Monday 26th October 2020
Today’s date, 26th October, will for ever resonate for those of us involved in the bus industry back in 1986 as the anniversary of the birth of deregulation. And here I am, 34 years later, marking the launch of a pioneering new bus route filling a gap in the network over the infamous A57 Snake Pass which hasn’t seen a bus service for a good many years.
Nicholas Ridley would be delighted.
Hulleys of Baslow has begun running a new Snake X57 bus route between Sheffield and Manchester every two hours via Ladybower Inn, Snake Pass Inn, Glossop and Hollingworth. It actually started yesterday with today the first weekday operation.
First departure from Sheffield is at 06:05 (Sundays 09:40) and last journey back from Manchester is 19:10 (Sundays 17:25) with two late evening return journeys on Fridays and Saturdays at 21:10 and 23:45 from Manchester, the latter giving an 01:00 arrival into Sheffield. It’s certainly ambitious.
Journey time is 90 minutes and the timetable is coordinated between Sheffield and Ladybower with Hulleys’ tendered route 275 to Bakewell (now renumbered 257) to provide an hourly frequency.
Similarly at the Manchester end another new route from Hulleys (X56) runs 2-hourly between Shirebrook Park Estate, Glossop and Manchester to provide another coordinated hourly frequency.
On Sundays there’s no 257 or X56 and the two hourly Snake X57 double runs twice to serve Bamford railway station as well as the Derwent Fairholmes Visitor Centre adding 10 minutes to the journey time but making it attractive for Peak District visitors.
I gave Hulleys a call last week to enquire whether the launch was still going ahead in view of Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire both being put into Tier 3 restrictions and was reassured the new service would be on the road as planned and available for those making essential journeys.
When I queried how such journeys were being made now (ie last week) it became clear Hulleys have got one eye on the rail market as a way to attract passengers over to the X57 as ‘the train’ was the reply. The Hope Valley line has both TransPennine Express and East Midlands Railway (each hourly just stopping at Stockport) taking 50 minutes between Sheffield and Manchester and Northern’s hourly stopping service takes 77 minutes providing three trains an hour between them.
Hulleys are charging £8 single and £10 return from Sheffield to Manchester with Railcard holders able to take advantage of discounts aimed at students at £6 single and £7.50 return. The £10 return ticket also acts as a Hopper ticket giving unlimted travel on all Hulleys’ routes (except the X71 to Alton Towers). The train by comparison is £22.60 single and £33.10 return (£23.70 off peak) with some cheaper options for Northern or TPE only fares, but Hulleys’ fares appear to compare well.
Concessionary passes are valid throughout the X57 making it particularly attractive for passholders not least because like the Hope Valley railway line, the A57 Snake Pass is a very scenic route to take, and how lovely that it’s now available after all these years for passengers to enjoy on a bus route.
I’d also been irritated that Government, in the form of the Treasury, had been insisting the DfT mandate train operators not to issue refunds on advance purchase rail tickets even if purchased many weeks ago (mine were bought online on 14th September even before the Tier system was devised) and guidance on travel subsequently changes.
Ironically Grant Shapps tweeted out yesterday afternoon this rule was now being relaxed with the £10 administration cost to change dates on advance tickets once again waived and the option of exchanging tickets for vouchers. No indication was given when this would apply from and I suspect train operating companies are not applying it with immediate effect from today.
What a way to run a railway. A detailed policy change of this kind being communicated by a tweet personally from the Secretary of State on a Sunday afternoon. Quite extraordinary.
Anyway the upshot was I journeyed up to Sheffield and back courtesy of East Midlands Railway on two Meridian trains which were both so filthy on the outside you could barely see out of the windows and on one the soap dispenser in the accessible toilet was broken. So much for #cleansafereadytogo.
I was a bit apprehensive entering Sheffield Interchange (as the city’s sparsely used bus station is called) whether it would be easy to find the correct departure stand for the X57 – having doubts whether the PTE would have updated displays – but my plan B was to look for the former route 275 and wait there.
‘He of little faith’. I’m delighted to report Travel South Yorkshire have excelled and everything has been updated even including both the A-Z destination index and the ‘stands by service number’ posters.
Stand D3 had the updated departure times too. Well done TSY. Very impressive.
Even better, the normal leaflet-less enquiry desk in the Interchange had supplies of Hulleys timetable leaflet including copies to help yourself to as well as racked on the back wall.
And a good leaflet it is too, although it only includes the X57 without referring to the 257 or X56 as the integrated timetable does on Hulleys’ website (shown above). No doubt it’s to keep it simple and emphasise travel between Manchester to Sheffield.
It was also impressive to see posters up promoting the new service, and all along the route bus stop flags now include the Snake X57 purple logo as an additional plate – even in the middle of nowhere.
Someone’s been very busy and it’s good to see the effort that’s been made.
I caught the 11:30 from Sheffield which was due in from its previous journey from Manchester st 11:15. I’d seen comments online about the potential tightness of the 90 minutes running time and so it didn’t surprise me the bus arrived ten minutes down at 11:25.
Two or three passengers alighted but it was just me boarding as we left spot on time.
The Optare Versa bus (originally with Travel de Courcey) gives a very comfortable ride helped by the superb driving of my driver Jane.
A poster, timetable leaflets, network map and sanitiser dispenser were impressively available behind the driver.
Soon after leaving the Interchange we were heading out of the city on the A57 and after about twenty minutes of urban Sheffield we hit the open road and aside from the Ladybower Inn and the (now closed) Snake Pass Inn, it’s reservoirs, forests, moorland, rivers, waterfalls, gorgeous landscapes and autumnal colours all the way for the next half hour until we dropped down into Glossop.
It really is a fantastically scenic ride which cannot be captured effectively in photographs and I strongly recommend a trip to enjoy it for real.
It was a surprise to have a rucksack carrying passenger board at the isolated Snake Pass Inn. He took advantage of the new route to travel to Glossop. Hopefully he hadn’t been waiting there for however long it’s been since a bus last ran!
In Glossop I was a bit surprised the bus performs a time consuming loop around Norfolk Square by the main crossroads in the westbound direction which adds vital minutes to the schedule as these very busy traffic lights have to be negotiated twice.
As we headed into Manchester there were long eastbound queues forming at traffic lights through both Glossop and Hollingworth and I could see how the running time could be challenging.
Having said that we passed the second bus on the route heading back to Sheffield as we approached Glossop and it was close to time despite the traffic
Having enjoyed a spurt along the M67 we arrived into Manchester’s Chorlton Street eleven minutes late although a few minutes of that was Jane trying to master the brand new upgraded ticket machine for our Snake Inn boarding passenger. I’m told it’s a TransmachTM500 which is a new one on me.
The machines mean Hulleys can now take contactless. It was the first time I’d encountered the new Wayfarer and made a change not to see a Ticketer ticket machine.
So, with Travel South Yorkshire having come up trumps in Sheffield, and bus stops throughout the remoteness of Derbyshire’s Peak District all Snake-ified I had high hopes TfGM would similarly have sorted the Chorlton Street departure point so passengers would be aware of this new service.
Alas not. Nothing at all. Not a single mention. Nothing. Shame on TfGM.
I left Jane to enjoy her well deserved lunch break in Manchester before she returned to Sheffield on the 13:45 departure. This is due into Sheffield at 15:15 but having seen the eastbound traffic queues towards Glossop I had my doubts it would make it in time for my advance ticket booked on the 15:29 EMR London bound departure so I decided to switch allegiance for the return ride from Manchester to the train and enjoy the Hope Valley.
Using the National Rail website to see the time of a suitable train offered me an advance single (with Raikcard) for £6.25 even though it was only in ‘advance’ by an hour. This was by booking through Northern Railway’s website for the 14:18 departure operated by TransPennine Express. What a muddle! But a very competitive price to Hulleys Student or Railcard £6 single especially as the train takes just 50 minutes. Mind you lovely as the Hope Valley by train is, it’s not nearly as good as the Snake Pass by bus.
But, as Transdev Blazefield found with their CITYZAP venture from Leeds to Manchester across the Pennines, the train is a formidable competitor and moves thousands of passengers in quick time.
I truly wish Hulleys all the very best for their new venture. I do hope it can survive the winter as it’ll offer an unrivalled scenic bus journey in the better weather of spring and summer all the more so as Tier 3 restrictions will hopefully have been eased by then.
I don’t know if TSY, Derbyshire and TfGM have given their support to this new venture thereby enabling Hulleys to obtain Covid Bus Service Support Grant, but if not, this really is an odd time to be launching a service of this kind. I can’t see passenger numbers being anywhere sufficient during the upcoming winter months and I do hope this doesn’t mean it won’t be around for next spring and summer. It’ll need a good twelve months investment and ideally would begin that with the better months.
It is a very ambitious initiative. It’s just its introduction now, after decades of no service, that seems questionable. But I hope I’m wrong, as I’m already looking forward to a return trip next spring; it’ll be on my to do list many times over. It really is a fantastic bus route.