Goodbye, Oldham Loop

Chris Totty says farewell to the Oldham Loop...

As an Oldhamian by birth, (I do object to being called an Old Hammer!!), the announcement of the closure of the Oldham Loop to heavy rail services in order to convert it to Metrolink tram operation seemed a good excuse to revisit the North West with a Freedom of the North West Rover. With a couple of new bits of track thrown in for good luck it turned out to be a very enjoyable week.

 I spent a considerable amount of time plotting the various days’ travels and buying tickets on line. I even managed Rochdale – Gatwick Airport on the way home for the princely sum of £6.95!!

Sunday 27th September 2009 saw me on that old favourite, the ‘red eye’ or 07:00 flight from Jersey to Gatwick North Terminal.  I then took the Shuttle to the South Terminal and railway station, only to discover that this day was to be the last day in service for the Shuttle as it is being completely refurbished.  Our arrival at Gatwick was early which allowed me to catch the 09:15 to London Bridge (319385) via the Quarry Line. Due to engineering works in Snow Hill Tunnel all Thameslink services were terminating at London Bridge.

 I have set myself the challenge of travelling over all Network Rail track for a second time, which is not an easy thing to do living, as I do, on a lump of rock in the middle of the ocean. So the first bit of ‘new’ track was the London Bridge – Blackheath line via Greenwich covered on the 08:48 ex London Bridge (465008/465193) which I took to Woolwich Arsenal. Onto the Docklands Light Railway to cover the new track to King George V and on to Canning Town. Unit 124 doing the honours on the 09:12 departure.

 Having some time to spare I then went one stop to Royal Victoria to travel over the new flyover (Unit 86) and back to Poplar (Unit 123.) Then up to Stratford (Unit 12) and arrival in the new DLR platforms.

 Again, due to engineering work, there was no service on the North London Line and with the escalator works going on at Bank; I caught a Central line service to Holborn and a Piccadilly line train to Kings Cross. At St Pancras I met up with an old friend, Greg Beecroft, who joined me as far as Stoke on Trent. After a coffee we took the only loco hauled train I was to have during the week, the 11:10 from King’s Cross to Grantham hauled by 91130. From Grantham we caught the 13:50 to Sleaford (156411/153302) which gave me the new route from Allington East Junction to Allington North Junction.

 After a carvery lunch, (not easy to find in Sleaford on a Sunday!) we returned to the station to get the 15:05 to Nottingham via Grantham; Allington curve done both ways! Well 15:05 came and went, as did 15:25 and no train. The East Midlands Trains web site showed no late running anywhere on their franchise so I was just about to give them a call when 158770/153302 arrived. It looks as though some shunting took place east of Sleaford as 153302 appeared in both consists.

 Luckily I had scheduled in a long wait at Nottingham so there was no problem in making the 17:10 to Derby (170108). From Derby a large number of passengers squeezed into 153385 (why do they run one coach trains on well used lines?) on the 17:39 to Crewe via Uttoxeter. Greg left me at Stoke on Trent but we had had a good day reminiscing on old times and putting the railway system to rights!

 From Crewe it was on to 175111 on the 19:27 to Chester then into the world of Merseyrail with the 20:00 (508134) to Hooton. Over the footbridge for the 20:27 (508137) to Ellesmere Port and the same unit on the 20:49 to Birkenhead Hamilton Square. The paper timetable shows a 21:25 Hamilton Square to New Brighton which is what I took (507010) but when I tried to sort this out on line the computer insisted that I travel round the Liverpool Loop first. This may be because the trains from the Birkenhead side of the River Mersey return to their starting point so in effect the first train to New Brighton was one going that way but this arrived at New Brighton after the second train to that terminus! Does this make sense? I thought not.

 Back on 507010 on the 21:53 to Birkenhead North and then onto Bidston on the 22:17 (508110). This connected with the 22:27 to Wrexham General (153213) which runs across the connexion from Wrexham Exchange Junction to platform 3 at Wrexham General; another new length of track! A taxi took me to my hotel and a very successful first day came to a close. Would the rest of the week be as good? Read on!!

 Monday 28th September 2009 dawned bright and sunny and as I was staying at one of those well known hotels that don’t do breakfast it was an early taxi to Wrexham Central for the 08:30 departure. The taxi driver was amazed that I wanted to go to Central and it took a couple of attempts to convince him that was where I wanted to go as all other fares go to General!! Studying the timetable sheet whilst waiting for the train it seemed curious to me that arrivals are timed at xx:32 but departures at xx:30. As the train doesn’t have 58 minutes layover time is this some cunning plan to avoid paying penalties if the train runs late? A short track bash on the 08:30 (150240) to Wrexham General and then over the bridge to await the 09:02 to Chester. By this time breakfast was needed and with the delicious aroma of bacon butties drifting over the platform I went to investigate. I found a small buffet on the Shrewsbury bound platform and success, bacon butties for breakfast!!

 Arriva Trains Wales certainly make sure you know you are over the border as all station announcements are bi lingual once you are in Wales. The 09:02 duly arrived (158825) and upon arrival at Chester I purchased my ticket for the next 4 days – a Freedom of the North West 4 days out of 8 Rail Rover. The next service was the 09:52 Chester to Warrington Bank Quay (175112) which unfortunately did not go via Walton Old Junction, and then the 10:27 Warrington Bank Quay to Carlisle (221113). After arrival at Carlisle I had sufficient time to find lunch and good old Boots were doing a lunch special that week which filled a gap before taking the 12:47 all stations to Barrow-in-Furness. Well almost all stations as some are request stops only and the driver seemed to know where there would be custom and where there would not.

 Leaving Barrow  at 15:25 on 185121 we went as far as Preston where 185147 was coupled on. Onto Bolton with both units where I changed for the 17:25 to Manchester Victoria (156429), then the 17:54 to Rochdale via Oldham Mumps (142041) and finally the 18:36 Rochdale to Smithy Bridge (155345). I had found an excellent guest house about 10 minutes walk from Smithy Bridge station on the Internet and as there were a number of eateries close by it was a good choice for the week.

 Tuesday 29th September 2009 dawned somewhat foggy, so much so that you could not see the tops of the hills from the guest house dining room. I decided to postpone the day’s planned trip over the Settle and Carlisle line to later in the week hoping that the weather would improve so Wednesday’s schedule became Tuesday’s.

 A stroll down the hill to Smithy Bridge station to wait for the 08:48 to Rochdale (150201) and back on the 09:02 Rochdale to Hebden Bridge (158842/153358). The reason for this manoeuvre was that the 09:02 doesn’t stop at Smithy Bridge so I would have missed the connexion at Hebden Bridge. What a great station Hebden Bridge is! Still as built and well looked after. Down through the subway for the 09:36 to Blackburn (158905) where there was a long wait for the 11:03 to Bolton so I went for a walk round the city to pass the time.

 Back to the station in pouring rain and the 11:03 to Bolton (150139) and a connexion into the 11:45 to Southport (150223). Round the buffer stops and back into the world of Merseyrail for the 12:43 to Liverpool Moorfields (507025) followed by the 13:36 to West Kirby (507024). A quick exit from the station to find supplies for lunch and back onto 507024, this time as the 14:21 to Liverpool Central. Then the 15:05 to Kirkby (508104) and the 15:32 to Wigan Wallgate (156421). Fond memories along here of through Liverpool – Manchester trains, now it’s a bit like a foreign border, having to walk along the platform at Kirkby to change trains (and at Ormskirk as well). Surely it’s about time that electrification was extended to Wigan (where there’s a suitable bay platform to terminate trains) and let’s ignore arbitrary political boundaries! A short walk followed to Wigan North Western and the 16:08 to Liverpool Lime Street via St Helens Central (156459).

 I chose to walk between Lime Street and Central stations rather than take the train, but this is one route that could with better signposting as I only just made the 17:14 to Hunts Cross (508130/507011). Back one station to have a look at the new Liverpool South Parkway station on the 17:34 ex Hunts Cross (142040). This new edifice is fine but there were less than a handful of potential passengers. Yes I know it was the rush hour and I would probably have expected the main flow to have been from Liverpool but surely a Parkway station is built to generate decent revenue at all hours of the day? Getting towards the end of the day’s activities now with the 18:03 to Manchester Piccadilly via Widnes (158773/158812). Unfortunately the centre of Manchester was a building site with the whole of the Metrolink track being relaid so, taking that old advice ‘just follow the tram lines, mate’, I walked round to Victoria for the 19:21 to Smithy Bridge (158754).

 Wednesday 30th September 2009 again dawned misty so the S&C plan was again postponed and Thursday’s plans became Wednesday’s. After another mammoth breakfast it was the stroll down the hill to Smithy Bridge station for the 08:24 to Sowerby Bridge (144023) and back on the 08:59 to Hebden Bridge (144018) to wait for the 09:36 to Burnley Manchester Road (158791). A short walk across Burnley to Burnley Barracks where I arrived in time to catch the Preston bound service. Discretion being the better part of whatever it is, I resisted the temptation as I really wanted to go to Colne and it was a good job I did as the two services pass between Gannow Junction and Rose Grove!150211 duly obliged on the 10:12 to Colne and what a surprise awaited me at Nelson! The station has been well restored but what’s its correct name? Station signs show Nelson, Nelson Station and Nelson Interchange. No doubt historians will be arguing over this one in years to come! Again a long layover at Colne allowed me to have a stroll round the town before returning to the station for the  10:50 to Blackburn, again operated with 150211. The last time I was in Colne was on a through train from Skipton to Blackpool in 1968! I connected into the 11:52 to Clitheroe (150150) where another long layover allowed me to find that Lancastrian delicacy, a meat and potato pie, at a local baker's! Back onto 150150 as far as Blackburn on the 12:40 departure where I changed onto the 13:15 to Preston (158901). Now for my first trip in a Pendolino when 390023 duly obliged on the 13:59 Preston to Warrington Bank Quay. Then onto the 14:26 Warrington Bank Quay to Helsby, again not going via Walton Old Junction. At Helsby don’t believe the signs, trains to Ellesmere Port leave from platform 4 not platform 3 as the unit arrives ecs from Chester and reverses into the platform just north of the station.

 The 15:17 to Ellesmere Port duly left on time (156471) with me as the only passenger. I had a chat with the conductor who told me that it was very unusual to get any passengers on this particular working; a fact that was proved as we did not stop at either of the intermediate stations, only slowing down to make sure there was no custom being offered; and to get more than 5 passengers on any service during the week would be a miracle. On arrival at Ellesmere Port there were 4 potential passengers who wanted to go to Warrington but they decided to wait for the second working of the afternoon as it was a through working rather than change at Helsby. I departed on the 15:31 ex Ellesmere Port, again with 156471 and again the only passenger. This time we stooped at Stanlow & Thornton but no business was done and, after warning the conductor of my intentions, I alighted at Ince and Elton to do some photography.

 Back onto 156471 for the 15:50 from Ince & Elton, where one passenger got off, to Stanlow & Thornton, where one passenger got on, and a final run on the branch, again with 156471, on the 16:05 Stanlow & Thornton to Frodsham. I wonder how long this service can survive as it obviously runs at times when virtually nobody wants to use it. A great change from years ago when there was a through service to Liverpool before the Hooton – Ellesmere Port section was electrified.

 Back on the 165:37 Frodsham to Chester (175108) and then onto the 17:07 Chester to Manchester Piccadilly via Altrincham (150136). Another walk across Manchester for the 18:48 Manchester Victoria to Rochdale via Castleton (158753) which did not depart until 19:07 due to the lack of a conductor followed by the 19:19 Rochdale to Smithy Bridge which was affected by the late running of the previous service and did not leave Rochdale until 19:33 with 158902 doing the honours.

 Thursday 1st October 2009 dawned bright and sunny! So today was the day for he trip over the Settle and Carlisle line. Another gigantic breakfast followed by the stroll down the hill to Smithy Bridge station. Getting to know this route now! First train of the day was the 08:24 to Leeds via Dewsbury (144021) and then onto the 09:47 to Carlisle (158758). We were joined by a SAGA party at Skipton who had their own guide with them, one of the S&C volunteers so I had the full commentary all the way to Carlisle. He even came and apologised when we arrived at the terminus and hoped he hadn’t disturbed me too much. Time at Carlisle to pick up another one of Mr Boots lunch specials and then onto the 13:30 to Oxenholme The Lake District (185112).

 Down to Windermere on the 14:24 (185102) and back with the same unit to Lancaster on the 14:48 departure. Then down to Morecambe on the 16:03 (144001) which was full of Lancaster Grammar School pupils accompanied by a sergeant of the British Transport Police!! The children were well behaved but was that because of his presence, I wonder…?

 Then onto one of those ‘Parliamentary’ trains, the 16:19 Morecambe to Leeds which is routed via the Bare Lane Junction to Hest Bank Junction line rather than go via Lancaster, 144001 again doing the honours. My next object was to travel over the Copley Hill Chord on a local inbound service to Leeds so I took the 18:19 (321903) out to Outwood. This service went its routed way via Holbeck Junction and left 8 minutes down due to the absence of a conductor. Returning on the 19:00 from Outwood (321901) this train is routed via the Copley Hill Chord but rumours had it that this line was only used when necessary. However at Copley Hill West Junction we duly branched off the main line to Holbeck and went via the Chord. Success!! I returned to Smithy Bridge on the 19:37 from Leeds (158845).

 Friday 2nd October 2009. Having now used up the 4 days validity of my Rover, I found the very useful GMPTE Wayfarer tickets, especially if you are a ‘Senior Citizen’ as they only cost £5 for a day after 09:30 weekdays.

 Wanting to bash the weekly Stockport – Stalybridge service meant leaving Smithy Bridge on the 07:48 to Manchester Victoria (158906) and then the 08:29 onto Salford Crescent (150148). Back into Manchester Piccadilly on the 08:47 (185139/185142) and then the 09:07 to Stockport (220002).

 Many years ago I used to use the Stockport – Stalybridge service reasonably frequently as it connected, with a bus ride, my grandparents house in Oldham with my aunt’s house in Handforth without having to go into Manchester and change stations there. Now it’s down to just one train a week! The 09:22 (142049) duly arrived at platform 3 and 5 passengers boarded. No business was done at either Reddish South or Denton. One passenger alighted at Guide Bridge and we arrived in the bay platform at Stalybridge in pouring rain. The unit scuttled back whence it came as soon as all 4 passengers had alighted.

 Back into Manchester Victoria on the 10:01 (150207) and I then retraced my steps on the 10:33 to Salford Crescent (150269) and the 10:47 to Manchester Piccadilly (185107). As I had not seen my aunt for some years I had made arrangements to join her for lunch and so I caught the 11:04 from Piccadilly to Wilmslow via Stockport (323239) and returned to Handforth on the 11:51 from Wilmslow (142028) and, after a stroll from the station, arrived just in time for lunch!!

 My aunt and I spent a happy time catching up on family happenings and all too soon it was time to say farewell as there was more track bashing to do! Back to Handforth station for the 16:20 to Manchester Piccadilly (323238) and the 16:59 to Hadfield via Glossop (323225). The next planned moves were the 17:44 Hadfield to Guide Bridge and on to Rose Hill Marple but at Glossop disaster struck! We sat in the platform and sat and sat and eventually the conductor announced that he had been assaulted by two people who had then locked themselves in the station toilets! Due to company rules he had had to inform the Police but, as the assault had taken place on railway property he had had to inform the British Transport police in Manchester rather than the local PC in Glossop. We therefore had to wait for them to come out from Manchester and for him to make his statement.

 He then announced that the train would return direct to Manchester and not go via Hadfield. This was none to popular a decision which was swiftly overturned and we would go via Hadfield after all! This was the obvious course of action as when we eventually got to Dinting the next service was sitting in the Glossop platform waiting for us to clear the single line to Glossop. On to Hadfield where 323225 became the 17:44 to Manchester Piccadilly but eventually left at 18:13. The connexion to Rose Hill had left Guide Bridge long before we arrived and with the somewhat sparse service along this line after the evening peak I decide to give it a miss and return to Manchester. The train is scheduled as a semi fast but the problems at Glossop and the subsequent late running we called at all stations except Fairfield and Ardwick which are usually missed by Hadfield services anyway. Another walk across Manchester to Victoria and the 19:21 to Smithy Bridge (158792).

 Saturday 3rd October 2009. Oldham Loop last day but firstly there was a new piece of track to bash, this time on a preserved line. Although I had travelled over the Bolton – Rochdale line and even been on the last train to Rawtenstall, I had never managed to cover the link between Bolton Street and Knowsley Street stations in Bury. Now with the extension of the East Lancashire Railway, and with them having a Gala Weekend, it seemed to be obvious opportunity to fill the gap.

 After checking out of the famous guest house as they were full for the weekend, I walked down the hill for the last time and arrived at Smithy Bridge station in time to catch the 08:25 to Rochdale (150275). The bus to Bury stops immediately in front of the station and so using another Wayfarer ticket I boarded the bus and travelled to Bury Bus Station. A short walk across town brought me to Bolton Street station where I had a look round and then caught the 09:55 Class 101 (?) DMU (M56392/M51192) to Heywood. This went round the curve, which may not be in exactly the same place as the former link but it’s near enough and then over the new bridge over Metrolink. I did not notice any remains of Broadfield station en route but on arrival at Heywood I walked back up to the main road and took the next bus back to Rochdale.

 Now down to some serious photography over the Oldham Loop. The idea was to alight at every station and stay long enough to photograph other services without having to rush to board them, although this did not quite work out!

 First train was the 10:56 to Oldham Mumps (150223) followed by the 11:37 Oldham Mumps to Milnrow. Back from Milnrow to New Hey on the 12:00 (142012) where I checked into my hotel for the night. Returning to New Hey station I took the 13:02 to Shaw & Crompton (142055) followed by the 13:21 Shaw & Crompton to Dean Lane.

 150223 reappeared on the 14:15 Dean Lane to Derker and after it had shuttled to Shaw & Crompton it returned on the 14:51 Derker to Oldham Werneth. My great grandfather worked for Platt Bros for 63 years and whose factory, the Hartford Works, is just outside Werneth station. I took the opportunity to record the works on film as it looks as though they will shortly be demolished but in doing so I nearly missed getting the next non stop Manchester service on video.

 Back to Shaw & Crompton on the 15:25 and unit 142012; it was becoming an old faithful, and back with it again on the 15:51 Shaw & Crompton to Failsworth.

 Failsworth station is a shadow of its former self and looked to be falling down what little bit of it remained. Last hop was on the 16:47 to Hollinwood with unit 156466 which was on its first turn since being named ‘Gracie Fields’ at Manchester Victoria earlier in the day and it was now graced (!) with a suitable headboard. I returned to Manchester Victoria on the 17:02 from Hollinwood (142044) which did not depart until 17:15 and it seemed that trains were now starting to run late. The photographic mission was now complete.

 I had booked a circuit of the Oldham Loop on the Spitfire Railtours ‘Witch Way’ tour and this left Manchester Victoria at 18:20 with Stanier 45231 ‘The Sherwood Forester’ on the front. The route was along the Rochdale Slow Line from Victoria to Miles Platting Junction and then the main line via Castleton to Rochdale, returning via Oldham. A superb piece of driving as we were due to be overtaken by the subsequent Leeds service on leaving Victoria which was a few minutes late. Our driver kept us rolling all the time and when he got the road at the Junction he let the loco have its head up the rest of the bank.

 A last journey on what might be called a ‘normal’ service before the last train festivities so I took the 20:08 Manchester Victoria to Oldham Mumps (156428) and the same unit formed the 21:13 back from Mumps to Victoria. There was a Police presence on Mumps station but there was less than 10 people either watching the trains go by or were actually potential passengers.

 Then it was time for the last train. Northern Rail ran an extra at 23:17 via Oldham to Rochdale semi fast but the last one was the 23:25 all stations. A brass band entertained at Victoria and eventually we were allowed onto the last service formed of 156441 and 156466. We set off round the loop with most of the people on board being genuine passengers going home after a night out in the city, some of whom did not even know that they were on the last ever Oldham loop service.

 After passing through the tunnels at Oldham and the site of Oldham Central station, the signalman had placed 5 detonators on the track which told the people of the town that their rail service was now over and they would have to wait until 2011 for a tram to take them to Manchester. Arrival at Rochdale was a few minutes late and Northern ran the unit back as an extra non stop to Victoria rather than the usual ecs to Newton Heath.

 Sunday 4th October 2009. Time to get back to the rock and as there were now no trains a taxi was needed to get to Rochdale station.

 The first train of the day was the 09:41 Rochdale to Manchester Victoria (150139). Due to engineering works in Standedge Tunnel there were no services from Huddersfield to Stalybridge as these were being diverted to Manchester Victoria non stop from Huddersfield. The usual terminus for these services is Manchester Airport so there 2was a special service from Victoria to the Airport reversing at Salford Crescent. I took the 10:14 Victoria to Piccadilly and then the 11:15 Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston (390026) via Hixon and Kilsby Tunnel.

 Then onto the Underground with the Northern Line from Euston to Leicester Square. Warren Street station was closed for engineering works so we did not stop there. A change onto the Piccadilly line to bash the track from Heathrow Terminals 1,2,3 to Terminal 5. A train arrived showing Terminal 5 as its destination but somewhere en route it became a Terminal 4 train so a change was necessary at Hatton Cross to get to Terminal 5. Back on the 15:05 Heathrow Terminal 5 to Heathrow Central Terminals 1,2,3 (332006/332010) and both routes to Terminal 5 crossed off the wants list.

 A change onto the District Line at Barons Court brought me to Victoria and the 16:38 London Victoria to West Norwood (455822). Due again to engineering works this service travelled fast line to Balham and then used the crossover onto the slow line at Balham Junction to access the Streatham Hill line.

 Returning on the 17:03 from West Norwood to Balham (455819), again using the slow to fast line crossover and then the 17:18 Balham to Mitcham Junction (377155) again via the crossover and the slow spur at Streatham Junction. I wonder why the trains were not routed via the fast reversible spur but others know better than me…

 Onto Tramlink for the 17:44 Mitcham Junction to East Croydon (car 2540) and the final train of the week the 18:08 East Croydon to Gatwick Airport (377150/377137). This travelled via the Quarry Line but crossed to the slow line at Earlswood. Due to engineering work again (it was a Sunday!) trains on the Brighton line were only running as far as Haywards Heath.

 A great week ridin’ railroads as an American acquaintance would say. During 8 days I travelled on over 120 trains and only one was so late that it caused me to miss a connexion, this being after the incident at Glossop which was not the railway’s fault.  So congratulations to all concerned and it proves that Britain’s railways are improving all the time.

Chris Totty

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