North Western Road Car Company (1986)

North Western Road Car Company (1986)

The North Western Road Car Company Ltd was a former bus operator based in Liverpool, England. The company operated between 1986 and 1998.



In 1986 prior to deregulation the of bus industry the then Conservative government under the direction of the Secretary of State for Transport Nicholas Ridley stipulated that some former National Bus Company (NBC) divisions needed to be split in order to boost competition. Ribble Motor Services whose operations stretched across North West England - from Cumbria to the East Lancashire/West Yorkshire borders and Greater Manchester to West Lancashire/North Merseyside was one such company and in the Summer of 1986 its Merseyside - Aintree and Bootle, West Lancashire - Skelmersdale and Greater Manchester - Wigan depots were incorporated into a new company - North Western Road Car Company Ltd taking the name of a company which historically had been based in Stockport and whose operations in Cheshire, Derbyshire, South-East Lancashire and what became Greater Manchester had been absorbed by NBC into Crosville Motor Services, Ribble and Trent Motor Traction and the SELNEC PTE in 1974. The head office for this 'new' North Western was at 503 Hawthorne Road, Bootle (next door but one to Bootle Depot at 499 Hawthorne Road) later moving to the Aintree depot in Liverpool and a new livery of red and blue separated by a grey diamond stripe replaced NBC's poppy red along with promotional branding of A New Kind of Service, From a Different Kind of Bus Company.

Drawlane ownership

In March 1988 North Western was sold by NBC to one of the emerging groups in the British bus industry the Drawlane Group Ltd - later known as British Bus Ltd. Prior to this North Western had been expanding - the most notable being the introduction of high frequency minibus services to areas of Liverpool/Merseyside like Kensington, Wavertree, Old Swan, West Derby, Broadgreen/Knotty Ash/Dovecot and Huyton which traditionally were not part of Ribble's operating territory and had seen a decline in service provision from former PTE/NBC operators Merseybus and Crosville in particular after Crosville closed its Liverpool depot after an industrial dispute in February 1987. Many expected Merseybus to retaliate against North Western, but it was under siege from new companies like Fareway and Liverline (see later) who began extensive operations in North/South Liverpool. This allowed North Western's competitive moves to pass unchallenged and further expansion in Liverpool seemed likely. However the next opportunity for expansion came with the troubled Crosville Motor Services.

Crosville acquisition

Crosville like Ribble had seen its English and Welsh operations - now Crosville Cymru, split and after abandoning Liverpool (see above) what remained of Crosville in Cheshire and in particular the Wirral was unprofitable due to increased competition not only from Merseybus but also from Staffordshire based Potteries Motor Traction (PMT) which was in a phase of expansion and began a new operation on the Wirral called Red Rider as well as new entrants like Busman Buses, CMT Buses, Gold Star and Wirral Bus. Crosville was sold by NBC in 1988 to American banking consortium ATL but ATL's acquisition of Crosville was thought to be a short term move for them to sell the company on for a profit and indeed ATL did sell Crosville on to Drawlane in the Autumn of 1989. Initially Drawlane claimed it wanted to develop Crosville and by the end of 1989 a brighter 1980s style green/cream livery and Crosville logos was introduced. However these operations bordered not only North Western's but those of Midland Red North which was also owned by Drawlane and at the beginning of 1990 Drawlane took the decision to absorb the Crosville operations at Runcorn, Warrington and Winsford into North Western with those at Crewe and Macclesfield becoming part of Midland Red North. Additionally the Crosville depot's at Rock Ferry - Birkenhead, Chester and Ellesmere Port were sold by Drawlane to PMT who maintained Crosville fleetnames albeit with PMT's red/yellow livery.

Bee Line, Amberline and Liverline

In the early 1990s Drawlane purchased Greater Manchester-based Bee Line Buzz Company Ltd from the BET Group. Bee Line used high frequency minibuses and was a major competitor for former PTE operator GM Buses. After the Drawlane takeover Bee Line became a subsidiary of North Western who retained Bee Line branding but began to refocus the service network more towards the south of Greater Manchester with conventional sized vehicles replacing most of the minibuses. In the Spring of 1993 British Bus Ltd - what Drawlane had become, acquired Crosville Cymru from the National Express Group who in 1989 had purchased a Liverpool based operator Amberline. This proved a good move for North Western as Amberline's South Liverpool operations were consolidated further when British Bus acquired of one of Liverpool's three medium-sized independents Liverline Travel Services Ltd in the Spring/Summer of 1993. Liverline were one of the newcomers to the bus industry and like with Bee Line in Manchester North Western retained the Liverline branding for this mostly South Liverpool operation.

Cowie Group and consolidation

In June 1994 North Western's parent British Bus Ltd was acquired by the Cowie Group plc. Along with much of the bus industry it was to enter a period of consolidation which saw it acquire further bus operators in the North West of England which included:

  • 'Little White Bus' - Acquired in 1994/95 and an operator of minibus services in the West Lancashire towns of Ormskirk and Skelmersdale.
  • Lofty's - Acquired in 1994/95 although they were based some distance away from North Western's core operations in the Mickle Trafford, near Chester.
  • 'South Lancashire Transport' - Acquired in 1997 they were one of the major independent operators in the Merseyside town of St. Helens.
  • Star Line Travel - Acquired in 1994/95 they were a Knutsford based operator who had built up a substantial network of services in Altrincham and Sale - exactly within the operating area of North Western's Bee Line subsidiary.
  • Wigan Bus Company - Acquired in the Summer of 1995 and one of the major independent operators in the town.

In 1995 North Western also entered into a series of gentleman's agreements with other bus companies in the North West of England. The first of these was to share Merseyside's bus market with its largest operator, MTL Trust Holding's Ltd, from which wasteful competition would be eliminated by co-ordinating the services. The second was a direct consequence of its acquisition of the Wigan Bus Company. GM Buses North had some peripheral services linking Wigan and Leigh to St Helens and Warrington and decided to pass these routes to North Western's Wigan Bus in return for North Western giving up its town-based services in Wigan. These and other agreements were subject to a 1995/96 Monopolies & Mergers Commission study which found MTL, GM Buses North/South, North Western and other Merseyside bus operators guilty of collusion, and in breach of fair trade in all the parties involved were fined accordingly.

Warrington bus war

In January 1995 North Western considerably expanded their Warrington operations. A large fleet of Dennis Dart/Plaxton Pointers were drafted into North Western's Warrington depot and Warrington Goldlines - later re-named Warrington Gold Line, along with MTL's Lancashire Travel duplicated the service network of local authority owned Warrington Borough Transport (WBT) with high frequency copy-cat services. This tactic had previously been employed by Stagecoach when its Stagecoach Ribble and Stagecoach Busways subsidiaries flooded Lancaster and Darlington with similar high frequency operations that in turn put Lancaster City Transport and Darlington Corporation Transport out of business. It was thought the Cowie Group plc/North Western and MTL to a lesser extent were using these tactics to acquire and/or put out of business WBT. However the people of Warrington remained fairly loyal to WBT who campaigned for them to support the 'locally owned' company. WBT also began competing services in Cheshire and Merseyside to irritate North Western and to a lesser degree MTL who were the first to retreat from Warrington in the Summer of 1996. A few months later a peaceful agreement was reached with WBT which saw North Western considerably scale down Warrington Gold Line.

Mid-90s re-branding and Arriva

In 1994 North Western replaced their post deregulation red, blue and silver stripe livery with a new red and blue livery with the associated Bee Line and Liverline having a similar yellow and red and light and dark blue schemes. White was later added to Liverline's livery and a minibus livery of mainly white with blue relief was added. With acquisitions and competitive changes within the company North Western began to trade under different brandings and company names including:

  • Bee Line - in Greater Manchester.
  • City Express - Used from 1995 on a new fleet of Dennis Lance/Plaxton Verdes that North Western introduced on inter-urban services including H5 Warrington - Liverpool, X5 Runcorn - Liverpool and X30 Chester - Runcorn - Warrington.
  • City Plus - Used from 1995 on a new fleet of Dennis Dart/East Lancs EL2000s based at Bootle for cross city services 82 Speke - Liverpool City Centre - Netherton and 86 Garston - Liverpool City Centre - Thornton.
  • Dee Line - A re-branding of the acquired Lofty's company (see above).
  • Little White Buses - A branding used from 1994/95 on minibus services in the West Lancashire area.
  • Leigh Line - A short-lived branding used from 1996 on services in the Leigh area following North Western's acquisition of local operator Heatons Travel. Leigh to Warrington services were moved to this section.
  • Liverline - in Liverpool.
  • No Fuss Bus - A short lived operation which began in the Spring/Summer of 1997. It used white liveried Leyland Nationals with low fares on popular Liverpool service 86 Gasrton - City Centre akin to Stagecoach Manchester's Magic Bus concept.
  • North Western - Used as a fleet name for all un-branded vehicles/operations.
  • Premier - A branding used from 1995 on services linking Altrincham to Warrington.
  • Runcorn Bus Ways - In the Summer of 1994 some of the North Western vehicles based at Runcorn depot were branded Runcorn Busway. In 1995 the entire Runcorn operation was re-named Runcorn Bus Ways although no major changes or expansion of the service network occurred.
  • Skelmersdale - A branding used from 1997 onwards on a new fleet of Scania L113/Northern Counties Paladins based at Skelmersdale depot.
  • Warrington Gold Line - Used from 1995 on a network of competitive services in Warrington (see above).
  • Star Line - Used for the former Star Line Travel services generally in and around Altrincham.
  • Wigan Bus - Used from 1996 on former Wigan Bus Company and North Western inter-urban services in/around Wigan. This operation mostly comprised a new fleet of Scania L113/Wright Axcess-Ultralows.

North Western increasingly became a secondary fleet name to these brandings and in the Summer of 1995 a new yellow, red and blue livery was introduced fleet-wide except for City Express which used white instead of yellow. South Lancashire Transport was one notable exception to this re-branding as North Western acquired this company in the Autumn of 1997. However the most likely reason for this was the corporate re-branding of Cowie Group plc which saw it become Arriva and along with Stagecoach and FirstGroup Arriva's bus division Arriva Passenger Services plc introduced a corporate livery. For its operations outside of London this was a livery of aquamarine with a Cotswold stone (cream) swoop relief an Arriva fleetname along with a secondary strapline of the region they were operating in - for example in the North West for North Western. North Western Road Car Co. Ltd ceased to exist in the Spring of 1998 when Arriva decided to give its bus subsidiaries an 'Arriva' identity. It became Arriva North West Ltd with the associated Bee Line operation becoming Arriva Manchester Ltd and Liverline the original Arriva Merseyside Ltd. The development of this company under Arriva ownership is explained in Arriva North West and Wales.

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