Our UK Coach business - the iconic National Express coaches  - traces its history back to the 1920s

The early development of coaches

Greyhound Motors of Bristol are generally acknowledged as the first company to introduce a daily motorised express coach service in Britain. Their service, introduced in 1925, linked Bristol with London. Following their lead, many other operators, able to see the commercial benefits of long distance travel, introduced similar services.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act introduced a system of licensing that covered drivers, conductors and the routes operated. The Act successfully brought order to a chaotic, rapidly growing industry. This new system of licensing provided the stability for expansion and the formation of the first networks of co-ordinated services.

These 'Pool' networks greatly increased travel opportunities for the rapidly growing number of coach passengers. On 1 July 1934, Elliott Brothers became a founder member of the Associated Motorways pool based at Cheltenham. Another 'pool' was London Coastal Coaches, based at the newly opened Victoria Coach Station.

Although most express coaches were suspended in 1942 for the war, some Royal Blue services continued to run to help serve Southern areas that were not well served by local bus services. After the war, the full network gradually resumed.

The steady increase in coach passengers numbers peaked in the late 50's followed by a gradual decline due to the increase in the number of private cars. In 1959 the opening of the first stretches of Britain's new motorway network brought new opportunities for coach operators such as 'Midland Red' of Birmingham and 'Ribble' of Preston including the 'Gay Hostess' double deck coaches.

By the late sixties most bus companies, with the exception of municipal and small independent operators, had formed into two main groups, the state owned Tilling Group and the British Electric Traction Group (BET). In March 1968, the government brought both groups together under the Transport Holding Company.

The 1968 Transport Act brought about an integrated public passenger transport system across the country. One of the major provisions of the Act was the formation, on 28 November 1968, of the National Bus Company (NBC). NBC began operating on 1 January 1969 and, by 31 December 1969, NBC controlled 93 bus companies grouped into 44 operating units employing 81,000 staff and having a fleet of 21,000 vehicles. A new era of public transport had arrived.

Nationalisation and network development

From the beginning, the Directors of what was the biggest road passenger transport operation in Europe began to bring together the coaching activities of each constituent operator. Each local company was pursuing its own policy of express coach service operation.

Inevitably this was leading to duplication of services and it was soon decided that a co-ordinated policy of express coach service planning would benefit both the customer and the National Bus Company alike. However regulation of services prevented any real expansion of services or the provision of routes where there were mass markets

The 'National' brand name was introduced during 1972 and the original 'all white' livery began to appear on coaches as a first stage in offering customers a nationwide standard and a recognisable product. The winter of 1973/74 saw the publication of the first comprehensive coach timetable that included details of the entire 'National' network. The new brand name, National Express, first appeared on publicity in 1974 and on vehicles in 1978.

Deregulation and Expansion

Competition bring new challenges

The introduction, on 6 October, of the 1980 Transport Act, swept away 50 years of licensing restrictions and introduced competition on long distance coach routes.

National Express, and the main Scottish express coach operator, Scottish Citylink, faced new competition from a host of established bus and coach operators trying their hand at operating regular long distance coach services. It came as no surprise to National Express to discover that many of the 'new' operators seemed to only want to run coaches at the busiest times and only the most popular routes.

Totally without subsidy, and by introducing new services and lower fares, National Express fought to win or perish in the ensuing war. Most of the new operators were unable to sustain continued viable operation and withdrew from operating their services within a matter of months. Even the co-operative venture mounted countrywide under the title 'British Coachways' failed to capture sufficient business.

The strengths of the nationwide, co-ordinated network operated by National Express became all too apparent and the publicity surrounding the coach war' gave a major boost to the long-term fortunes of National Express.

Annual passenger figures for the nationwide express coach network increased from 8.5 million in 1979 to around 15 million in 1986 as a direct result of post-deregulation competition

'Rapide' growth

With skilful marketing and an eye for the needs of the customer, a handful of independent coach operators fared better than most. Both 'Trathens' from the West Country and 'Cotters' from Scotland (later to become Stagecoach) introduced up-market services operated by coaches carrying hostesses, refreshments and toilets.

Seeing the opportunities that such an operation would present on other services, National Express entered into an agreement with Trathens to co-operate in running the West Country services. The new Rapide service introduced a hostess/steward service of light refreshments to each seat. The coaches used on the service were fitted with their own toilet/washroom, air suspension and reclining seats. The on-board facilities cut out the need for time consuming refreshment and toilet stops offering an instant saving, in journey times, of around 20%.

The introduction of 'Rapide' services also brought about the first seat reservation system for National Express. Seat reservations, which are common practice nowadays, were a revolution in public transport at that time as 'freesale' bookings often led to overloads.  

National Express is Born

On 26 October 1986, following the introduction of the 1985 Transport Act there was deregulation within the industry to all local bus services. Although designed to increase competition between all bus and coach operators there was surprisingly little change in the long distance express coach market; itself deregulated back in 1980.

National Express was the subject of a management buy-out, led by Clive Myers, on 17 March 1988. Between 1988 and 1991, National Express Holdings Ltd, the name of the company set up to buy National Express from the National Bus Company, acquired the established North Wales bus and coach operator, 'Crosville Wales'. the Merseyside based coach operator, Amberline'. the ATL Holdings Group (which included the Carlton PSV vehicle dealership and the Yelloway Trathen bus and coach company mentioned earlier) and the express coach services of Stagecoach Holdings Ltd based in Perth.

On 23 July 1991, a consortium made up of a number of City investment companies and the Drawlane Transport Group bought out National Express Holdings Ltd.

The chairman of the Drawlane Transport Group, Ray McEnhill, moved from that position and became the Chief Executive of the new company, the National Express Group Limited. Crosville Wales and Amberline were not included in the deal. On 1 December 1992, National Express took another change of direction when Chief Executive Ray McEnhill and deputy chief executive Adam Mills led National Express Group on to the Stock Market through the London Stock Exchange at a share price of 165p.

A new brand

After many years of acquiring different coach businesses, National Express had actually become an organisation that was operating under many different brand names. Flightlink, Jetlink, Speedlink, Express Shuttle, GoByCoach, Airbus etc seemed at times to be competing with one another. Something needed to happen to bring all these businesses together.

In March 2003, National Express revealed a new corporate identity which included a new logo, new identity and new coach livery. The new single National Express identity retained the traditional values of the familiar red, white and blue colours but brought the company much more up to date, offering many more opportunities for marketing, cost savings and future

The brand received a further refresh in 2007 when the current logo was launched across all of National Express's UK businesses.

Eurolines continued to operate with its familiar logo that is now recognised and used by partner coach organisations across Europe.

The Coach business extended its interests with the acquisition in 2007 of The Kings Ferry, the Kent based coach company, which provides popular commuter coach travel services in London and the South of England.

In September 2012, the Coach business celebrated 40 years of National Express serving the British public.