A brief look at the history of MTL's last bus order: 75 Marshall Capital-bodied Dennis Dart SLFs
Back in 1999, MTL took delivery of 75 Dennis Darts with Marshall Capital bodywork. To many, these were deemed as MTL’s last throw of the dice due to their cramped interiors and the fact they were replacing 75 seat Atlanteans. The majority were the standard Dennis Dart length of 10.7 metres, except for 7206-6 (8.8 metres) and 7607-11 (10.1 metres).
They were deployed across the MTL network, with examples working out of Gillmoss, St Helens, Southport, Speke and Green Lane. The original Marshall allocations were as follows:
|Fleet Numbers||Depot||Allocation Size|
|7601 - 7611||Gillmoss||11|
|7612 - 7623||St Helens||12|
|7624 - 7632||Southport||9|
|7633 - 7652||Speke||20|
|7653 - 7665, 7667-7676||Green Lane||23|
The 10.7 metre examples featured 38 seats as standard, but 7633 uniquely was built as a mobility bus with only 27 seats, soon moving to St Helens. The last built of the Marshall order was 7675 which had the honour of being the last bus new to MTL, entering service at the turn of the new millennium in January 2000. 7676 was originally registered V666DVU but because of the financial state MTL was in, it couldn’t afford to keep that registration so 7666 was renumbered out of the original sequence.
There were doubts as to whether these buses would actually be suitable replacements for double deckers and full-size single deckers. The Marshalls operated on one of Liverpool's busiest routes, the 79, resulting in many a cramped journey with people being left behind at stops on a regular basis. It was a case of get a seat in town or don't get one at all! The replacement of Leyland Atlanteans with these buses caused local consternation amongst passengers, leading to complaints to both MTL management and the local press. Today, Dennis Darts are a distant memory on the 79 corridor with the route having received double deck Wright Geminis in 2011. What a change 12 years makes, with the route going from operating 38 seater midibuses in 1999 to 70 seater 'deckers in 2011.
On 18th February 2000, all these buses became part of the Arriva group. Upon the sale of Gillmoss Garage, 7601-11 passed to the newly formed Glenvale Transport along with the majority of MTL’s Leyland Titans. A major Marshall reallocation took place between 2000 and 2003, with many moving away from their home depots to depots further afield like Wales and Winsford. Many of the earlier examples went to these depots. Speke lost its entire Marshall allocation in 2002, with the majority going to Skelmersdale depot, although a few resided at Winsford depot. In July 2005, the Glenvale examples became part of the Stagecoach group. The Marshalls were quickly sent to Stagecoach North West, where the longer examples worked from Preston whilst the shorter ones worked from Lillyhall. Later that July, 7650 was involved in a serious accident. It was repaired by January 2006.
In other parts of Merseyside, the Marshalls were used on more suitable routes. The Gillmoss, Southport and St Helens examples were all used on local routes, on which the buses were originally designed to operate. They were a more suitable replacement for the likes of the Leyland National.
The Green Lane examples were used primarily on route 92 (now known as the 62). Although these vehicles didn't fare well with loadings they certainly coped a lot better then sister vehicles down the road at Speke. Marshalls retained a minor presence at Green Lane until their ultimate withdrawal, their use latterly confined to less profitable routes such as the 8 and 9 as well as the 68 when this route was gained from Bootle.
The batch at Southport was changed not long after the Marshalls were introduced, with 7651-57 joining Canning Road at approximately 6 months old where all but 7657 remained until withdrawal. These were in easily the best overall condition of the entire Marshall fleet by the time withdrawal loomed, having been used on little other than Southport local services.
The Marshall Darts formed the backbone of Skelmersdale garage's fleet until its closure on 23rd July 2011. During their spell at the Lancashire depot, they were used on services of considerable distance, including Skelmersdale to Liverpool (route 311) and Southport to Wigan (routes 375 and 385). Following the withdrawal of a handful of Leyland Olympians in late 2008, the Marshalls were the mainstay of the heavily-used 375/385 corridor until displaced by nine vastly superior Volvo Olympians a year later, having once again proven unsatisfactorily small. This decision was one of the few times Arriva replaced low-floor buses with step-entrance alternatives on an entire route.
Bootle was another depot to long hold a Marshall Dart allocation. It had a long-serving batch which saw regular use on almost all its routes and when Skelmersdale depot closed in 2011, Bootle received several more which joined forces with ex-London DAF DB250s on the newly acquired 311, 345 and 350 routes.
Following Arriva's takeover of MTL and the amalgamation of the company's North West and Wales divisions, several Marshall Darts were transferred to Wales. A handful of earlier examples were based at Wrexham in the mid-2000s, where they shared duties on route 1 (Wrexham to Chester) with older Plaxton Pointer-bodied Darts cascaded from Arriva North East. Wrexham's Marshalls were replaced by Wright Pulsars on the 1 in January 2009. Rhyl depot also received an allocation which were based mainly at Llandudno outstation.
All 75 were still going strong into 2012, with many examples having been refurbished over the years. All Marshalls allocated to Southport and Skelmersdale were refreshed as part of Arriva's 'polish and promote' scheme in 2010 and 2011. Elsewhere, Green Lane's remained unrefurbished as did the original Bootle batch (i.e. those which weren’t acquired from Skelmersdale).
Rattling bodywork, vibrations when idle and rough ride quality proved a major problem with these buses in their later years, a problem shared by Dennis Darts with most body types. There were a few good examples, especially amongst the small fleet at Southport, but they were generally few and far between.
The final Marshall Darts left in service with Arriva North West were those at Southport, which finally succumbed in September 2014 after a 15 year career. The last in passenger service is believed to be 7654, while the last use of all by Arriva North West was during Halloween 2014, when 7660 was briefly used as a Police battle bus on 'Mischief Night' and Halloween itself.
The vast majority were subsequently sent to the PVS scrapyard at Barnsley for scrap, but there was a brief reprieve for two: ex-Southport 7651 and 7652 were transferred in March 2014 to Arriva's Yorkshire Tiger operation where, renumbered 551 and 552 respectively, they saw use on local services around Halifax and Huddersfield. The brash orange Yorkshire Tiger livery was a far cry from the Arriva Interurban livery they latterly wore on Merseyside. Their stay in Yorkshire was brief, as both were withdrawn in July 2015 and themselves dispatched for scrap at PVS in August.
Marshalls went down in bus history as the last batch of buses new to MTL and indeed the last type new to MTL to be operated by successor Arriva North West.
Although never the most glamorous or memorable of buses, the passing of the 75 Marshall Darts did not escape local preservationists and one example was acquired by the North West Vehicle Restoration Trust. Not surprisingly, an ex-Southport example was selected in the form of 7656 (V656DVU) as these were widely regarded as being in the best condition.
This article expands upon an original written by Luke Caddick in March 2012.