How Standedge line skip-stop approach will sever links between Tameside, Saddleworth, and Colne Valley villages
- Staggered services to result in slower journey times for local trips;
- Stalybridge sees 33% cut in trans-Pennine services;
- Skip-stop ‘stopgap’ added to nark off Rail Ale Trailers?
From the 20 May, sweeping changes are going to be made to Northern’s and Transpennine Express’ timetables. If you regularly travel by train from Ashton-under-Lyne to Mossley, you might need to pour yourself a stiff drink.
At present, Tameside’s trans-Pennine links are pretty straightforward. Stalybridge passengers have the joy of two express trains per hour. A stopping service calls at every station between Manchester Victoria and Huddersfield. This makes for three trains per hour up to Yorkshire. One of TPE’s trains continues to Hull Paragon; the other one to York and Scarborough.
From the 20 May, this happy balance will be disturbed. Though Stalybridge will have four trains per hour to Manchester stations, it is set to see a 33% cut in Yorkshire bound services. In other words, two trains per hour instead of three; to Leeds and Huddersfield. Hourly trains to Hull will be retained but what about Northern’s stopping service?
It will be axed.
To mitigate this, Stalybridge passengers will retain their direct trains to Ashton-under-Lyne, Mossley, Greenfield, Marsden, and Slaithwaite. How will they serve the five stations?
Between Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge, you could still get a direct train to Ashton-under-Lyne; twice per hour, connecting with Transpennine Express services. They will use Platform 5 which is great for the famous Buffet Bar.
Prior to the new timetable, some passengers from Greenfield and Mossley stations have changed at Stalybridge for Manchester Piccadilly trains. Northern’s stopping service have always used Manchester Victoria (as did British Rail’s and London and North Western Railway’s well before then). Passengers using the two stations could stay seated till Manchester Piccadilly.
Instead of Manchester, what if our Mossley or Greenfield passenger wanted to go to Ashton-under-Lyne? From the 20 May you will have to change at Stalybridge station. Subject to prompt running, the new timetable allows seven minutes to transfer from Platform 1 to Platform 5. Then they can board Northern’s half-hourly service to Manchester Victoria, with an hourly extension to Bolton and Wigan Wallgate.
Due to the above arrangement, a train journey from Mossley to Ashton-under-Lyne will take an uncompetitive 17 minutes. If you add another three to seven minutes, you can get the 350 bus instead. Or the 353 and 354 services. Under the old timetable, it takes ten minutes by train from Ashton-under-Lyne, which compares well with private motoring.
Imagine travelling from Mossley to Marsden by train: under the old timetable, another straightforward 13 minute journey. Again it gives the car a run for its money. The walk-on single fare is £6.10.
Under the new timetable, our passenger has to change at Stalybridge. Instead of 13 minutes, the same journey on the 23 May will take… a mind-boggling 25 minutes. With a seven minute transfer time at Stalybridge. To do the same journey by car, slightly faster at 20 to 24 minutes in good traffic conditions.
With journey times that slow they should be paying you to take the train. Thankfully, if you go via Stalybridge, the single fare is £6.10. Via Huddersfield, £12.30. These are off-peak single fares. The Anytime Single is £6.30.
So, why might you ask is the Department for Transport alongside its partners doubling train journey times on Tameside’s local services? Firstly, they want to increase the number of faster trains along the Standedge line without causing too many delays across the network. Secondly, they might assume that some local journeys are better served by local bus routes.
From the 20 May, there will be six passenger trains an hour in each direction between Stalybridge and Huddersfield. Two per hour starting from Stalybridge will serve Manchester Victoria, thus making that eight trains per hour west of Stalybridge station. Two per hour will terminate at Manchester Piccadilly whereas the remainder which pass Stalybridge will also serve Manchester Victoria. Some Manchester Airport trains will call at Piccadilly and Victoria stations via the Ordsall Chord.
It is claimed that skip-stopping semi-fast trains will improve reliability. One problem with skip-stop services is that smaller stations will always lose out. Along the Standedge line, this problem will be exacerbated due to several factors.
One is the lack of fast parallel bus services along the full length of the line. North of Greenfield, the 184 service roughly duplicates the Yorkshire section. South of Greenfield, the 350 takes a circuitous route aimed at a different more localised market. The 353 and 354 offer a more direct alternative south of Greenfield, but their combined frequency may deter casual passengers. Apart from the 350, the other routes at their fullest extent finish operating by 7pm. After 7pm the 184 terminates at Uppermill.
Early Simmerings of the Skip-Stop Saga
East of the M60 looked at the possibilities of skip-stopping on the Standedge line as early as 2012. Back then it was considered as a short term stopgap; a sticking plaster prior to electrification.
Initially there would have been a skip-stop service between Stalybridge and Huddersfield. This was based on the Trans-Pennine electrification work being finished in 2018. Six years down the line it lies in limbo, thanks to our Transport Minister’s obsession with the unicorn option of Bi-Mode Trains.
The skip-stop service would have been operation from 2016 to 2018, whilst Network Rail’s contractors were in the midst of electrification work. On the 25 June 2015, the Trans-Pennine electrification project was put on hold. Then it was back on track. Then reviewed. As far as we know, they know even less than we do. I still don’t believe they will ever get rid of the Pacer units, let alone electrifying the Trans-Pennine route from Manchester Victoria to Leeds.
Back in our January 2013 article, here’s how we thought one service would have panned out:
1. Manchester Victoria – Huddersfield:
- Manchester Victoria;
2. Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield:
- Manchester Piccadilly;
Had the electrification work been completed this year, East of the M60 and its readers would be looking forward to the sight of seven trains per hour calling or passing Stalybridge station. It was mooted that Transpennine Express would operate the skip-stop semi-fast service. In addition to this would be Northern’s stopping train to Huddersfield. Which would have retained direct links from Mossley to Ashton-under-Lyne.
Taking the story up to date, the skip-stop calling pattern will be as follows with both trains terminating at Manchester Piccadilly station.
1. Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield – Hull Paragon:
- Manchester Piccadilly;
- Hull Paragon.
From Stalybridge, the Hull train will depart at one minute to the hour, calling at Mossley four minutes later. Westbound trains will leave Stalybridge at 23 minutes past the hour (18 minutes past from Mossley), arriving in Manchester Piccadilly for 22 minutes to the hour.
2. Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield – Leeds:
- Manchester Piccadilly;
From Stalybridge, the Leeds train will depart at 29 minutes past the hour, calling at Greenfield seven minutes later. Westbound trains will leave Stalybridge at eight minutes to the hour (quarter to the hour from Greenfield), arriving in Manchester Piccadilly for seven minutes past the hour.
As stated in our earlier piece, Transpennine Express would have taken on the skip-stop route. From the 20 May, TPE’s swish Class 185 DMUs will substitute Pacers and Sprinters with 3-car or 6-car units.
Unlike the old timetable, seat reservations will now be available for passengers travelling between Mossley and Stalybridge for the first time ever! First Class accommodation will be restored, last seen on the Standedge line’s local services in the early 1980s. Not least refreshment facilities, WiFi, and guards on trains.
In spite of the more elegant rolling stock, there is one fly in the ointment: cycle space. Passengers used to carrying their bicycle on board free of charge (on Northern) will have to pay to reserve bicycles space on the train.
As for Northern’s engagement along the Standedge line, they will only operate a smattering of peak hour services north of Stalybridge.
Northern peak hour services between Stalybridge and Huddersfield:
From Manchester stations and Stalybridge:
- 0556: Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield (all stations from Guide Bridge);
- 0701: Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield (also calling at Guide Bridge, Stalybridge, Marsden, and Slaithwaite);
- 1559: Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield (also calling at Stalybridge, Mossley, and Greenfield);
- 1700: Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield (also calling at Stalybridge, Mossley, Greenfield, and Marsden);
- 1759: Manchester Piccadilly – Huddersfield (also calling at Ardwick, Guide Bridge, Stalybridge, Mossley, and Greenfield).
To Stalybridge and Manchester stations:
- 0600: Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (all stations up to Guide Bridge);
- 0712: Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (also calling at Marsden, Greenfield, Mossley, and Stalybridge);
- 0811: Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (also calling at Marsden, Greenfield, Mossley, Stalybridge, and Guide Bridge);
- 1713: Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (also calling at Slaithwaite, Marsden, and Stalybridge);
- 1813: Huddersfield – Manchester Piccadilly (also calling at Slaithwaite, Marsden, Stalybridge, and Guide Bridge).
Other Timetable Changes
- Late Night Trains: the last trains from Manchester Victoria to Stalybridge are 2317 and 2329. The 2317 will also call at Manchester Piccadilly (2305) and Manchester Oxford Road (2308). Both trains will arrive in Stalybridge for 2329 and 2343. The 2329 from Stalybridge will also call at all stations after up to Huddersfield before terminating at York (arr. 0102).
- Ordsall Chord Related Goodness: the penultimate night train to York will serve Greater Manchester’s newest section of permanent way.
- Stockport to Stalybridge service doubled: from the 20 May onwards, the Stockport to Stalybridge train (Saturdays Only) will get a return journey. The southbound journey will leave Stalybridge at 0846 before arriving at Stockport for 0909. Its return journey will leave Stockport at 0945, arriving in Stalybridge for 1006.
- Improved services for Ardwick: by some strange quirk, Ardwick has (to the best of our knowledge) gained its first Trans-Pennine rail journey. It is the 1759 from Manchester Piccadilly to Huddersfield which arrives at Ardwick two minutes later.
East of the M60 Comment: Could Be Better
If you are viewing this timetable from the perspective of a regular commuter you have every right to be confused, upset, angry, or a mixture of all three emotions. Make no mistake: this is the biggest change we have seen to the Standedge line’s timetable since 1991.
Back in 1991, off-peak services on the Huddersfield stopping service were dramatically improved. Before then, Greenfield, Mossley, and Ashton-under-Lyne stations had most of their trains in the peak hours. Passenger numbers gradually improved. Elsewhere, the Stockport to Stalybridge train was reduced from five journeys (two one way, three the opposite direction) to one single train, once a week.
The skip-stop timetable, even with peak hour extras, ignores the needs of passengers who wish to make more simple short distance journeys. Passengers who travel from Mossley to Greenfield. It is these short hop journeys which help to take cars off the roads alongside commutes to Manchester or Leeds.
For short hops, a bus service every ten minutes or more is a better option than the train. If the parallel bus service is every half hour or worse, you forget the bus and take a taxi. Or you drive instead of walk. If you stick with the bus you make better use of the timetable and factor in pub stops, or coffee shops before its arrival. Sometimes you might take a train.
If you look on social media pages concerning the woes of commuters, there seems to be some inferiority complex about buses. They may be more inclined to drive instead of take a bus of any description. Even with state-of-the-art interior trim, free WiFi, and agreeable frequencies. If you go to a railway station, the words “Rail Replacement Bus” or “Bus Replacement Service” seems to strike dread among passengers. (That’s an argument for another time).
Besides the skip-stop timetable, the loss of off-peak fast InterCity services at Stalybridge is a blow. Since the London and North Western Railway opened the Standedge line, Stalybridge has been a regular calling point for Yorkshire bound trains. At least north-east of Leeds.
Back when the all stations service only ran in peak hours, Stalybridge retained its through trains to York. To the west, likewise to Liverpool Lime Street (via Manchester Victoria). With the new timetable, Tameside and Saddleworth based passengers will have to change at either Manchester Victoria or Manchester Piccadilly for Liverpool-bound trains. For the first time since Arriva Trains Northern’s timetables from 2001 to 2003 (which saw Class 150s and Class 155s on Trans-Pennine Express services calling at Stalybridge).
Though Stalybridge will see fewer services along the Standedge line, it will retain peak hour extensions to destinations beyond Manchester Piccadilly and Leeds. On the up side, journeys to Wigan and Bolton have been boosted; the old timetable sees Tameside’s link with the two towns finishing for 7pm.
The biggest downside with the timetable is the skip-stop aspect between Stalybridge and Huddersfield. What would improve the timetable even more is the inclusion of an hourly all stations service to Huddersfield (alongside our skip-stoppers) and an additional Transpennine Express call at Stalybridge. Possibly on the Newcastle Central trains.
Apart from that, the addition of Guide Bridge to peak hour services is a neat bonus. Imagine if they made that an hourly fixture alongside an improved Stalybridge – Stockport service. Not least the potential for journeys to Marple, Hyde, and Glossop.
The timetable has the makings of what could be a pretty decent one (see the previous two paragraphs). As it stands at present, it is a half-baked timetable fit for a half-baked electrification scheme. A clear case of “Not Good Enough, See Me” in red pen for not trying too hard enough.
S.V., 11 May 2018.