Forthcoming Sunday bus service reductions in Derbyshire

After yesterdays post about how Cheshire East’s bus network has changed within the last few weeks caused a spike in the number of visitors to this website, I now am broaching a similar subject regarding Derbyshire. Details of recent service changes and some forthcoming ones are available on the county council’s website but they do not extend until the end of May when the reductions that I am describing will take place. Details of these are scattered around the Derbyshire bus service information portal.

Because I often go for walks in the Peak District, some of the affected bus services mean more to me than others because I have used them at some point. For instance, some of the ones facing Sunday service withdrawal service 66 between Buxton and Chesterfield, service 173 between Bakewell and Castleton as well as service 442 between Buxton and Ashbourne. In addition, service 61 between Buxton and Glossop together with service 170 between Bakewell and Chesterfield will go from an hourly frequency to a near two hourly one. All of these could be used by walkers so I am surprised by the timing of the reductions because we are facing into the summer time when more would be lured out of doors and the year’s busy holiday periods are ahead of us.

There are other services that I may not have used that are seeing Sunday service withdrawals that affect those that regularly use them. These include services 15A between Dronfield and Marsh Lane, service 16A between Dronfield and Chesterfield, service between Ashbourne and Matlock, service 140 between Matlock and Alfreton as well as service 217 between Matlock and Chatsworth. It is worth pointing out that these losses all come as part of a wider collection of changes around the same time so it is not just Sunday services that are affected.

Some services such as on route 212 between Bonsall and Derby or route 449 between Illam and Bakewell face complete withdrawal but these were very infrequent services. Evening service reductions on Chesterfield town service 39 and evening service withdrawal on route 55A between Alfreton and Chesterfield are coming around the end of May too.

Other changes around the same time are not so drastic. Tweaked timetables are to be introduced for the following services: route 1A between Ripley and Aldercar, service 63A between Chesterfield and Matlock, route 91 between Chesterfield and Holymoorside, service 171 between Bakewell and Middleton, route 178 between Bakewell, Over Haddon and Monyash, route 218 between Bakewell and Sheffield, Pronto route between Chesterfield and Nottingham, Swift route between Derby, Ashbourne and Uttoxeter, Transpeak route between Manchester, Buxton and Derby.

Other routes see operator changes such as Matlock routes M1 and M4 while these also see withdrawal of Saturday services. Service 231 between Alfreton and Pinxton, service 149 between Alfreton and Sutton, Clowne town service 75 together with services 73 and 74 between Clowne and Crystal Peaks  are others that see their operators changing though there is to be no timetable change in either case. That is not the case for services 26 and 26A between Crystal Peaks and Kiveton Park, service 48 between Brampton and Clay Cross or service 49 between Clay Cross and Bolsover but those changes are relatively minor.

There is one goo piece of news in all of this since Moorlands Connect is to return at the start of June. In some other places like Lancashire where all bus service subsidies were removed, there is some restoration of services but it probably will take a change of political will to halt the ongoing decline in bus services. Without that, you are not going to get more people depending on buses to get them around and even minor changes like what is coming in June on Arriva service 29 and 29A between Burton and Leicester may worry some until they see all is well.

A very changed bus network in Cheshire East

There may have been good intentions to write about these changes last month before they happened but other distractions got in the way and it is only now that I am doing so. Last year, there was yet another consultation about subsidised bus services in Cheshire East with the aim of saving money and the outcome has been drastic. It makes any need to update timetable pages on here look like a triviality. In the meantime, I will try my best to collate the changes here and remain open to learning about any that I may have missed.

The biggest change is that Sunday services around Macclesfield have been heavily reduced and the bus station building closed on that day of the week. Only the bus shelter at stand 9 sees service now and that is a big change from a situation shown in a photo from nearly ten years ago when the place looked full of buses awaiting departure on a Sunday afternoon.

Now, the only services serving the town of a Sunday are town services 5 and 6 now operated commercially without the later evening journeys that used to run by D & G Buses, service 38 to and from Crewe also operated by D & G Buses and service 58 to and from Buxton operated by High Peak. Arriva services 9 to and from Moss Rose, 10A to and from Bollington together with 130 to and from Manchester all are Monday to Saturday operations following withdrawal of their Sunday services.

Weekday evening services have been affected too with Arriva’s Macclesfield services 9 and 10A now going without the later Friday and Saturday night services that used to be provided. Later evening journeys on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe not longer attract subsidy so it will be interesting to see if Arriva continues to operate the full timetable commercially as they do for now. The same change applies to D & G Buses Crewe town service 8  and Sunday journeys also are provided commercially.

Otherwise, route reorganisation is a good description for what else has happened. Monday to Saturday journeys on service 58 have been rerouted to replace the withdrawn town service 1. The same applies to services 391 and 392 now operated by Selwyns instead of High Peak between Macclesfield and Stockport with the former of these serving Kerridge as a replaced for the withdrawn service 11. D & G Buses commercial Monday to Saturday service 130 now runs between Macclesfield and Manchester Airport, replacing former service 200 between Wilmslow and Manchester Airport.

The mention of Wilmslow brings up another reorganisation that takes some added effort to explain. For some reason, it was seen fit to combine the routes of former services 27, 88 and 289 into a single block. The result is that service 88 now runs between Macclesfield and Altrincham via Knutsford and Wilmslow, replacing service 27 operated by Howards. There is an additional commercial route 88A between Knutsford and Wilmslow’s Colshaw Farm estate that acts as a replacement for Knutsford town service 300 together with commercial Knutsford town service 87. Lastly, service 89 connects Knutsford with Northwich and replaces that part of route 289 while Network Warrington has expanded its service 47 to Monday to Friday operation with some journeys extending as far as Knutsford.

Making alterations to existing services to replace withdrawn one applies else in Cheshire East too. For instance, route 39 between Crewe and Nantwich has been extended to replace withdrawn route 52.  Other changes in the area include new routes 70, 71, 72 and 73 operated by D & G Bus and service 78 saw a reduction in route length. New service 317 between Alsager, Sandbach and Leighton Hospital offers a replacement.

Additionally, new services have been set up to replace withdrawn ones. One is service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove that was replaced by part of service 318 between Alsager and Congleton. Route SB1 was renumbered as 316. There have been some losses too with service 99 between Macclesfield and Congleton via Bosley counted among them. Crewe town service 8 also changed around the same time and it now is Monday to Saturday service so you have to wonder if that lost its Sunday operation until you check the details.

Other routes were tweaked around Easter too and these include service 19 between Macclesfield and Prestbury, service 42 between Congleton and Crewe as well as service 84 between Crewe and Chester. Some changed operator like Congleton’s Beartown bus network though that otherwise remains unchanged.

In summary, there has been a lot of upheaval so I hope that this is the end of such cost saving since it has left some people stranded. That comment especially applies to Sunday services around Macclesfield and this will affect bank holiday services too since many operate to a Sunday timetable. One has to hope that this is the last of such initiatives because it all suggests an air of managed decline with cuts inducing more cuts.

Lost Welsh Independent Bus Companies

It was before Christmas 2017 when the idea for this post entered my head after learning about more Welsh bus company collapses. Though I might have had the motivation to write it up then, the topic felt unseasonal so I left it to one side for a while.

There are plenty of reasons why the subject is too sober for what was supposed to be a joyful time of year. In the companies listed below, there seems to be a repeating story of hardship and subsequent collapse. In some cases, business management was not what it should and the Welsh traffic commissioner never takes too kindly to sudden closure of any bus company and there has been too much cause for hearings to take place in Welshpool.

Most of the affected concerns operated rural bus routes under council contracts, an easier revenue earner during the years of Labour government in London but much tougher now in more austere times. Such is the geography of Wales, that many firms prospered once more funding was on offer from the late nineties until the end of the next decade. One bus industry professional commented that he was involved in setting up a business in the nineties because public subsidy was about to increase and the Cheshire bus network was much stronger back then so the same might have been possible for Wales.

That is not how it is now and bus patronage cannot be helped by service cuts either so a vicious circle comes into being. Then, smaller firms suffer and the hilly nature of Wales makes it hard too for large operators with Arriva and Veolia pulling out of mid Wales. It all makes for a troubled network so the presence of the Welsh Government support TrawsCambria network is invaluable because we cannot say that all is well yet.

When you see the list below, it is easy to see how instability can rein so anything that helps has to be good. After all, bus passengers need to sure that services will operate as advertised and the last thing that councils need is repeated re-tendering of services. Hopefully, the decline can be halted and we see a reduced number of failures over time. You only can hope for better.

D & J Jones and Son

In the wake of the collapse of GHA Coaches, this Wrexham based operator took on a lot of extra work before it too collapsed immediately before Christmas 2017. It was said that staffing issues were the cause rather than financial pressures but it left Wrexham Council with the task of replacing many services in order to keep transport services going in the borough.

Express Motors

2018 started with much change in the bus network in northwest Wales (Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy) because of this operator’s loss of its licence. The cause was a coach crash in France that revealed discrepancies in vehicle maintenance records. There were two family owned companies on site with similar names, one offering private and the other providing local bus services. Both were closed and a replacement company appears not to have been set up to continue in the bus service business. The result is that all council contracted routes were retendered.

GHA Coaches

GHA Coaches rose very quickly across North and Mid Wales as well as Cheshire and Shropshire. It now looks as if the expansion may have been too rapid for service quality declined and cashflow problems meant that taxes were unpaid and service quality suffered too. In the end, the company was wound up by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The company’s directors tried starting another company but were disqualified from continuing with such operations by the traffic commissioner, an understandable action given how quickly GHA Coaches had collapsed and the chaos that resulted.

Padarn Bus

Llanberis’ Padarn Bus was another bus company that failed in northwest Wales and there was a fraud investigation mounted after that happened. That happened in 2014 and so comes before others on this list. It was a sign of what was to come.

Silcox Coaches

This Pembrokeshire operator failed for financial reasons not long before GHA Coaches. The business had been sold in order to gain added investment that never materialised. It then was bought back by the family that owned for much of its long history but it never recovered.

Dramatic Changes Planned for Rail Travel in the North of England

The new Northern and Transpennine Express franchises have been awarded and the government is celebrating the changes that are promised by the successful bidders whose terms begin next April. For Northern, it will be Arriva and First will be continuing its involvement with Transpennine Express without its current partner Keolis.

So much is planned that you have to ask if all of it will come to pass even if it fits in well with the government’s Northern Powerhouse ideal. The list of improvements is so long that consulting what the government has published for Northern and Transpennine Express is worthwhile. Initially, I was going to confine myself to aspects that piqued my interest but I went beyond this to be more comprehensive. Still, there is so much to come that the linked sources are worth surveying too.

The remit of the Transpennine Express has been tweaked a bit with their routes to Blackpool, Barrow-in-Furness and Windermere passing to Northern. That leaves their Anglo-Scottish services as their sole involvement on the West Coast Mainline and some new journeys are to serve Liverpool so this is no longer solely based at Manchester Airport as its southern terminus. The southern route via Sheffield to Cleethorpes is to get extra capacity and more frequent services. The same is to come to the northern route too with an hourly service to Edinburgh via Morpeth. Train refurbishment is on the agenda and we are suppose to see new five car 125 mph trains on the northwestern and northern corridors too.

The new Northern franchise is where the improvements really mount up and it was supposed to be a no growth franchise when it was let in 2004. That is not something to be repeated so there are a lot of changes planned and I will step through a lot of these. In summary, there are more services, updated and new trains as well as newly staffed stations. There is a lot to cover.

Firstly, more Sunday journeys are to be offered. Of particular interest to me is the upgrade of  Stoke-on-Trent to Manchester route (it goes via Macclesfield) to an hourly service instead of the current three to four trains per day. Others mooted for an hourly service include the mid-Cheshire line between Manchester and Chester that goes via Knutsford and Northwich, Bishop Auckland to Darlington, Hull to Scarborough, Hull to York, Hull to Sheffield, Scarborough to York, Leeds to Bridlington, Bradford to Skipton, Bradford to Ilkley, Leeds to Doncaster, Leeds to Sheffield, Sheffield to Huddersfield, Lincoln to Sheffield, Knottingley and Pontefract to Leeds, Chester to Manchester and Leeds via Warrington and Colne to Preston. Some lines are going to see two trains per hour on Sundays with that from Buxton to Manchester being one of these. Others include Leeds to Harrogate and Knaresborough, Bradford to Manchester and Wigan to Manchester via Atherton. If this all comes to pass, it will a major increase in Sunday service level and that only can be good.

Weekday services are also set to increase with two trains an hour between Macclesfield and Manchester, Buxton to Manchester, Middlesbrough to Newcastle,  Newcastle to Carlisle, Knottingley and Pontefract to Leeds, Greenbank to Manchester and Blackburn to Manchester. There are myriad of other improvements too with more evening services on some lines and some Leeds to York via Harrogate getting four trains per hour. All this is going to boost capacity and the sooner that comes, the better.

New trains are to come too (281 new carriages in total) and the dreaded Pacers are to be withdrawn by 2019 while the remainder of the fleet is to be refurbished. Some of the new trains will be electric so existing electric ones like those on the Hadfield to Manchester, Skipton and Ilkley to Leeds and Doncaster to Leeds will be replaced to add capacity beyond what is there now. This comes alongside increased staffing of stations with 45 unstaffed stations to get staff and another 54 to have extended opening hours. Stations are to be improved too.

Northern also is to operate a network of semi-fast services with new and reconditioned (class 158) trains. The routes are: Middlesbrough to Newcastle, Newcastle to Carlisle, Hull to Sheffield, Leeds to Nottingham, Lincoln to Sheffield, Bradford to Manchester Airport and Liverpool, Chester to Leeds, Blackpool to York, Blackpool to Manchester, Barrow-in-Furness to Manchester Airport and Windermere to Manchester Airport. Some of these replace existing Transpennine Express routes and that may explain how the brand has been created. All in all, this will be quite a network once it is in place though it is disappointing to see Leeds to Carlisle and Leeds to Lancaster omitted, even if these too see their own modest improvements.

New routes are to be undertaken by Northern that are not part of what they have taken on from Transpennine Express or Northern Connect so it is worth highlighting them. These are Leeds to Bridlington and Scarborough to York. Currently, Transpennine Express are the only operator on these lines so the addition of Northern will compliment those journeys to increase the service frequency.

One is left wondering how all these new trains and extra services are to be funded. After all, Transpennine Express has to pay a premium for their franchise and Northern needs to operate with a reduced subsidy. One would like the reality to match the intent without extra restrictions on off-peak ticketing beyond what we have now. If that could be managed, the overhaul would be both welcome and long overdue.

A mid morning gap in Argyll

Last weekend saw me stretch it to head up to Oban. It was August 2008 when I last went there so it was high time for a return to the place. Walks took me along the shore of Loch Etive and along the eastern coastline of Mull so I did spread out from my base and the weather was more obliging than weather forecasts were leading me to believe.

Because it is a long way from Macclesfield, going by train probably is best though an off-peak return is costly at £115.30. The way up saw changes in Manchester, Preston and Glasgow instead of suggested route options that oddly took in Stafford and Crewe. Though railway engineering was ongoing between Bolton and Preston, Transpennine Express continued to operate trains between Manchester Airport, Preston and the likes of Blackpool with a diversion via Wigan which involved tantalisingly slow movement through Wigan North Western station. That train was both busy and late so I was lucky to get any sort of seat on the thing with many standing. Apart from that, the other sections of the journey were fairly pleasant so I cannot issue too many complaints. The return journey involved the same changing points and was a little more enjoyable.

The changeover from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Queen Street is made to loom large on railway journey planners but in reality is something like a fifteen minute walk that I once did in around ten minutes. Doing the same between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Victoria takes around twenty minutes so Glasgow’s main train stations are closer together and Buchanan Bus Station is of the same duration from the principal train stations so walking is viable there too.

Getting to and from Oban has improved from the three or four return journeys that I would have expected and I counted something like eight on summer weekdays. Many of these would involve piggybacking off the train to Mallaig and Fort William with train division at Crianlarich and there also are trains travelling solo to Oban and the 16:37 departure that took me there was one of those and that train left at 20:36 to return to Glasgow offering anyone living in Scotland’s Central Belt the chance of a longer day trip to the Isle of Mull while later ferries are running.

Speaking of ferries, it can feel as if Oban is better connected to nearby islands than other parts of the mainland. For instance, the ferry to Mull travels at a decent pace and offers up to seven each way sailings a day while Kerrera enjoys a very frequent largely passenger service only a mile or two down the road from Oban. Other islands like Lismore, Coll, Tiree, Barra, South Uist and Colonsay also see sailings from Oban.

Maybe it is a reality of the mountainous hinterland of Oban as much as the outcome of the Clearances but it can feel as if frequent bus services stick to the coastline. The 405 and 005 serve Connel and Benderloch from Monday to Saturday and there is the 410 on Sundays. All of these have an hourly frequency with extra schoolday journeys extending as far as Appin though the Monday to Saturday service 918 to Fort William could be a better bet for those parts so long as the timings of the three return journeys suit what you want to do. There also is an interesting if less frequent service 408 that goes all the way to Bonawe on the shore of Loch Etive and service 418 to Easdale and North Cuan with latter offering a ferry crossing to Luing.

Aside from the foregoing, Oban gets a smattering of Monday to Saturday town services going to the town’s more outlying fringes like Soroba, Ganavan and Gallanchmore but what hits me is how limit local bus connections to the likes of Dalavich, Taynuilt and Dalmally. If it were not for train and long distance coach services, the latter pair would be stranded altogether and that brings me to the title of this piece. To get to either of those places for commencing a walk, you either need to start from Oban around 08:00 or 09:00 or wait until just after 12:00. Whatever express service used to run around 11:00 is no more and I find myself challenging the idea of the 976 timetable (Oban to Glasgow) shadowing that of the trains, albeit with only three return journeys a day too. Even the summertime Citylink Oban to Dundee service only offers one journey each way when there once was two and that offered a gap filler. To be fair, Citylink did try to offer more connections in 2008 when it was embroiled in a bus war with West Coast Motors. Whatever innovation was shown at the time appears to have been lost since then and both parties did have the good sense to patch up their differences.

As it happened, the 12:11 from Oban to Glasgow was mobbed on the Saturday of my weekend away. It was if everyone was leaving at the end of the high season when Sunday’s weather showed what they were leaving after them if only they could see past the rain on the day of their departure. the inadequacy of the two carriage train was emphasised by Scotrail’s hiring of a coach to assist them in moving folk about. There also was a bother with luggage being in a wheelchair space and I could have done without one gentleman talking about the effects that lifting heavy luggage on him after a relatively recent operation. While sparing you all the details, I was glad to have a seat and to leave them on their way at Taynuilt. On this basis, having a train departure at around 10:30 would have seemed sensible and would have got me an earlier start to my walk too. However, the same train departure on Monday was much quieter and all the more enjoyable apart maybe from moments when someone started to watch something on his phone without headphones but that irritation has faded now. the weekend had been good to me anyway and I quite fancy a return sometime soon so that’s a good thing to be able to say after any trip away.