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 Monday to Saturday journeys on service 58 have been rerouted to replace the withdrawn town service 1.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instead of High Peak between Macclesfield and Stockport with the former of these serving Kerridge as a replaced for the withdrawn service 11.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.

Major changes to Congleton bus services from start of September 2013

Within the last few days, it has come to my notice that BakerBus are sharply cutting the number of services they operate in and through Congleton. The 99 from Biddulph will largely remain, albeit with only very few journeys extending as far as Macclesfield. Thankfully, both D&G and High Peak appear to be stepping in with replacements for the services that are facing withdrawal.

The latter are set to offer a new service between Macclesfield, Buglawton and Congleton. While this has yet to gain traffic commissioner approval, it has gained the number 39 and it will be of interest to see how the timetable looks. When High Peak did operate service 27 on a council contract, a number of those journeys started from or terminated in Congleton so they may know the route anyway from those less austere days.

As for the Beartown Buses brand, this may be set to disappear now that D&G are running their replacements and I cannot see route branding like that applied to Crewe service 1 (one1ink) appearing here. The current 77 service between Congleton and Kidsgrove is being redirected to go along Padgbury Lane, Ullswater Road and Sandbach Road to leave a new 76 to serve Banky Fields and The Westlands. The current service 42 too is seeing changes so as to include West Heath on its route. Otherwise, D&G will take over services 90 and 91 with both keeping their half hourly service frequencies.

There are services being lost with the 95 and the X38 ceasing to exist. However, D&G have registered a Monday to Friday service 36 between Crewe and Sandbach that is to be a partial replacement for the X38 while the 38 from Macclesfield to Crewe remains anyway.

The shape of all these new services has yet to become clear but there is cause for optimism given that other operators are stepping in instead of BakerBus. The service news from D&G should be worth watching just like that from High Peak, especially since I have learned of forthcoming timing changes to service 392 (morning and evening peak services) between Macclesfield and Stockport (also from September). There has been little alteration to bus services in Cheshire East for a while now with only the summer school holiday 378 service between Wilmslow and Stockport being the only newsworthy change until this week.

Update 2013-07-30

Links to new D&G service timetables have been added now so it does look as if the Traffic Commissioner is giving these the go ahead. Others should follow as soon as I get them; Traveline has yet to provide September travel information on its timetable lookup facility.

Update 2013-07-31

Details of High Peak service 39 have appeared today. It’s an hourly Monday to Saturday service that doesn’t operate on bank holidays and has extra peak time journeys from Monday to Friday. Apparently, it’s being offered on a commercial basis and the registration is under consideration by the traffic commissioner.

There also are details of the revised 99 and 99B service (again a non bank holiday Monday to Saturday affair as has been the case until now so no change there) available with Biddulph, Congleton and Buglawton being the main extent of the route and enjoying an essentially hourly frequency. The only journeys to Macclesfield are one in the morning that acts as a positioning journey for service 11 between Macclesfield and Kerridge and one in the evening that does likewise for the Monday to Saturday evening Macclesfield to Crewe Cheshire East Council contract (service 38). There is one evening journey from Macclesfield and that’s all for the day; it facilitates the return of the service 11 bus from Macclesfield to the BakerBus depot.

Still some council support forthcoming after all

Previously, I reported the then upcoming decimation of Monday to Saturday evening services on service 38 between Macclesfield and Crewe. Now, it seems that Bakerbus have a contract to run later evening journeys on an hourly basis from 20:35 to 23:35 in either direction, albeit without having to honour tickets issued Arriva or D&G. This is promising news and makes me wonder now becomes of the planned short Arriva journeys between Macclesfield and Congleton (20:30 and 20:57 in each direction) and the 20:25 from Crewe to Sandbach. Maybe, all will become more clear in time but the continuation of something like the current is nothing but good news. Apparently, the 38 gets considered a strategic service and the 130 from Macclesfield to Manchester gets nothing like the same status, as can be seen from the severe service reductions in recent times.

This changeover is to take place on June 3rd and there is another on July 1st: the return of council funding for service 77 between Congleton and Kidsgrove. The current timetable will not be changing so the current set up of four journeys in each direction from morning into early afternoon is to remain. Though the days of the route all the way to Hanley bus station in Stoke-on-Trent, it is encouraging to see its continuation given that Astbury and Mow Cop are calling points, the latter of these being especially important for being on the Gritstone Trail.

Crewe gets its share of support for town services too with D&G’s service 9 between Crewe and Wistaston getting support for its Saturday journeys. The result is that there are more journeys over near enough the full route (Elm Drive is not served) for more of the day than was the case before. To compensate for the omission of Elm Drive from service 9, all current service 8 journeys are to follow the 8A route (with a consequent change in route number) instead as they go between Wistaston Green, Crewe and Sidney. This new arrangement comes into place from June 9th and June 3rd also sees tweaks to services 44 and 44M between Crewe and Nantwich (44M gets re-timed and Monday to Friday 08:55 from Crewe changed to start from Shavington at 09:08 instead).

June 3rd also sees D&G taking over daytime journeys on Knutsford town service 300 from High Peak without a change in timetable. There is no word of council financial support for this but the sense of High Peak leaving Knutsford is not hard to see now that they no longer operate service 27 to there from Macclesfield. It still is out on a limb for D&G too and Tomlinson Travel continue with the evening ones and I have heard some complaints on the service that they provide.

For a change, this latest round of bus service announcements is good news; developments haven’t looked this harmless for a while. It also is intriguing to see council funding appearing now after what was looking like bus services being left to their own devices with some falling on such hard times that they couldn’t continue as they were. For a good while. it almost felt like the approach was a managed decline somewhat akin to that applied to the railways in Britain for a few decades and was quite ironic given that bus services were mooted as replacements for soon to be defunct railway lines in Beeching’s plans.

What makes me wonder a little though is the timing of all of this. Cheshire East Council has seen hefty staffing upheaval in recent months. Having experienced this sort of re-organisation myself a number of times during my career so far, I realise how much stasis they can cause and I find myself asking if the same thing befell Cheshire East; folk in fear of their jobs can be unable to make decisions and it looks like that was happening before what we see now. Beyond what was happening, it might be that folk can see their way ahead again.

Seeing the recognition of the 38 as a strategic service was a great development and I’d like to think that its Sunday evening journeys may be graced by the same thinking at some point in the near future. Maybe that’s being overly optimistic but I was beginning to think that Northern Rail’s service between Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent might have made services like those on routes 38 and 77 less critical in the eyes of some and hence more vulnerable to withdrawal. After all, loss of trust in bus services is a dangerous thing and seeing what was happening was making my mind veer towards the apparent safe haven of train services. Let’s hope that we have found the bottom now and that bus service news may be a bit more positive from this point forward.

A crowded railway on a crowded island

The prospect of a double bank holiday weekend was enough to set me thinking about going away somewhere. After pondering some options, I decided on a few days around Pitlochry. That meant that I enjoyed some dry and occasionally sunny weather why other parts of Britain and Ireland were getting a soaking.

The price of that enjoyment was getting there and away. Because Pitlochry is in the heart of Scotland, I settled on a return rail journey for the sum of £107.60. The journey time was set to be around seven hours but that wasn’t something that I minded and a journey that was quiet and relaxing would have suited me to the ground.

On the way there, travelling was more frenetic than might be desirable. The cause was a fatality on the West Coast Mainline near Leyland. If I had gone with my initial route that involved changes at Kidsgrove, Crewe and Edinburgh, I would have been stranded on a stationary train to the south of the incident and perhaps avoided a little of the saga that unfolded.

As it happened, I took a later train to Manchester (that was a busy CrossCountry service but everyone had their own seat) where I got on the heaving 09:16 Transpennine Express service to Glasgow. That got so uncomfortably busy that I alighted in Preston to catch another train. The train itself was formed of six carriages but there were for Glasgow and three were for Blackpool. It would have been better if all six were bound for Scotland and it highlights the foolishness of handing Manchester-Scotland services over to Transpennine Express in the first place. Electrification of the Manchester-Leyland line may gain us four carriage trains but that is insufficient on this route, at least at peak times like the one at which I was travelling.

If I could have remained on that train, it would have spared me any impact of the Leyland fatality on my journey. As things were, it was standing room only on that service and I had luggage with me. One good thing that came from my exit was it made it easier for a mother and child to get off at Preston.

Once at Preston, it became a waiting game and we all were ushered onto a Transpennine Express train to Lancaster. It became yet another overload three carriage diesel train and railway packed in as many as they could too. The advice was to catch a rail replacement coach from Lancaster though the reopening of the line at Leyland by then was the cause of some confusion.

Planned weekend rail engineering works fortuitously meant that there were hourly rail replacement coaches available since the train service was reduced between Lancaster and Carlisle from 11:00 on that Saturday as a result. There still were trains running, albeit at a reduced frequency.

With so many false dawns with trains that morning, I opted for the certainty of a coach ride instead of waiting for another train. At that stage, I didn’t know if I was going all the way to Carlisle on the coach or not but it was taking me north anyway and i only cared about that at the time. The National Rail Enquiries app on my phone seemed to be confirming the reality of trains running again so I left the coach at Oxenholme. It was the live departures and arrivals functionality that had its use here.

There indeed were trains running north from Oxenholme and two Glasgow-bound Virgin Pendolinos appeared before another destined for Edinburgh. That was the one that I wanted and it turned out to be blissfully quiet too after the frenetic journey that had been my lot until then. As long as it lasted, I savoured the experience.

After little while in Edinburgh, I boarded an East Coast HST to get to Pitlochry. Its final destination was Inverness and, though it was well used, the journey was another good one with sunshine appearing north of Edinburgh. While awaiting the service, the train guard seemed overly enthusiastic when it came to moving everyone down the platform, an annoying trait to have in someone else when you want to stay near the front so as to improve the chances of getting a good seat. That was easily forgettable once the train set off though, especially compared to the earlier part of my journey, the main cause of my arriving later at my destination than I had in mind.

The return journey went far smoother. A ScotRail train got me from Pitlochry to Edinburgh without too much sign of overcrowded. Everyone seemed to have a seat though it was a well patronised train. Transpennine Express came up trumps with a six carriage train from Edinburgh to Manchester and that was a peaceful journey too with my having gone to the front carriage for a seat. The only perturbation was a bridge being struck near Preston that caused the service to terminate in Manchester Piccadilly rather than Manchester Airport as scheduled. The last part of my journey to Macclesfield was uneventful if delayed. Getting home slightly later than planned was a minor thing compared to other experiences that I have had.

Whether it is due to my greater awareness of what is happening on the railways due to Twitter or not, there seem to be a lot disruption to trains caused by things external to the railways. Trespassing on the track is but one of these and an animal was struck near Macclesfield this morning, causing delays as you’d expect. When people are involved, it obviously is far more serious and you think of those who have been left after the deceased. Then, there are bridge strikes due to road traffic accidents and problems with level crossings. Cable theft is yet another behaviour that causes so much disruption. All of those should make it clear that lateness of trains is as much in the hands of those of us outside of the railway industry as it does of railway staff. After, you only have to tot up failures of signals, points and overhead electricity supplies to realise how frail our rail system can be. When you consider that, you may be amazed how well it works at all.