This morning, I spotted that changes are on the way for the commercial 130 service that Arriva runs between Macclesfield and Manchester. I didn’t catch the details but I hope that there’s no backward steps from where we are now (newer buses, more regular service). In my search for more information, I visited Cheshire County Council’s website but so only an indication of timing changes for Saturdays.
While on there, I also noticed that services like the 392/3 between Macclesfield and Stockport and the 288 Knutsford-Wilmslow-Altrincham are no longer going to be operated by Arriva with BakerBus of Biddulph taking over the former and Vale of Llangollen running the latter. Cheshire isn’t well endowed with different bus operators so we end up getting ones from Derbyshire, Staffordshire and even North Wales coming into the fray. These services were contracted by the council so it could be that Arriva were uncompetitive in their tenders but the changes are a reminder of a trend that has all the hallmarks of a retreat.
Not so long ago, Arriva was the predominant operator in Cheshire but that its hold on that position is no longer as sure as it once was. Upheavals such as depot losses due to the introduction of new bus stations may well have had there part to play in all of this. For instance, bus services in Crewe are now run by a variety of companies with First Potteries and D&G running their fair share. In fact, Arriva’s depot in Crewe is now long shut with Macclesfield retaining one, even if they have had to move with the demolition of the old bus station to make way for a new medical centre.
Let’s hope that Arriva’s retreat from Cheshire doesn’t have an adverse impact of bus users like me. If there is a plan to reduce the frequency of the 130, I could commend it as an opportunity for another operator. Stagecoach perhaps? Well, Arriva does run the 130 from Manchester and it might be a wake up call for them.
The December train timetable changes are ahead of us on mainland Britain again and there are some major alterations coming. Transpennine Express has notices up to that effect and Virgin has been making some big promises for a while now. Let’s all hope that it doesn’t turn out like the ill-fated Operation Princess did for Virgin CrossCountry a few years back.
If you can decipher such things and I have to admit that they seem to be as clear as mud in places, Network Rail has PDF’s for the current and forthcoming timetables on its website (there’s the £15 dead tree option too if you’re feeling flush); I honestly don’t envy Rail magazine’s Barry Doe in reviewing the these documents. In addition, the various operators have begun to roll out PDF’s for their own new timetables on their respective websites (Northern Rail has already done the needful). For the majority of us who are so disinclined, the National Rail Enquiries website has a useful overview of what’s coming and has the changes already loaded into its system already so you can dispense with the old means.
On first sight, having someone else get the pleasures of nice new buses instead may not sound so wonderful. However, if you get their old buses, it may not be all that bad.
The 130 Manchester-Macclesfield service seems to have had a feel of a Cinderella about it, especially when you consider the buses that have purveyed the route over the years. When I first moved to Cheshire, daytime service was largely supplied mid-engined Leylands that felt and sounded tired. That unloved feel also applied to Leyland Lynxes and early Leyland Olympians were drafted in too. P-reg Mercedes minibuses, then among the most recent buses in the Macclesfield fleet, were used for on evening services. When early Dennis Darts came in replace the Leylands, there was a definite improvement in the journey quality.
When the service changed from hourly to half-hourly, tired ex-London L-reg Dennis Darts with Northern Counties bodies were brought in and continued in service through the tumultuous changeover to a new bus station in Macclesfield. That meant that Arriva lost its depot and the uncertainty in the summer of 2005 caused drivers to leave the company with staff shortages causing service cancellations and resulting in passenger discontent. It’s none too clever what can happen when management take their eye off the ball. I think that there might have been a changeover from Arriva Midlands North to Arriva Northwest and Wales in and around the same time too, which may not have helped even if it was a more sensible organisational arrangement.
Things stabilised when the service started to run from a depot in Manchester instead of Macclesfield and newer buses from Merseyside came on stream. These were again Dennis Darts but with Eastern Lancashire bodywork and ex-Liverpool registrations. These have been mainly M-reg with the occasional N-reg turning up at times too. Their age made them susceptible to mechanical breakdowns, particularly when stuck in heavy traffic for extended periods, so getting newer vehicles is an advance. Some were also a bit louder than might be liked; M169WKA caused me to complain twice before it was sorted after a lengthy absence from service.
Arriva’s 263 route in Greater Manchester seems to getting new Wright single deckers and it looks as if we are getting the X-reg Dennis Darts that they are displacing. While suspensions do feel worn on some of these, we are not getting a bad deal with the airiness of the interiors, the better seating and the extra legroom. Our “new” buses may be eight years old but the Plaxton bodywork still has a certain freshness about it and they are standard length too, something that seems to trouble some of the drivers at times. In recent years, we seem to have been getting ever newer buses every few years so it will be interesting to see when the next batch of more modern vehicles are offered to us and what they might be like.
The last thing that anyone wants to see while awaiting a train is someone dropping down onto the tracks in front of it. However, that’s the sight that I witnessed in Oxenholme on my return from a walk among the Cumbrian fells on Saturday evening. I feared the worst and got myself away into the ticket office before I saw too much and left the professionals to deal with it. Call me a coward if you want but what I saw was already shocking enough and I really didn’t need to see any more; in any case, getting out of the way allows the emergency services to do what is needed without any hindrance. Thankfully, the train was halted in time so any injuries suffered were no way near as bad as those where my mind had gone on me.
Of course, something like this remains a serious matter and the police were in attendance (local police were there and I saw no sign of British Transport Police though they might have come later on) and conducting their investigations while an ambulance carried the unfortunate lady away for hospital treatment. Statements have to be taken and the scene assessed, all things that eat up time.
Luckily, my journey was only held up for an hour and I was home by 21:30 anyway so my thoughts are only with the lady concerned, her people and those had more to do with it than me. From what I could gather, the incident had the appearance of someone trying to do away with themselves, not at all a nice thought but a situation that could be triggered by financial troubles in these gloomy times. Let’s hope that it works out well for all concerned.
I was out for a walk in the Lake District yesterday and I stumbled on a heaving Ambleside. The reason for all the people being there was the turning on of the Christmas lights, an annual tradition. There are various pieces but the one that gets it a mention on this blog is that there is a parade in the late afternoon that puts a stop to the progress of any buses. I was not the only the only one that stumbled on this unawares because it was the cause of a disgruntled “Where the hell is the 555?” from a waiting passenger in Windermere.
The result was that quite a number of us were stood outside in the freezing cold waiting far longer than we ought to have done, not that I am decrying the fun that was in train since it is something that is much needed in the current economic climate. The 555 that was to take me from Ambleside to Windermere was stopped in its tracks while all was going on and the 599 that I eventually used was itself held up. It just goes to show how a traditional event can really impact bus services, particularly when there’s no alternative route for buses to follow. That police didn’t seem to be prioritising the passage of buses didn’t help either.
However, I cannot say that all smaller places where big events are ongoing do see their bus services disrupted. For instance, Dolgellau’s Eldon Square can be closed for such things but with diversions in place, a much better way of doing it. It still does not alleviate accommodation shortages due to the annual Cadair Idris hill race on the Saturday of the second bank holiday weekend in May but buses continue run as planned, a much better outcome.
Earlier in the month, LNER announced the start of a simpler fares pilot to proceed for two years from 2024-02-05. Only three kinds of fare are available and both Off-Peak and Super Off-Peak fares are unavailable.
Flexibility continues in the form of Anytime tickets with Advance ticket being the most restricted. There is a new semi-flexible offering called 70min Flex that allows travel on any service departing within 70 minutes of the booked departure.
Thankfully, flexibility remains for walk-on passengers despite some appearing to want a book-ahead railway. Apps may be a workaround, but there is something about turning up and going that is so precious.
21:47, January 31, 2024
The RMT union has announced two two-day work stoppages for 2024-02-19 to 2024-02-20 and 2024-03-04 to 2024-03-05, respectively. Like other strikes, this again is related to pay increases that the union complains are not keeping pace with inflation.