Established in early 2017, "Black Cats" was a generic brand for the Sunderland area that intended to promote Go North East's cheap and competitively priced day and weekly tickets available in and around the city. Originally allocated to a number of routes in and around the city, the brand quickly started to phase out due to service amendments and withdrawals.

▸ Background: fdfdfd

▸ Livery: the livery for "Black Cats" paid tribute to the city's local football team of Sunderland A.F.C by using a colour scheme based on the shirts of the club's team members. Carrying Go North East's signature red colour as a base coat, the branded vehicles featured a large scale background of the football club's red and white stripes, with three of the Sunderland area's symbolic landmarks situated on both side faces: Penshaw Monument, Wearmouth Bridge and the Northern Spire Bridge, representing their significance and heritage to the locals.

Both the logo of the brand and the tagline sitting underneath it were written in the Black weight of the Proxima Soft typeface: the rounded equivalent of Proxima Nova. The logo saw lettering for the word 'Black' appropriately filled in the namesake colour, while 'Cats' and the tagline sported a gold colour, similar to that found on S.A.F.C.'s crest. The wording as a whole was given think outlines so as to not blend in with the stripes behind them, or the vibrant red base colour of the livery. A gold banner was positioned above the windows, outlining the prices of both day and weekly tickets available for unlimited travel in and around Sunderland. These were originally priced at £3.65 for a day ticket and £12.15 for a weekly, however were revised to £3.50 and £12.00 respectively at a later date.

The concept of "Black Cats" was based on the "Toon Link" brand's second livery design, which first appeared in 2015. Under this matching concept, both identities carried the colour scheme associated with their local sports teams, with "Toon Link"-branded vehicles wearing black and white in accordance with Newcastle United and the Newcastle Falcons. Although some could have perceived the brands as a way of promoting division between the two cities, that wasn't the rationale behind them — on the contrary, there was a sense of unification during the few instances where vehicles, branded for the relevant city, would cross into the other while on loan to other depots.

▸ Vehicles: as a generic identity for routes of varying popularity around Sunderland, the "Black Cats" livery was applied to more vehicle types than any other commercial brand under Go North East, constituting five kinds: Scania L94UB/Wright Solar, Wright StreetLite DF/Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid, Optare Solo M880, and Optare Solo SR M925. At its prominence, 29 vehicles carried the "Black Cats" concurrently, thereby resulting in the brand being the most replicated.

▸ Routes: five groups of services shared the "Black Cats" identity at the time of its introduction, which are listed below. Reasons for those services being removed from the brand prior to its discontinuation were due to withdrawal or identity changes:
2/2A: Silksworth to Washington Galleries
33/33A: Silksworth to Sunderland Docks (until May 2019; became a 'standard' route)
39/39A: Pennywell to Doxford Park
61: Sunderland to Murton (withdrawn January 2018)
238: Sunderland to Barnwell (until May 2019; became a 'standard' route)

Later in the brand's tenure, services 35/35A (Heworth to Low Moorsley) and 38/38C (Sunderland to Tunstall Bank) — also operating in the vicinity of Sunderland — were allocated its Wright Solar vehicles following the withdrawal of service 61, although weren't officially classed as "Black Cats" routes.

▸ Discontinuation: "Black Cats" officially became defunct following services changes that were made on 5th September 2021. In the weeks prior, services 2/2A were rebranded into the first instalment of the newly-introduced, and meaningless, "Sunderland District" brand ("Berries" in this instance), which set out to create an easily-identifiable, colour-coded family of services for customers in and around the Sunderland area. The "Black Cats" brand's two remaining services — 39/39A — were changed to the "Graphite" variant of "Sunderland District" shortly after the September changes came into place, thereby bringing the end to yet another more iconic and visually-appealing brand from Go North East's once-spectacular network.
Scania L94UB/Wright Solar version (2017–2020)

Seven Scania L94UB/Wright Solar vehicles of sporadic fleet numbers were branded in the "Black Cats" livery: 4969, 4976, 4990–4992 and 5212–5213. Beforehand, all except 4976 had carried the second version of the "Prince Bishops" livery; 4976 was previously branded in "Fast Cats".

The "Black Cats"-branded Wright Solars were initially allocated to service 61 (Sunderland to Murton). This applied for less than a year after the brand's launch, as the service was withdrawn and replaced as part of services changes on 28th January 2018 by the extended, Mercedes Citaro-operated service 9, for which a newly-established brand was released: appropriately, "The 9". From then onwards, the vehicles acted as spares for services operating from Deptford depot, and were given general allocation to services 35/35A and 38/38C. Service 61 eventually returned following service changes effective from 1st June 2020 — when "Black Cats" was still active — although was not listed under the brand this time around; instead, it represented a 'standard' route. The 9 was curtailed at Sunderland from its shorter commencing point of Jarrow.

Unlike most of the other Wright Solar vehicles in Go North East's fleet, the "Black Cats"-branded examples had wider front Hanover destination blinds compared to the conventional 144x19-dot resolution. Displaying 160x19 dots, their blinds matched the size of the company's Scania OmniCity, East Lancs OmniDekka and Mercedes Citaro vehicles.

In late 2019, Go North East started to withdraw the entire Wright Solar vehicle type from their fleet due to them being ineligible for Euro 6 engine conversions. Those branded under "Black Cats" were among the last to start being disposed of, which began just before the UK government announced a lockdown in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. With the lockdown heavily impacting the number of services running, Go North East took the opportunity to permanently withdraw the remaining Solars while they weren't in demand, in order to focus on new allocations for the routes they were used on. Following the removal, corporate-branded Optare Solo SR vehicles took over the primary operation on services 38/38A/38C.

A drawing of 4969 can be seen below, depicting the Wright Solar version of the "Black Cats" livery.
Wright StreetLite DF/Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid version (2017–2021)

Delivered as new vehicles during the 2016/17 financial year, 16 Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid vehicles were purchased for the brand, originally only for service 39 (Pennywell to Doxford Park) but then additionally to replace the "Simplicity" brand on services 2/2A (Silksworth to Washington Galleries), which were using lower specification Optare Versa vehicles. Given fleet numbers 5469–78, they featured free onboard WiFi, blue accent lighting, e-leather Esteban Civic V3 seating, stylish Tarabus wood effect flooring, next stop announcement LED systems, and USB sockets.

Although the StreetLites typically interworked with the 2/2A and 39/39A whilst under the "Black Cats" brand, they generally spent Sundays appearing on the two Deptford-based routes that used Mercedes Citaro vehicles at the time: "Wear Xpress" service X5, and later "The 9" from earlier 2018 onwards.

The "Black Cats" StreetLites eventually lost the livery after it was announced the brand would be succeeded by the "Sunderland District" network from September 2021 onwards. The rebrand meant that the 2/2A and 39/39A would no longer interwork as they were given separate identities within the new brand: 2/2A as "Berries" with Optare Versa vehicles, and 39/39A as "Graphite" with Optare Solo SR vehicles. The StreetLites were displaced to Percy Main in August 2021 after undergoing repaint at Saltmeadows Road into a two-tone blue for the poorly rebranded version of "Coaster".

A drawing of the Wright StreetLite version of "Black Cats" will be coming at a later date.
Optare Solo SR M925/Optare version

There were only three Optare Solo SR vehicles branded for "Black Cats", given the short distance covered by the routes they were allocated to. Numbered 681 and 689–690, they arrived into the Go North East fleet as brand new and included the same premium features as the StreetLites.

The vehicles were allocated to services 33/33A: at the time, two interworking services running every 15 minutes between either Silksworth or East Herrington and Sunderland (33), or Silksworth and Sunderland Docks (33A). Although generally seen on these routes, the vehicles were assigned to "Wear Xpress" service X5 on Sundays due to their low-emission hybrid systems, which the X5's standard Mercedes Citaro vehicles failed to include.

After carrying the "Black Cats" livery for two-and-a-half years, the May 2019 service changes saw the Optare Solo SR vehicles be de-branded, resulting in services 33/33A becoming 'standard' routes. Once the three examples were stripped of their "Black Cats" branding, 689 and 690 were repainted into a blue base livery and transferred over to Percy Main depot. From there, they operated the North Tyne division of the "indiGo" services, now rebranded into "Little Coasters" in accordance with the aforementioned service changes. 681 had been repainted a few months prior to the changes taking place, into the Washington variant of "indiGo".

A drawing of the Optare Solo SR version of "Black Cats" will be coming at a later date.
Optare Solo M880/Optare version
Like the Optare Solo SRs, only three Solo vehicles were branded under "Black Cats" due to the low requirement on the service: in this case, the hourly 238 (Sunderland to Barnwell). Numbered 698–700, they were acquired by Go North East from previous service with Thames Travel. Along with the Wright Solars, they did not include any of the premium features seen on the new StreetLites and Solo SRs.

Each of the Solo vehicles wore the "Black Cats" livery briefly, as the 238 became a 'standard' route after the May 2019 service updates. Once the three vehicles were stripped of branding, they were repainted into a blue base livery and transferred over to Percy Main depot to operate services encompassed by the newly introduced "Little Coasters" livery, which replaced the North Tyne division of the "indiGo" brand.

A drawing of the Optare Solo version of "Black Cats" will be coming at a later date.
Date last modified: 3rd May 2022

Related pages:
▸ "Simplicity" — the preceding brand for services 2/2A [coming soon]
▸ "Sunderland District Silver" — the succeeding brand for services 33/33A [coming soon]
▸ "Sunderland District Graphite" — the succeeding brand for services 39/39A [coming soon]

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