A semi-complete history of Tameside’s mainline railway station
This week will see the upgrade of Stalybridge railway station completed. In the last decade, the station has come up in leaps and bounds with a new ticket office, toilets, waiting shelter and a refurbished buffet bar. In place of a brick built shelter (which served as a coffee shop) and a rudimentary waiting shelter, a new shelter with both the coffee shop and waiting area has replaced the two separate buildings. The Stalybridge station of 2013 will have five platforms and lifts as well as improvements made over the last decade.
Today, Stalybridge station is used by one million passengers a year. By 2016, its lines will be electrified, hence the remodelling of its track layout over the last three months, and the abolition of its signal box. Though its recent past has been most eventful, its more distant past is equally so.
Stalybridge railway station was opened on the 23 December 1845, as the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s terminus for its service via Ashton Charlestown and Clayton Bridge. The entrance to the first railway station is more or less where Stalybridge fire station is nowadays. It was built with a passenger platform, goods yard and sidings.
In 1849, it became a joint station thanks to the opening of the London and North Western Railway’s through line to Huddersfield, which forms the basis of today’s route. There would be three through lines. With Stalybridge booming, both stations were busy, so much so that overcrowding caused great concern – as of today’s rolling stock. The main issue at the time concerned the London and North Western Railway’s reluctance to lengthen its platforms. So much so that the platforms on the Yorkshire and Manchester side were dangerously overcrowded.
Remodelling, 19th Century Style:
After grave concern from the Mayor of Stalybridge, the town finally got her much expanded station. In 1884, a commodious goods warehouse opened for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. The London and North Western Railway would greatly expand their passenger facilities. Its platforms would be dramatically lengthened with cover on both Yorkshire and Manchester platforms. There would be extra sidings at street level south of Rassbottom Street. By 1885, the Stalybridge railway station we know and love would emerge.
The 1883 – 1885 reconstruction work also meant three signal boxes, one at westerly and easterly points of the platforms, and an overhead gantry. Facilities on the Yorkshire platform included First and Third Class waiting rooms, public toilets, a telegraph office, and – what is now its most famous and prized possession of the station – a buffet bar. Similar facilities, including a Lamp Room, was added to the Manchester platform. Access to platforms would be made by subways.
Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway services continued to use the 1845 L&YR station till 1917. In 1922, the L&YR would have been taken over by the LNWR, a year before Grouping. By then, Stalybridge station had five platforms for passenger use (including three terminal platforms), a through goods line, plus sidings at the L&YR station and at street level south of the viaduct. The station’s piece de resistance was its booking hall. Entrance was made by means of a lead roofed canopy with the gabled building topped by a lantern tower.
After the 1923 Grouping, Stalybridge remained a Joint Station, with the London Midland and Scottish and London and North Eastern railways sharing the station. One year would see LMS running Stalybridge station with the LNER the next. This arrangement continued till the 1st January 1948, when the railways were nationalised.
Towards the Diesel Era and its Decline:
Even after nationalisation, Stalybridge station was still a joint station as such, with both its services operated by the London Midland and Eastern regions of British Railways. The station still had a steam era look to it until the late 1970s. The Modernisation Plan brought both stations kicking and screaming into the future. By 1961, its beautiful booking hall was replaced by a generic flat roofed structure, with two ticket windows, a barrier, left luggage lockers and a parcels point.
Its last links with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway were broken when the 1845 station was demolished. The goods warehouse would also close. In 1967, the street level sidings, south of Rassbottom Street would close, with its yard following suit.
By the late 1960s, diesel would rule the roost, with Class 124 Trans-Pennine diesel units a fixture of the Hull Paragon route. Class 40s and 45s would haul Mark I carriages between Liverpool and York. Reduced dramatically would be its local services, reduced to peak hour operations. Stalybridge station was falling into decay, as epitomised by this song from the Fivepenny Piece:
British Rail’s managed decline ensured local support for a more streamlined station with three platforms (one terminal platform). In 1977, its canopy on the Yorkshire platform was partially demolished with all buildings and canopy on the Manchester platform razed. A brick built waiting shelter would be its replacement. The goods warehouse would also be demolished with a new fire station taking its place. Surplus trackbed inherited from a section of closed line would give way to industrial units.
In 1990, the Joyce Whitchurch clock on the Yorkshire Platform was removed and taken to its new home at the National Railway Museum. Another age of decline and uncertainty seemed likely as privatisation loomed. The station saw the early nineties as more of an intermediate stop, with the loss of its Red Star Parcels counter and left luggage facilities. By 1995, luggage trolleys would no longer be made available for hire. Even so, 1991 saw a much needed improvement to the subway on the Manchester platform – a canopy, coupled with a new waiting shelter.
The more modest looking Stalybridge station of the 1980s, under the spectre of an anti-rail Conservative government owes its revival to a movement born in Hyde in 1972. The Campaign for Real Ale, as well as advocating a resurgence in cask conditioned ale also made drinkers and local residents aware of its historical pubs. One of them would be Stalybridge Station’s Buffet Bar.
In the 1970s, Dot Redfern ruled the roost in the station’s much loved hostelry. As well as its interior, it gained a reputation for its cask ales, foreign bottled beers and traditional Northern fare. This spread nationally as its real ale and real coal fires made waiting for a delayed York bound Class 47 less of a chore. This would continue under Ken Redfern till 1996.
The Buffet Bar, besides campaigning for its retention, also campaigned against the withdrawal of the Stockport – Stalybridge service. Prior to the opening of the Windsor Link, it enabled Yorkshire passengers to board London Euston and Birmingham New Street trains without crossing Manchester city centre, as the Trans-Pennine Express went via Manchester Victoria instead of Manchester Piccadilly. In spite of a 15,000 name petition, the service was reduced to the present day once weekly service in one direction.
In the 1990s, it fought many an attempt against closure. There were plans to convert it into an anodyne Travellers’ Fare style of establishment; at one point, a florist. Therefore it spent most of the early 1990s on borrowed. British Rail’s impending privatisation didn’t help much either. By May 1996, BR’s successors succeeded, and the famous buffet bar was closed.
The summer of 1996 saw what could have been the start of a new beginning. Joyce, the Whitchurch clock would return, albeit in replica form. Promises for new trains and improved services came left right and centre from potential rail franchisees. Regional Railways’ North East, would be taken over by MTL Holdings, with a management buyout taking over its North West franchise.
In January 1997, John Hesketh and Sylvia Wood took over the Buffet Bar. On reopening, it was refurbished and extended into hitherto redundant rooms. The public bar and conservatory were refurbished and the new rooms included toilets – no asking station staff for the key to the public loos!
The dawn of privatisation saw an improved rail service, much of which inherited from the last throes of British Rail and cooperation with Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. The local service went full time in 1991 from Liverpool Lime Street to Wakefield Westgate; Class 158 diesel units with air conditioning meant sleek express services from Liverpool Lime Street to York, with two hourly extensions to Scarborough and Sunderland. Some peak hour journeys were introduced to Manchester Airport.
Though the number of trains per hour increased, Stalybridge still had two trains per hour to Huddersfield; owing to popularity and tight dimensions of the Class 158 units, overcrowding became legion. In 1998 and 2001, changes of franchise owners for North West and North East franchises saw FirstGroup and Arriva take over, with some deterioration of service. The latter cut Stalybridge’s Trans-Pennine services palming passengers off with a return service between Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds, and outward only journeys from Manchester Airport to Hull. Rolling stock would see Class 158s replaced by a ragbag assortment of Class 150 and Class 155 Sprinter units!
FirstGroup fared little better with their North Western franchise: its newer trains never saw Stalybridge, with Pacers and Sprinters main fare. In spite of rolling stock shortcomings, its service between Stalybridge and Manchester Victoria was doubled in 1999. Some trains would continue – all stops – to Liverpool Lime Street via Newton-le-Willows. In 2002, they planned to reduce the number of staff at Stalybridge railway to just two, with none whatsoever at evenings. This was roundly objected and the cuts didn’t go to fruition. By 2004, the villains of the piece would become peacemakers – and contribute to the station’s more recent upsurge.
December 2004 was a great month for Stalybridge station. The much derided and strike ravaged Arriva Trains Northern was discontinued along with FirstGroup’s First North Western. FirstGroup would return to Stalybridge station, in the form of a new Trans-Pennine franchise spun off from the defunct Regional Railways North East franchise. In partnership with Keolis, Transpennine Express would bring about positive change to Stalybridge’s timetable, and the future of its station.
They made an immediate impact by discontinuing Arriva’s unloved ‘Trans-Pennine’ timetable and – thanks to extensive campaigning by local councillors and the then MP James Purnell – restoring its links with Liverpool Lime Street and York. Stalybridge’s trains would serve Scarborough once hourly, as well as continuing to Liverpool via Warrington Central. Today, this remains the case.
Northern Rail, a partnership between NedRailways and Serco, would take over the local services. It was more or less business as usual, apart from a Network Rail enforced curtailment of its local service at Huddersfield. As a result of track path issues, Stalybridge passengers were denied an alternative station to Leeds for East Coast services.
In 2006, the Class 158s were replaced by Class 185 diesel units, built by Siemens. A new depot opened in Ardwick to service the units. Though the trains brought extra capacity of the 2-3 car units, the 3-car Class 185s faced overcrowding within months of their launch. Stalybridge – and the rest of Greater Manchester – were on the crest of a rail revival which saw 50% increases in passenger numbers between 2004 – 2008. Stalybridge has seen its number of passengers double in the space of seven years, towards the million mark!
Remodelling, 21st Century Style
To accommodate its increased passenger numbers, 2005 – 2009 saw the beginning of the station’s remodelling work. For a start, the brick built shelter became a coffee shop in 2006, with a new prefabricated shelter nearby. Its three platforms were raised and resurfaced. December 2008 saw the 1960s entrance replaced a new, curved one. This included improved setting down and picking up facilities for taxis and changes to short stay parking. Closed-Circuit TV cameras and real time information boards were introduced. Announcements would be automated, with the dulcet tones of Ashley Oliver being no more, owing to his retirement.
Toilets and waiting facilities on the Yorkshire platform were upgraded, with hand driers replacing paper towels. A disabled toilet was also added. Its canopy was renovated, as was the conservatory of the Buffet Bar. Instead of being a liability by the rail franchises, it was a bankable asset. So much so that Northern Rail launched its Rail Ale Trail. Today, each Saturday would see Stalybridge Station Buffet Bar and other pubs along the line packed full of real ale fanatics and stag parties. Though a hinderance to its locals, that alone has had a marked effect on the station’s passenger numbers.
The refurbishments would be a lull before the coming storm, with that storm being the remodelling of its track, and future electrification.
Over the last three months, its mainly First World War era track layout was altered to allow bidirectional working on the Manchester platform. A third through platform was built on part of the old goods lines with one of the goods lines realigned. A new fifth platform was built closest to the fire station, possibly for the all stations services to Liverpool. In place of the brick shelter and prefabricated shelter, a new coffee shop and waiting shelter has opened on the Manchester platform. Line speeds have been raised from 40 to 50 miles per hour through the station.
With the lack of track paths at Victoria station, there’s a likelihood that more services via Manchester Victoria railway station may terminate at Stalybridge station on one of its two terminal platforms. The new layout allows for the possibility of local Huddersfield – Manchester Victoria trains operating on the bidirectional line (and possibly deterring wannabe Rail Ale Trail completists). Westbound Transpennine Express trains may use the more southerly new line.
The forthcoming electrification in 2016 may create more positive change for Stalybridge passengers, not least the potential for improved links with the rest of Greater Manchester as well as West Yorkshire. Here’s to another 167 years of continued service (and mine’s a pint of Thornbridge’s ‘Jaipur’ if you’re that way inclined)!
S.V., 05 November 2012