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Transport / Mass transit

At least four double decker buses have lost their roofs in crashes in London this year

This is a bit of a worry. Yesterday afternoon, the roof of a tourist bus in the Bloomsbury district of central London was torn clean off when the front of the bus ran into an overhanging tree. No one was killed (phew); but four people were taken to hospitalised, and the fire brigade had to lift one passenger out of the upper deck.

All this sounded just a teensy bit familiar to us. After a quick search, we found this story from last February, when the roof of a number 91 was torn clean off by overhanging trees on Kingsway.

At the time, Gary Squires, from the London Fire Brigade, told the BBC that “it’s not something we deal with very often”. Which is funny, because in March a double decker carrying 76 kids from the Essex suburb on a day trip to Thorpe Park managed to crash into a railway bridge in Staines, ripping the roof clean off.

Then there was this occasion, two weeks ago, when a number 197 hit a railway bridge in Norwood, south London, and – yes – took its roof clean off.

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We’re not trying to say this is a common occurrence, exactly. The vast majority of double decker buses in London end every day with their roof pretty much exactly where it started it.

And maybe four times in six months is about what you’d expect. There are 8,000 buses in Transport for London’s fleet, and that’s wihout accounting for all the school buses, tourist buses, wedding specials and so on. Occasionally one of them is going to have a mishap, from the law of averages alone.

Nonetheless, four times in six months seems a little bit high for comfort, doesn’t it?

The results of yesterday’s incident. Image: Carl Court/Getty. 

The latter two of these cases seem to be the result of human error: the bus drivers got a bit lost, attempted to go under railway bridges that were lower than they thought they were, and hey presto, upgraded air conditioning on the upper deck.

And again. Image: Carl Court/Getty.

But the fact that the two central London incidents both involved over hanging trees is a bit of a worry. Moreover, both took place just down the road from each other. Many bus routes will pass both sites:


Why on earth this stretch of road should suddenly have become so dangerous to double deckers, we’re not exactly clear: it does have a lot of big trees, but then so do many other major roads.

We’ve emailed the press office at the London Borough of Camden, responsible for the site of yesterday’s incident, asking for comment – we’ll update this story later if they respond.

UPDATE: And here’s the comment. It comes from councillor Meric Apak, Camden’s cabinet member for sustainability:

“Camden has a regular programme to inspect and work on all the 28,000 trees they are responsible for. The tree involved was last worked on in April this year when it received a general prune.”

Apparently it was a London Plane. Inspectors have since checked the tree is now safe.

Note: We edited this story shortly after publication because of an error in our map of the two tree-based incidents. We’d accidentally marked the 3 August crash as having taken place on Upper Woburn Place, not Woburn Place. Ooopsie. Thanks to Josh Blacker for pointing this out.
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