How Stalybridge’s rail services have changed over the space of 40 years
Forty years ago, we would have been watching On The Buses, Magpie or Dad’s Army, experiencing a three day week or listening to T-Rex on our transistor radios. The 11 and 11A would take a great many residents to Ashton-under-Lyne from Tame Valley or the Albion Hotel. Orange and white buses began to dominate what would become Greater Manchester in two years time.
Elsewhere, the rail scene was a different place to that of the present day. Diesel locomotives pulled substantial rakes of Mark I and Mark II carriages, decked in light grey and rail blue. British Rail was on the verge of a comprehensive renumbering system of all its rolling stock, known as TOPS. The new SELNEC PTE would become the first Passenger Transport Executive to subsidise local rail services.
In 1972, Stalybridge station was advertised as an important junction, and had a long term future. The Rochdale – Oldham loop line was under threat of closure between Oldham Mumps and Rochdale. As for the rail services…
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The 1972 Timetable:
If you look at Table 3 of the 1972 – 73 BR timetable for the Eastern Region, you will notice one glaring omission compared with today: the lack of off-peak stopping services between Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield. Only Stalybridge had all day services, with Ashton-under-Lyne, Miles Platting, Park, and all other stations between Stalybridge and Huddersfield having peak only trains.
The first train to leave Stalybridge was the 0704 to Hull Paragon, which was an all stations service up to Leeds. Then, the 0714 from Huddersfield to Manchester Victoria which arrived at 0743. This was an all stations service. The second one, at 0824, began at Leeds City calling at all stations to Manchester Victoria except Park. The third one was a semi fast service with buffet facilities calling at Dewsbury and Huddersfield before Stalybridge, then Ashton-under-Lyne (0842) and Manchester Victoria, prior to reaching Liverpool Lime Street.
This would be the last train to leave Charlestown station for Manchester on a weekday service till 1829. Saturday travellers bound for Victoria fared worse with the next trains at 2228 and 2327! It was clear that British Rail wanted Ashtonians to make do with the 6 or the 216 bus. On returning from Manchester to Ashton, the 0720 and the 1723 would be its peak hour trains along with the weekday only 1754. The 1900, 1950, 2120 and 2230 Victoria trains would also call at Charlestown. Therefore, Ashton had a better service from Manchester than one to the city centre.
Meanwhile at Stalybridge, passengers have further rail options. Normal services would follow a more or less hourly pattern, arriving at either 21 minutes to, 23 minutes to or 24 minutes to the hours for Manchester Victoria. Towards Yorkshire, around 5 past the hour. The core service was between Manchester Victoria and Leeds with extensions to Liverpool Lime Street, York, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Scarborough. On weeknights, the last train would leave Stalybridge at 2356 arriving at Manchester Victoria for 0025 with through carriages to Stockport arriving at Aberystwyth at 0655! The last Manchester bound train would depart at 2136, with extra Saturday departures at 2223 and 2322 calling at Ashton-under-Lyne five minutes after.
In addition to the core service, there would also be summertime journeys to Blackpool and Llandudno – direct from Stalybridge. A Summer Saturdays only train from Leeds (all stops to Huddersfield except Ravensthorpe) would arrive at 0927 and – skipping Manchester Victoria – continue to Blackpool North (1101). The Llandudno train – again starting at Leeds with similar stops – would reach Stalybridge at 1031 and reach the North Wales resort at 1328. A further fast one from York to Llandudno would skip Stalybridge arriving at 1400.
Unlike today, there would only be one departure from Scarborough to Stalybridge with the train in the opposite direction being Summer Saturdays only. The former left the spa town’s commodious terminus at 1210 arriving in Stalybridge at 1437 – almost 2.5 hours. The Summer Saturdays only departure would leave at 0904 and arrive at 1126.
Sunday Services, 1972:
On Sundays, Ashton-under-Lyne fared better with six return trains between Manchester Victoria and Leeds City stations. Manchester journeys departed from Ashton at 0848, 1318, 1523, 1743, 1918 and 2115 (five minutes earlier at Stalybridge). Yorkshire bound trains would leave Ashton at 0754, 1101, 1311, 1501, 2101 and 2221 (five minutes later at Stalybridge). Mossley and Greenfield stations lost their Sunday service in 1968. Stalybridge maintained her hourly service.
1972 Services from Stalybridge to Manchester Victoria and Leeds:
- Monday – Friday: 17 to Manchester Victoria (18 on Fridays), 16 to Leeds (17 to Huddersfield);
- Saturday: 17 to Manchester Victoria, 16 to Leeds;
- Sunday: nine to Leeds, eight to Manchester Victoria.
Weekday and Saturday Extensions to Core Route:
- Hull Paragon: six weekdays or five Saturdays eastbound, seven westbound;
- Liverpool Lime Street: 10 westbound journeys (11 on Saturdays), nine eastbound journeys;
- York: six weekdays or seven Saturdays eastbound;
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne: three eastbound journeys (0855, 1105, 1605), two westbound journeys (0943, 1542).
Sunday Extensions to Core Route:
- Hull Paragon: one westbound, one eastbound;
- Liverpool Lime Street: three westbound, two eastbound;
- York: two westbound, four eastbound;
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne: none westbound, two eastbound.
First and Last Weekday and Saturday Trains:
- Towards Manchester and Liverpool: 0743 weekdays and 0837 Saturdays/2356 weekdays and Saturdays;
- Towards Yorkshire: 0704 weekdays and 0739 Saturdays/2135 weekdays and 2247 Saturdays.
First and Last Sunday Trains:
- Towards Manchester and Liverpool: 0843/2356;
- Towards Yorkshire: 0759/2226.
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The 2012 Timetable
What a difference four decades make. Forty years ago, the railways were recovering from The Reshaping of Railways and perceived by many as a dated form of transport, given the extension of the UK’s motorway network. 1972 saw the opening of the M62 motorway towards Huddersfield, which would have a fundamental affect on the popularity of Trans-Pennine rail services.
Today, our privatised railways may lack the long diesel trains of the BR era. Instead, two or three car multiple units offering a regular service at urban bus service like intervals is the norm for today’s provincial rail services. This is especially true of the Trans-Pennine corridor which has seen an increased number of train paths in the last two decades.
Recent developments also greatly affected Stalybridge’s services, though most of these were positive. The most dramatic effect came from the opening of the Windsor Link in 1988. For the first time, Stalybridge passengers from then on would have a choice of Piccadilly or Victoria stations for Manchester bound journeys. The downside of this meant the demise of the Stockport to Stalybridge line’s hourly service, reduced to Ghost Train Status in April 1989. The current service operates once weekly in one direction on a Friday.
As a consequence, this meant fundamental changes to the Trans-Pennine timetable. Class 47s and Mark 2 carriages gave way to bus style intervals and Class 158 Super Sprinter Express DMUs with air conditioning in 1991. Whereas at one time most destinations would be served by the same hourly service as Stalybridge, services would be upgraded to three per hour between Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds. Stalybridge trains would remain once hourly with peak hour extras, as is the case today on the Trans-Pennine express routes. Today, there are four TPE services per hour with five per hour likely in 2014.
Compared with the 1972 timetable, the Manchester Victoria – Huddersfield all stations services are a vast improvement. There are now two trains per hour between Victoria and Stalybridge, in addition to First/Keolis’ Transpennine Express service to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road. The latter now serves Liverpool South Parkway, connecting Stalybridge with Liverpool Airport via frequent shuttle buses.
Sunday Services, 2012:
This year, Stalybridge’s Sunday services will be operated by train replacement bus services outside of the period between 01 July and 09 September. That is owing to engineering works, particularly the remodelling of Stalybridge railway station itself. Train replacement buses or trains, the Sunday service of 2012 still whips 1972’s into a cocked hat. The buses between Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield have an hourly service from Stalybridge as Transpennine Express services reach Huddersfield via the Calder Valley and Brighouse lines.
Besides the hourly Transpennine Express services under normal traffic conditions, there is also an all stations Sunday service from Huddersfield to Manchester Victoria. Prior to 2008, Mossley and Greenfield lacked a Sunday rail service; Ashton’s Sunday service via Victoria (introduced in the early 1990s) was every two hours, continuing to Liverpool Lime Street.
Today, the stopping service is well patronised and offers a viable alternative to the express one, should the TPE be held up in Church Fenton. Recent Northern Rail publicity has advertised the whole route as an ale trail, making it a popular summer weekend jaunt for cask conditioned ale lovers.
2012 Services from Stalybridge to Manchester stations and Huddersfield:
- Monday – Friday: 24 to Manchester Piccadilly, 29 to Manchester Victoria, 47 to Huddersfield;
- Saturday: 23 to Manchester Piccadilly, 28 to Manchester Victoria, 44 to Huddersfield;
- Sunday: two to Manchester Piccadilly, 13 to Manchester Victoria (01 July – 09 September: 18 to Manchester Piccadilly, 13 to Manchester Victoria).
Weekday and Saturday Deviations to Core Route:
- Scarborough: 12 weekdays or 13 Saturdays eastbound, 13 westbound;
- Manchester Airport: three weekdays or four westbound on Saturdays;
- Liverpool Lime Street: 15 westbound journeys on weekdays and Saturdays, nine eastbound journeys;
- York: 22 weekdays and Saturdays eastbound;
- Hull Paragon: two (0749 and 2026) eastbound, four westbound (0746, 0817, 1718 and 1818);
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne: three eastbound journeys (0552, 1708 SX, 1738 SO, 2155), one westbound journey (0846);
- Middlesbrough: two westbound, four eastbound (five eastbound on Fridays).
Sunday Deviations to Core Route (01 July – 09 September 2012 only):
- Scarborough: six westbound, seven eastbound;
- Manchester Airport: three eastbound and four westbound;
- Liverpool Lime Street: 11 westbound, 14 eastbound;
- York: 17 westbound, 14 eastbound;
- Hull Paragon: one westbound (1046), one eastbound (0924);
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne: two westbound (2119 and 2219), three eastbound (0754, 0841 and 2124);
- Middlesbrough: five westbound, three eastbound.
First and Last Weekday and Saturday Trains:
- Towards Manchester and Liverpool: 0633 weekdays and Saturdays/2336 weekdays and Saturdays;
- Towards Yorkshire: 0552 weekdays and Saturdays/2331 or 2334 weekdays and Saturdays.
First and Last Sunday Trains (* 1st July – 09 September):
- Towards Manchester and Liverpool: 0719 or 0720*/2305 or 2319*;
- Towards Yorkshire: 0654 or 0655*/2116 or 2254*.
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Journey time comparisons between 1972 and 2012 services:
Over the last 40 years, there has been some improvement and realignment of the track along the Trans-Pennine routes. Most of the tangible improvements in journey time were created by a transition from Class 47s with Mark 2s to Class 158s (albeit with inferior seating). For the purpose of this table below, 1972 journey times from Stalybridge are displayed in brackets. Please note that parenthesis do not apply to the Manchester Piccadilly and Middlesbrough entries: no direct trains operated to and from Stalybridge to there in 1972.
Journey times from Stalybridge to:
- Manchester Victoria: 15 minutes (18 minutes) – 3 minutes less than 1972;
- Manchester Piccadilly: 13 – 18 minutes;
- Huddersfield: 18 – 22 or 32 minutes, latter pertinent to stopping service (23 minutes) – 1 to 5 minutes less than 1972;
- Leeds: 44 minutes (51 minutes) – 6 minutes less than 1972;
- York: 1 hour 10 minutes (1 hour 19 minutes) – 9 minutes less than 1972;
- Liverpool Lime Street: 1 hour 4 minutes (1 hour 18 minutes) – 14 minutes less than 1972;
- Hull Paragon: 1 hour 42 minutes (2 hours) – 18 minutes less than 1972;
- Scarborough: 1 hour 58 minutes (2 hours 33 minutes) – 35 minutes less than 1972;
- Middlesbrough: 2 hours 23 minutes;
- Newcastle-upon-Tyne: 2 hours 21 minutes (2 hour 49 minutes) – 28 minutes less than 1972.
As seen above, today’s trains are faster than our 1972 counterparts. Most of which have been buoyed by late 1980s electrification and upgrading of the East Coast Main Line, benefiting services north of York. The figures for Liverpool Lime Street do not symbolise times over the same line. As a consequence of the Windsor Link, Piccadilly bound trains for Liverpool use the line via Irlam and Warrington Central instead of Stephenson’s route via Newton-le-Willows.
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1972 or 2012: Which Timetable Do I Prefer?
In many cases, it is clichéd to say ‘there is no time like the present’ though I shall make one exception. As far as Stalybridge’s rail services go, I would happily have the 2012 timetable owing to its superior frequency along the Trans-Pennine routes. The only timetable I would have from 1972 would be that year’s Stockport to Stalybridge route. There was an hourly service via Guide Bridge, Denton and Reddish South which served as a useful connection, avoiding a trip across Manchester city centre.
Today, it would be hard to imagine rail services under le anciene regime. From Manchester to Leeds, there are six trains per hour counting the two per hour on the Calder Valley line, unlike 1972’s hourly service, odd journeys along the Calder Valley and derisory all stations journeys. The stopping service of 2012 competes with local buses and offers a cheaper alternative in most cases.
Today’s trains are shorter with 2 to 3 cars the norm between Liverpool and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Even so, with four trains per hour from Piccadilly to Leeds, we are looking at the equivalent of eleven carriages per hour – the length of a typical 1980s InterCity train!
1972 or 2012: Which Rolling Stock Would I Prefer?
- 1972: Class 40/Class 45 with Mark 1 or Mark 2 carriages, Class 124 Trans-Pennine DMUs, Class 101 DMUs (BR Eastern Region: Leeds Neville Hill, Hull Botanic Gardens and Heaton depots);
- 2012: Class 185 Siemens Desiro DMUs, Class 170 Turbostar DMUs (First/Keolis Transpennine Express), Class 142/Class 150/Class 156 DMUs (Northern Rail).
I would prefer the rolling stock of 1972 over the 2012 examples, though this is from a personal enthusiast’s point of view. However, my head suggests that the Class 185 Desiros with air conditioning, automatic doors and disabled access are in most cases superior. Back in 1972, disabled passengers with wheelchairs had to sit in the guard’s van. Thankfully, not any more, though some selfish types may insist in blocking the wheelchair space with their luggage.
The seats on the present rolling stock are harder than the Mark 1s and Mark 2s of 1972, though offer legroom akin to its predecessors. As for buffet and food facilities, I would like to see a return to full buffet cars instead of trolleys, though I doubt as if we’ll see the likes of the griddle car on the Class 124 DMUs again. Not least the fact faster journeys are less conducive for enjoying substantial meals on board. Then again, there are worthwhile alternatives along the Trans-Pennine route such as Stalybridge station’s buffet bar, and the bacon butties on the island platform of Huddersfield station.
2012 and Beyond:
The future’s going to see another major change for Stalybridge’s services. It is anticipated that more Trans-Pennine trains would use Manchester Victoria, which has potential for the return of the Stockport – Stalybridge’s long lost hourly service.
In 1972, Stalybridge station had six platforms, though only three were in use: the through platforms and a bay platform for the Stockport – Stalybridge service. Its canopies covered all platforms. The Stalybridge station of 2014 will have five platforms, with the present Manchester one being made bidirectional. A bay platform is being added to the northern platform with some changes made to the southern bay platform. A new Manchester platform will be created taking over part of the old goods line, with a neighbouring passing loop being upgraded for passenger trains.
It is expected that Stalybridge would have a direct connection with another seaside town: Southport. Whether Transpennine Express services would continue in more or less present form, or be upgraded remains to be seen. By the middle of this decade, we may see 25kV overhead line equipment – and the possibility of an all-electric Leeds to Liverpool service.
As in 1972, Stalybridge could become a more important junction by 2015. The Stockport to Stalybridge service may be more than once weekly. So far, 1.05 million passengers a year cannot be wrong.
S.V., 19 June 2012.