On Saturday 1st April 1989 Midland Red West Limited expanded their Worcester City “Citibus” minibus network to the Malvern area, under the slogan “Citibus Takes To The Hills!” All existing services in the area, numbered in the 342–348 range, were withdrawn and replaced with a new network of services, numbered in the 42, 44–47 range.
Initially all services in the new network were operated with Mercedes-Benz L608D minibuses, and to provide the extra capacity needed nine second-hand examples were acquired from Southdown Motor Services Limited of Brighton. However, it was quickly found that minibuses could not cope during peak times and certain journeys were soon converted to being operated with full-size Leyland National single-deck buses.
Midland Red West Limited renamed to First Midland Red Buses Limited on Friday 26th March 1999, and Service 44 is the only route from the 1989 Malvern network to have survived into the FirstGroup era.
Service 44 was introduced with the new “simplified” Malvern area minibus network on Saturday 1st April 1989, as one of six routes between Worcester and The Malverns! At introduction, Service 44 was a direct replacement for Service 344, running between Worcester, Powick, Malvern Link, Pound Bank, Barnards Green and Great Malvern, with certain peak-time journeys continued to Malvern Wells throughout the week and British Camp on Sundays.
Off-peak journeys of Service 44 ran between Worcester and Great Malvern every hour, interworked with Service 45 to provide a 30-minute frequency between Worcester and Malvern Link. Short-working journeys of Service 44 between Malvern Link and Great Malvern were also provided to give a 15-minute frequency on most of that section of the route.
Service 45 was also introduced with the new network as a direct replacement for Service 345, running over the same route as Service 44 between Worcester and Malvern Link, and between Pound Bank and Great Malvern, but ran via North End Lane and Orford Way between Pickersleigh Road and Pound Bank.
Off-peak variation Service 44D replaced Service 346 running direct between Malvern Link and Great Malvern along Worcester Road, although there were very few of these journeys, and evening variation Service 46 and Service 46A ran over Service 44 route between Worcester and Great Malvern then continued to Belmont and Malvern Link along the Service 42 route.
There were also variations between peak-time and off-peak journeys of Service 44, as on arrival in Great Malvern most peak-time journeys would run via Graham Road and Moorlands Road to terminate at Link Top (Shelter), then return to Great Malvern and Worcester as a Service 44. Meanwhile off-peak journeys would run Victoria Road, Como Road and Graham Road to terminate on Church Road, before operating a short-working Service 44 to Malvern Link. The short-working Service 44 journeys would run from Pickersleigh Road via Spring Lane and Worcester Road to Malvern Link, allowing the vehicle to be on the correct side of the road to operate a Service 42 to Fruitlands.
Service 44 also replaced most of the Worcester to The Mavlerns section of the Motorway Express Service X43 and Service X44, although Service X43 continued to run to The Malverns on Sundays during the summer season until Saturday 1st September 1990 when they were also replaced by Service 44. The small number of Service 44 journeys that ran to British Camp during the week were cut back to Great Malvern on Saturday 29th August 1992, but they continued to run on Sundays.
On Sundays, morning journeys to Great Malvern were provided by variation Service 44D, running direct between Malvern Link and Great Malvern, before returning to Worcester as Service 44. These Service 44D journeys were seldom used and were in reality only provided as positioning services to get the bus in the right place for the next journey. Daytime Sunday journeys ran via Great Malvern (Post Office) to British Camp, with buses running between Great Malvern, British Camp and back to Great Malvern in a loop via Malvern Wells and Wyche Cutting. The direction of the loop alternated with each journey. Evening Sunday journeys terminated at Link Top (Shelter) in the same way as peak-time weekday journeys. Most Sunday journeys were timed to connect at Worcester with Service 144, providing a link between Birmingham and Great Malvern.
On Saturday 14th May 1994 the network recieved it’s first major revision. From this time, all daytime journeys between Worcester and The Malverns were run as Service 44, and evening journeys were Service 46 or Service 46A via Lower Wick Estate. The short-working journeys of Service 44 between Malvern Link and Great Malvern were all withdrawn and replaced by new Service 45 which now ran via the Retail Park and Elgar Avenue.
The Sunday working to British Camp continued mostly unchanged to c. 1996 (exact date needed) when Sunday working of Service 44 was withdrawn and replaced by extending Service 144 from Worcester to Great Malvern or British Camp. The extended Service 144 also ran via Great Malvern Railway Station between Barnards Green and Great Malvern. Service 44D continued to provide early morning and late evening positioning journeys between Worcester and Great Malvern.
1 Short-working journeys from Great Malvern to Malvern Link run via Spring Lane and Worcester Road between Pickersleigh Road and Malvern Link, until 13th May 1994.
2 Peak-time journeys terminate at Link Top (Shelter), while off-peak journeys run via Victoria Road, Como Road and Graham Road to terminate at Great Malvern (Church Road).
3 Certain peak-time weekday journeys continue past Great Malvern (Post Office) to Malvern Wells (Upper Welland Turn) until 29th August 1992.
4 All day-time Sunday journeys continue past Great Malvern (Post Office) to British Camp, running in a loop via Malvern Wells and Wych Cutting in alternate directions. Evening Sunday journeys terminate at Link Top.
Midland Red West Limited became part of FirstGroup in 1997, and renamed to First Midland Red Buses Limited on Friday 26th March 1999. Other than the company name on the buses and a few new tickets, the change did not initially effect the operation of the Malvern services, and probably went unnoticed by most passengers. However, as FirstGroup policy slowly filtered down, major changes to all networks were bought into operation.
Service 42 and Service 45 were both withdrawn and Service 44 was standardised with all journeys running to Link Top. Later, Service 44 became “Red Line” service in the Worcester City “OverGround” network and was extended at the Worcester end to County Hall, partly replacing Service 28. For a short period it was also extended past County Hall to Worcestershire Royal Hospital as a result of funding from Worcestershire County Council, but was cut back to County Hall again when the funding ended.
The Worcestershire Councy Council contract to operate evening Service 46 and Service 46A journeys came to an end on Sunday 18th April 2004, and passed to Astons Coaches as part of the re-tendering process. Under the new contract, these journeys were cut back to run only between Worcester and Great Malvern and were operated by Astons Coaches as Service 44.
The Worcester over ground network was launched on Monday 5th July 2004, and at this time Service 44 became known as “Red Line”. Although red colour coding was used on timetables and other company literature from this time, vehicles had to wait another two years before red route branding was fitted, with Alexander Dennis Enviro300 fleet numbers 67658–67663 receiving the over ground graphics during the first week in September 2006.
Service 44 has been extended at the Malvern end to serve Belmont and Malvern Vale, running every 20-minutes, with journeys that only run as far as Great Malvern becoming variation Service 44C.
Capacity on the route has increased significantly with the FirstGroup changes, going from one vehicle every 30-minutes in the mid and late 1990s, often a minibus, to one bus every 10-minutes today when interworked with Service 44C. These are worked by a full-size single-deck Wrightbus StreetLite Max or one of four Wrightbus StreetDeck double-deck buses bought specifically for the Service 44 route.
On summer Saturdays only, certain Service 44C journeys continue past Great Malvern (Post Office) to Wych Cutting, British Camp, Ledbury Town Centre and Ledbury Deer Park Estate. These journeys run as Service 44B.