Springs Branch's North West Rangers

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This is my first Trip Report post. It describes some fairly modest days out I did nine years ago, mostly on Northern Rail units, so I hope it won’t bore everyone. I recently found the envelope containing old tickets, and other souvenirs from the trip, which prompted me to re-read my diary notes and write up my memories.

It's split into three parts, covering three Day Rangers I did in autumn 2007:-

1) Greater Manchester Ranger
2) Mills & Markets Day Ranger
3) Cheshire Day Ranger

First of all, here’s some background explaining how I came to do these trips and why I make observations that may sound mundane or obvious to you regulars, but which interested me as a UK “outsider”:-

I grew up in the UK but have lived and worked abroad for many years. In 2007 I lived in San Diego, California, although I did return regularly to the UK on business and to visit my family who still live in the Wigan area. Usually circumstances had required me to hire cars during my visits and, except in London, I had used the British rail network only rarely since the 1980s.

In 2007 I had an opportunity for an extended UK holiday. This time I decided I would not open any work e-mails for the duration (anathema in the US business world), I didn’t bother with a rental car and my wife would not be with me at the beginning of the visit. I planned to spend the first week lodging with my sister in Wigan – the wife enthusiastically approved of this idea, without realizing my definition of “spending some time with my family” meant a cup of tea at breakfast time, supper at the end of the day and me roaming around north-west England in the intervening period.

So in September of that year I arrived at Manchester Airport from the USA west coast, jet-lagged and intending to spend the best part of a week taking days out from my base in Wigan, before Mrs S.B. arrived and we began a more conventional touring holiday.

2007 was around 10 years into the privatization of BR and I was interested to observe what benefits and developments this Brave New World had brought to my old stomping grounds around the railways of the north-west. I wasn’t intending to do any haulage scratching or serious route bashing, instead just to potter around experiencing “the vibe” of the day-to-day railway.

I had already missed the First North Western and Arriva Trains Northern era, my visit was a couple of years into Serco-Abellio’s Northern and the First TransPennine Express franchises, although there were plenty of units still knocking about the Manchester area in the old FNW “Gold Star” and teal ATN liveries.

Enough of the preamble, on with the report …..


Part 1: GM Rail Ranger

My first full day in the UK was a Saturday and turned out to be a fine autumn day. Being more prone to jet lag than in my younger days, I didn’t have ambitious plans, but did want to cover the Stockport-Stalybridge train (which ran on Saturday mornings at that time), so a day out with a Greater Manchester Rail Ranger sounded like a reasonable plan.

I was wide awake by 04:00 but was relying on my sister to drive me to one of the railway stations in the Wigan area to start my travelling day. Other household priorities and Saturday routines delayed the early start I would have liked (the Ranger being valid all day at weekends) but it would have seemed rude to my hosts to say “don’t bother” and ring for a taxi. Eventually the agreement was to drop me off at Ince station (on her way to Morrison’s) in time for the 09:19 Wigan Wallgate – Manchester Victoria train.

It was the first time I had ever used Ince station and I arrived in plenty of time for the planned departure. As I got to the top of the steps to the island platform, a train pulled in heading in the Wigan direction. A quick yell and a potential ankle-twisting run down the stairs had the kindly female guard holding the train after closing its doors and letting me board through the back door of the Class 150 Sprinter (a Todmorden - Kirkby service). I returned the favour by paying her for my GM Ranger with exact change – a bargain at £3.50, with none of today’s 16:01 to 18:29 malarkey.

I wasn’t sure if it was a brave or foolish move to hop on a random train travelling in the opposite direction to where I was heading, but I hoped there would be a better selection of Manchester-bound trains from Wigan Wallgate than from Ince.

I was in luck – my train arrived into Wallgate on time at 09:09 just right for a cross-platform interchange into a slightly delayed Southport - Manchester Airport service (a minus 2 connection according to the timetable). The Airport-bound Class 156 rolled in looking well loaded and there was a big crowd waiting on the platform, but something close to a 100% passenger exchange seemed to occur at Wigan. Most people on the train appeared to get off and I was lucky to be standing near one of the unit’s doors, so managed to bag a good window seat before the carriage filled close to capacity again. Then right away for a quick limited-stop run to Manchester Piccadilly, stopping only at Westhoughton, Bolton, Salford Crescent, Deansgate and Oxford Road. I enjoying the lineside views along the way – these are often un-scenic after Bolton, and used to be very familiar to me but I had not been in this area for many years. I left the train at Piccadilly, my next objective being to get to Stockport in time for the 11:28 to Stalybridge.

I spent a bit of time mouching around Piccadilly station, including a browse in the literary annex (the Ian Allan bookshop on the station approach). I had not been to Piccadilly for many years and it had smartened up considerably since my last visit. I was surprised at the number of retail outlets now squeezed onto the concourse, although it was still obviously a functioning railway station, and not quite as cluttered as some airports which can look like shopping centres with barely-visible departure gates added seemingly as an afterthought. Still, no problems getting something to eat, a cup of coffee and to add credit to the pre-paid Orange cellphone I had acquired for my stay. During this stopover I also picked up a handful of Northern’s promotional leaflets for ranger and rover tickets, which provided a couple of ideas for the trips which appear in Parts 2 and 3 of this report.

Next move was to Stockport on the 10:52 Piccadilly - Alderley Edge - my first ride on a Class 323 EMU. There were very few other passengers in my carriage, it was nice and quiet, and departure was on time. Bloody hell – what was that noise? Of course, it was the characteristic loud whoop-whooping of the 323’s VVVF drive, which I’d never heard previously, but has since become one of my favourite “railway” sounds. I was also impressed with the acceleration of the 323 – it seemed to take off like s**t off a shovel compared to the old Class 304s, which I had been familiar with on the line south from Piccadilly – and I had thought the 304s were quick off the mark compared to 1st generation diesels.

Arriving into Stockport, it was straight under the subway to Platform 3a where a Northern 150 was waiting with the Stalybridge parliamentary. The unit’s doors were locked and there were half-dozen or so of the usual suspects milling about on the platform – all male, all middle-aged or elderly and about half of them with cameras around their necks. We were all there for the same purpose, but everyone studiously ignored each other.

Presently the guard appeared and as he unlocked the doors the Stockport platform announcer gave an enthusiastically cheerful impression of a TV Game Show host. “The train on platform 3A is the 11:28 to .... Stalybridge!! Stopping at Denton, etc, etc”.

The Stalybridge Sprinter chugged out across the Stockport viaduct and I was surprised to see the old signalboxes at Stockport No.2 and Heaton Norris Junction still in use despite the huge modernization of the WCML in the early 2000s. We were held a minute or two at Heaton Norris Jn to let a couple of southbound trains pass, then squealed onto the Guide Bridge line. A pause at Denton to set down a couple of camera-wielding cranks, then no one got on and no one got off for the rest of the run to Stalybridge, where we arrived a few minutes late. The driver changed ends in double-quick time and immediately sprinted off ECS towards Manchester, as if they would soon be calling last orders for morning toast in the Newton Heath canteen.

I was tempted to visit the Stalybridge Buffet Bar (most of the honourable gentlemen, my parliamentary colleagues, seemed to be heading that way) but I figured this risked taking too much of a bite out of my day, so it was onto the first available service back towards Manchester. This turned out to be another Northern 156, all-stations from Huddersfield, which departed for Victoria at 12:03 well loaded and hardly a seat to spare.

I was quite surprised at how prosperous-looking most of the passengers were on this train. Certainly the three thirty-something women who shared the bay of four seats with me wore new, expensive-looking clothes and jewelery, immaculate make-up and the smug demeanor of new money (presumably they were off for a serious afternoon’s credit-card bashing in Manchester). But most other people in the carriage looked very smart too, with winning combinations of the “right” brand logos on their casual clothes, top-of-the-range eyewear perched on their noses, teeth whitened to California standards and a discrete whiff of expensive perfume in the air. Not necessarily what you expect on a packed Northern Rail DMU, unless perhaps it was coming from Wilmslow or Prestbury. Maybe there’s more money in the residential part of the Pennines east of Manchester than there used to be – if there had been a few more decent (less orange) suntans among them, this lot wouldn’t look out of place back home in San Diego.

My trip was a year or more before Saturdays on this route were bespoiled by the excesses of Pennine Ale Trail – I wonder if the gangs of lads in fancy dress and the hen parties subsequently drove this train’s well-groomed and aspirational clientele back to their Audis and Range Rovers?

Anyhow, back to reality and the bay platforms at Manchester Victoria. What next? Now I fancied another dose of those fast and noisy Class 323 EMUs I had just discovered, so it was a Metrolink T-68 tram to the Piccadilly undercroft and then the next 323 out to Glossop. I left Piccadilly at 12:49, with nothing much to report for this trip, except I now noticed extensive demolition and clearance had taken place of the substantial (but derelict) station buildings at Guide Bridge – a change which hadn’t registered when I passed through on the Stalybridge DMU less than two hours ago.

Arriving in Glossop I was feeling peckish, so I left the station for the first likely-looking pub serving food – the George Hotel just across the street. I ordered a bar meal and a pint (Thwaites, I think) and sat down in a quiet corner.

I’d arrived at the pub just in time, because as soon as I was getting stuck into my food a huge funeral party burst through the doors. Whoever had died obviously was either very popular or a prolific procreator – or both – because there were people of all ages and descriptions in the crowd – men, mostly in suits and black ties, mature women in suitably sombre clothes (with a netted veil hat or two) and a couple of younger women in their one and only “little black dress”, which some might say stretched decorum for a funeral. Chaos ensued around the bar as multiple complicated drinks orders were placed.

Shortly, a wizened old man came to sit at the small table next to mine. He must have been in his eighties, in Sunday Best for the funeral (his jacket and pants now a size or two too big) and wearing his best flat cap. As soon as he’d put his full pint onto the table and sat down, an appointment with the porcelain obviously became necessary. As he struggled back to his feet, he said to me “Watch me pint, will yer?” In true northern fashion, I gave a nod of acknowledgement and grunted “aye”.

As soon as he’d shuffled off into the gents, a homely middle-aged woman in a black cardigan came over. “Is that me dad’s?” she asked, indicating the glass of beer. “He can come and sit over there with us”, and she took away his drink. I can’t be sure, but suspect dad may have deliberately chosen this quiet corner to be away from his mithering daughters.

Elderly plumbing being what it is, it was some minutes before the owd fella re-appeared and I had finished my lunch and my own pint of beer by then. He looked at his empty table, then my empty beer glass. “Hey”, he yelled, pointing his walking stick at me, “I told thee to watch me pint!” Luckily the daughter in the black cardigan bustled over and shepherded him back to the family group (and his waiting beer), with him still muttering angrily about somebody drinking his pint.

Back across the road to Glossop station, and I was hoping to go to Hadfield – one place I’d neglected ever to visit in my youthful trainspotting days, thereby missing out on seeing 1500V DC Woodhead freight trains in the flesh. The arrival time of the next incoming EMU from Manchester came and went with no sign of the train. In due course there was an announcement that the train would be here shortly, it had been delayed and consequently, rather than going out and back to Hadfield before returning to Manchester, it would now go to Hadfield then directly to Dinting and on to Piccadilly.

Decision time – would I forego my Hadfield stop and stay on this train for the rare opportunity to cover the Dinting East Junction to Dinting West Junction curve, which I would probably not get the chance to do again? Or continue as planned with a short stopover in Hadfield and join the next Manchester train?

My reason for wanting to visit Royston Vasey Hadfield is peripheral to this report, but it did trump the opportunity to travel the 12-chain Dinting north curve. The moves were firstly the delayed 14:22 Glossop – Hadfield, followed by a short break in Hadfield (where I avoided visiting any local shops), then the 15:01 Hadfield – Piccadilly (via Glossop again – I wonder how that funeral party’s going?) As expected, both were Class 323 workings.

Back in Manchester, another T-68 Metrolink tram took me from Piccadilly to Victoria. Lucky the GM Ranger is valid on Metrolink in the city centre.

Next I had decided on a full circuit of the Oldham loop to Rochdale. This line was slated for Metrolink conversion in the near future and this would be my last chance travel on it in heavy rail format. A Class 150 formed the 16:15 all stations Victoria to Shaw & Crompton, which I took to its terminus. The empty unit proceeded into the headshunt at Shaw before promptly reversing into the Up platform to form the next train to Manchester via Oldham. I had a short wait on the Rochdale-bound platform for the following service, which was scheduled to continue around the loop to Rochdale. Another 150 duly arrived and we left on time at 16:49 onto the single track section towards New Hey.

I stayed on the train at Rochdale, as I knew from the timetable posted at Shaw & Crompton that it continued into Manchester via Mills Hill. However I noticed at Rochdale that we were now advertised as a through train to Blackburn. This led to the hatching of an impromptu cunning plan. I could continue on this train and have a pint or two at one of my old watering holes, the Strawbury Duck pub adjacent to Entwistle station. I would need to speak to the guard at some point, both to ensure we stopped at Entwistle (which I correctly suspected was now a request stop) and to excess my Ranger with a Bromley Cross/Entwistle day return.

Running towards Manchester Victoria I observed how much rationalization had taken place with the East Manchester resignalling in the late 1990s. I remembered this area with the Cheetham Hill loop intact (and used by many of the trains to and from the Rochdale line), Red Bank sidings full of newspaper vans, DMUs and Mk. 1 coaches, semaphores galore and the big boxes at Brewery Sidings, Collyhurst Street and the like – well and truly gone by my 2007 visit. In fact the dominant feature approaching Victoria from the east now seemed to be blocks of new apartment buildings in the Green Quarter and no-longer the extensive railway infrastructure. At least one of my favourite signal boxes at Vitriol Works out towards Moston was still alive and kicking.

While the Class 150 paused in the gloomy, diesel-fume filled “new” Manchester Victoria, I suddenly hit the wall of exhaustion, a consequence of jet lag and having been awake since 4am. I realized going to sample hand-pulled real ales at the Strawbury Duck, then having to undertake a significant journey home was going to be quite a bad idea today and would not end well.

A bit unsure of the fastest way home to my bed in Wigan, I bailed from the Blackburn train at Salford Crescent (not having seen a guard nor bought an Entwistle excess) and rang my sister to negotiate the most convenient collection point. Hindley station was agreed upon, meaning I ended the day with a Class 142 from Salford Crescent to Hindley – remarkably for a day travelling around Manchester, this was my first and only Pacer. I was on the 17:42 Manchester Victoria to Wigan Wallgate via Atherton, a hopelessly early finish for any red-blooded rover bash, but I had my excuses today!

Statistics:-
£3.50 for 103½ miles = 3.4p/mile

Units:-
1x Class 142
4x Class 150
2x Class 156
4x Class 323

Part 2 to follow.
 
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dave87016

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An excellent read and very well worded for a first time report look forward to reading the next instalment
 

Karl

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Brilliant. A thoroughly enjoyable read. I'm looking forward to your next installment and have subscribed to the thread.

Thank you.
 

Kite159

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Thanks for sharing from days of future past, at how things have changed in the last 10 years and how things haven't changed (rolling stock)
 

fishquinn

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That was a very well written report and I'm looking forward to the next ones! Jet lag certainly isn't fun so well done at making it to 18:00!
 

Techniquest

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Welcome to the trip reporters club! 2007 was a good time for me, and your trip report generated a happy trip down Memory Lane. So for that reason alone, your trip report was an excellent read!

I definitely look forward to the next parts!
 
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Thanks for the positive comments on the first installment.

Part 2: Mills & Markets Day Ranger

A few days into my September 2007 UK visit, I had just about overcome the jet lag. Tuesday dawned as a beautiful clear autumn day in Wigan and I was up for another day out on the north-west’s rails.

Today’s objective was a Mills & Markets Day Ranger – one of the tickets I had come across whilst passing through Manchester Piccadilly last Saturday. This ranger only seems to have been in existence for a short period around 2007. A year or so later it morphed into the East Lancashire Ranger (with a more restricted area), then disappeared completely.

The Mills & Markets Ranger’s spine of availability was the East Lancs Line from Preston to Rose Grove, then via Copy Pit and along the Calder Valley Line as far as Halifax. It also included Todmorden – Rochdale – Manchester Victoria / Wigan – Manchester Vic both ways / Bolton – Clitheroe and the Colne branch. Maybe not of interest to hardcore bashers (or normals either, it seems, as I think low sales led to the ticket’s withdrawal), but at £12.50 it was not bad value for a non-PTE product and would allow me to cross off the Copy Pit and Clitheroe lines which I hadn’t travelled over previously.

My chauffeur (sister) and I agreed Hindley station was the preferred local railhead. Hindley wasn’t too far out of the way on her route to work and there was a station car park on the site of the old goods yard, handy for off-street drop-off and waiting for pick-ups.

So how would I go buying a M&M Ranger at the ticket office? Would they know what I was asking for? “No problem. Here you are”, said the man behind the glass, “£12.50 please”.

Down to the platform for my first train of the day, a Northern Rail 142 Pacer towards Manchester Vic, to be taken as far as Bolton. The M&M Ranger, I recall, had a weekday start time of 08:45 which is a handy three-quarters of an hour earlier than local Off-Peak tickets. Unfortunately my drop-off arrangements meant I couldn't take full advantage and I was on the 09:37 from Hindley, the first train of the day available for free travel by Greater Manchester’s Twirlies. So guess what – the Pacer arrived well and truly packed with pensioners off for their grand days out, and I had to stand, but luckily it was only two stops to Bolton.

I changed at Bolton for a Clitheroe train. This should be better, I thought, the train will be travelling away from Manchester and it leaves at 10:19, well after the 09:30 kick-off for OAP’s free travel. It should be nice & quiet and I’m bound to get a good seat to enjoy the scenery across the moors. Wrong! When the Class 150 pulled into Bolton, it too was almost full with the grey-haired mob. Another case of first off-peak service of the day (twirlies couldn’t travel free on the previous 09:19 – but surely they couldn’t travel free outside Greater Manchester either). At least I did manage to get a seat, but it wasn’t a good one, hemmed in by a chavette with a huge pushchair and a screaming baby and there was no chance of a view from any window.

In due course we arrived in Blackburn, where my plan was to take the route via Rose Grove into Yorkshire. The first eastbound train to appear was a Class 142 Pacer working all stations Blackpool South to Colne – a scruffy, un-refurbished specimen with bus-style bench seats, lurid pink handrails and doors which opened and closed with an almighty crash. I boarded anyway, and lo and behold this train was almost empty. It actually turned out to be quite pleasant travelling on a bright autumn morning with few other people in the carriage, good views of the passing settlements and countryside on both sides of the train and the moors in the distance. Even in spite of the bouncy ride, loose trim, worn-out upholstery and the vibrations from the ropey tractor engine below the floor, this was one of few (probably the only) journeys on a Pacer which I enjoyed.

I bailed at Accrington to switch to the following train, a Northern 158 from Blackpool North to York. This was also lightly loaded and my pleasant experience continued over Copy Pit summit, past Hall Royd Junction and Sowerby Bridge to Halifax.

One of my reasons for going to Halifax was the Lancastrian maxim that if you really do have to go to Yorkshire, you might as well get your money’s worth (i.e. travel as far as possible on your Ranger ticket). The other was to take a look at Halifax’s 1779-vintage Piece Hall.

After reluctantly vacating my comfy seat in the 158, I walked from Halifax station to Piece Hall. A quick look around there persuaded me that it was good to see and impressive considering how long ago it was built, but the shops and cafes would have been of more interest to my wife than me, so I set off back to the station.

It was lunchtime as I caught the 13:16 Northern service towards Manchester – a Class 156 – as far as Hebden Bridge. Hebden Bridge is a substantial station, full of character, and it’s a pleasant walk from there along the Rochdale Canal towpath then across the main A646 road into Bridge Gate and the town centre. I was still in time to get a roast beef and Yorkshire pudding lunch at the Shoulder of Mutton pub, washed down with a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor Landlord – something you can’t easily find living in San Diego.

After lunch I ambled back to the station and sat on the platform absorbing the classic ambience. I had in mind to return via Copy Pit then cover the Clitheroe line, which hadn’t had any regular passenger services in my younger days. But the next train due was the 15:02 to Manchester and on arrival it didn’t look too busy, so I decided on a post-prandial doze whilst reacquainting myself with the route through Summit Tunnel and Littleborough. What followed was a sleepy ride on the sunny side of a quiet Northern Class 156 all the way into Manchester Victoria.

I’d done enough of Manchester over the past few days, so after a quick toilet stop at Victoria, it was aboard the next train – another 156, destination Leeds – to retrace my steps back to Hebden Bridge.

Next move was the 16:38 departure from Hebden Bridge, a Northern 158 bound for Blackpool North, taken over Copy Pit as far as Blackburn. This turned out to be another comfortable, uncrowded train, especially compared to the Sprinters and Pacers at the start of the day. The group of four seats and table opposite me was occupied by three business types in suits, with laptop, phones and documents out on the table, which gave the journey a bit of an Inter-City feel.

Now at Blackburn, I wanted to do an out-and-back on the Clitheroe line and was faced with a 35 minute wait for the next train, the 17:50. The plan was to take this as far as Whalley, where I would do a quick reversal of direction catching the next southbound service, scheduled to depart Clitheroe two minutes before my train arrived there. The 17:50 was announced as delayed, and the wait at Blackburn began to turn into a fester.

In the end the delay wasn’t too bad, the 150 eventually rolled in about 12 minutes down and as busy as might be expected at that time of the afternoon. Once aboard I was now a bit worried about succeeding with the doubleback at Whalley. After a bit of mental arithmetic I decided that bailing at Langho should be a safe bet, although I would not be able to traverse the impressive 48-span Whalley Arches viaduct and would miss out on clearing the Clitheroe line by about 4½ miles.

The weather had been beautiful all day and at the basic platforms at rural Langho it was turning into a splendid autumn evening. I wouldn’t have minded at all if the next train from here to Bolton was 10 or 15 minutes late if it meant I could spend longer enjoying the serenity (broken only by twittering birdsong) and the views of Ribble Valley countryside with Pendle Hill in the distance. Of course, my service came puttering up the gradient bang on time, another inevitable Northern Rail Class 150.

Reality returned like a slap in the face after bucolic Langho. I found the interior of my Sprinter looking like a bomb had hit it. There were pages of dismembered newspapers scattered about the seats, empty drink containers rolling around the floor and other assorted detritus was all over the place. The only other occupants were a gang of boisterous and obnoxious teenagers who shouted, swore, pushed and shoved each other for the duration of the journey back to Blackburn. Thankfully they left the train here – Tuesday is obviously the big night out for Ribble Valley yoofs. There had been no sign of the guard, so hopefully they had all bought tickets before boarding!

In fact it was notable how few times I had had my ticket checked today. None of the stations I had used had barriers and I recalled the only time a guard checked my ticket was en route from Halifax to Hebden Bridge (when I also learned the correct pronunciation of Mytholmroyd: My– as in “pie”, not Myth– as in ancient Greek legend). My ticket had spent most of its day tucked away safely inside my wallet.

Speaking of guards, I now needed to speak to the gripper on this train. During the noisy mayhem back from Langho I had realized I now had a prime opportunity to get myself to the out-of-the-way Strawbury Duck pub. This train would soon be passing Entwistle, the sun was over the yardarm and if I found the guard I could request the (x) stop there. I followed the chavs off the train at Blackburn and saw him lurking outside the rear cab.

“Can you stop at Entwistle, please?” I yelled.
“Sorry mate”.
“But it’s a request stop”.
“I know”, said the guard, “but not for this train” I subsequently checked and it was true – roughly every second train stopped at Entwistle in the 2007 timetable, something I hadn’t considered.
He continued, “You’ll need to wait for the next one if you want Entwistle”
“How long will that be?”
“Oh, could be half an hour. Maybe an hour. Dunno really” he shrugged. Not very helpful, and he was obviously not willing to consult a timetable for me, but at least he hadn’t answered my question about how long will the next train be with “probably two carriages”.

I decided not to bother waiting as I’d already spent enough time on the platforms at Blackburn today and didn’t fancy the possibility of another hour there, with the sound of marauding yobs echoing up from the station subway.

At least I managed to shift into the unit’s rear carriage, which was in less of a mess than the front one and mercifully now chav-free, as the near-empty train took off again across the moors. We passed Entwistle (non-stop, of course), on past the Turton reservoirs in evening sunshine and shadows and down the hill into Bolton. Here I had a bit of bad luck, just missing a departure to Wigan on account of the long and circuitous walk between platforms 1 and 4. This resulted in a 53 minute fester at Bolton, followed eventually by the final unremarkable move back to Hindley on one of British Leyland’s finest Merseyrail Pacers, working an Airport to Southport service.

As I sat at Bolton, wondering whether I should have stayed on the Clitheroe train through to Salford Crescent (yes – I would have got back to Hindley 11 minutes earlier this way), I did consider that this Mills & Markets Ranger was a ticket where a bit of basic planning would allow you to easily cover all its validity area within a day. Other Ranger tickets, it seems, would need an unrestricted Saturday start, much more careful planning, and some self-discipline not to spend time away from the railway on meal breaks etc, in order to cover all the lines.

Statistics:
£12.50 for 167 miles = 7.5p/mile

11 units (all Northern Rail):-
3x Class 142
3x Class 150
3x Class 156
2x Class 158

Part 3 coming soon.
 
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55013

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Great stuff, including some places I'm very familiar with.
The Piece Hall in Halifax has been closed for the last few years as it's undergoing a massive refurbishment.
I believe it's due to re-open next year.
Also, it was nice to see some 156 action on the Halifax line, something that doesn't happen these days.
The last one I had was in June 2012, although I did see one at Hebden Bridge in 2013.
 

fishquinn

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Sounds like another great time! Shame about the not so pleasant people on the train from Lango - that's the sort of people that Blackburn attracts ;). A big shame about Entwhistle too!
 

Cowley

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Excellent, just a pleasant lunch break reading your trip reports.
 

Techniquest

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Ooh good taste with the pint of Landlord! :D I assume you've had that mild one, can't remember its name now. I had it in Keighley years back, oh my lordz that was good stuff!

Another excellent read, I had forgot about that ranger. Shows how long ago it was then eh?
 
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Part 3: Cheshire Day Ranger

A few more days into my September 2007 holiday and I’d been enjoying a run of great autumn weather. If I’d known the climate was going to be so co-operative I would probably have bought a North West 4-in-8 Rover and made a few longer distance trips, but you can never predict these things in northwest England and I could just as easily have been riding around in the rain.

The previous day, Wednesday, had been spent with the Buses & Trams version of a GMPTE System One ticket, exploring some familiar bus routes around Manchester (by now in the hands of Stagecoach and First), together with Metrolink and a visit to the East Lancs Railway. By Thursday I was up for another day on the rails – this time with a Cheshire Day Ranger.

Looking at the availability map for this ticket, I wondered whether it is possible for a dedicated basher to cover the whole area in a single day. It goes from Glossop/Hadfield, Buxton and Stoke on Trent in the east to Shotton and Whitchurch in the west, with a few logistical inconveniences like the Ellesmere Port/Helsby line, Rose Hill Marple, Manchester Victoria and three sides of the triangle at Earlestown. Luckily the map does not explicitly show the Halton curve, Styal/Heald Green direct or the Denton line – I wonder how you’d go trying to use a Cheshire Ranger on the parliamentary train?

My sister dropped me at Hindley station, where the ticket office was staffed by the same guy who sold me the Mills & Markets Ranger two days ago. When I asked for the £15 Cheshire Ranger he remembered me and asked if I was planning to work my way through them all (Rangers & Rovers that is). “I’ve got a few more of those in the box if you want to try them,” he said.

The Hindley ticket-seller was a star. The following week, my wife and I would pass through again, this time heading for a day trip to Hebden Bridge. On that occasion he was more than happy to spend a few minutes working out the best split to save us a few quid, in between selling day returns to Bolton and Manchester to other punters. In fact by splitting at Littleborough he saved us over 50% of the price of a straightforward HIN/HBD day return.

Back to my Cheshire Ranger day – I got to the platform in time for the 09:37 to Manchester Victoria. This was the 09:32 from Wallgate, the first “free” train of the day for Wigan’s army of Twirlies and as the Pacer pulled in I could already see the sea of grey hair, balding heads and Marks & Spencer jackets. I had to stand at first, but luckily a good fraction of the passengers alighted at Bolton and I could grab myself a seat before incoming hordes filled the carriage to capacity again.

I was heading for Manchester Oxford Road for a connection into an ATW North Wales Coast service, so I left the Victoria-bound 142 at Salford Crescent. Lots of people had similar plans and the narrow island platform was pretty congested. The next available train over the Windsor Link turned out to be a Class 185 on a TPE Windermere to Manchester Airport run. I had seen these Siemens DMUs in photos on the internet and from the outside whilst waiting the best part of an hour at Bolton two nights ago. The fleet was nearly new at the time, looked quite spiffy compared to Northern’s Sprinters and Pacers and I wondered what they were like on the inside. I never really found out. The 185 was already packed on arrival and totally wedged by the time we left Salford Crescent. All I saw of the train’s interior was the back of other people’s heads and an armpit or two. Lucky it wasn’t far to go via the Windsor Link and Castlefield Junction to the next stop at Oxford Road.

A mad dash across the crowded footbridge at Oxford Road allowed me to make the 10:19 to Llandudno by the skin of my teeth and bag the last window seat in the carriage. The Alstom Class 175 was more novel rolling stock for me and seemed like it would be a sound enough prospect for a medium-distance journey, apart from the underfloor engine vibrations, noticeable as we negotiated the junctions going back the way I had just come, and as we sped off along the Chat Moss line.

Notable on this sector was the pleasant, Welsh-accented female conductor who started a diligent ticket inspection as soon as we left Oxford Road. She chatted to passengers as she made her way through the train with a perfect balance of friendliness and authority. I hope she’s still working on the trains as she was a real credit to Arriva. Destination for this leg was Warrington Bank Quay, where I intended to spend an hour or two “spotting”.

So far most of my visit to Britain had been spent in multiple unit territory, so I planned to spend an hour or two at Warrington seeking out a more varied diet on the WCML. There were Virgin Pendolinos, of course, plus Virgin Voyagers, which still ran between Glasgow, the north-west and Plymouth or Penzance in 2007 (Virgin lost its Cross-Country franchise to Arriva by the end of that year). I also managed to see a good selection of contemporary freight trains during a short 1½ hour stay, divided between the Up platforms at Bank Quay and the nearby bridge on Slutchers Lane overlooking Arpley Junction.

Freight movements were:-
- EWS-livered Class 66 with German ferry wagons - at least they were branded DB (not DB Schenker).
- EWS-liveried Class 60 with a loaded MGR which was held on the Up Goods alongside the station for quite a while,
- EWS 66 with a loaded scrap metal train passing on the Up Slow,
- DRS 66 with intermodal containers on the fast line.

Another EWS-liveried Class 60 maneuvered its MGR between Walton Old Junction and Arpley Jn, before a quick run-around and taking off towards Fiddlers Ferry – the whole reversal operation at Arpley seemed much slicker than I remembered it with trains of local coal in HAA hoppers during BR days, when the drill was either a Class 47 and propelling movement with a brake van to/from Walton Old Jn, or top-and-tail with pairs of Class 20s at each end. Maybe the privatized FOC managers were cracking the whip of efficiency, maybe I was just there on a good day.

All of this would be just par for the course for local gricers, but was quite novel for me – I hadn’t seen many of the UK’s modern freight locomotives in action until now. In hindsight I wish I’d made more effort to note loco numbers and maybe taken a camera to record some of the action – there were certainly plenty of others photting around Warrington while I was there.

The next target was Liverpool. I had two options – either from Bank Quay, going all stations via Rainhill on the Merseyrail Pacer which had just arrived, or a walk to Warrington Central and take my chances with whatever turned up there. I bought a take-away sandwich from the shop opposite BQ station and walked across Warrington town centre to Central.

No sooner had I got up the steps onto the westbound platform than in pulled a Central Trains Class 158 from Norwich. Not many passengers aboard and plenty of room. As I spread out and made myself comfortable, a late-middle-aged woman with a shopping bag, who had also boarded at Warrington, commented to me: “Nice train this.”
“Yes, it's not bad,” I replied, “I had to check I hadn’t come into First Class by mistake.”
“Oh, First Class or not,” she said, “I don’t care. I’m going to sit wherever I want.” There was no First accommodation on this unit, but if there had been, here was another candidate for Rail UK’s Disputes & Prosecutions Forum: “So my mother made a bit of a mistake on the way to Liverpool ….”

As we paused at Liverpool South Parkway I noted the impressive new facilities (compared to Allerton) which had opened the previous year, before we passed the nicely sandblasted historic station buildings at Edge Hill and arrived through the tunnels into Lime Street.

From Liverpool I wanted to cover some of Merseyrail’s Wirral line, so it was down the escalator and subway to the Lime Street Low Level concourse. The Merseyrail barrier rejected my Ranger ticket, but the cheerful barrier attendant waved me straight through. Either he had very keen eyesight and could read what was printed on my ticket from a distance, or I didn’t look anything like a fare-dodging scally and had something in my hand which vaguely resembled a rail ticket, so that was good enough. Whichever it was, I went straight through and boarded a Class 507 working the 13:33 to New Brighton.

As an aside, despite travelling on 13 different trains and entering or exiting five different stations with my Cheshire Ranger after Hindley, the only time that anyone took a proper look at my ticket was the lady conductor on the ATW service out of Oxford Road.

I hadn’t been to New Brighton for donkey’s years. In fact the last time was in the early 1970s on a week’s BR Family Rover ticket with my parents and young siblings. On that occasion we had all taken a LMS-vintage Class 503 from Liverpool Central Low Level (the old dead-end terminus, now modified and used for the Northern Line) and found New Brighton to be such a dirty, run-down dump we turned around, caught the train back to James Street, then a Class 502 from Liverpool Exchange to spend our family day out in Southport instead.

In 2007 I was quite impressed with how much the town had improved. I don’t know who was behind New Brighton’s regeneration (the golden rule used to be: if you’re on Merseyside and everything looks clean, tidy and freshly painted – somebody’s getting a bloody big grant), but I enjoyed a quick pit stop sitting in the sun with a good coffee at a café overlooking the cleaned-up Marine Lake, the Mersey estuary beyond Perch Rock and Liverpool docks across the river.

After New Brighton, the next destination was West Kirby, achieved with a change at Birkenhead Park (I can’t recall why I didn’t change at the more obvious Birkenhead North). I noticed all of the close-spaced semaphore signals which used to regulate the train’s progress through the Birkenhead North and Bidston area had now been replaced with colour lights and of course the signal boxes were gone. This resignalling had occurred well over a decade earlier, in 1994, so it had obviously been a while since I’d been through here.

I had a quick stretch of the legs outside West Kirby station – I quite enjoy these characteristic, neat and tidy mock-tudor high streets in Britain’s more prosperous suburbs, with their opticians and estate agents (and where the blight of pound shops and kebab houses is usually kept to a minimum), even though some might think these places are stiflingly middle-class, lacking diversity or just plain dull. I was also struck by how well maintained and cared-for each of the stations on Merseyside’s network looked – much more so than some of the shacks I’d seen in Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

I departed West Kirby at 15:21, alighted back underground at Hamilton Square, then transferred to the Rock Ferry-bound platform. I was going to Chester, but the first unit up from under the Mersey was heading for Ellesmere Port. I boarded, thinking I would leap at Hooton, but changed my mind and got out next stop at Birkenhead Central. I fancied a quick look at the old Mersey Railway car sheds directly adjacent to the platforms at Birkenhead Central. The sidings were empty and looked rusty – maybe they are not used for stabling anymore.

Not long to wait for the next train, a Class 507 towards Chester. On today’s Wirral excursion I had travelled on both classes 507 and 508, three of each type. All the EMUs were to the grey and yellow Merseyrail Refurbished specification and being only a few years since completion of their refurbishment programme, the stock was still quite clean and fresh. Full marks to Serco-Abellio Merseyrail for the condition of their stations and trains (or was the Merseytravel PTE driving the standards?). We left Birkenhead Central at 16:07 – being a weekday the train was already quite busy and stayed that way all along the line to Chester.

It had been an uneventful day on the trains so far, but beyond Capenhurst a late-middle-aged man sitting nearby started to have a coughing fit. He was with a female companion, most likely his wife, and most of the seats around him were also occupied by other passengers. This guy coughed and coughed and coughed some more. Admittedly this was more a tickle-in-the-throat type of cough, rather than choking on something stuck in his windpipe, but it went on and on and his face started to get quite red. Meanwhile, his wife and everyone else around ignored him.

He continued coughing non-stop, with his face getting redder and redder and still no reaction from his wife. I was worried where this could end up but nobody else seemed to show the slightest concern as he got redder still. I know British people are reserved on trains, but no-one did any of the usual stuff. No-one shuffled their feet uncomfortably, rustled their newspaper, tut-tutted, or even glanced in his general direction – everyone totally ignored him as if he wasn’t there.

I began to think I should offer to try to contact the guard to summon medical help, or I should take the initiative and ask if there was a nurse or doctor on the train – but crowd psychology prevailed and I just sat there too. Meanwhile his wife carried on passively reading her magazine. His coughing subsided in intensity but he was still going strong and his face was like a beetroot when we rolled into Chester station and everyone calmly got off.

Perhaps he was a regular commuter and everyone knew he would be OK except me? You can just imagine the conversation with a fellow passenger: “Shouldn’t we do something?” “Oh no, don’t worry about him. That’s Coughing Colin. He does that every day on the 4:22.” I just hope no one has a heart attack on a Wirral Line train!

Chester station is not a huge place but it was full of people and trolleys and builders’ scaffolding. It was a real obstacle course to get from Platform 7, used by Merseyrail, to my next departure on the 17:00 to Crewe leaving from Platform 1. I thought I had missed my connection, but when I arrived at the platform a few seconds after 5pm, the train had still not arrived. At that time ATW ran an hourly shuttle between Chester and Crewe, and allocated one unit for the job, which could in theory do the round trip including turnarounds at each end within the hourly cycle. But the timing was tight and obviously as the day progressed, any delays would accumulate and the train would slip further and further behind schedule.

The Crewe service turned up a few minutes after its 17:00 departure time – a single ATW Class 153. I groaned looking at the enormous crowd waiting on the platform. The carriage was full on arrival too and it took some time for all the passengers, many with luggage, pushchairs etc. to get off. Then there followed the cavalry charge to board. I was lucky to be right near a door, so got on quickly and grabbed myself a window seat, but the single 153 became rammed with people standing all down the aisle and wedged into the vestibules with luggage and bikes. We set off as soon as everyone had squeezed on board, and provided you looked out of the window and ignored the crowds, it was a pleasant sunny afternoon trip across Cheshire’s green and pleasant land to Crewe.

I spent a half-hour or so at Crewe watching the comings and goings on the WCML. I was impressed by how many trains Virgin seemed to have out and about. It might well have been rush hour, because it seemed no sooner had one Pendolino or Voyager departed and the tail lights disappeared into the distance, another either arrived at the platform or passed through the station non-stop. Central Trains Liverpool / Birmingham EMUs also made appearances, including one Central Trains service shown on the departure board as going north to Wigan and Preston. This seemed a bit unusual – maybe one of those odd once-per-day workings?

It all appeared much busier and more frantic than when I used to come here in BR Inter-City days in the 1970s, and I had thought Crewe was busy back then.

The next destination was Manchester and I had a choice of two routes with the Cheshire Ranger:-
  • Virgin Trains up the WCML to Warrington BQ, then an ATW 175 from there into Manchester.
  • The main Crewe to Manchester line via Wilmslow.
My decision was a Northern Class 323, for an uneventful ride through the Cheshire countryside and Stockport into Manchester, with me once again impressed by the acceleration and respectable speeds achieved by the modern 25kV EMUs.

At Manchester Piccadilly’s Platform 13/14, I capped off my “freight” day by seeing a Freightliner Class 66 roll through with intermodal containers from Trafford Park as I waited for my final move of the day, the 19:33 to Southport (a Class 150) which I took to Hindley, for the last station pick-up by my sister.

I’d certainly enjoyed the three days reacquainting myself with the north-west’s railways, plus I had been lucky with perfect weather throughout. I would definitely do something similar next time I get the opportunity, maybe a bit more geographically ambitious next time.

Statistics:
£15.00 for 170½ miles = 8.8p/mile

13 units:-
2x 150 Northern
1x 153 Arriva Trains Wales
1x 158 Central Trains
1x 175 Arriva Trains Wales
1x 185 TransPennine Express
1x 323 Northern
3x 507 Merseyrail
3x 508 Merseyrail
 
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Karl

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Thanks for another great read. I also notice you use the word 'twirlies' a few times in your stories, could you expand please?
 
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I also notice you use the word 'twirlies' a few times in your stories, could you expand please?
It's a term used in Greater Manchester for the over-60s who are entitled to free travel on buses and trains after the morning peak, but need to pay a fare if boarding before a set time (09:30 on the trains).

As old folk seem to like to be up and about early, they're usually impatient to start their travels as soon as possible, and will sometimes try their luck boarding public transport a good few minutes before they really should.

When told by the bus driver, or whoever, "Sorry luv, you can't use your free pass yet" their reply will be "Ooh, are we too early?" - in a northern accent. Hence their generic nickname "twirlies".
 
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Cowley

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It's a term used in Greater Manchester for the over-60s who are entitled to free travel on buses and trains after the morning peak, but need to pay a fare if boarding before a set time (09:30 on the trains).

As old folk seem to like to be up and about early, they're usually impatient to start their travels as soon as possible, and will sometimes try their luck boarding public transport a good few minutes before they really should.

When told by the bus driver, or whoever, "Sorry luv, you can't use your free pass yet" their reply will be "Ooh, are we too early?" - in a northern accent. Hence their generic nickname "twirlies".

Brilliant :lol:
 

Karl

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It's a term used in Greater Manchester for the over-60s who are entitled to free travel on buses and trains after the morning peak, but need to pay a fare if boarding before a set time (09:30 on the trains).

As old folk seem to like to be up and about early, they're usually impatient to start their travels as soon as possible, and will sometimes try their luck boarding public transport a good few minutes before they really should.

When told by the bus driver, or whoever, "Sorry luv, you can't use your free pass yet" their reply will be "Ooh, are we too early?" - in a northern accent. Hence their generic nickname "twirlies".

Excellent, I love it! Thanks for the explanation :lol:
 
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