"The Red Kite" was inarguably one of the most high-profile identities in the Go North East network. First appearing in 2007, it underwent three similarly designed liveries during its thirteen-year tenure, before sadly being replaced in June 2020 by the light green instalment of the "X-lines" brand: the outcome of a significant overhaul to Go North East's marketing that commenced in early 2019.
▸ Background: between 2004 and 2008, the Northern Kites Project — a large partnership between The National Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the Forestry Commission, Gateshead Council, and Northumbrian Water — set out to reintroduce the red kite bird of prey as a breeding bird in the North East of England. With additional funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and the SITA Trust, the project endeavoured to release up to 80 of the species, the location later being determined as the Derwent Valley region: a semi-urban environment within three-and-a-half kilometres of the Metrocentre Shopping Centre in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.
The reintroduction prompted Go North East to fittingly brand their interworking 45 and 46 services (both serving towns and villages in the Derwent Valley) as "The Red Kite" in 2007, with large-scale photography of the bird becoming the principal design feature on the branded red buses.
▸ Livery: the livery for the third variation of "The Red Kite" effectively matched that of the original (2007) design seen on the Scania OmniCity vehicles: the brand logo was restored, having been given a sans-serif typeface on the livery's second instalment, and stock photography of the red kite bird was also reverted to that used on the early design. Noticeable differences between the two included the absence of 'swoops' — which represented a house style at the time promotional branding was introduced — on the newer version.
In line with the overhaul, "The Red Kite" was among the first set of brands to receive a uniformed route branding style, now set in the typeface DIN. This became the conventional method of presenting route information until Go North East's 2019 rebrand. The earliest style, initially given to "The Red Kite", "Coast & Country" and "X66 Metrocentre" (all launched together), had the relevant wording written in the DIN Black font and separated by a bullet point. It was applied in the same way to the double-deck Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 vehicles given to the brand, but became problematic when, in 2018, they received advert frames on the sides, the result of which was portions of the route branding peeking out of the frame whenever an advert was present. This issue was resolved for future brands allocated double-deck buses by presenting the wording in a stacked format, thereby reducing the horizontal space needed.
▸ Vehicles: ahead of its third incarnation, the brand was one of three treated to substantial upgrades to its services, the others being "X66 Metrocentre" and "Coast & Country" (formerly branded as "Lime"). An investment in the 2014/15 financial year saw 29 brand new Wright StreetLite DF/Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid vehicles be delivered to Go North East between March and April 2015, ten of which were allocated to "The Red Kite". In addition to these, four lower specification Volvo B9TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 examples were purchased from remaining dealer stock for primary allocation to the newly added and higher demanding service 47, arriving at the same time as the StreetLites.
▸ Routes: as was the case beforehand, the third edition of "The Red Kite" encompassed services 45/46 (Newcastle to Consett). In conjunction with the overhaul, service 47 (Newcastle to Blackhall Mill) — having previously formed part of the "Toon Link" network — was added to the brand to coincide with its two similar counterparts. Services 45/46 interworked on a 15-minute frequency cycle, with both commencing at Newcastle Eldon Square Bus Station and covering Central Station, Teams, the Metrocentre, Swalwell, Rowlands Gill, Ebchester and Shotley Bridge, before terminating at Consett Bus Station. In Shotley Bridge, the 46 additionally served Bridgehill and Pemberton. Service 47 operated on a half-hourly basis, following roughly the same route as the 45/46 to Rowlands Gill. From there, it diverted towards High Spen, Chopwell, and the terminus of Blackhalll Mill River View.
The three "The Red Kite" routes were elements of a vast network of buses travelling along the Newcastle to Metrocentre corridor. Combined with "Tyne Valley Ten" services 10/10A/10B and "Toon Link" services 6/6A, a bus was expected between the two locations every few minutes.
Service updates on 21st July 2019 resulted in the three routes being given express classification, thereby adding an 'X' prefix to their service number. The very subtle and effectively futile changes established non-stop journeys between Newcastle City Centre and the Metrocentre, a fraction of the complete routes. Early morning journeys even sustained the non-express status as 45 and 47, running via Gateshead Centrelink and additionally covering Kingfisher Court, Teams Gas Works, Pipewellgate and Copthorne Hotel.
▸ Discontinuation: after a remarkable thirteen active years, "The Red Kite" was sadly withdrawn when its batch of new integral Wright StreetDeck Micro-Hybrid 3 vehicles was delivered in July 2020. The upgrade to the services would have been scheduled to take place around three months prior to then, but the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic's first national lockdown prevented this from happening, and significantly delayed operations across the company.
Wright StreetLite DF/Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid version
As part of an investment in their 2014/15 financial year, Go North East placed an order of 29 brand new Wright StreetLite DF/Wright StreetLite Max Micro-Hybrid vehicles to improve some of their well-used operations. These were decided as "The Red Kite" services 45/46, "X66 Metrocentre" service X66, and "Coast & Country" services 8/8A and 78/78A (formerly branded as "Lime"). The StreetLites were delivered in phases between March and April 2015, and those allocated to "The Red Kite" were the second of the three batches to be delivered.
Representing a major improvement over the lower-spec Scania OmniCity examples allocated beforehand, the StreetLite vehicles benefitted customers with many onboard features. These included free onboard WiFi, wall plug sockets, and USB ports for the duration of their commute, while audio-visual next stop announcement systems guided passengers with sight/hearing impairments and those unfamiliar with the bus route. Tarabus wood effect flooring was fitted for improved aesthetic onboard, with blue accent lighting in the gangway for increased visibility, particularly beneficial on night-time journeys.
In the case of "The Red Kite", the ten allocated StreetLite vehicles were given fleet numbers 5409–5418. At first, fellow new StreetLite 5419 acted as a dedicated spare on the services, though later received a stylish promotional livery for Beamish Museum to advertise the connections available to the site from Durham, Sunderland and Newcastle, in addition to the discounted entry ticket upon the display of a valid Go North East ticket.
The StreetLites sustained use on the "Red Kite" services up until the brand's dismissal in June 2020. A batch of brand new integral Wright StreetDeck Micro-Hybrid 3 vehicles were allocated to the routes (now numbered as X45/X46/X47) thereafter, and the brand was replaced by the light green variant of "X-lines". Each of the StreetLites were then repainted into Go North East's 2019 fleet livery and dispersed to different depots across the network, primarily Deptford.
Volvo B9TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 version
Acquired by Go North East in April 2015 were four Volvo B9TL/Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 vehicles, purchased from remaining dealer stock. These double-deck buses were set to upgrade, and given primarily allocation to, former "Toon Link" service 47 (Newcastle to Blackhall Mill) — now shifted to the "Red Kite" brand name due to the shared corridor of the three routes between Newcastle and Rowlands Gill.
Upon their delivery to Gateshead Riverside depot, the vehicles were repainted from a plain white base livery into red shortly thereafter. While being prepared for service, they received fleet numbers 6118–6121, and appropriate vinyls for the brand they would wear for the next five years were applied.
Having been among the remnants of dealer stock, these Volvo B9TL vehicles were not manufactured to Go North East's specification. Therefore, the interior colour scheme was significantly different to other buses in the fleet: panelling dark grey in colour (as opposed to the standard 'bathroom blue'), seating in East Yorkshire Motor Services's patterned maroon fabric moquette rather than the conventional blue 'Go' design, and passenger handrails in orange instead of white. Additionally, the seating was of the earlier (second) version of the Esteban Civic seating classification, so were absent of headrests. Where premium features for customers were concerned, the examples did not feature 3-pin plug sockets or USB ports on the walls, nor did they include audio-visual next stop announcement systems. With these factors taken into account, the vehicles were of a much lower specification than the Wright StreetLites on services 45/46, yet still represented an upgrade from the previous mixed Scania L94UB/Wright Solar and Volvo B10BLE/Wright Renown allocation due to the double-deck nature of the B9TLs on top of their inclusion of free WiFi.
In April 2018, advert frames were fitted onto the side faces of the four B9TLs. The lengths and positioning of them became problematic, as they resulted in portions of the route branding for service 47 — an informative and prevalent part of the livery — sticking out whenever an advert filled the frame, while the facial features of the red kite photo were obscured. With an advert present in the frame, the uncovered sections of the route branding on the nearside face read "Blackhall Mill • High S", while the offside face displayed "ry 30 minutes". The "Red Arrows" brand also fell victim to this problem when some of its vehicles underwent the same procedure. Future brands that were allocated advert-framed double-deck buses, primarily in the instance of "Coaster", overcame this issue by adopting a vertical route branding style. This not only prevented any abnormalities when the frames contained advertising material, but also reduced the horizontal space taken up by wording, thereby allowing for further promotional content about services and the bus's attributes.
The four B9TLs were stripped of their route branding for the now service X47 in July 2020, at which time they and the StreetLites were in the process of being replaced by higher specification integral Wright StreetDeck Micro-Hybrid 3 vehicles. Following this, the B9TLs continued in service at Hownsgill depot as spare vehicles, making frequent appearances on services X5/X15 and "Durham Diamond" services 16/16A.
6118–6121 remained in service, still branded for "The Red Kite", until December 2020: six months after the brand was discontinued and the succeeding Wright StreetDeck Micro-Hybrid 3 vehicles had entered service. They were withdrawn shortly afterwards, and were transferred down to fellow Go-Ahead operator East Yorkshire at the end of the following month for further service there. Since departure from Go North East, they have been repainted and branded in East Yorkshire's maroon and creme "East Rider" livery for service 55 (Hull to Goole), and have been internally refurbished with newer seating, repainted handrails and upgraded passenger features.
Date last modified: 12th May 2022
Page cover photo: copyright of the background image in the cover photo for this page belongs to Neil Harrison (neilharrison on Flickr), who kindly gave me permission to use it.
▸ "The Red Kite" [v2] — preceded this variation of the brand [coming soon]
▸ "X-lines" (Light Green) — succeeded the brand [coming soon]
▸ "Red Kite Ranger" — a later spin-off of the brand [coming soon]
If you have any other information to contribute towards this page, feel free to contact me on one of the links provided below.