Aftermath of Lough Swilly Buses Closure

Following the intervention of the U.K.’s HMRC, the London & Lough Swilly Railway Company is no more after period of financial difficulties. The name sounds like an anachronism in that the company essentially was a bus operator for its last decades and a decent website came about only in the last few years and remains online at the time of writing too.

Here is what the company to say for itself on the front page of its website:

The Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway Company was set up by an act of parliament in 1853 by the then parliament of Great Britain & Ireland. The first track between Derry and Forland Point was completed in 1863 with a further line to Buncrana in 1864. Further extensions were completed with a branch line from Buncrana to Carndonagh and a line from Derry via Tooban Junction to Letterkenny completed in 1883, this was further extended to Burtonport inn 1895.

In 1929 due to financial difficulties the directors decided to close some of the lines and replace them with buses and road freight. The railway finally closed in 1953 when the Buncrana – Derry line ceased. The company presently operates a cross border bus service between Derry and Buncrana, Letterkenny, Moville and to various towns in Inishowen and north Donegal. In addition the Swilly also operate a school bus service in Donegal under contract to C.I.E. The company also operate a Vehicle Testing Centre at its Bonagee garage in Letterkenny for PSV and commercial vehicles. The company presently employ in excess of 90 people.

The company is the oldest surviving railway company set up in the Victorian era that is still trading as a commercial concern.

The Derry Journal has its own piece on the chequered history of the company that closed its doors last month. Its network extended west from Derry across the north of Donegal and neither Bus Éireann or Ulsterbus really strayed that much on to its patch. Even the former contracted out schoolbus services to Lough Swilly on behalf of Éire’s Department of Education & Skills.

Before we get to talking about possible replacements for the Swilly routes that have been lost, here is a list with links to the old timetables too:

Buncrana – Derry
Carndonagh – Buncrana
Carndonagh – Derry
Derry – Culmore
Greencastle – Derry
Gweedore – Letterkenny
Kerrykeel – Letterkenny
Letterkenny – Derry
Muff – Derry

As of the moment of writing, most of these have yet to be replaced if my information is correct. Bus Éireann has sorted out all the school services that Swilly used to operate so those will remain. They also are revised their Letterkenny to Derry service to mitigate the loss of Swilly’s journeys. The route numbers are 64 and 480, and the timetables combine to give reasonably comprehensive coverage of the day.

Ulsterbus has taken over the Muff to Derry service and it is numbered FY16. The service frequency looks good though there is a late start of 12:00 from Derry on Saturdays. It also has been reported that McGonagle’s of Buncrana have taken over the service between there and Derry and that bus passes are invalid on it due to a current lack of reimbursement from the authorities. That company appear not to have a website so I have yet to see a timetable for the new service.

Other than the above, there has been little sign of other routes being reactivated though Highland Radio had a story about Boyce Travel expressing an interest without much in the way of a response. Quite what happens next is unknown so it will be a case of waiting and watching. It would be pity if all the routes were lost because of a company failure.

More on April 2014 Changes to Cheshire East Bus Services

Details are being revealed about changes to bus services in Cheshire East from the end of this month. First on the list is what is happening to Saturday journeys on Arriva’s service 130 between Macclesfield and Manchester from the start of May. Thankfully, it is the section between East Didsbury and Piccadilly Gardens that is seeing any impact following loss of Transport for Greater Manchester funding. Journeys towards Manchester city centre at 07:55 and 08:55 are being dropped and Macclesfield-bound services leaving Piccadilly Gardens at 07:33 and 09:28 no longer will do so. Instead, they will commence from Parr’s Wood in East Didsbury instead at 07:51 and 09:51, respectively. Apart from those, there is on Arriva’s website what appears a confused comment on a Monday to Friday morning departure for Macclesfield but I will overlook that until the actual full timetable is published.

The current Monday to Saturday service 108 from Macclesfield to Leek and Ashbourne would appear to be getting split with the 108 only running between Leek and Ashbourne according to a new timetable on the Derbyshire bus timetables website. From the last Monday in April, it does appear that the new 108 is better than the old one with five journeys each way a day and the spread of the day served extends later into the evening time too.

But for information in an email from Staffordshire County Council about bus services, I would be mourning the complete loss of the Macclesfield to Leek section of the current 108. Apparently, there is to be a new two hourly service 109 between both towns. We may be getting another division in routes but that can be overlooked given the proposed improvement in the level of service. If we get that, then it needs supporting or we could lose it, not the sort of thought that I want to be putting around at all.

More changes are coming to BakerBus service 99 between Biddulph and Congleton from 2014-04-21 with a thinning out of off-peak journeys and strengthening of the peak timetable. Also, Buglawton is dropped apart from the single evening journey from Biddulph to Macclesfield in order to have a bus in place to operate the council contract for Macclesfield to Crewe services. While the new timetable looks very different to the old one, it remains workable and extended journeys on service 94, normally a Newcastle to Biddulph operation, to offer school transport connections early in the morning and late in the afternoon. Times for those journeys are as yet unavailable and make be added on here once I have them.

Other than these, early morning Monday to Saturday journeys on High Peak service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton are being tweaked as follows:

Current 06:40 from Buxton to leave 10 minutes earlier at 06:30

Current 07:45 from Buxton to leave 3 minutes earlier at 07:42.

Current 07:10 from Macclesfield to leave 5 minutes earlier at 07:05.

Of these, only the 07:45/07:42 runs on Saturdays according to the High Peak timetable. It does seem that early morning bus travel on Saturdays is becoming less available than it once was and what has happened the 130 Saturday timetable also reflects this, taking us back to the start of the piece.

For whatever reason, April is bringing with it a lot of bus service alterations. Some are fully known while others are awaiting extra details that could added on here yet. Still, we are looking at tweaking and trimming rather than the chopping that is ongoing elsewhere. Hopefully, the evolving cost savings of recent developments like recent subsidy reductions on the Connect 88 between Knutsford, Wilmslow and Altrincham will keep those away from us.

A little something for the summer in Northern Ireland

When doing a refresh of the Rural Services: NI page, it came to my attention that Ulsterbus have a number of seasonal services on offer in addition to their Rambler ones for visitors to and residents of Northern Ireland. The first of these is Goldline Express 221 which operates one journey each way between Belfast and Giant’s Causeway, giving you a next to next to 3 hour stay at the World Heritage Site (with a reduction on entry fees to the National Trust Visitor Centre too if the weather isn’t being kind) if you opt for a return day trip. Along the way, there are stops in Ballymena and Bushmills but it otherwise appears to be very much an express service and it continues until the start of September.

For those who fancy a longer stay at the Giant’s Causeway than three hours, there’s a later evening departure offered by Goldline 252, also known as the Antrim Coaster since it calls at so many places along the said county’s coastline between Belfast and Coleraine. There is one return journey over the whole route each way and another one between Coleraine and Larne to compliment it. The latter meets with service 256 for those wishing to travel onward to Belfast or go the other way. The 252 continues until the end of September and operates Monday to Saturday until the end of this month when Sunday services start for it and the 256 connecting journeys.

Since it was those rambler services that were the cause alerting me to the above, I suppose that I’d better mention these too. There are four in total that I have found with two being seasonal and others being year round. The first of the latter is Monday to Friday (no bank holidays) service 407 from Kilkeel to Attcal and Cranfield and second is Monday to Saturday service 403 (three journeys each way) from Magherafelt to Omagh. The 407 is known also as the Kilkeel Rambler and the 403 gets the Sperrin Rambler name. The Mourne Rambler is a seasonal offering that starts out from Newcastle and embarks on a good circuit through the Mourne Mountains. It gets the service number of 405 and operates five journeys from Tuesday to Sunday and bank holiday Mondays until the start of September. There also is a Causeway Rambler for those spending longer along the north Antrim coast and it runs daily with an hourly frequency until the end of September as service 402.

Usefully, there is a Bus Rambler ticket for travelling across Northern Ireland on Ulsterbus services that is available during the main summer school holidays after 09:15. It costs £9 for adults and £4.50 for children. Also, there’s a Family and Friends ticket for £20 that is available during weekends all year round and every day during the summer holiday months of July and August. The latter allows two adults and four children to go together as a group (and it’s an extra £4 per extra child) so it looks a tempting offer for families in times when money is a scarer commodity.

With all the above, there should be more scope for looking around Northern Island’s more scenic spots without needing to use a car. It would be better is more of these services were year round and not seasonal but there always is the matter of demand to be considered. As it happens, an Easter or May to September span of the year isn’t so bad anyway. Maybe I might be tempted to pop over there myself.

Cheshire East Bus Funding Cuts: A Final Picture?

The last time that I wrote about Cheshire East’s forthcoming bus service cuts, there still were a few details outstanding and these have come to light today along with more that I wasn’t expecting. One of those details that were outstanding were the Saturday morning journeys on the 130 Macclesfield to Manchester operated under contract by Arriva. Things remain as they are for the 06:45 and 07:45 journeys from Macclesfield and the 07:44 one from Handforth until January 27th of next year. Beyond that the journeys are set to get curtailed but we’ll need to see a new timetable to get the full story though my suspicion is some will start from Wilmslow given that terminating journeys there has been a feature of the service in recent years.

Other details from Arriva include running the Monday to Saturday Macclesfield town services 5 and 6 commercially until 22:00. There were changes coming and this is the form that they were taking. Commercial operation also is coming the Crewe to Chester service 84 with a next to ninety minute service frequency for services along the full route with the last departure from Crewe at 21:35. A 23:00 from their to Nantwich also will operate and the last service from Chester is set to run at 23:05. If only we had something similar for the equivalent services on the 130 route.

The mention of the 130 brings me to Wilmslow with faces becoming something of a bus service desert in evenings and Sundays. Handforth will be similarly affected too since the 130 serves both. However, it is the forthcoming withdrawal of 378 journeys on evenings and Sundays that really will quieten things in both places. Transport for Greater Manchester are covering the cost of the current service level until April 6th, 2013 when there is a contract changeover. That may allow a temporary reprieve but services are set to terminate on Grove Lane after that.

While on the subject of Stockport services, the 390 Bramhall – Poynton – Stockport one is to be reviewed with a planned change date of 28th January 2013. If they do happen to survive, it cut alleviate the curtailment of the 392 and 393 services at Hazel Grove. While that may sound promising, it’s best not to get too hopeful given recent experiences.

The only details that are outstanding now will be answered on seeing bus timetables. Scheduled public services has caught it in the neck this year while it was the turn of school-bus services last year. This year, most of them are making the transition to commercial services though the 108 from Leek to Fallibroome School is being truncated to start from Macclesfield. losing one of those journeys and a one that could have been useful to commuters if timings at the other end of the day were more sensible.

Now, all that really is left is to wonder at what faces us in the future. After all, there is the current Cheshire East Council overspend and tomorrow brings the reality of the Autumn Statement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. 2011’s bus service cuts looked more like trimming the edges but those in 2012 and 2013 are going further and it is starting to look very austere in deed now. If we are looking at more of the same next year, then any reductions will be even tougher again. Hopefully, any campaigning would be more energetic that it was this year.

The mention of lack of campaigning apart from the good folk of Bollington brings me to wondering if it might be possible to reintroduce lost services in the future when the economic outlook is better and public finances have recovered. Keeping a log of lost services might be a useful reference point should opportunities arise. With a story in the media about car use peaking and what the current situation is doing to people’s finances, it is tempting to think that a bit of risk taking on the part of bus companies would get us somewhere. After all, there was a lack of that on display from some in recent months and D&G comes to mind when I think of it. Bus services have had a rough ride in Cheshire East in the last two years and we could do with a boost.