Farewell Norton Bridge

Friday 29th March 2019

IMG_3036.jpgThe rail replacement bus service which has been running between Stafford and Stone to serve the abandoned Norton Bridge station since May 2004 comes to an end tomorrow. I couldn’t resist taking a trip up there to check it out on its penultimate day.

Trains stopped calling at Norton Bridge fifteen years ago to allow for the rebuilding of the railway as part of the West Coast Route Modernisation project. The station platform was inconveniently in the way.

Norton Bridge first opened in 1837 and latterly only enjoyed an irregular frequency local train service between Stafford and Stoke-on-Trent until it ended in May 2004.Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 19.35.17.pngA rail replacement bus service was introduced between Stafford and Stone via Norton Bridge which was included in the rail timetable system and journey planners with rail tickets continuing to be available and accepted on the buses which also served other bus stops along the route. Funding for this came indirectly from the DfT as the franchise holder, at that time, London Midland, included the cost of the bus in its successful bid.

With the new West Midlands franchise starting in October 2017 the DfT decided to finally bring, what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement, to an end and issued a consultation in late 2016 to formally close Norton Bridge station, even though trains hadn’t called there for twelve years.

It came as no surprise the formal closure was enacted in December 2017 but the bus service was given a further stay of execution with continued part funding through the new franchise until the end of March 2019 enabling Staffordshire County Council time to review other bus service levels in the area.IMG_3037.jpgBrexit Day may not be happening today, but sadly D&G Bus service 13 is ending tomorrow and the 600 residents of Norton Bridge who lost their irregular trains in 2004, saw their station formally close in 2017, will now lose their only bus service.

Here’s how today’s trip went…..

IMG_3024.jpgI arrived in Stafford over an hour before the 1235 departure was due to leave for Norton Bridge and Stone (earlier departures are at 0835 and 1035 with later ones at 1505, 1615 and 1715). I didn’t want to risk missing it. This enabled me to see the bus arriving from Stone from its previous journey at 1133 before it takes just over an hour’s break. It’s not a particularly arduous schedule having just half an hour running time end to end.IMG_3034.jpgI was pleased about that as there was absolutely no information about the route, its times or even its existence anywhere in Stafford station or outside on the bus shelters. It’s always tricky when you’re not sure where a bus route departs from so at least I now knew and wandered off to explore Stafford for an hour.IMG_3139.jpgArriving back I was pleasantly surprised to see three passengers boarding the bus for the trip to Stone.IMG_3035.jpgIt didn’t take long to realise they were regulars who come into Stafford for shopping. As you can imagine talk on the bus was all about being cut off after this weekend. Although one lady got off in Great Bridgeford (a village on the route just north of Stafford) which will continue to be served by another D&G Bus service, route 14, which ironically also serves the communities of Wedgwood and Barlaston on its route which also lost their stations in the West Coast Route Modernisation project but you can still buy tickets to them from any station and use them on the bus (a single from Wedgwood to Barlaston is just £1.90).

One passenger continued on the bus towards Stone and the third alighted with me in the small village of Norton Bridge. I asked him where the entrance to the station was and it turned out the bus had stopped right opposite. He told me all about the station house, the railway cottages and the sad day when the footbridge was taken away which meant access to the station was lost for ever.IMG_3131.jpgHe shrugged his shoulders when I asked him how he’d manage to get into Stafford next week with no bus, before admitting his wife had a car!IMG_3130.jpgThe station house and adjacent cottages (“where the rail workers used to live” he explained – it must have been a real hive of activity at some time) are indeed very pleasant and I made my way on to the ‘station forecourt’ and looking down on the fenced off tracks could easily make out the former platform, now isolated and uncared for, together with an abandoned signal boxIMG_3071.jpgBut the best bit of all was the ‘Helpful information’ poster still in situ at what was the entrance to the forecourt. IMG_3125.jpg

IMG_3045.jpgNorton Bridge station is alive and well; except there’s “no ticket office” and “no ticket machine”, and sadly “no step free access”. Oh, and no access to a crumbling platform and …. no trains either!

Not only that but the new franchisee, London Northwestern Railway from West Midlands Trains has taken the trouble to reprint the poster in their own corporate house style and someone has taken the trouble to go out to Norton Bridge and display it ….. yet the adjacent bus shelter contains no information at all about the bus replacement service. Nothing.

IMG_3134.jpgIf there’s anything that sums up our dysfunctional non-integrated transport system in this country perhaps that is it!IMG_3137.jpgI headed back to Stafford.

Roger French

7 thoughts on “Farewell Norton Bridge

  1. I find it extremely interesting that Roger can seek out such obscure railway station information that most of the country must be totally unaware of. The detail he provides is amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to work trains stopping at Norton Bridge back in the 1990s. We used to average two passengers a day.

    The most I ever picked up there was three, on the morning peak hour train to Birmingham, and they were retired railway staff going out for the day who’d been dropped off by someone on their way to Stone. They were going to be picked up from Stone on their return, even though the train would stop at Norton Bridge. I can remember because it was so unusual for there to be anyone at Norton Bridge for that train, the commuter journey, at all.

    There was no proper bus service back then either, only the postbus.

    It’s always a shame to see stations close or bus services withdrawn, but the truth is that nobody will much miss either Norton Bridge station or the bus service which replaced the trains.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Roger,

    I am the Bus Network Manager for D&G Bus. I’ve enjoyed reading your article, and if I’d have known you were going to be travelling I would have come for a round trip myself!

    The apparent lack of publicity is because we have several changes taking place over the weekend and the exercise of changing timetable displays started mid-week. There used to be a timetable in the bus shelter at Stafford Station and at Norton Bridge (although the Norton Bridge one regularly went walkabouts). I don’t know if you noticed but the service would have been shown on the LED departure boards within Stafford Station.

    I’m disappointed that the village is losing its service as the small number of regulars are lovely people, but this is the common theme across the country when local authority funding is not forthcoming.

    Keep up the good work – I enjoy reading about your travels. It is often the inspiration behind some of my own days away!

    Chris Almond.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks ever so much Chris for your comments and explanations. I didn’t spot the LED departure boards as I was a bit too early for it to be displayed I guess – but great to hear it was on there. Understand the frustrations of local authority cutbacks due to their funding constraints. Thanks again and for your kind comments.

      Like

  4. I have never read any of your artilcules but found this very interesting its a sad state of affairs how all the closures are now happening we have the sme in Suffolk any thanks again for such an intrteresting articule

    Liked by 1 person

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