Stagecoach X5

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Volvo B11R Plaxton Elite YX64 WCE Oxford StGiles.jpg
OperatorStagecoach in Bedford
VehicleVolvo B9R (2009–14)
Volvo B11R (2015–present)
PredecessorsStagecoach United Counties
StartGloucester Green bus station, Oxford
ViaBicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes, Milton Keynes Coachway, Bedford, St Neots
EndParkside, Cambridge
Length85 miles (137 km)

Stagecoach X5 is an inter-urban bus service linking Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes, Bedford and St Neots.

The route started in 1992[1]with an hourly service which was increased to half-hourly in 2005; new vehicles were introduced in 2009 and again in 2015. It operates with a 30-minute frequency for much of the day. Vehicles advertise free WiFi access, air conditioning and leather seats and are wheelchair accessible. The route carried 500,000 users in 2008; passenger numbers have grown by 150% between 2004 and 2009, leading to some problems with overcrowding. As of 2014, according to Stagecoach East's Managing Director, Andy Campbell, the route carries on average 1.3 million passengers annually. It is operated by the group's Stagecoach in Bedford division.


Jonckheere bodied Volvo B10M at Oxford railway station in October 2003
Plaxton Premiere bodied Volvo B10M in Milton Keynes in December 2006
Plaxton Panther bodied Volvo B9R in Cambridge in September 2012

Route X5 was launched in September 1995. It operated hourly and provided a number of new links between towns which had not previously been connected by bus or rail services. It was initially branded as Varsity, a reference to a pre-World War II service between Oxford and Cambridge via Luton, and to the Varsity Line, a railway route between the university cities closed in 1967. The western part of the route replaced an infrequent Stagecoach United Counties service between Oxford and Bedford.[2] The route was initially operated with by ex Wallace Arnold Plaxton Premiere Volvo B10Ms.[3][4]

The route remained largely unchanged until August 2004, when it was diverted via Roxton and Wyboston to replace withdrawn local services.[5] Further changes around the same time saw the X5 diverted to serve Eaton Socon and St Neots town centres rather than serving the towns via a stop on the A421 bypass road, thereby adding to the journey time between Bedford and Cambridge and making a mockery of the ideas that it is in anyway an express route. However, evening journeys were sped up by avoiding Eltisley, which was instead covered by another route.[2]

Early in 2005 the X5 was doubled in frequency to operate half-hourly. This received some positive feedback, although evening services were criticised for being too infrequent and offering few through journeys.[2][4]

In 2006 the route briefly faced competition in the form of an air service between the two termini operated by Sky Commuter.[6] This followed an unsuccessful attempt by Alpha One Airways to operate on the corridor.[7]

In April 2007 the route was curtailed within Oxford to terminate at Gloucester Green bus station site and no longer serve the little used final section to Oxford railway station. The changes were in part due to new European Union driver hours limits.[2]

A modified double-decker bus with extra luggage space was trialled in 2007, with a view to introducing double-deck operation on the route,[8] but was not deemed successful, so the service continued to be operated with high-floor Volvo B10M coaches.[2]

In 2008 the route was rebranded as Cross County, a name also used for the X4 service between Milton Keynes and Peterborough. Passenger numbers improved dramatically, with over 500,000 users in 2008.[2]

In August 2009 it was reported that some passengers in the St Neots area were being left behind by coaches on the route as they were too full.[9] This problem escalated in December 2009, when higher than expected loadings saw many evening journeys significantly overcrowded.[10] Between 2004 and 2009 patronage increased by 150%.[11] Another name used to promote the service was The X Factor.[3]

The service was slightly rerouted in August 2011 to serve the town centre in Buckingham instead of stopping at the more remote Tesco superstore. Its timetable was also recast, with additional peak-hour journeys introduced.[12]


Plaxton Elite bodied Volvo B11R in Station Square, Milton Keynes in May 2018

The X5 connects Oxford and Cambridge via Bicester, Buckingham, Milton Keynes, Bedford and St Neots.[13] It provides interchange facilities for national north-south services at Milton Keynes by serving Milton Keynes Coachway and Milton Keynes Central railway station.[3]

The route is 85 miles (137 km) long, and largely follows the path of the notional Oxford-Cambridge Arc. The eastbound service commences at Oxford's Gloucester Green bus station. It then heads for Bicester, stopping near Bicester shopping village and ManorsfieldRoad in Bicester town centre. The route calls at Bicester North railway station (added to the route in 2008), then moves on to the town centre of Buckingham, before heading for Milton Keynes.[2][13]

In Milton Keynes, the service stops at the Milton Keynes Central railway station to interchange with rail services on the West Coast Main Line and the Stagecoach bus route X4 to Peterborough and route 99 to Luton Airport, at Milton Keynes Shopping Centre, and at the Milton Keynes Coachway where it interconnects with National Express north-south services. The route continues to the Bedford bus station, where drivers change over. Thereafter, the service diverts through Eaton Socon where it picks up a number of passengers for its next stop in St Neots and then on towards Cambridge. Entering the outskirts of Cambridge, it serves the park and ride site at Madingley Road before reaching its terminus at Cambridge's Parkside on Parker's Piece.

The service is part of Stagecoach's Megabus network.[14] It is also marketed as a rail link service, and appears in the National Rail timetable.[15]


In 2009, a fleet of 17 Plaxton Panther bodied Volvo B9Rs were introduced onto the service.[2][16] These in turn were replaced on 4 January 2015 by 18 Plaxton Elite bodied Volvo B11Rs painted in a new blue colour scheme, with a sky blue towards the front of the coach and a navy blue containing outlines of Stagecoach's logo in sky blue towards the rear.[4][17][18]


Following the 2008 relaunch the route won two industry awards. The first came at the 2009 UK Bus Awards, where the route won the Express Operation of the Year award by a unanimous decision.[11]. There is some suggestion that the judges were drunk and had clearly never done the trip, and had to sit for over 45 minutes just to travel through Milton Keynes. A year later, the route won the Coach Marketing award at the 2010 UK Coach Awards for a promotion effort by Stagecoach.However, according to local newspapers, the X5 was also voted worst route in the UK. One bus driver has been quoted saying that they expect the X5 to break down at least once a week.[19]


  1. ^ Medium-length Trip Patterns: Stage 1 - report & discussion paper: Examples of inter-urban bus services: Route X5 Oxford - Milton Keynes - Bedford - Cambridge, Commission for Integrated Transport, September 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Jolly, Stephen (April 2009). "Stagecoach X5: All things to all men, women and bicycles". Buses (649): 36–38.
  3. ^ a b c "Inter-urban bus services". Commission for Integrated Transport. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  4. ^ a b c "Elites on the X5" Buses issue 721 April 2015 pages 52-55
  5. ^ County to pick up stranded bus passengers - Biggleswade News - Bedford Today Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite
  6. ^ "Another Oxbridge first". The Daily Telegraph. London. 6 February 2006.
  7. ^ "Simon Calder: Is Varsity a match for the UK's railways?". The Independent. London. 6 March 2010. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  8. ^ "Oxbridge bus survey (From Witney Gazette)". Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  9. ^ "New-look buses are too popular". Cambridge City News. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  10. ^ "Passengers left in cold as buses 'too full'". Cambridge City News. Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  11. ^ a b UK Bus Awards - Express Operation of the Year 2009 Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite
  12. ^ Change of bus route as X5 to stop in Buckingham town centre Buckingham Today, 6 August 2011
  13. ^ a b X5 stops – Stagecoach
  14. ^ "Stagecoach X5 - FAQs". Archived from the original on 1 January 2011.
  15. ^ Table 65a GB rail timetable winter edition 11: 12 December 2010 – 21 May 2011
  16. ^ New coach fleet for cross country service Transport Xtra issue 385 20 March 2009
  17. ^ Stagecoach orders new vehicles for Cambridge operations Stagecoach 22 September 2014
  18. ^ New look coaches on Stagecoach Oxford-Bedford-Cambridge route hit the road Bedfordshire on Sunday 3 January 2015
  19. ^ UK Coach Awards ceremony 2010 Archived 1 January 2011 at WebCite

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