Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #1: Express Services

The first of a concise guide to bus operations from a passenger point of view, aimed at bus noobs more than anything

MCW Metrobus, Northern Counties, D320 LNB, GM Buses Express livery, The Woodthorpe
For many people in Greater Manchester, express bus routes often meant Northern Counties bodied MCW Metrobuses with dual purpose seating, as seen above.

In the heyday of Greater Manchester’s bus scene, there used to be more than one type of express bus route. There was clear differences between what would be described as express or semi-fast services. And that was just on stage carriage services, before we get to express coach routes.

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How Express is Express?

In Greater Manchester, there was at one time two types of express routes:

  • Express;
  • Limited Stop.

Express Routes:

‘Express’ meant express in the Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston sense rather than the Transpennine Express, though obviously with buses involved. A classic example of this was the 153 (Carrbrook – Piccadilly) service which operated from 1959 to 2005.

The original 153 route would observe all stops from Carrbrook (later from Mossley) to Stalybridge, have one intermediate stop between Stalybridge and Ashton-under-Lyne. Its last stop in Ashton-under-Lyne was Chester Square. From there, it would operate non-stop to Manchester Piccadilly railway station.

Other examples of express routes in that sense throughout Greater Manchester included:

  • 199 Hale Barns Express: Piccadilly – Hale Barns;
  • 200 Airport Express: Manchester Victoria Railway Station – Manchester Airport (one intermediate stop between Manchester and Ringway, the Post House Hotel, Northenden);
  • 258: Urmston – Piccadilly (non-stop after Stretford Arndale Centre).

Limited Stop Routes:

Limited Stop routes have historically had more stopping points than Express routes. Instead of observing all stops, they observe one in four stops on the route. They used to augment busy all stops routes.

Today, some of our present day express routes are more akin to Limited Stop routes. That I feel is somewhat misleading. All the more so if the route number is prefixed, typically, with a ‘X’.

One exemplar of Limited Stop bus operations was the 220/221 services up to 1982. They would augment the busy 218 and 219 routes along Ashton Old Road and offer faster journey times west of Fairfield. The 220 and 221 service would observe all stops between Stalybridge and Audenshaw, or Dukinfield [Tennyson Avenue] and Audenshaw. West of the Trough, they would observe one in four stops up to Piccadilly Gardens.

Other examples of one-time Limited Stop routes in Greater Manchester included:

  • 130: Macclesfield – Alderley Edge – Handforth – Manchester (at one time, limited stop between Manchester and East Didsbury. Now all stops);
  • 180: Manchester – Greenfield (now all stops);
  • 183/184: Manchester – Uppermill (183 and part of 184 replaced by 350 route; 184 now all stops, some journeys continuing to Huddersfield);
  • 236/237: Manchester – Ashton-under-Lyne – Glossop (now all stops, operating between Ashton and Glossop);
  • 400/401 Trans-Lancs Express: Bolton – Stockport (in their twilight years, both routes’ stopping pattern was more akin to Limited Stop status. The 400 and 401’s story is covered in greater detail on http://www.stuartvallantine.co.uk);
  • 500: Bolton – Stretford – Manchester Airport (as with the 400, this ended its years as a Limited Stop route instead of a true Express one).

Examples of Present Day Express/Limited Stop Routes in Greater Manchester:

  • 24: Bacup – Rochdale – Manchester;
  • X41/X42 Lancashire Way: Manchester – Accrington – Great Harwood – Blackburn;
  • X43 Witch Way: Manchester – Rawtenstall – Burnley – Nelson (non-stop between Prestwich and Rawtenstall along M66 motorway);
  • X84: Carrcote – Uppermill – Manchester (avoiding Oldham town centre).

Today, both Express routes and Limited Stop routes form a minority of Greater Manchester’s bus operations. Tameside no longer has a Limited Stop bus route, nor an Express route to its name. Humiliatingly, its administrative capital no longer has a National Express stop. The Gun Inn in Hollingworth is National Express’ sole outpost in Tameside.

At one time, our stage carriage Express and Limited Stop buses were also augmented by longer distance local express routes (or if you prefer, short distance coach routes). They were operated with dual purpose buses, akin to the coach seated MCW Metrobus at the top of this entry.

Dual Purpose Express Routes:

Prior to deregulation of local bus routes, the long distance local express route offered a cheaper alternative to British Rail’s offerings. They used buses or coaches suitable for all stops stage carriage services as well as longer distance express routes. If at the end of its life, the ageing Leyland Leopard could be suitably deployed on a school bus.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a fair number of Greater Manchester’s dual purpose buses and coaches were operated by National Bus Company subsidiaries. Sometimes, they would use coaches like the 200 Airport Express did. They would appear in the mainly white National Bus Company Express livery. Or, they would be coach seated conventional buses like the handsome Alexander PS bodied Leyland Leopards. NBC’s dual purpose coaches would be decked in a white and red livery, with red below the windows.

Unlike express coaches, fares could be purchased on the bus or coach as well as the information office.

Examples of one time Long Distance Express Bus Routes:

  • 201: Manchester – Macclesfield – Derby;
  • 223/224: Leeds – Manchester (replaced by 060 Liverpool – Manchester – Leeds National Express service);
  • TP: Manchester – Buxton – Derby – Nottingham (now registered into four sections, though with same bus in use to circumvent EU registration laws);
  • X19/X20 White Rose Express: Manchester – Stalybridge – Barnsley;
  • X60/X61: Manchester – Blackpool.

In recent years, the dual purpose ethos of National Bus Company’s one time express routes seems to have been reinvented locally on the X43 Witch Way route. Seats on Transdev Burnley and Pendle’s route are more akin to that ideal rather than Express/Limited Stop bus services. Plus, National Express tickets are honoured. The same is true of another Transdev route, the 843 Yorkshire Coastliner from Leeds to Scarborough.

S.V., 02 June 2013.

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8 thoughts on “Duffers’ Guide to Bus Operations #1: Express Services

Add yours

  1. How far back is my memory taking me when remembering a blue and white liveried Rochdale bus number 90 in Stevenson Square which ran a very fast service to Rochdale ?

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    1. Just for your information 24 only runs Rochdale-Manchester now and hasn’t run to Bacup for the best part of a year or maybe more now.

      Also another Limited Stop route no longer with us is 167 Norden-Manchester which was all stops Norden-Heywood then limited stop Heywood to Manchester, this is now 162 which is a variation of 163 route which now runs Norden-Heywood then 163 route to Manchester observing all stops.

      BTW regarding Express routes I suppose you can’t get any more Express than a NC Metrobus covering a National Express service which is something I believe they did often back in the day

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      1. Hi Andrew,

        Yes they did have the MCW [NCME bodied] Metrobuses on National Express workings. It must have been on the shorter distance ones to Leeds or Blackpool. Thanks also for the update on the 24 route.

        Yes, I remember the 167. A Limited Stop route from the Manchester Corporation era. In its later years as a stopping service, I remember it being operated by First Manchester and seeing the then-new Volvo B9TLs on that route. Then Rossendale Borough Transport had a stint, running it with the ‘Your 167 Bus’ branding and an all-yellow livery.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

        P.S.: Further Proof on this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/selmerorselnec/8459450894/

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    2. Hi Paul,

      I would say at least 45 – 50 years back! Would the great people of Rochdale be happy with a fast and cheaper alternative to the train? The sad thing is it seems less likely thanks to the motorway, private car ownership, and the packed train (20 minutes to Manchester Victoria) being suitable alternatives.

      I would love a fast bus alternative, but as an transport enthusiast/romantic, I would say that!

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. The 153 terminated initially at Aytoun Street in Manchester and after that in Piccadilly Bus Station.
        The 400, Trans Lancs Express terminated at Manchester Airport.

        You could find Metropolitans working both these services and SHMD’s double deck Atkinson and even an Ashton Guy Arab in the early days on the 153

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  2. Hi Buspilot,

    The 153 must have had some interesting rolling stock. I always think of Aytoun Street as the starting point for the Football Match buses.

    The 400 [Trans-Lancs Express] Manchester Airport terminus was Summer weekends only at one time. I do remember visiting Ringway in 1991 on the 400 route. The Manchester Airport to Stockport section ceased in May 1999.

    Bye for now,

    Stuart.

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  3. 153 was a brilliant bus. Tended to be the same driver. Can remember some passengers used to even decorate the bus at Christmas. Was like a little community of its own.

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    1. Hi Malcolm,

      I only remember the 153 in its twilight years. If I didn’t get the 220 or 221 into Manchester in the morning peaks, I would sometimes wait for the 153. I used to love the faster journey time, in comparison with the 216s and 219s which would often be bogged down in traffic.

      When I used to get it in 2004, it was either one of their Volvo B10Ms or Alexander bodied Volvo Olympians. Then, shortly after the 153’s demise, I became a full time rail commuter opting for the faster though more crowded Transpennine Express from Stalybridge. Sometimes, I would still get the 220 or 221, especially if there were severe delays on the rail route.

      I would have like to have caught the 153 in the era you described. There used to be a Friday night and Saturday night service at one time.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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