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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 08:33 GMT 09:33 UK
End of era as leopard becomes extinct
A Leopard Ulsterbus
The old shaped Ulsterbus is driving into history
The bus that once symbolised public transport in Northern Ireland is being retired after four decades.

Transport firm Translink said that from Friday Ulsterbus Leopards will be withdrawn from the province's roads.

The disappearance of the Leopards will bring to an end a bus body type which has represented Ulsterbus and Citybus throughout most of their existence.

It coincides with Translink's recent introduction of 215 new, modern buses with more to follow in coming months.

In total 681 Leopard buses were built for Ulsterbus and its predecessor, the Ulster Transport Authority (UTA) by Leyland.

Some people may even remember the original grey and white liveries under the UTA which preceded the more familiar blue and white of Ulsterbus.

Translink's Frank Clegg said the buses had given good service.

"In general the lifespan of the earlier Leopards, purchased new, was between 14 and 16 years while some of the later purchases have clocked up an incredible 28 years' service," he said.

Troubles icon

"I think these buses, in particular, have served us well and deserve to rest."

John Montgomery said the leopard first arrived in the province in 1965 and that they had been popular with drivers.

"The drivers have mostly liked them," he said.

"They all now have power assisted steering but that hasn't always been the case - the first ones took quite a bit of muscle work to turn the steering wheel so there was a hard day's work at times in them too."

Passengers of the earlier models may well have memories of the hard plastic seats and freezing journeys in the depths of winter.

The new breed of buses which is replacing the Leopard have low floor access for wheelchairs and pushchairs, better heating, double glazing and CCTV.

The buses also played their part in the iconography of the Troubles, with pictures of burnt out buses being front page picture material.

In total 228 Leopard buses out of a total 1,300 vehicles were destroyed maliciously during the Troubles.

The remains of the fleet are being sold off, some will be converted into other vehicles and others will be preserved in bus museums.

Hear more on the demise of the Leopard

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