A day after travelling Manchester’s entire Metrolink system in a single day it was time to finally take a trip on a fabled rail service that does not have quite the same frequency as the tram network and sample the once-a-week Northern service from Stalybridge to Stockport and back.
Among Parliamentary trains that are run simply to avoid the costly closure process, this route is up with the best of them, with what for many years had been a single journey from Stockport on a Friday now a Saturday morning round trip from Stalybridge, offering passengers a full half-hour to appreciate the delights of Stockport station, before returning to Stalybridge.
Having stayed the night at the Ashton-under-Lyne Travelodge after my Metrolink day-out, my Parliamentary trip began with an easy 15-minute walk to Guide Bridge station, from where the Stockport-bound train departs at 08.51, arriving at its destination at 09.08 then returning at 09.42 and reaching journey’s end in Stalybridge at 10.04.
This year marks a notable anniversary for this 7½-mile line since it is exactly 30 years since its once regular service was reduced to single train in one direction only, and is now four years since the 2018 change to a Saturday round trip and a chance for the citizens of Reddish South and Denton to both depart and arrive at their local stations.
Regular Trans-Pennine Express services use the 2¾-mile link between Guide Bridge and Stalybridge, but do not serve Guide Bridge, so unless passengers are able to make use of the Saturday direct link they face a ridiculous journey time of at least 40 minutes in travelling by rail via Manchester Piccadilly to get between the two stations.
A look at my British Rail timetable for summer 1989 (above) shows how much services had already been reduced in the years before the Parliamentary service began, with a mere four weekday trips from Stockport (only two on Saturdays), three southbound services and just two on Saturdays. Interestingly both Denton and Reddish South were then shown as request stops.
Boarding train 2J44 at Guide Bridge on 30 July 2022 along with three other passengers, I counted a total of six passengers, including myself, aboard the train formed of Northern units 150143/120, with the rear unit locked out of use. We had two joiners and one person alighting at Denton, then no joiners and one alighting at Reddish South, giving a total headcount of six when we arrived two minutes early at Stockport
Returning from Stockport on service 2J45 there were again a total of six of us on board as we made our punctual 09.42 departure from platform 3a, with one joiner at Reddish South, where no-one alighted, then no-one joined or alighted at Denton, but two alighted at Guide Bridge, leaving five of us on board when we reached Stalybridge.
Despite its rather useless passenger service, this route remains an important one for freight and what is also very noticeable is the care taken by volunteers to maintain gardens at both Denton and Reddish South and by the amount of volunteers who spend their weekends maintaining the station at Guide Bridge.
Northern has more than its fair share of “Parliamentary” services. In addition to Stalybridge-Stockport, its roster of token services includes Helsby-Ellesmere Port, which I featured earlier this year, the Saturdays-only Gainsborough Central to Barnetby (Cleethorpes) service (currently suspended), Clitheroe to Hellifield (summer Sundays only), Knottingley to Goole and Newcastle Central to Chathill.