Sunday train patronage goes from strength to strength ….

Posted on October 29th, 2009, by The Chairman

Back in 1992, GMPTE needed to save some money, so temporarily enforced on what was then British Rail a cut back on the Sunday services on our line from two-hourly to only three trains a day and only between Chester and Altrincham. (They also knocked off the Sunday services between Bolton to Blackburn at the same time). We we’re furious, but GMPTE wouldn’t budge and British Rail couldn’t stop it. Patronage unsurprisingly collapsed. The “temporary budget cut” then became permanent.

We’ve been working hard at getting the service back ever since, getting it up to 5 trains a day by last December.

Then the Department for Transport (DfT)-enforced West Coast Main Line December 2008 timetable came in with its much worse Monday to Friday services for Manchester and Stockport commuters and Knutsford and Greenbank scholars. Someone in Northern must have been feeling very sorry for us, since they decided to give us our two-hourly Sunday service back at their own expense and also to run it all the way through from Chester to Manchester, and indeed on to Southport.

The increase in patronage has been astonishing, even better than we would have expected. Previously there were around 20 passengers on each train, now it’s often over 100 with Northern also deciding more recently to use larger units than the class 142 railbuses. Popular destinations seem to be Delamere Forest – take a look at their website – and also Knutsford with its Italianate buildings, specialist shopping, very nice restaurants and pubs, as well as Tatton Park. Have a look at virtual knutsford.

Next step? Hourly on Sundays, please!

Please leave a comment

  1. Jen Says:

    I’ve hear that Friends of Davenport station are saying that from December; Woodsmoor, Davenport and Hazel Grove will get an additional Sunday train every two hours by the 2 hourly Southport-Stockport services being extended to Hazel Grove. Given the success of Sunday services on our line and the fact that Hazel Grove, Davenport and Woodsmoor already have an hourly Sunday service, would it not make more sense to extend those trains to Northwich or Greenbank instead? I can’t see the point of stations having an inconsistent timetable like what has been proposed.

    They also seem to be suggesting that Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme stops will be removed from Hazel Grove/Buxton services. Will Northern/TfGM propose to stop Chester trains at those stations again, forgetting that the last time they did the peak time passengers couldn’t fit on our 2 carriage trains?

  2. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Jen!

    We understand the proposal to stop at Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme is only for the Manchester-bound direction and only after the morning peak.

    We’ve suggested the check of the timings along our line proposed around 12 months ago be carried out (SRTs – Sectional Running Times) and any changes required be made in conjunction with this change.

  3. Conductor Says:

    The Southport – Stockport trains have approximately 45 minutes sat in the Bay at Stockport doing nothing. Extending the services to Hazel Grove which is a 25 minute round trip including changing ends is logical and provides capacity for a growing number of passengers that travel on a Sunday on that line. Extending the service to Greenbank would require additional units and traincrew.

    There are suggestions of removing Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme from off-peak Buxton services towards Manchester and replacing the stops with the xx07 trains from Chester. TfGM have long wanted to get Buxton services to under 50 minutes rather than the hour mark at the minute. I personally think that Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme doesn’t warrant a train every 4 trains an hour off-peak, more like 3 trains every 20 minutes. The passenger demand just isn’t there, especially during mid week.

  4. Jen Says:

    Extending the Southport-Stockport services to Hazel Grove would mean in the northbound direction the departures from Hazel Grove will be something like 13:02, 13:11, 14:02, 15:02. That seems to make little sense, unless some trains are so full that passengers are unable to board. If the Southport/Buxton train times are recast to make the intervals more spaced out then the problem will occur in the southbound direction, unless you use an extra unit and crew to have longer turnaround times on the Buxton-Manchester services.

    I agree about demand not being there at Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme off-peak. When the Chester-Manchester services used to call there a few years ago some only picked up 3 or 4 passengers over the 2 stops and stopping the trains there probably added 3 or 4 minutes to the journey time, by the time the stops are on sections of line with higher speeds.

    It would be a bit hypothetical if TfGM’s aim of reducing journey times between Buxton and Manchester, causes the journey time between Knutsford and Manchester to be extended. Knutsford’s passenger figures are on a par with those of Buxton and the length of time the train takes compared to the road is much poorer for Knutsford-Manchester than for Buxton-Manchester.

  5. Conductor Says:

    Although I rarely work Sundays as they are voluntary for Guards, I’m told that Sunday services along the Buxton line have become full and standing past stations like New Mills and Disley, a good 30 minutes away from Manchester. It’s not uncommon at the weekend, especially when football is on for people to get left behind at Hazel Grove, Woodsmoor and Davenport, a relief service would be much needed. I agree it’s not an attractive timetable but you may as well do it to save having a unit sat idle at Stockport for 45 minutes.

    As for additional stops, it’s possible for it to be done without really damaging the timetable. The amount of slack on the Mid-Cheshire timetable between Hale – Manchester allows for the times. It’s quite a frequent occurrence for me to be sat at Stockport Platform 4 waiting for 3 or 4 minutes then to set off only to sit for another 2 minutes at Ardwick Junction or the station throat waiting to go into Platform 11 at Piccadilly. Train still arrives before xx35. My preferred option would be omit the stops for both Buxton and Chester services as I don’t think the demand is there but what would Friends of Heaton Chapel station say about that? The whole 2008 timetable is complete mess to be honest, especially between Stockport and Manchester.

  6. Jen Says:

    Conductor – as I’m sure you’re aware Northern almost always timetable trains so that they can leave their second to last station up to 5 minutes late and arrive on time at their destination, assuming the train doesn’t get delayed further, this helps make their punctuality figures look much better than they really are. Stockport to Manchester non-stop can easily be done in 10 minutes but Northern allow 15. The diesel services calling at Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme seem to be given 16-17 minutes to do Stockport to Manchester unless they continue beyond Piccadilly.

    The problem at Ardwick Junction seems to be if the service from Hull is just about the arrive, the service from Chester gets held to let the train from Hull through first.

    P.S. My earlier post should have said hypocritical not hypothetical.

  7. Edd Says:

    Having changed between the Chester arrival at Manchester and the Hull departure myself a few times, it used to be possible doing an official 10 minute connection, now there’s less than 10 minutes but the connection is still possible, but quite often tight with there sometimes being 1 or 2 other trains on the platform behind the Hull train and there’s usually a ticket inspection before you board so it’s quite tight. If the Chester train arrives a couple of minutes later it probably won’t be possible to make that connection any more.

    Also, if the Chester arrival is a couple of minutes later then won’t it conflict with the arrival from Norwich, which normally arrives at Piccadilly a couple of minutes after the Chester arrival?

  8. Conductor Says:

    Jen, it’s something like that. A DMU can do it in around 14 minutes all stops, as your terminating you can add an additional couple of minutes for the terminating time for PPM reasons. For non-stop DMUs Northern allow 11 minutes, Hazel Grove – Preston, leave Stockport at xx41 and arrive Manchester Piccadilly at xx52, usually earlier if it’s greens all the way from Levenshulme through Slade Lane.

    Edd has made an excellent point though, any later arrival from Chester into Manchester would conflict with the Norwich – Liverpool services which use the Slow lines all the way from Stockport, so would be following up until Slade Lane. It also conflicts with the xx35 Airport Platform 13 departure. For the more technically interested, Chester trains currently have the routing of leaving Stockport on the Slow Line, pass through Heaton Chapel, Levenshulme and then are routed onto the fast line as there is a freight train timed on to the slow lines from the Airport branch to go through Platform 14 at Piccadilly and onwards to Trafford Park. Normally our Chester train will then be sat on the fast lines at Piccadilly will be straight in a few minutes early. Occasionally it will be routed slow lines from Slade Lane if the freight train doesn’t run or is late, the train will then be sat outside Picadilly station next to the Arriva Llandudno train awaiting a path once the Transpennine Airport trains leave at around xx32. If Chester trains were to stop at Heaton Chapel, Levenshulme again then it would have to leave Chester a few minutes early at something like xx04 to accommodate the stops otherwise the timings are too tight. I can’t see there been any reason why it can’t from an operational point of view, it doesn’t interfere with breaks nor does any conflicts take place. My personal point of view is to remove Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme stops altogether from both Chester and Buxton trains, the passenger numbers off-peak doesn’t warrant the service.

    Hull Trains now depart at xx42, so it’s no longer an ‘official’ 10 minute connection. Inbound and outbound Hull trains do not conflict with Chester trains at they use the ‘East’ lines from Ardwick Jn to Piccadilly for access to Platform 1, where as Chester trains use the ‘Fast’ and ‘Slow’ lines for access to P11, except in the occasional circumstance of unit swapping onto a Sheffield at xx45. The conflict is the Airport trains.

    Hope this helps!

  9. Jen Says:

    Wasn’t part of the reason for the later departure from Chester (xx07 instead of xx04) to allow a longer turnaround time at Chester especially during leaf-fall season, so that there was less chance of a delayed arrival from Manchester resulting in a late departure from Chester?

  10. Jen Says:

    I noticed the ATOC have declared that Southport-Chester tickets are no longer valid on Northern’s Southport-Chester service on Sundays in their updated list of ‘easements.’

    They’ve also limited the number of routes where a change at Liverpool South Parkway is permitted in favour of getting passengers to walk between Warrington Bank Quay and Warrington Central. That must be great for disabled passengers!

    Link to pdf:

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