Excellence on the X1

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First Eastern Counties is trialling the Ensignbus Excellence for two weeks on the X1. ANDY IZATT

First Bus has been quick to trial a Chinese-built Ensignbus Excellence on First Eastern Counties long X1 route. Andy Izatt travelled on the bus from Peterborough to King’s Lynn

First Eastern Counties marathon 110-mile X1 route between Peterborough and Lowestoft is not one for the fainthearted. For operational reasons it has now been divided into two sections, Peterborough to Norwich and Norwich to Lowestoft, but remains a gruelling test for any vehicle.

The incumbent X1 fleet comprises Enviro400s, 22 of which were bought new in 2013. They have 67 generously spaced leather-covered seats, air-conditioning and free WiFi, but such is the demanding nature of the service First has started exploring what might replace them. Historically it cascades X1 vehicles after five to six years frontline operation. An Enviro400 MMC-bodied Scania has been trialled in service for several months and the possible use of tri-axle Scania Touring coaches has also been evaluated.

First has also been keen to evaluate the Cummins-powered, Chinese-built BCI double-decker that Ensignbus is now importing as the 12.5m tri-axle Enterprise and 10.8m two-axle Excellence. Comfortably into the peak hiring season for schools, Ensignbus’ own four Enterprises are currently fully committed, but one is expected on the X1 in August. However, with the first two-axle Excellences now entering service, one of those is currently being trialled in the interim for two weeks. It’s one of the 10 buses that the Purfleet operator specified for daily operation on its own Thurrock route network, not its green painted demonstrator which is fitted with seatbelts. With CBW’s office in Peterborough, this was an ideal opportunity to see what a BCI ’decker had to offer principally from a passenger perspective.

First impressions
There was a warm welcome from the driver of the Ensignbus Excellence which was making the 1005hrs departure from Peterborough Queensgate Bus Station for Norwich. It was the vehicle’s second day in service with First Eastern Counties and we left on time with just seven passengers on-board including myself.

I elected to initially sit at the rear downstairs and was immediately impressed by the[…]

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