Putting the Bee Line back in Berkshire and investing in the fleet

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Richard Sharman makes a bee line for Slough to see how a well known and popular fleet name is making a comeback, and looks at its various iterations over the years

What’s in a name? Many powerful local identities have been vanished away by corporate brands over the years, or at least reduced to only appearing on the legal address of a bus. The bullish nature of banishing away brands that passengers know and love was really a product of bus deregulation, but by the late 1990s had really taken hold. Whilst I am sure the paint companies loved this approach, passengers found it much harder to associate or relate to the new corporate names of companies with head offices in Aberdeen, Perth, Sunderland and beyond than the one that was just down the road.

However, every now and then, someone in the corporate machine recognises that heritage sells, potentially attracts passengers back, and we in turn see some iconic names back on the road, and that is exactly what is happening at First Bus’ Slough depot.

Earlier this year some purple and orange-liveried Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMCs appeared in the town, minus any vinyls. Whilst not the previous bright yellow, a rebrand of some kind was obviously on the cards and some weeks later new timetable inserts at bus stops started displaying the Bee Line name.


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“First Berkshire is heading back to its Bee Line roots following the development of a new local identity brand working in partnership with Heathrow Airport,” explained Head of Operations Carol Sim. “Beeline in Berkshire dates back to 1986 when The Berks Bucks Bus company took over Alder Valley to prepare for privatisation. Years later Bee Line was sold to Centrewest in 1996 and then to FirstGroup in 1997. In 2001, it was rebranded as First Berkshire & The Thames Valley, as it is today but trading under First Beeline.”

New buses

In addition to the rebrand, the fleet has also seen an influx of Euro VI buses, with nine former CityRed Wightbus StreetLites arriving from the closure of the company’s former Southampton operations and more significantly the return of double deckers to Slough depot after many years absence in the the form of 13 68- and 19-plate Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMCs for use on route 7 between Britwell, Slough, Langley, Colnbrook and Heathrow Airport, a service with a frequency of every 20 minutes.

Only five Volvo 9700H saloons remain in service here, with the rest joining a number from First Essex in storage.

“Since the pandemic, First has been working in partnership with Heathrow to help support recovering passenger numbers at the airport by growing back local bus frequencies to pre-Covid levels,” explained Carol. “With Heathrow routes now becoming increasingly busy, particularly with around-the-clock airport workers, First has introduced double-deckers to its routes 4 and 7 to help manage increasing demand.

“This provided an opportunity to re-launch the Bee Line brand, with new bold colours designed by Best Impressions, bringing the bee back to the fore and also adopting the Heathrow brand signifying the strength of partnership. The partnership has seen a number of improvements being made to fares and ticketing, which along with the new livery are proving hugely popular with passengers. The new brand is designed to give a clear, local identity that any bus in the new livery will get you to the airport and will be extended to all Heathrow routes this year.”

At the time of writing, Slough’s bus station still remains closed following suspected arson attack on a parked bus which caused fire damage to the roof in November 2022. There is little sign of the bus station reopening any time soon, so all services use alternative stops on the roads around it.

Alongside a really good printed timetable booklet, Slough’s section of the First Bus website has been updated to use the new Bee Line brand, although still also refers to the area as First Bus Berkshire & The Thames Valley, the name the division was given back in 2001. Overall, the rebrand of Slough’s depot services to Bee Line can only be seen as a positive, and whilst the new livery is not yellow, the purple and orange looks smart and modern.

Wright Eclipse Uraban-bodied Volvo B7RLE 69390 invites passengers to ‘buzz around Slough or buzz off to the airport.’ RICHARD SHARMAN
Freshly painted 34383 is seen outside of Slough’s currently closed bus station. RICHARD SHARMAN
69387 shows off its route branding; note the small First lettering above the Bee Line fleet name. RICHARD SHARMAN











A very early view of the Bee Line identity in October 1987 on Alder Valley liveried-Bristol VRT XMO 541H in Reading bus station. Alder Valley North took over the Bracknell, High Wycombe, Maidenhead, Newbury, Reading and Wokingham operations of Alder Valley as part of the preparations for the privatisation of the National Bus Company. It was later renamed The Berks Bucks Bus Company, with Bee Line as the trading name. JULIAN DOLMAN
A late evening shot of Northern Counties-bodied Scania L113CRL 819, M819 PGM, wearing the updated version of the livery. A number of Berkhof Excellence-bodied Scania K113CRB coaches arrived at the same time as this batch for use on the RailAir service, which still comes under the Bee Line operation today. RICHARD SHARMAN
A 1994 view of Slough depot and two Leyland Nationals at rest. JULIAN DOLMAN