Robert Hampton

Rover 2006: Saturday

Depart From Arrive To TOC Train
Scheduled Actual Scheduled Actual
09:14 09:13 Aigburth 09:23 09:22 Liverpool Central ME 507027
09:52 09:52 Liverpool Lime Street 10:52 10:54 Stockport CT 170516
11:23 11:28 Stockport 11:48 11:54 Stalybridge NT 156424
12:26 12:29 Stalybridge 13:10 13:13 Leeds TP 158814
13:49 13:49 Leeds 15:35 15:36 Lancaster NT 142016
16:05 16:05 Lancaster 16:22 16:22 Preston VT 221120+220031
16:31 16:31 Preston 16:57 16:57 Blackburn NT 150136
17:34 17:43 Blackburn 18:03 18:16 Bolton NT 153357
18:12 18:21 Bolton 18:29 18:41 Manchester Oxford Road NT 156470
18:41 18:42 Manchester Oxford Road 19:11 19:13 Hunts Cross CT 170509
19:21 19:21 Hunts Cross 19:29 19:29 Aigburth ME 507019

My final day, and a ride on one of the most unusual lines in the region.

A fairly routine start to the day, as 507027 arrives at Aigburth to take me into town:

507027 at Aigburth

At Lime Street, engineering works once again impacted on services, with Virgin Trains terminating at Harrow & Wealdstone; any London passengers changing to local services there. Once again, services on the West Coast between Warrington and Preston were replaced by buses. However, this would not impact upon my plans.

Central Trains Turbostar 170516 was waiting in platform 9 with the Norwich service, which I was to ride as far as Stockport.

170516 at Liverpool Lime Street

At Stockport, 158827 arrives with a service to Manchester Piccadilly.

158827 at Stockport

92041 passed through the station light engine:

92041 at Stockport

And here, in the bay platform, is my next train, 156424...

156424 at Stockport

...with a smashed window...

Smashed window on 156424

The train was the 1123 to Stalybridge, calling at Reddish South, Denton, Guide Bridge and Stalybridge. You may see this line on rail maps, marked as “limited service”. This is something of an understatement. The 1123 is the only train on this line all week, and it runs in one direction only (no return trip). Reddish South and Denton stations receive no other service!

Why run this service at all? Well, back in the 1980s this line had a regular service, primarily intended to connect Stockport passengers into trans-Pennine services (which at that time ran via Manchester Victoria). When these trains were rerouted via Manchester Piccadilly (which has regular trains from Stockport), there was no longer a need for a connection at Stalybridge and British Rail decided the line could no longer justify itself.

However, Government approval is needed for a line closure, so instead of closing the line outright, BR chose the “weasel” option of running the minimum service necessary by law. At privatisation, this skeleton service was incorporated into the Regional Railways North West franchise, and continues to operate, as a legal requirement, to this day.

In recent years this service has become something of a celebrity in rail enthusiast circles. Indeed, there were about ten passengers on this train, all of whom were rail enthusiasts (except for one “normal” who had apparently been routed this way by one of the internet journey planners, had no idea of the significance of the journey, and was content to read his Independent).

Travelling on this line, knowing that this is the only passenger train to traverse it all week (there are some freight) is a slightly surreal experience. As you might expect, the stations on the route are somewhat run-down. This is Reddish South. Denton is similarly deserted, although intending passengers there do at least have a bench to sit on.

Reddish South station

Despite the general atmosphere of dereliction, someone has found time to paint the signposts in corporate colours!

Reddish South signpost

At Guide Bridge we rejoin the main line and return to civilisation.

Arrival at Stalybridge was at 1154 (meaning 100% of trains on this line ran late this week). The Pennines loom in the background:

Stalybridge station

150274 arrived with a service to Manchester Victoria.

150274 at Stalybridge

And here's my next train, 158814, which was to take me to Leeds.

158814 at Stalybridge

Another chance to see Leeds; this time only a flying visit to change trains. While I was waiting for my onward connection, a railtour arrived, top and tailed by EWS Class 67s. 67004 was on the rear.

67004 at Leeds

The jewel in MetroTrain's crown is the class 333 EMU, used on West Yorkshire local services and the most modern train in the Northern Rail fleet. This is 333002.

333002 at Leeds

Slightly less exciting, 142016 was waiting to form the 1349 to Morecambe via Hellifield and Lancaster.

142016 at Leeds

This was to be another trip through beautiful countryside. It was enlivened by a girl with alopecia sitting near me, who spent most of the journey shouting into a mobile phone about how she wasn't going to wear a dress to a party and let society define her as a woman.

We arrived at Lancaster at 1536. I was intrigued to find out that the Morecambe train lays over here for nearly half an hour before continuing to its destination. This didn't concern me, however, as I left the train here.

Lancaster station

I had planned to take the 1616 Transpennine service to Preston, but a double Voyager set arrived first. Our non-stop run to Preston was accompanied by a Scotsman who insisted on telling the nearby American tourist just what a load of arrogant warmongers Americans all are (“except you, you're OK,” he added — so that's OK then).

To avoid the engineering works south of Preston, I jumped on 150136 for the short run to Blackburn.

150136 at Preston

Thanks to the earlier-than-planned train at Preston, I was half an hour ahead of schedule. However, I narrowly missed the Bolton service at Blackburn and had to wait for the next one.

Blackburn shows signs of being extensively renovated in the recent past and has a modern, functional feel to it.

Blackburn station

I soon became aware of a growing number of chav teenager types on the platform. The 1734 to Bolton was announced as delayed, and was then switched to another platform, resulting in a dash through the subway for all of us. Northern Rail helpfully sent out single-car 153357 to form this very busy service. The driver of the train was not amused when a member of station staff told him that Control wanted him to make extra stops.

Most of the kids got off at Darwen, the next station down the line. However, we lost further time and arrived at Bolton 13 minutes late.

I would have missed my onward train to Manchester Oxford Road, however happily this was also late and I climbed aboard at 1821. We got to Oxford Road at 1841. I expected to miss my next planned train, the 1841 to Liverpool which was to take me to Hunts Cross.

I was very pleased to find that my train was still in the platform and I leapt aboard. This train, one of the few Central Trains services to call at Hunts Cross, was standing room only. I resigned myself to a trip in the vestibule, accompanied by a man who was far too in love with the sound of his own voice and insisted on telling everyone about his nightmarish trip when he got on the stopping train to Manchester by mistake (“it even stopped at Edge Hill. No-one got off, no-one got on, know what I mean?”).

At Warrington Central, a lady waited patiently for the people in front to get off, only to be trapped on board when the train doors snapped shut and we carried on. She alighted at Widnes (ignoring loud man's exhortations: “you'd be better off getting a taxi, know what I mean?”) to get the next train back, having learned the hard way that politeness gets you nowhere.

I alighted at Hunts Cross, and was soon aboard 507019 for my final train, the 1921 to Southport. Three stops later and I was at Aigburth, where I was naughty and used my flash to get this picture.

507019 at Aigburth

And that's it!

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