What future for the 27 route in Bournville?

The 27 route in south Birmingham is one of those odd routes that keeps getting chopped and changed, in its current form it runs between Yardley Wood bus garage (in Warstock) and Frankley, serving places such as Kings Heath, Stirchley, Bournville and Northfield along the way. On the surface, there can’t be many people who use it ‘end-to-end’, but it is one of those ‘feeder’ services that provides many useful and vital local links for its passengers.

27 route as viewed on BusTimes (on Sunday only two buses are required)

It is limited to use of single-deck vehicles by virtue of a (very) low bridge it has to pass under on Bournville Lane, next to Bournville rail station.

The route is currently operated by National Express West Midlands (NXWM) from their Yardley Wood garage, using Scania OmniLink single-deck vehicles, which at 2.9m high just about squeeze under this bridge.

NXWM 1920 – yes it just fits under!

NXWM have previously announced that they intend to have a 100% zero emission fleet by 2030, and big strides have been made so far in replacing their double-decks, with 159 electric doubles already in service at Yardley Wood and Coventry, and a further 300 due to be in service by next year.

I was told late last year that there was a ‘desire’ to reduce the number of single decks in the fleet, but there will still be a need for them, particularly for routes such as this which pass under low bridges, or where low hanging tree branches prove a problem.

As far as I am aware, there has been no decision yet on what type of, or indeed how many, single-deck zero-emission buses will be purchased, but clearly at some point in the next few years, it will start to happen; it is my belief that apart from those at Coventry – which needs to be an ‘all-electric bus city’ by end of 2025 – the diesel single decks in the West Midlands fleet will be the last to be replaced.

At the time of writing this piece, I have been looking at various single-deck electric (and hydrogen) models that are available on the market, and so far there is one thing I have found – not one of them is under 3.0m in height, due to requirements in storing battery packs and hydrogen tanks.

Make & ModelQuoted Height
Mercedes eCitaro3.4m
Yutong E10/E123.3m
ADL Enviro200EV3.3m
ADL Enviro100EV3.1m
Wright Kite Electroliner/Hydroliner3.3m
Mellor Sigma3.1m-3.3m
Irizar ie3.3m

It is obvious to me that at some point in the next few years, this stretch of Bournville Lane is no longer going to be suitable for any single-deck vehicle, not just NXWM either, as TfWM’s Enhanced Partnership agreement with bus operators stipulates that all buses will be zero-emission by 2030. Unless of course some enterprising bus manufacturer comes up with some new design that is less than 2.9m height!

The 27 at present is Yardley Wood’s only route that strictly ‘requires’ single-deck vehicles, and if it wasn’t for this low bridge, it could comfortably use double-decks.

The route will have to be changed at some point so it can miss out this bridge, which will end up with that part of Bournville Lane unable to be served. But how could the route be changed?

An obvious answer would seem to be to redirect the 27 so it uses neighbouring Mary Vale Road instead, as that passes over the canal and railway line, rather than under it. But in reality that may not be as easy to implement. Kevs 55 service uses part of Mary Vale Road, but I have been told that due to parking issues, it can be tricky to turn to/from the Pershore Road, even using their short length Enviro200s. (A typical double-deck is the same length as a mid-length single-deck, while the Scania OmniLink is considered a ‘full-length’ single)

The likely outcome would probably end up being the 27 continuing along the Pershore Road towards Cotteridge, then onto Watford Road and then Linden Road into Bournville. With another option being Umberslade Road and Raddlebarn Road.

Other ‘extreme’ options to consider would be to ‘dig up’ Bournville Lane to lower it under the bridge, or to partially-demolish the bridge to raise its height, but I think the costs and logistics involved would be far too prohibitive to even be considered, just so a lightly-used bus service could continue to use that road. Plus the added complication is that as well as the railway line, the bridge also carries the Birmingham to Worcester canal.

Of course, 2030 is still six years away, and who knows whether either the 27 or 55 will still exist in their current forms by then, what with the prospect of ‘bus franchising’ becoming increasingly likely under our new Labour metro mayor.

Operationally, the 27 could be changed before then though – if NXWM are set to reduce the number of single-decks in the fleet by replacing them with doubles over the next couple of years, it seems strange to just keep 5 or 6 of them at a garage just for one route that ‘needs’ them, which in itself isn’t a particularly profitable route to operate. Which is why the 27 has had its timetable reduced and route shortened in recent months, and is also partially-supported by TfWM.

NXWM could give up the route entirely and let another operator take it over, but either way at some point in the next six years, it is not going to be possible for any zero-emission single-deck bus to directly serve that part of Bournville Lane currently covered by the 27 service. Unless some new service is introduced by another operator that can get away with using some kind of Mercedes Sprinter-type minibus that can easily pass under this low bridge.

Anyway, this is all just future speculation, and any re-routing of the 27 service is still a good few years off, so passengers should not be concerned yet, there are currently no planned changes to this service that are imminent.

Do you use the 27 and would you be impacted by any future re-routing away from Bournville Lane? Or does anyone know of any other bus routes that pass under bridges with a height restriction of less than 3.0m that will also be affected by not being able to use new zero-emission vehicles? Let me know your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below!


About WMBU

Stu is the founder of this West Midlands Bus Users website.
He is not a bus enthusiast, but as a regular passenger takes an interest in public transport related matters, having relied on buses to get around for over twenty-five years now.

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