Speed record: Reading Buses

A big cheer went up when a service bus from the fleet of Reading Buses made history by becoming the fastest in the world. Gaining coverage around the globe, there was serious reason behind the attempt, explains Mel Holley.

In its distinctive ‘cow’ livery, Reading Buses proved the value of ‘cow poo power’ by setting a world record for a service bus, using the banked circular track at Millbrook proving ground, Bedfordshire.

The bus had no major modifications and went back in service in Reading the following morning.

Running on bio-methane compressed natural gas, the Scania/ADL Enviro300 achieved a top speed of 80.73mph and an average over a full lap of 76.785mph. The attempt was called ‘BusHound’ in a nod to the UK Bloodhound team 1,000mph world speed record attempt.

It was day of torrential rain, interspersed with sun. Says Reading Buses Chief Engineer John Bickerton: “The high-speed bowl is in the side of a hill, and there was headwind on the embankment section, but no tailwind in the cutting. This is why the peak was 80mph, but the lap average was lower. Without the wind, we would have achieved 80mph average.”

With help from its ticket machine supplier, Ticketer, it also issued the world’s fastest bus tickets, remotely sold while the bus was in motion. Over 80 tickets were issued, and they will be sold at Reading Buses’ 14 June open day as souvenirs.

The attempt was supported by project sponsors: Ticketer, Nimbus, Millbrook, Scania, ADL, Gas Bus Alliance, Brooklands Museum, TEK seating and USSC, routeone, Numbercraft, Michelin Solutions, Mix Telematics, CILT, IMechE and Best Impressions.

The bus, chosen at random from the fleet, only had one major modification – the fitting of a safety cage for the driver (made in-house).

The biggest risk was the tyres, running above their design speed. Michelin provided a brand new set of tyres, x-rayed at Stoke-on-Trent and fitted to spare rims. To avoid damage, they were fitted at Millbrook by ATS, just before the test, and their temperature was checked.

Driven by Readings Buses’ very own ‘Stig’, the bus completed eight laps to set an initial 73mph speed. Major sponsor Scania made some minor tweaks, adding 3mph average for the final laps. The tweaks involved fitting a special ECU to ‘fool’ the engine into thinking it was getting less boost.

BBC transport correspondent Paul Clifton fitted GoPro cameras to the bus to film the driver at high speed. The story was the fourth-most popular on the BBC website (with 37,000 views) and received press coverage across the world from China to Australia, Russia, USA, Ukraine and Canada.

Schools now want to be involved as the project neatly dovetails with the national curriculum; a Key Stage 1 topic on novel vehicles, and Key Stage 2 topics on renewable/sustainable fuels in the context of environmental problems.

Adds John Bickerton: “We are now being asked to get involved with the syllabus and inspire the next generation about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Schools want to use our business to inspire people to go into engineering.”

Says Reading Buses’ CEO Martijn Gilbert: “There’s a serious message here, of gas and bio-methane as a carbon neutral fuel. We are setting out to raise the profile of bio-methane commercial vehicles and demonstrate that this is a real, credible fuel source.

“At the same time, we want to challenge old-fashioned perceptions of bus travel and promote science, technology and innovation in our industry.”