Levante (which is used on both 2 and 3 axles). This has been the main vehicle of choice since 2006.
Other branded vehicles used on the network include (in order of quantity):
- Plaxton Elite (2 and 3 axle versions)
- Plaxton Panther
- Van Hool Acron (Tri-Axle - only used by Chalfont)
- Caetano Enigma
- Irizar i6 (Ulsterbus only)
In the mid-1980s during the Rapide era, an on-board tea service and on-board televisions were in operation. These were given extensive advertising campaigns as profiled on the BBC Three documentary History of the Coach, profiling various uses the public makes of such public transport systems.
In April 2001 National Express phased out its on-board catering service, having already phased out its on-board television service in the 1990s. However, in late 2004 National Express launched NXTV or National Xpress Television. Rather than showing a whole film as on an aircraft, NXTV would instead show various episodes of British television series such as A Touch of Frost, My Family and Top Gear, all of which were commissioned by ITV and the BBC. The service would be displayed on small monitors situated above the overhead luggage compartments, powered by a motor to move downwards and upwards while the programming would be played from a DVD drive situated at the drivers dashboard.
The service was quickly phased out in the summer of 2006, due to a lack of interest in purchasing headphones, available at vending machines in the major stations and also via on-board vendors before a journey. The reasons for the service's failure was that the headphone jack was compatible with any headphone, removing any reason to buy those offered. Also, by the time NXTV was launched, the Apple iPod was already at its height of popularity, diverting interest away from it. Programming was also very limited, with many of the episodes being frequent repeats from terrestrial television. The headphones were later given away for free when the service was finally about to be ceased. The advertising slogan was "Television shows as you board the coach".
National Express Coaches now offers free WiFi on selected coaches. This is most commonly found on board the newer Caetano Levante fleet.
Since National Express started operating, there have been few crashes involving its coaches. Early incidents were:
26 July 1974: Three killed and over 30 injured when a double-decker overturned on the M1 near Luton after swerving to avoid an earlier collision.
17 August 1983: Three killed on the M4 motorway near Swindon when a lorry careered into the side of a coach.
3 August 1985: One killed and 40 injured when a double-decker overturned on the A1(M) in County Durham after swerving to avoid a sheep on the carriageway.
3 January 2007 
Crash and emergency response
A Neoplan Skyliner N122/3L coach was operating on route 592 and was heading towards Aberdeen. It left Victoria Coach Station at 22:30 (GMT), carrying 65 passengers, and was due to arrive at Aberdeen Coach Park at 10:30 (GMT) on 4 January 2007. The coach was due to call en route at Heathrow Airport, Carlisle, Hamilton, Glasgow and Dundee.
The crash occurred on the motorway slip road connecting the westbound M4 motorway to the northbound (clockwise) M25 motorway, at approximately the point where the slip road merges with the slip road from the eastbound M4. At this point the slip road is on a downhill gradient with a right turn with decreasing radius, necessitating a posted advisory speed limit of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h).
A total of five fire appliances, twenty London ambulances, eight doctors and one specialist fire service unit attended the accident scene. The injured were treated at six different hospitals. Thirty six passengers were taken to Hillingdon Hospital, sixteen to Charing Cross Hospital, seven to West Middlesex Hospital, four to St Peter's Hospital, one child was taken to St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington, and another child to Wexham Park Hospital in Slough.
Two people were killed in the crash: a 30-year-old male Chinese national, Yi Di Lin, and a woman named Christina Munro Toner, 76, of Monifieth, Dundee. Another passenger, John Carruthers, 78, of Chertsey, Surrey, died on 1 July 2007 from injuries sustained in the crash.
The coach driver was arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving, but released on police bail. He was named by police as Philip Rooney, of Lanarkshire, Scotland. Following police investigations Rooney was charged with three counts of causing death by dangerous driving.
National Express took its remaining 11 Neoplan Skyliners out of service for safety checks, all of which were operated under franchise by Trathens Travel Services of Plymouth, a subsidiary of Park's of Hamilton. The coaches were relatively new at the time of the crash, having been delivered in October 2006. The vast majority of the National Express fleet comprises single-deck coaches, and its services were not significantly affected by the recall. It was originally reported that the coaches would be stopped where they were, but they were in fact stopped at their destination. Neoplan announced on 5 January that all the coaches had passed their safety checks, with no safety problems or defects being found, and were ready to return to service "as and when the operator wishes".
The driver of the coach initially denied all three charges of causing death by dangerous driving at a hearing at Reading Magistrates' Court. Rooney was bailed to appear at Oxford Crown Court on 8 September 2008 for a committal hearing for trial on 27 October 2008. He subsequently changed his plea to guilty of all three counts of causing death by dangerous driving at a hearing at the Old Bailey. Rooney was again bailed, this time by Mr Justice Gross, until sentencing. On 26 November 2008 at Oxford Crown Court, Mr Justice Gross jailed Rooney for five years.
Oxford Crown Court was told that the coach driver was speaking to passengers via the public address system, making a "safety announcement" while speeding round a bend. One witness described Rooney's control of the coach as he "drove like a man possessed". It was confirmed on the Court record that as a direct result of Rooney's actions, two persons died in the crash, and a further person died on 1 July 2007. Furthermore, four passengers had to have limbs amputated, and many more needed to be cut from the wreckage by firefighters using special cutting equipment. The Court also heard that Rooney had previous speeding convictions, and that he had repeatedly exceeded speed limits on this journey, as proven by tachograph evidence. Rooney's manner of driving, particularly his heavy braking, caused luggage to fall from the overhead baggage racks.
Prosecutor Richard Latham QC told the Court that passengers had reported that the coach was being "driven significantly faster, as if the driver was seeking to make up for lost time". Before the coach left Victoria coach station it had been delayed by half an hour due to the luggage of one family not being able to fit on the coach. The Court heard that as Rooney approached the motorway slip road sharp bend, he was driving the coach at 55 miles per hour (89 km/h), exceeding the 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) speed limit. The coach clipped one crash barrier and Rooney then lost control of the vehicle. It skidded sideways for some distance before hitting a second crash barrier and finally overturning.
At an earlier Court hearing, it was confirmed that Rooney had five previous convictions for speeding in passenger vehicles. It was also confirmed that he had been disciplined in December 2004 by his employer for "tampering with a speed limiter". On sentencing Rooney, Mr Justice Gross told him and the Court: "No sentence I pass can undo the events of that day and the deaths and injuries that resulted". As well as being jailed for five years, Rooney was also banned from driving for a further three years.
3 September 2007
Crash and emergency response
The single-decker coach, travelling southbound on the M1 motorway, which had recently stopped at Coventry, was the National Express Coach 777 service from Birmingham to London Stansted Airport, via London Luton Airport. There were 33 passengers on board at the time of the accident, of whom 30 were injured, six seriously.
The coach rolled on to its side after it clipped a kerb and then a lamp post and tree at the entry to a motorway slip road by the Newport Pagnell services area on the southbound M1 motorway. It was ultimately confirmed that the coach driver mistook the entry to the service area for a major junction on the M1.
The driver of the coach was arrested by Thames Valley Police in hospital on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol and dangerous driving after being cut free from the wreckage. He had earlier been breath tested at the scene of the collision.
National Express decided not to withdraw the fleet of coaches to conduct tests. It was deemed that there were no faults with the vehicles, leaving the cause of the crash to driver error.
The Chief Executive, Richard Bowker, defended the company's safety record on the Today programme, stating that drivers faced stringent tests both during the recruitment process and during their employment. He confirmed that National Express were fully co-operating with the police investigation, and insisted that it was extremely rare for National Express to have an accident like this,
The coach driver
Two days after the crash, police were still waiting to question the coach driver. The driver had sustained serious injuries, including an injured arm and cracked ribs, and was being treated at Northampton General Hospital. Police officers had to guard the driver in hospital until he was declared fit to answer police questions. The police confirmed that the slip road where the coach crashed needed to be re-surfaced due to damage caused by a diesel spill. The coach driver was released from hospital on 10 September, and was also released on police bail, to attend Milton Keynes police station on 1 October for further questioning.
On 23 November 2007, police announced they had yet to decide whether to charge the driver. The police explained that, due to delays in receiving forensic evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service was unable to make a fully informed decision on whether to bring charges. The 35-year-old driver from West Bromwich, who had still not been named, was further bailed until 28 January 2008.
On 28 January 2008, the National Express coach driver, now identified as Leslie Weinberg, 36, was officially charged with driving under the influence of excess alcohol, and a further charge of dangerous driving. He was due to appear on 12 February 2008 at Milton Keynes Magistrates' Court to answer the charges. Weinburg's actions left eight people needing hospital treatment for their injuries. Weinberg was subsequently dismissed by National Express as a result of the charge.
On 14 April 2008, Weinberg's actions were finally made public, via full evidence in court. Appearing before Judge Christopher Tyrer at Aylesbury Crown Court, Weinberg pleaded guilty to the two charges. The Court was told that Weinberg had a drink-drive reading of 145 milligrams (0.0051 oz) of alcohol in 100 millilitres (3.520 imp fl oz; 3.381 US fl oz) of blood – the UK legal limit is 80 milligrams (0.0028 oz) per 100 ml. Six passengers suffered serious injuries as a direct result of Weinberg's actions; one man had an arm amputated. The Judge warned Weinburg to expect a jail sentence, and stated: "This is serious. The circumstances are very grave". The Judge continued: "As a result of your intoxication, you completely mistook where you were. You mistook the exit of the motorway and a number of people were seriously injured". The case was adjourned to seek medical reports on Wienburg, to re-appear during the week of 26 May 2008 for sentencing. Judge Christopher Tyrer imposed an Interim Disqualification Order which banned Weinberg from driving, and told him: "This is way past the custody threshold, and you should make arrangements accordingly".
Weinberg was sentenced on 24 June 2008. On re-appearing at Aylesbury Crown Court, it became known that Weinberg had returned from holiday the day before, and chose to stay up alone all night drinking. The court was told that the following day Weinburg drove a National Express coach on a regular service from Birmingham to Stansted Airport. While travelling southbound on the M1, Weinberg overtook a lorry on the approach to a motorway junction. He then cut back in front of the lorry, and claimed to have mistaken the service station entry slip road for that of the actual junction exit slip road. As the coach entered the slip road, its tachograph showed that the coach was travelling at 57 miles per hour (92 km/h). It then hit a kerb, and passengers reported the coach 'took off'. It then rolled on to its side, sliding into a lamp-post and a tree.
Leslie Weinberg was jailed for ten months and fined £500. He was disqualified from driving for four years for the guilty plea of driving with excess alcohol, and had a further concurrent two-year disqualification for the guilty plea of dangerous driving.
A collision occurred on 4 September 2009 at Gatwick Airport, when a Ford Ka collided with and ended up underneath a National Express Coach. The single occupant of the car, 34-year-old Melanie Wisden from Ely, Cardiff was crushed and killed instantly. She had just dropped a friend off at Gatwick Airport's North Terminal. The coach driver was taken to hospital and treated for shock. One coach passenger suffered a minor wrist injury. The subsequent road closures caused tailbacks stretching back as far as the M25 and beyond.
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