Fifty years of Belfast Citybus this weekend

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Citybus standardised on the Alexander (Belfast)-bodied Bristol RE. One such vehicle, TOI 2306, was new in 1979. JOHN WILSON

Nick Larkin reports on an event marking four decades and a lot of change for one south-east operator

Half a century of Citybus in Belfast is being celebrated on Saturday 1 April. A gathering of historic and modern vehicles is taking place at Galwally House in the city from 1000 to 1700hrs. Buses will run regularly into Belfast, including a stop at Donegal Square South. There will also be displays of photos and memorabilia.

The event is being organised by Irish Transport Heritage. Spokesman John Wilson said: “We are expecting around 10 to 15 buses and it will be a great chance for Citybus employees past and present to meet up and share memories. We hope as many people as possible will come along and enjoy travelling on the buses.”


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In 1967 the Ulster Transport Authority, which had run all state controlled transport in the province, was split into road and rail operations and a new company, Ulsterbus, formed to take over bus operations. Northern Ireland’s only municipal operator, Belfast Corporation was, with local government reorganisation, changed into Citybus. It became a sister company to Ulsterbus, sharing the same top management including legendary managing director Werner Heubeck.

Both fleets suffered massively in Northern Ireland’s troubles, with buses hijacked, often for use as barricades, and depots the target of bombers. Seventeen drivers were killed and 1,500 buses destroyed in Northern Ireland during the entire terrorism campaign, but not only did the buses keep running but under Heubeck’s control, they turned in a profit.

Citybus, which had its own cream and red livery, bought many secondhand vehicles from British mainland operators, including London Transport AEC Swifts, to replace those lost. The Bristol RELL with Alexander (Belfast) bodywork became the standard Citybus vehicle. The chassis was bought until 1982, though withdrawn from the British market in 1976. In February 2005, Citybus was rebranded as Metro, and a predominantly pink livery was adopted.

Event organiser Irish Transport Heritage was founded in 1969 to cater for all interested in the study of passenger transport. Details of its work and the Citybus 50 event can be found at

Alexander-bodied Leyland Tigers such this 1991 example were also bought in large numbers. JOHN WILSON