East of the M60‘s review of the year from a public transport angle
How would historians look at Greater Manchester’s transport system in 2014? The answer, could well have been from the front seat of a train. Or a train outside the evening peak. Or, it could have entailed a journey on one of Manchester’s cross-city routes.
As with last year, the big bus owning groups increased their market share in the conurbation, particularly on Wilmslow Road and Rochdale Road. Just another at the office? Not quite.
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The big news in January 2014 was the completion of one important section of the Metrolink system. From Freehold to Mumps Bridge, the Oldham town centre section of the East Didsbury – Oldham – Rochdale was opened on the 27 January. This allowed for a new Oldham Mumps station, close to the Mumps Bridge bus stops. Plus additional stations off Clegg Street, King Street and Westwood. The bus stops were rejigged to offer seamless transfer from bus to tram.
On the buses, JPT Travel pulled out of the 112 service, operated in competition with Stagecoach Manchester. Also, on the service changes front, a First Greater Manchester service consultation resulted in improvements to the 180 and 184 services. All Monday to Saturday daytime journeys of the 343 and 344 were changed to serve Hey Farm Estate, offering a new through route to Roaches Lock, Stalybridge, Dukinfield and Hyde.
The saga of Classic Bus North West continued with the transfer of its licences to Oakwood Travel Services Ltd. Its fall into administration in Christmas 2013 had an affect on passengers of Lancashire County Council’s subsidised 80 route. By then, another operator, Archway Travel Services took on the Blackpool to Preston route which takes in Great Eccleston and Inskip.
For a brief period in 2013, bus services using Ashton bus station began to terminate and depart from weekday and Saturday daytime stand positions on Sundays. This followed on from previous practices where, in the interests of security, Sunday journeys had differing stand positions. After reverting to the Sunday variation on 11 November 2013, this changed on the 26 January 2014 where weekday stand positions apply seven days a week.
Users of System One travel cards were given a boost, with season ticket prices held till April 2014.
The start of February saw the takeover of Finglands’ bus operations by First Greater Manchester. For many, the Wilmslow Road corridor is seen as Stagecoach territory, after fighting off the likes of UK North, Walls and Bullocks. From then on, this would change, though FirstGroup had already made inroads into South Manchester with an extended 18 service to St. Mary’s Hospital, Chorlton-on-Medlock.
During the transitional period, it would accept Finglands’ area tickets as well as offer the usual FirstDay/FirstWeek/FirstMonth tickets. Which, from February, could be used on Ashtonian and Altrinchamian 41 services. There was also talk of new buses that would hit the streets in May. Predominantly Wright StreetLite single deckers.
Not only in Wilmslow Road, but also on Mossley Road and Crescent Road. First Greater Manchester’s Dukinfield garage would also benefit from the arrival of Wright StreetLite single deckers.
New buses of a hybrid variety would appear on the 50 service. From East Didsbury to Albert Square, Manchester, the service had been extended into FirstGroup territory. From Albert Square to Salford Quays, taking over much of the formerly subsidised 9 service (the Quays Link, once operated by Maytree Travel).
Though the picture was looking rosy in some parts of Greater Manchester, news of the chancellor’s £1billion departmental cuts began to hit home, with Transport for Greater Manchester affected. TfGM would be forced to make savings of £19million pounds, likely to affect its subsidised routes. So far, in December 2014, its LocalLink services have been reviewed and changes to some of its tendered services have been made.
You could safely say that Ashtonians had spent the best part of 2014 in gridlock. Not so much the usual pinch points on the M60, but also in the centre itself. Most of which part of the electrification works on the ‘Old Lanky’ line from Stalybridge to Miles Platting. The series of roadworks along Oldham Road led to diversions on the 41, 168, 169, 409 and 419 services. The Crowhill to Ashton section of the 41 would be covered by a rejigged 419 service with some services diverted via the Broadoak Hotel. The remainder of the 41 would revert to its 2006 route, terminating at Ashton-under-Lyne bus station, as at present.
On another note, a taste of the future awaited some passengers on the 1834 journey of the 346 from Hyde. Borrowed from Bolton garage, 63116, a longer version of the Wright StreetLite single decker bus was tested for evaluative purposes. East of the M60 gave a pretty good review of that journey.
Dominating most of April was the loss of an independent company which expanded in 2009 though fell to earth in 2014. JPT Travel ceased operations at the end of April with talks of its financial standing being parlous. Newer buses had been swapped for older vehicles, including G-reg Leyland Olympians. Service delivery on its tendered services had deteriorated with an increasingly careworn fleet.
The company’s services were taken over by Stagecoach Manchester, who kept JPT Travel as a separate entity prior to gaining clearance from the Competition Commission. Hence some Stagecoach vehicles displaying a temporary “JPT Service” sign on the window next to the entrance.
Another legacy of JPT’s operations would also leave (well, at least on Sundays and Bank Holidays): the 217/218 service which gave the people of Dukinfield a direct though circuitous route into Manchester city centre. The service, which saw a circular section covering Dukinfield, Stalybridge and Mossley, was withdrawn in this form. Departmental cuts and the expense of the tender saw to its demise; attempts to operate a separate tendered service from Droylsden to Mossley came to naught (no bidders).
Instead, the Droylsden to Stalybridge section would be covered by an extension of First Greater Manchester’s 408 service, with Dukinfield only having daytime peak hours and weekday and Saturday evening journeys to Manchester city centre. Brushes Estate was taken over by Monday to Saturday daytime journeys of the 343 service. The 217 service would terminate at Ashton-under-Lyne, with S&S Travel Services the new operator.
The continued saga of Classic Bus and its successors saw more tinkering of its Red Rocket Service. Its second mission saw the 90 minute frequency eschewed in favour of four return journeys.
Timetable changes to Stalybridge’s rail services would see a welcome upgrade, with two trains per hour running from Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds. In addition to the then usual Scarborough to Liverpool Lime Street service, an additional journey per hour was added from Manchester Piccadilly to Hull Paragon. On the other hand, it had seen its Manchester Victoria journeys change from three per hour to two trains per hour. As well as a shuttle train from Stalybridge to Manchester Victoria, the Huddersfield all stations service was extended to Wigan Wallgate (westbound) and Blackpool North (eastbound), with a regular service to Bolton in both directions.
On the bus front, the start of May saw the launch of First Greater Manchester’s Cross Connect service. In other words, some northbound upgrades to their 41 service (from Sale) and their 42 service. The upgraded 41 would continue to Eccles via the University of Salford, whereas the 42 would continue to North Manchester General Hospital. Besides the improved links, also a nice excuse for a bit of competition with Stagecoach’s 50 service in the Salford area. The strategy involved branded Wright StreetLites and cheap (£1) fares in South Manchester.
Similarly, Stagecoach’s offensive involved new buses and muscling in on First Greater Manchester territory. This time, its response was the 38 service, a new route from Farnworth to Manchester Royal Infirmary via the city centre. Its vehicles: branded Enviro400s with free WiFi. It largely follows Greater Manchester Transport’s 68 service from Captain Fold (the most observant may note the resemblance with GMT’s 68 on their branding compared with Stagecoach’s). Their offer, as well as free WiFi: cheaper Manchester Megarider tickets.
Announced by Chancellor George Osborne that month was plans to introduce high speed trains from Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds. Known as HS3, they would offer faster journey times between the two cities, connecting with its forthcoming HS2 stations. Plans for HS3 were dubbed by East of the M60 as ‘more like HS2.5′ and lacking in teeth. So much so that the blog suggested HS3 should go from Holyhead to Hull, connecting the two ports as part of a European gateway from the Republic of Ireland to The Netherlands.
On the other hand, the re-franchising process for Northern England’s rail franchises began. Though passenger numbers have soared, the Department for Transport seemed to have been oblivious to this in the renegotiation of the Northern Rail and Transpennine Express franchises. Their terms proposed the closure of ticket offices, service cuts and the introduction of DOO (Driver Only Operation). DfT’s plans were met with outrage by the trade union movement and passengers’ groups.
Elbowing trains out of the news agenda this month would be buses. Buses of an Ashtonian variety that is. As part of a £350million 5-year investment package for Greater Manchester, announced by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP, Ashton would get a new bus station out of it. The town’s fourth bus station in nearly 60 years, is set to cost £32.7million.
At odds with previous bus stations in the town, Ashton Bus Station Mark IV would be a single terminal. It will be moved nearer to the Metrolink terminus. Artists’ impressions showed the proposed terminus, looking like a beached Whitstable oyster yawl.
The roadworks along Oldham Road were completed, weeks ahead of schedule. Therefore, the 419 reverted to its previous route along Christ Church and Waterloo. The Crowhill section became the new 339 service, on what was formerly the northern part of the 41 service. Temporary changes to the 41 service facilitated by the roadworks were made permanent.
The July and August of each year often sees the announcement of the UK’s rail fare increases. In the last decade, July’s inflation figure has determined the following year’s fare increases. Spare a thought for some passengers in Greater Manchester, faced with a 100% rise on journeys inside the TfGM boundaries.
It was announced in August that passengers travelling between 1600 and 1830 hours within Greater Manchester would have to pay peak hour fares on weekdays. Therefore, any Off-Peak Return would be invalid during the evening peak. The changes would come into force on the 08 September 2014.
By August, JPT Travel was officially no more. The OFT gave clearance for Stagecoach Manchester’s takeover and integration of its operations. This month also saw another departure: First Greater Manchester’s 31929, the last Dennis Arrow seen in revenue earning service.
On a happier note, VTU 76, a restored SHMD Daimler CVG5 ferried passengers along the 10/10A Dukinfield circular route. This commemorated the 45th anniversary since SHMD’s absorption into SELNEC.
Black Monday came to Greater Manchester on the 08 September 2014 with the conurbation’s rail franchisees forced by the DfT to sting occasional travellers more. As well as the addition of an evening peak, further changes saw the abolition of Evening Day Returns and Evening Ranger tickets. System One Travelcards’ train based day saver tickets as well as the GM Rail Ranger would no longer be valid from 1600 to 1830 on weekdays. Unaffected by the changes are pensioners’ and disabled persons’ concessionary passes.
By the end of September, Transport for Greater Manchester launched a new travel planner. Known as Route Explorer, it allows passengers to find out which buses are running in their locality. Services are colour coded according to frequency, with each route denoted by an embedded Google Map. On its launch, East of the M60 offered readers a tutorial.
From controlling the destiny of your trip to Ashton to controlling the destiny of your country’s future, devolution dominated this month. With the Scottish Independence referendum resulting in a “No” vote, there was talk of devolution for Greater Manchester. Among the powers suggested was the re-regulation of its bus network.
This month was quite a busy one for Stagecoach Manchester. The start of October was marked by Customer Service Week where passengers were able to tweet their managing director. Using a special hashtag for that week, they could Tweet The Directors between 1300 and 1400 hours. Also in the same month, they were shortlisted in the UK Bus Awards.
Traffic chaos returned to Ashton-under-Lyne with the closure of Mossley Road, again due to the continued electrification works. This is compounded by roadworks on Park Parade, between the BT and ASDA roundabouts, as part of remodelling works on the two junctions.
The first steps towards implementing TfGM’s Get Me There card were made. Since December 2013, smart card scanners have been installed at Metrolink stations throughout Greater Manchester. Bearers of concessionary cards were able to participate in a trial scheme till the end of October. From then on, all holders of ENCTS concessionary passes were required to touch-in on arrival and touch-out at the end of their journey.
The biggest news this month was the opening of the Manchester Airport Metrolink line, almost a year ahead of schedule. From St. Werburgh’s Road, the line takes in Sale Water Park, Northern Moor and Wythenshawe, before terminating at Manchester Airport. Though ridership has gone off to a good start, it has made the headlines for its higher than average number of motorists turning into the tram tracks.
At present, services commence from Cornbrook. The forthcoming Second City Link is set to make direct trams to Manchester city centre possible. The success of First Greater Manchester’s Cross Connect services saw its brand-spanking new Wright StreetLites replaced by Enviro400s.
The people of Oldham were granted an early Christmas present with the imminent arrival of its Marks and Spencer store. By the following month, this would be signed and sealed by Oldham Council.
This month saw the confirmation of Oldham’s new Marks and Spencer store, quelling a good forty or so years of rumours. The proposed store is set to take up part of the present Mumps Bridge bus and tram interchange, with the Park and Ride spaces being moved to the site of Yelloway’s coach station. There will be some remodelling of the bus element of Oldham Mumps bus/tram interchange to allow this.
The second part of December saw a boost for Altrinchamian bus, rail and tram users as the bus section of Altrincham Interchange was remodelled. In place of two narrow platforms, Altrincham’s new bus station comprises of a commodious single platform with six stands. Its TfGM Travelshop was moved into the railway station’s ticket office, selling National Rail tickets as well as System One travel cards and supplying timetables for the Oldfield Brow service.
With the Manchester Christmas market packing them in, Northern Rail operated extra trains from Preston, Wigan and Bolton to Manchester Piccadilly. These used Class 47 locomotives (topped and tailed) and air-conditioned Mark 2d carriages – a cut above the usual Pacers and Sprinters.
Whilst remaining with the subject of Leyland bus conversions, an announcement in the 2014 Autumn Statement spelled good news for Northern English rail passengers. As part of the refranchising process for Northern Rail and Transpennine Express, it was stated that Class 142 Pacer units would be scrapped. Speculation remains to this day as to whether the new units would be more diesel hand-me-downs, more electrification, or more buses instead of railway lines. Or new trains even, which is about as likely as seeing The Mighty Stalybridge Celtic lift the UEFA Champions League trophy.
And finally, we cannot finish our review of the year without reference to the Red Rocket Express. It is very much alive and well, and was relaunched in late November. Restarting operations on the 22 November 2014, it became a weekends only service with a single return journey. Depressingly, the times are staggered towards Blackpudlian transport requirements which offers no potential for Mancunians wishing to spend a day in Blackpool.
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The next twelve months is going to make for interesting, yet in parts gut-wrenching reading for Greater Manchester’s public transport users. In spite of recent changes to the rail network and the expansion of our tram network, further departmental cuts could well affect Greater Manchester’s subsidised bus routes.
So far, from the previous set announced in December 2013, this has affected late night (2400 – 0400 hours) services in Wigan, with a few more likely to be withdrawn (the 219 service from Manchester to Stalybridge going in April 2015). There has also been changes made to the procurement of tendered services, with package deals rather than by route being favoured.
In Derbyshire and West Yorkshire, there has been consultation exercises on the future of socially-necessary services. The former closed on Christmas Eve, with the most perverse changes affecting rural routes. The latter has seen some changes with the 528 service given a partial reprieve. As the renumbered X58, it will see a slight revision of its route (no longer serving Lydgate village) and much reduced evening and Sunday frequencies.
By 2015, we should be seeing TfGM’s Get Me There passes in use, firstly on the trams and the local trains. The new roof at Manchester Victoria railway station should be ready and, who knows, we might get to see a Class 319 on platform 5. Could Todmorden finally get its direct trains to Burnley?
Ultimately, the fate of Greater Manchester’s transport network rests upon the events of the 07 May 2015. In other words, the forthcoming General Election. Could a Tory/UKIP Coalition signal the end of subsidised services and HS2? Or could we see a centre-left coalition or a Labour government wishing to place the cuts on the broadest shoulders (in other words, anywhere apart from the impoverished North of England)?
Whatever happens, 2015 is set to be a challenging year.
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- Metrolink’s Manchester Airport line;
- Altrincham Interchange’s new bus section;
- Wright StreetLites in the Tameside area;
- Marks and Spencer’s future Oldham store;
- More cross-city bus routes.
- 31929, the last Dennis Arrow is revenue earning service;
- Dukinfield’s and Hooley Hill’s direct daytime buses to Manchester;
- Step entrance buses from FirstGroup’s Dukinfield garage;
- JPT Travel, and a great many of its buses too;
- Weekday off-peak rail fares between 1600 – 1830 in Greater Manchester.
Most importantly, East of the M60 wishes you all a Happy New Year. Whatever you do, support your local bus route. Given present company in Westminster, ‘use it or lose it’ is more than a cliché several times over.
S.V., 27 December 2014.