Ten 409 routes throughout the UK

Two Volvo B7 double deckers, Ashton-under-Lyne bus station
Other 409s are available besides these two seen above...

Some time ago on East of the M60, we went in search of 9 other 343 bus routes throughout the UK and compared them with the Hyde – Mossley – Oldham one which we know and love. This time, another Oldham bus route is being given the same treatment. That of the 409 from Rochdale to Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne. As well as the First Manchester route, the other nine ‘9 buses’ are as follows:

  • East Grinstead – Lingfield – Selsdon – Croydon (Metrobus);
  • Wallasey Village – Birkenhead Circular (Arriva Merseyside);
  • Uttoxeter – Rocester – Mayfield – Ashbourne (Arriva Midlands);
  • Livingston – Craigshill Circular (First South East and Central Scotland);
  • Huntingdon – Gidding Circular (Go Whippet Coaches);
  • Pontefract – Doncaster (Arriva Yorkshire);
  • Wilmington – Hextable – Swanley – Sevenoaks School (Griffin Bus/Go Coach);
  • Aberystwyth – Newtown – London (National Express);

1. Ashton-under-Lyne – Oldham – Rochdale (First Manchester): prior to 1973, the 409 was the 9 bus, operated by SELNEC from November 1969, and a joint service between Rochdale, Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne Corporations before then. This co-worked with the 10 service, which stopped short of Rochdale at Summit and later Thornham (this in turn became 410 under SELNEC/GMT). Its roots also lie in the Ashton – Oldham trolleybus service of the 1930s.

Prior to the introduction of Volvo B7 double deckers, the route maintained a daytime frequency of every 7 minutes, using Mercedes Citaros, and ageing double deckers before then. The current daytime frequency is around every 10 minutes, albeit with the B7s carrying twice as many passengers as the Citaros did (though well short of SELNEC/GMT/GM Buses eras when double deckers were legion on a 7-8 minute daytime frequency. Its Sunday daytime service is every 15 minutes – an extra bus per hour for the 409 on the previous 20 minute frequency. However, this makes amends for the hitherto lost fourth bus per hour (which was from 1999 – 2007 a gap left by the 400’s lost Sunday service).

Evening services have operated every 20 minutes since the start of bus deregulation apart from its Sunday service. The Sunday evening service has been cut to every half hour with an earlier finish compared with Monday to Saturday evening operations.

In the last two decades, the GM Buses service has seen competition between them, The Bee Line Buzz Company, Pennine Blue and Stotts of Oldham. Whereas Bee Line and Pennine Blue ran parallel 409 journeys, Stotts carved out a niche with its 398 service, continuing to Grotton. From 1988, the 409 had competition between Ashton and Hathershaw by means of Citibus’ 419 and 428 services, and Mayne of Manchester’s 424. First Manchester, by contrast has had more of a charmed life, having since added the 419 route, withdrew the 434 (the 428’s successor) and seen off Speedwell’s nascent S49 service to Oldham. Convenience won over cost given First Manchester’s market share in Oldham.

Journey Time: 45 – 60 minutes.

2. East Grinstead – Lingfield – Croydon (Metrobus): railway enthusiasts and Scientologists would be most familiar with East Grinstead. The affluent Surrey town is home to the Bluebell Railway and the Church of Scientology’s base in Saint Hill. In bus terms, East Grinstead is on the edge of London Country/Green Line territory. Unlike First Manchester’s 409, Surrey’s equivalent has an hourly frequency and no Sunday and evening service. In spite of operating into the fringes of Greater London, it shares the common characteristic of most long distance services in the South East of England (no evening and Sunday provision).

Finding out about Croydon’s 409 service was quite a cinch with a clear and accessible website. Timetable’s are available in good old fashioned HTML instead of as Adobe PDF files (better for slow connections and smartphones). As with other bus operators owned by the Go-Ahead Group, the Metrobus site has an individual style and a carefully considered colour scheme inspired by its buses.

Journey Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

3. Birkenhead – Wallasey Circular (Arriva Merseyside): whereas the other two services mentioned cover long distances, Arriva Merseyside’s 409 is a short distance circular which operates half hourly on weekdays and Saturdays. Like its Surrey sister, there is no evening and Sunday service. Their 409 links Birkenhead Woodside and Seacombe Ferry terminals with Birkenhead and Wallasey, offering a daytime connection with the Mersey Ferries.

The website has no sense of regional place, being one section of Arriva’s bus website. However, that doesn’t take away the fact that each page for each route is well designed. Timetables are available for perusal in HTML and Adobe PDF formats (a good thing) and the route map is neatly positioned.

Journey Time: 56 minutes

4. Uttoxeter – Rocester – Mayfield – Ashbourne (Arriva Midlands): this service takes in two county boundaries (Staffordshire and Derbyshire) and is the second Arriva/DB operated 409 so far. Though one of the more scenic 409s, it is also the most infrequent. This incarnation runs every two hours, during Monday – Saturday daytimes. As with the last two, there is no Sunday and evening service. Though six journeys start from Uttoxeter’s TESCO store, only five return there from Ashbourne. Of the 14 journeys, three of them start at the bus station. Three northbound and four southbound journeys call additionally at the Cock Inn. Three return journeys also call at Park Avenue, Rocester.

Journey Time: 31 – 40 minutes.

* Since Easter, Uttoxeter’s 409 has been withdrawn by Arriva Midlands and absorbed by TrentBarton’s Swift route, with buses continuing to Derby. Confusingly – and ironically – TrentBarton’s Swift branded buses are painted in turquoise!

5. Livingston – Craigshill Circular (First South East and Central Scotland): Livingston once had a successful Scottish Football League side, is a New Town and the former constituency of the late Robin Cook. Its 409 is far removed from the other examples, by means of a more limited operating period. It is a subsidised service which runs solely in the morning peak hours. Its sister route, the 410, operates the evening peak circular. Both of which run on a weekdays only basis, timed to cater for work journeys.

The Livingston 409 service is available for perusal on FirstGroup’s regional pages for First South East and Central Scotland, in HTML and Adobe PDF form.

Journey Time: 57 minutes to 1 hour 6 minutes.

6. Huntingdon – Gidding Circular (Go Whippet Coaches): if you thought Livingston’s 409 had limited operating times, think again. The Huntingdon to Gidding Circular has only two journeys on a Friday, which almost qualifies this version of the 409 as a Ghost Bus. Its once weekly service links Huntingdonshire’s north westerly villages with its county town and is timed purposely for shoppers.

Go-Whippet’s website is clear enough and offers a professional air equal to the big bus owning groups’ websites. It is easy for anyone from the hardened web geek to the pensioner to browse through. Timetables are saved in Adobe PDF format which may put off a few persons with slow connections a little.

Journey Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

7. Pontefract – Doncaster (Arriva Yorkshire): our seventh 409 – and Arriva’s third one of this Not So Perfect Ten takes in the Dearne Valley. With a two hour frequency it co-works with the 408, 420 and 430 services. It is one of only two which has a full time service, with the two hourly frequency continuing till the evenings and on Sundays. The service also takes in Askern and Darrington, which prior to state enforced butchery of the mining industry were desirable residences for local miners.

Journey Time: 1 hour 17 minutes.

8. Wilmington – Sevenoaks School (Griffin Bus): Sevenoaks School hit the headlines in 1999 by being the first school to shun ‘A’ Levels in favour of the International Baccalaureate. Taking in Hextable, Swanley and Crockenhill along the way, there is only one return journey operated during school term times which does the full route. A further one begins at Sevenoaks School and finishes at Crockenhill (1535 arriving at 1617) with one to Sevenoaks School leaving Swanley at 0748.

The bulk of Griffin Bus’ 409 service is that of an irregular peak hours weekday service between Swanley and Hextable, with some journeys starting at Crockenhill. It also co-works with the 419 and 408 routes along its locality – something in common with First Manchester’s more frequent 409! The website, suffice to say, is very basic and in dire need of updating. The timetables are depicted as separate images which can cause accessibility issues with search engines and persons viewing the site on modest connections.

Journey Times: (full route): 54 minutes; (Crockenhill – Hextable): 12 minutes; (Swanley – Hextable): 7 minutes.

* Over the last year, the full service from Wilmington has been taken over by Go! Coach.

9. Aberystwyth – Newtown – Birmingham – London (National Express): extensive research on Google for nine other ‘9 buses’ was harder than I thought. For my ninth one within this rundown, I’ve had to cheat and opt for a National Express route.

The outward journey leaves Aberystwyth for London Victoria Coach Station at 0815, arriving at 1505. The return journey from London Victoria Coach Station departs at 1300, arriving at 1940 or 2000. Therefore a day trip to London is impossible from Aberystwyth by coach, if you only used the 409 (an overnight stay at the very minimum is required). By contrast, the train leaves 45 minutes later and arrives at London Euston 1 hour and 11 minutes earlier.

The return journey (based on boarding the 1445 from London Euston) is 1 hour 45 minutes after the 409 leaves Victoria Coach Station, with an arrival time of 1925 (15 or 35 minutes before the coach arrives). One change is allowed at Birmingham International.

Best for Journey Time: The train; 4 hours 38 minutes average journey time (6 hours 50 minutes on National Express).

Best for Price: Thrifty persons with iron rear ends may be best going for National Express’ Economy Return at £44.00. If you prefer speed and flexibility, the extra £21.20 for an off-peak return by rail is worth considering (please note that fares stated here are off-peak period returns).

10. I’ve Given Up! Surely there must be more than eight 409 routes in the United Kingdom on stage carriage services…?

The number 409 doesn’t seem to be that popular throughout the UK. With the exception of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Greater London and West Yorkshire, most route numbers tend to stop after 300. Hence my need to cheat for the ninth one being a National Express route. Therefore, this is the first East of the M60 entry to be filed under ‘The Not So Perfect Nine’.

Or ‘Cloud of Nines’. Quite appropriate given that the route which inspired this rundown was originally ‘the 9 bus’ (which is how my Oldham born mother still refers to the 409 each time).

Out of All the Nines…

The most frequent 409 route in the UK is First Manchester’s. It is one of only two with a full time service. Oldham’s 409 is the most successful of the eight stage carriage routes due to its density. The whole 11 miles from Ashton to Rochdale is ideal bus territory with high density terraced houses and medium semi-detached houses throughout. As well as serving three regional town centres, it offers access to major employers (Park Cake Bakeries, NHS and local councils) and small businesses alike. Other than the three bus stations, stops at Royal Oldham Hospital, Hathershaw and Royton are well patronised. It is also the nearest frequent bus route to Boundary Park and, since the closure of the OA&GB railway, enjoys near monopoly status along Oldham Road/Ashton Road.

Over To You

If you can think of another two 409 routes (standard stage carriage ones only, most ideally) in the United Kingdom, feel free to comment. Failing that, if you’ve boarded any of the 409s other than the Ashton – Rochdale one, we would like to hear from you.

S.V., 10 July 2011.

2 thoughts on “Is This The 409? A Cloud of Nines

  1. One little point – the Uttoxeter – Ashbourne 409 service was taken over by Trent Barton and run as a standalone service before being merged with “The One” to form the “Swift” route. The service was tendered (with this part of the Swift still being tendered), but the Swift has seen the route doubled in frequency.

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