Ulsterbus (Irish: Bus Uladh) is a public transport operator in Northern Ireland and operates bus services outside Belfast. It is part of Translink, the brand name for the subsidiary operating companies of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, which also includes Northern Ireland Railways and Metro Belfast.

Ulsterbus logo.png
Wright Eclipse SchoolRun 1.jpg
HeadquartersMilewater Road, Belfast, Northern Ireland
LocaleNorthern Ireland
Service areaAntrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry
Service typeBus service, Coach
AllianceBus Éireann


Ulsterbus was founded in 1967 with the creation of the Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company, replacing the former Ulster Transport Authority. The founding of Ulsterbus coincided with the beginnings of The Troubles, a conflict which intensified throughout the 1970s and 1980s and often saw Ulsterbus buses and employees caught in the crossfire.[1] Drivers would often face hijackings, assaults and robberies while operating Ulsterbus services, their buses being turned into burning barricades or occasionally being bombed.[2] Four Ulsterbus employees were killed in the 1972 Bloody Friday bombings when an IRA bomb exploded at the Oxford Street bus station.[3][4] In total, 17 employees from both Ulsterbus and Citybus were killed during The Troubles, with 1,484 buses in total being maliciously destroyed from 1964 to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.[1][5]

Werner Heubeck was the first managing director of both Ulsterbus and Citybus, managing both companies throughout The Troubles from his appointment in 1965 until his retirement in 1988. A former Luftwaffe conscript, Heubeck became known for carrying bombs off buses and for making Northern Ireland's buses profitable and running to schedule despite the security situation, and received both an OBE in 1977 and a CBE on his retirement in 1988.[6]

The Northern Ireland Transport Holding Company was rebranded to Translink in 1996. Ulsterbus and Citybus, as well as Northern Ireland's rail services, were integrated into Translink and were subsequently rebanded. Translink have built and refurbished a number of bus stations served by Ulsterbus and have invested in a fully low-floor bus fleet, as well as introducing brands such as the Foyle Metro.[7]


Ulsterbus is responsible for most of the province-wide bus services in Northern Ireland. It operates twenty-two bus stations, several of which, such as those at Belfast Europa and Bangor, form integrated transport interchanges with Northern Ireland Railways stations) and 1,100 buses.[8] Ulsterbus, as part of Translink, is charged with transporting over 55,000 children per day to school.[9] Every July and August, around 250 vehicles are usually de-taxed. This is because not as many are needed for service due to schools finishing for summer holidays.[citation needed]


A Goldline Scania-Caetano Invictus double-decker coach at Dungannon, County Tyrone.

Goldliner is the name given to the inter-city express bus services operated by Ulsterbus. Originally launched as the 'Northern Ireland Express' in the 1970s, these services were rebranded to 'Goldline' in 1990, with the Belfast-Derry express service relaunched as the 'Maiden City Flyer' with eight new coaches in 1991. This service has seen major expansion over the years: Belfast-Derry 212 service went from a thrice daily service in 1990 to half-hourly frequency,[10] and many services have been expanded and introduced.[11] Goldline services are operated from Belfast to major destinations in Northern Ireland, plus the Goldline Express Services X1/X2 (previously Service 200) to Dublin (via Dublin Airport). This service was worked jointly with Bus Éireann service X1 (previously Service 001) until December 2020, where the service changed to be worked 100% by Translink.

There are also a number of cross-channel (North Channel) services to Britain, operated in partnership with National Express[12] under the Eurolines banner.

Foyle MetroEdit

An Ulsterbus Foyle Optare Solo
Two Foyle Metro Optare Versas.

For many years, Derry's internal bus network was operated as Ulsterbus's Derry City Services. The network was relaunched as Ulsterbus Foyle on 4 September 2006 following a review and expansion of the city's bus routes and replacement of many of the city's older buses.[13]

Ulsterbus Foyle was later rebranded as Foyle Metro on 1st September 2017, with the buses branded in a deep red livery. The rebranded service now operates across 14 high-quality bus corridors with new timetables. It represents an investment of over £3m, consisting of 19 brand new buses and many others refurbished.[14]

In 2022, the Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon announced £30 million worth of funding for 38 zero emission battery electric buses for Foyle Metro.[15] This will mean that the city's entire urban fleet will be replaced with electric buses, making it one of the first cities in the UK and Ireland to have a fully zero-emission bus fleet when all the vehicles enter passenger service in Spring 2023. The announcement was made at the United Nations COP26 conference in Glasgow. Translink Chief Executive, Chris Conway, also said this would be "a mix of both [28] single and [10] double decker buses bringing enhanced capacity and with the latest passenger comfort features including WiFi, USB chargers and accessibility features like audio visual next stop announcements".[15] These buses will be supplied by local manufacturer Wrightbus, in the form of Wright StreetDeck and Wright GB Kite Electroliner BEVs.[16]


Ulsterbus used to operate the "University Link" service 163a between the two main campuses of Northern Ireland's largest universities, Queen's University Belfast, and Ulster University at the Jordanstown campus, until January 2022. This service is now operated by Translink Metro (Belfast) as service number U2.

Ulsterbus ToursEdit

Ulsterbus previously operated a holiday coaching arm named 'Ulsterbus Tours', operating "day tours" to other parts of Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and across the Irish Sea to Great Britain, mainly for shopping and visits to tourist attractions. Coaches could also be hired for sporting events such as Old Firm derbies and racing events such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Ulsterbus Tours was closed in September 2020 due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Translink.[17]


An Urby Wright StreetDeck Micro Hybrid

The Ulsterbus Urby service is an upgraded bus service offering USB charging, faster journeys, WiFi and leather seating, initially launched with 28 new Wright double decker buses in June 2018 to operate in Ballyclare, Bangor, Newtownards and Dromore.[18] In September 2019, routes serving Ballygowan, Comber and Moneyreagh were upgraded to Urby routes with an investment of seven new buses.[19]


In December 2015, a single-decker bus crashed into Strangford Lough after colliding with a wall on the Portaferry Road near Newtownards. No passengers were on board at the time and the driver of the bus sustained only minor injuries. The bus was recovered and put back onto land a few hours later.[20]

Two Ulsterbus Goldline coaches have suffered engine fires while in service; a coach bound for Belfast caught fire outside of Lurgan, County Armagh in November 2016, while another caught fire on the M2 in County Antrim in July 2021, which the company states was caused by "accidental ignition".[21][22]

An Urby bus was hijacked and set alight by "masked men" on the morning of 1 November 2021 in Newtownards. The bus had recently entered service in the Bowtown estate when hijackers held the driver at gunpoint and "muttered something about the (Northern Ireland) protocol" before setting the bus alight. No passengers were on board at the time, but the bus was totally destroyed and the driver left "badly shaken". The attack was widely condemned by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and all buses to the town were briefly suspended.[23][24]


An Ulsterbus Wright Solar Rural calling at a bus shelter in Downpatrick
An Ulsterbus Express Leyland Leopard with Alexander (Belfast) X-Type bodywork. The Leopard was a common sight on Northern Irish roads for over 40 years

As of October 2021, the Ulsterbus fleet consists of nearly 1,100 buses and coaches,[11] with buses predominantly bodied by Wrightbus of Ballymena.

Prior to the advent of low-floor buses, the Ulsterbus fleet mainly consisted of Alexander-bodied Bristol REs, Leyland Leopards, Leyland Tigers and Volvo B10Ms. Many of these would be hijacked and maliciously destroyed throughout The Troubles, and as such, second-hand Bristol, Leyland and AEC buses were regularly purchased from British operators.[11][25]

The last Leyland Tiger of a fleet of over 600 was handed over to the company in September 1993, with Ulsterbus moving over to the Volvo B10M following the closure of Leyland Bus.[26] Most high-floor Ulsterbus buses were withdrawn by the mid-2000s; the last Leyland Leopards were finally withdrawn in 2006, with 681 being built for Ulsterbus and 228 of these being maliciously destroyed.[27]

Following an order for 40 Leyland Atlanteans in 1971, no further double decker buses were ordered, as they were seen as expensive to run and not offering good value for money at the time.[28][29] In 2001, however, double decker buses were reintroduced to Northern Ireland through the purchase of 20 low-floor Volvo B7TLs with Alexander ALX400 bodywork for both Ulsterbus and Citybus.[30]


  1. ^ a b "Exhibition charts Ulsterbus' remarkable 50-year journey". Belfast Telegraph. 20 April 2017. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  2. ^ O'Callaghan, Eugene (21 September 2019). "Bus heroes who steered us through the Troubles". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  3. ^ "Bloody Friday: What happened". BBC News. 16 July 2002. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  4. ^ Morris, Steven (17 July 2002). "The day 20 bombs hit a city centre". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  5. ^ O'Callaghan, Eugene (21 September 2019). "Werner Heubeck: the boss who carried bombs off buses". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  6. ^ "Boss who took bombs off buses dies". BBC News. 19 October 2009. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  7. ^ "Anniversary, 1996-2021" (PDF). www.translink.co.uk. Translink. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  8. ^ About Ulsterbus Ulsterbus.co.uk – Retrieved on 3 March 2009
  9. ^ "Corporate". www.translink.co.uk. Translink. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  10. ^ Buses in Ulster Volume 6: Ulsterbus and Citybus 1988–2003
  11. ^ a b c Savage, Paul (16 March 2017). "Ulsterbus at 50". Buses. Stamford: Key Publishing. Retrieved 26 October 2021.(subscription required)
  12. ^ "Cheap coach tickets to European Destinations".
  13. ^ All-new Ulsterbus Foyle service takes to the roads Archived 11 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 22 September 2006.
  14. ^ "Translink launches red Foyle Metro bus fleet in Londonderry". Belfast Telegraph. 1 July 2017. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  15. ^ a b "Mallon announces £30 million to make Foyle Metro Zero Carbon". Department for Infrastructure. 3 November 2021. Retrieved 5 July 2022.
  16. ^ "Further electric investment announced in Northern Ireland". Buses. Stamford: Key Publishing. 10 December 2021. Retrieved 6 July 2022.(subscription required)
  17. ^ "Ulsterbus Tours to close as Translink targets £20m in cost savings". Coach & Bus Week. Peterborough: Emap. 22 September 2020. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  18. ^ "Translink to launch service 'Urby' with 28 new Wrights Group £6.7m Ulsterbuses". Belfast Telegraph. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  19. ^ Scott, Sarah (29 September 2019). "Translink Urby buses to help connect Co Down towns with Belfast". Belfast Live. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  20. ^ "Ulsterbus lifted from the beach at Strangford Lough shore after crash". Belfast Telegraph. 9 December 2015. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  21. ^ "Translink bus fire: Lurgan engine fire investigated". BBC News. 3 November 2016. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  22. ^ McGonagle, Suzanne (26 July 2021). "Fire on bus as it travelled along M2 motorway". The Irish News. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  23. ^ "Newtownards: Bus hijacked by masked men and set on fire". BBC News. 1 November 2021. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  24. ^ "Bus hijacked and set on fire in Co Down". RTÉ News. 1 November 2021. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  25. ^ "Tight fleets in Ulster". Commercial Motor. Temple Press. 13 November 1982. pp. 20–21. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  26. ^ Morgan, Mike (18 September 1993). "Handover marks the end of an era". Coach & Bus Week. No. 83. Peterborough: Emap. p. 7.
  27. ^ "End of era as leopard becomes extinct". BBC News. 28 June 2006. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  28. ^ "Atlanteans for Ulsterbus". Commercial Motor. Temple Press. 9 July 1971. p. 32. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  29. ^ "Troubled tale of Ulster's buses". Commercial Motor. Temple Press. 6 July 1979. pp. 33–35. Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  30. ^ "Double deckers back on the road". The News Letter. Belfast. 24 March 2001. Retrieved 26 October 2021 – via General OneFile.

External linksEdit