HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY. British double-decker red decks in Stockholm’s regular traffic? Today it sounds like an exotic fantasy, but for a few decades it was a reality. A reality that SL, however, quickly regretted.
On a warm evening in May 1930, a group of festively dressed ladies and gentlemen formed an unusually glamorous bus queue in Stockholm. The object of their fascination was something that appears as exotic today as then: a washable, bright red double-decker.
It was on the occasion of the Stockholm exhibition – where Swedish craftsmanship and design would be shown to the world – that NK had imported its very own double-decker, a magnificent piece that transported passengers back and forth between the department store entrance and the exhibition pavilion at northern Djurgården.
This was the first time a double-decker rolled on the streets of Stockholm (if one ignores those who were driven by literal horsepower in the 19th century). And for a long time it also looked like it would be the last.
Three double deckers from Büssing
As the former double-decker driver Leif Stolt states in his book Double-decker in Stockholm – The time when we went by public transport to the heights, Stockholm was at this time a tram city. It was not until three decades later, in 1963, that Stockholms Spårvägar (the predecessor to today’s SL) bought three double-deckers from the German manufacturer Büssing on a trial basis. The experiment of introducing these into regular traffic was so successful that another year later, 20 more copies were ordered, adapted for the right-hand traffic that the Riksdag had recently decided to introduce in Sweden.
In 1965, these were supplemented with another 50 double-deckers from British Leyland and 20 from Büssing, intended to replace some of the many trams that were now about to be taken out of service. But in September of the same year, an accident occurred that would blacken the hitherto popular giant buses. A subscribed double-decker drove the wrong way and collided with a beam, which resulted in the death of two passengers at the front of the upper deck.
Alarmingly high degree of wagon failure
Over time, several double-deck models also began to suffer from wagon faults to an alarmingly high degree. In some cases it was very difficult to get spare parts, and the cleaning cost was also expensive. After another accident – when a bus ran into a viaduct – it was finally time for the double-deckers to retire. Leif Stolt believes that it was probably “easier with a more uniform park of single-storey buses”, all of which could operate any line if needed, without being limited by their height or weight.
On June 5, 1976, the last double-decker rolled in regular Stockholm traffic (more specifically line 48). Shortly afterwards, almost the entire fleet was scrapped, but one of the specimens that survived the massacre can today be seen at the Tram Museum. On rare solemn occasions, however, it is released to roll on the streets of Stockholm again – an equally exotic and magnificent sight today as it was in May 1930.
Today, the double-deckers have re-emerged for a number of years, including the SL line that runs between Södertälje and central Stockholm.
Footnote: The journalist Hans Berglund has documented Stockholm environments and vehicles since 1967: including trams, blue light vehicles – and the buses on this page. He has also contributed captions with facts about the double deckers.