Miss Marple and the disappearing trains: part 2

Monday 14th September 2020

Readers will recall we left part 1 of this intriguing tale with the tantalising prospect of West Coast Railways stepping in from today running a replacement train service for a week shuttling between Rose Hill Marple and Guide Bridge funded by devolved local committee budgets of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council with a view to cajoling Northern Rail into running something similar instead of a wholesale withdrawal of the branch line service for three months while it dealt with its Covid caused driver training programme disruption.

Well, here we are on the first Monday of a train-less line but no sign of West Coast Railways. But, there are Northern Rail operated trains running between Rose Hill Marple and Manchester Piccadilly, albeit a limited service aimed at school children.

And there is a promise of an earlier reinstatement of a service following the intervention of local MP, William Wragg.

It’s perhaps not surprising the West Coast Railways idea came to nothing. It would have been a logistical nightmare to create a ‘resilient’ (rail parlance) path at Guide Bridge, where any delay ensuring all passengers had alighted before proceeding on to the Reddish South and Denton line to get out of the way in between journeys, could have impacted the busy line where both Northern and ‘express trains’ run by TransPennine Express pass by. It would certainly have been a novel thing to see, but not very practical – sadly not as simple as running up and down the Windermere branch as in 2018.

Meanwhile Northern carried out some checks once the schools returned and found out it wasn’t practical to accommodate all the school kids who were travelling on the about-to-be-withdrawn train service on the replacement bus between Rose Hill and Romiley/Marple. Northern’s train planners have therefore rejigged the times of some journeys to New Mills Central to enable two morning and one afternoon journey to operate from Rose Hill via Bredbury which are intended just for school children. “We are advising all other customers to use the other alternative travel options outlined at affected stations”.

William Wragg MP for Hazel Grove raised Rose Hill’s disappearing trains in a parliamentary debate on Thursday and following lobbying of Minister for Rail, Chris Heaton-Harris secured a public commitment that Northern Rail will reinstate a service with a train every 90 minutes in six weeks time, from 26th October.

It had been a few years since I last had a ride on this branch line, so I went up to Manchester on Saturday before last to see how well used the service is.

You cannot help but be hugely impressed by the care that goes into looking after Rose Hill Marple station. There’s a local volunteer group, Friends of Rose Hill Station, who lovingly carry out all this splendid work and not surprisingly have won a number of awards – including winning the 2019 Cheshire Best Kept Station, and very well deserved too.

Rose Hill was on a line which used to continue to Macclesfield until that sadly closed in January 1970. It must have been a delightful journey but now instead there’s a scenic ten-mile trail along the former line called Middlewood Way to the town.

The buffer-ended one-platform station sports six sleeper flowerbeds planted with a lovely array of flowers including roses and herbs. There are three further flower beds in the car park as well as hanging baskets. There are also bat/insect/bird nesting boxes and compost bins.

The volunteers have amassed a good stock of tools which are stored within the waiting room area where there is also a popular book swap library.

It’s a really good example of a community adopted station, and so what a great shame it will be without any trains for non school attending passengers for the next six weeks.

Having been impressed with the ambiance of the station I caught the 11:19 departure into Manchester to see how busy a mid morning Saturday shopping and leisure journey would be.

Three passengers got off as the train arrived from its previous journey and seven got on. We picked up another 5 at Romiley, 3 at Woodley, 8 at Hyde Central, 2 at Hyde North and 6 at Guide Bridge, making 31 on board albeit meaning 20 boarding at stations without any alternative trains.

I got off at the next station after Guide Bridge, Fairfield – a rather bare and much less loved station than Rose Hill (I suspect there’s no Friends of Fairfield group), which was deserted and no-one else boarded or alighted.

I got the next train back towards Rose Hill from there at 11:53. That journey carried a smaller number back to the stations towards Rose Hill than the outbound – about a dozen passengers with six alighting at the terminus.

So, we’re not talking big numbers. But there again, we’re not talking big numbers on many branch lines of this kind at the moment. As commented last time, in the grand scale of Northern Rail’s entire operations across the north of England, the resources tied up on the Rose Hill Marple branch are a very small percentage.

Let’s hope the sacrifice of passengers losing their trains on this line for the next six weeks will be worth the pain, and they’ll get their train service back as promised.

Roger French

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