End of the road for Hulleys’ snake

Monday 22nd November 2021

It certainly can’t be said Hulleys haven’t given it a good try. Introduced on 26th October 2020 the much welcomed Snake X57 branded bus route linking Sheffield and Manchester, via the scenic A57 Snake Pass, is now on its last knockings with a complete withdrawal planned after after 8th January.

It’s been quite a turbulent initial 13 months with a number of timetable changes reflecting early experience, trying out different route extension ideas to generate custom and coping with closed roads, roadworks, temporary traffic lights galore and the usual traffic delays west of Glossop.

As I wrote at the time, starting a brand new bus route of this kind as winter approached was certainly unconventional timing soon after kick off being faced with a short sharp lockdown last November followed by the more prolonged restrictions from Christmas 2020 through until Spring of this year could hardly have helped get the service off to a flying start.

However, as I noted back last October payment of the DfT’s Covid Bus Service Support Grant was obviously a bonus to keep the service going through those early months.

The X57 current timetable until January

Very late evening journeys aimed at those enjoying Manchester’s late night economy didn’t last long and a major development in May this year saw the service extended to Manchester Airport which seemed another very brave decision. When I took a ride that month I found very few takers not only for the extension to the airport which was also very quiet, but on the original section of route, although the driver told me the service was proving very popular at weekends with walkers and stay-at-home tourists. I’m not surprised – it’s a beautiful route through some glorious walking country.

Plans were announced in September to extend the service yet again south to Macclesfield but in the event this idea was abandoned in the face of Hulleys experiencing a shortage of drivers. I think that was just as well.

The timetable was been tinkered with a few times including a small diversion off the M67 on the way into and out of Manchester to serve Hyde bus station and there’ve been reductions to the number of journeys in the early mornings as well as on Sundays.

I took a ride across from Sheffield to Manchester last Thursday to enjoy the scenery for one last time as I doubt there’ll be another service over the Snake Pass any time soon.

I caught the 11:25 from Sheffield Interchange noting that an incoming journey from Manchester was due in at 11:15. However a fresh bus was waiting to perform the 11:25 departure which was just as well as the 11:15 arrival only came in at 11:24 just as we were about to leave.

It dropped off six passengers before parking up.

We left with three on board in addition to myself and made slow progress as we headed to the Glossop Road via the Cathedral and West Street. This was a change to the route from when I last travelled and didn’t seem particularly quicker, in fact we lost eight minutes compared to the schedule but did pick up three more passengers and then another two as we reached Glossop Road although two got off, but we did pick four more up making for seven on board as we hit the Manchester Road only to lose two more.

So as we headed out of Sheffield towards Ladybower we had five on board three who’d boarded at the Interchange and two in Glossop Road who were travelling together.

We passed Ladybower Inn just four minutes down dropping a passenger off by the reservoir leaving four on board with myself all enjoying the autumn colours as the gorgeous scenery unfolded on our climb up to the Snake Pass.

We passed the old Inn still four minutes down and hit the top of the Pass surrounded by mist and low cloud as we began our descent into Glossop.

We’d made two minutes up as we reached Glossop market hall and lost one more passenger but gained three newcomers. We’d passed the other bus on the route which had left Manchester at 11:30 as we approached Glossop – it was running about ten minutes down with about half a dozen on board.

As we headed out of Glossop towards the M67 we passed the usual long slow moving queue of eastbound vehicles explaining why Sheffield bound buses were running later than schedule.

We came off the M67 to call into the nearby Hyde bus station dropping one of our Sheffield boarders off and were soon back on the motorway and not much later were heading west along the busy Hyde Road into central Manchester.

We passed by Manchester’s Piccadilly rail station just two minutes late.

Inexplicably our driver than did a tour taking us past Piccadilly Gardens …

… before retracing our route in again from the station meaning we reached the road alongside Chorlton Street Coach Station at 13:20, ten minutes after our scheduled 13:10 arrival and the two passengers from Sheffield and two from Glossop still on board alighted with me.

It would seem about half a dozen passengers is about the average supplemented by a handful of local riders at the Sheffield end of the route. Clearly that’s not enough to sustain the Snake X57 and sadly its demise is inevitable as it probably was from the start.

News of the route’s demise was posted on Hulleys Facebook page over the weekend with a refreshingly honest appraisal of the background to the upcoming withdrawal and rightly praising the staff who’ve worked hard to try and make it a success.

The comments under the posting from passengers expressing their sadness at hearing the news is testimony to the appreciation the service gained from those who used it. Sadly there just weren’t enough of them.

Well done to Hulleys for giving it a go. It’s a truly wonderful route and if you fancy a ride you’ve got just six weeks left to do so.

Roger French

14 thoughts on “End of the road for Hulleys’ snake

Add yours

  1. It’s a great shame Hulley’s couldn’t make this innovative new service profitable, although it seemed baffling to launch during the pandemic. It probably needed a partner operator on the west end of the route to eliminate effectively ‘dead’ mileage on the positioning journeys.
    I think some kind of summer weekend operation of perhaps, two or three round trips per day might pay its way, but even so, on rainy days then patronage may be sparse.

    It’s possible that news of Northern’s hourly clock face all stations Hope Valley train service between Sheffield and Manchester launching in May next year might have influenced Hulley’s decision.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do agree with continuing a weekend only perhaps summer-only operation would probably be feasible, as when I rode the route twice back in April (very soon after the third lockdown ended) the bus was close to full both times – perhaps curtail the route at Glossop if necessary to avoid traffic and if possible get integrated tickets with the rail service to Glossop (but I’m probably dreaming)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Through ticketing with other operators’ bus services Manchester Glossop would probably be more realistically achievable than bus-rail ticketing, but with the ongoing franchising situation in Greater Manchester and also Stagecoach’s takeover discussions I doubt there’s any chance of that happening.

      Did anyone else notice that whilst there was effusive thanks from Hulleys to Derbys CC public transport team, neither GMPTE not SYPTE got mentioned? Given that Hulleys’ boss openly gives credit where credit’s due, that suggests neither PTE has been particularly helpful.


      1. The main issue is that I am unaware of any Manchester to Glossop services besides the X57 and the Hulleys X56 which may also be being removed (I am unsure about this) – the main service from Glossop is the winding 237 to Ashton where you can then change for another bus/tram to Manchester, which I doubt is very appealing. You are right though, I am living in cuckoo land thinking an integrated ticket may happen


  3. The extension beyond Manchester Airport to Macclesfield (and I think all the way to Ashbourne) did start running (a friend rode on it from Macclesfield, and questioned the circuitous route at the Airport, whilst not having a stop in Wilmslow), but it never lasted many days.


  4. @Kiran

    I think Hulleys X56 was withdrawn some time ago, when the first round of Coviddy changes were made to the through X57.

    I didn’t realise there was no longer a direct Glossop-Manchester bus link other than the X57; that does surprise me, but then I wonder sometimes about the overall viability of buses in Greater Manchester. It *should* be good bus territory, and historically was, yet (the few main road corridors aside) it seems that it’s not. I’m not sure what’s going/gone wrong there.

    I don’t see much difference socially or economically between the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, yet the former is clearly much better bus territory than the latter. Perhaps it’s the population density or the location of traffic centres, or maybe GM doesn’t even have the local traffic centres that the West Midlands has, with everything being centred on the city centre? I don’t know.


  5. TfL are proposing more cuts one of the routes going is the 271 which goes back over a 100 years It first appeared in 1910 when cable tram route 9 was extended from the Archway Tavern to Highgate. In 1914 the 9 was diverted to Barnet on the same date LCC tram 11 was extended from Archway Tavern to Highgate, In 1939 the 11 was replaced by trolley bus 611 and in 1960 it was replaced by bus 271


  6. Interesting that Hulleys were considering Macclesfield. It was a shock when the 130 route went.

    I think Glossop Sheffield might work, avoiding the traffic delays west of Glossop and accessing the good rail service.

    With regards to West Midlands versus GM, I think the continuity provided by one operator in West Midlands helped. In Greater Manchester the north half has been a story of turmoil, while Stagecoach have made a better job in the south, although they have lost their way of late.


  7. Also very sad to see it go, and my last ride had the bonus of going via Woodhead instead of the Snake Inn. Agree with earlier comments from others, that a future Summer weekend service be considered, although with current financial constraints and Driver shortages, unlikely to happen just yet. Another reminder of how Councils can happily waste £millions on tech-happy DRT or attempts to “be in control” one more, but not stump up a fraction of that amount to revive long lost and actually important inter-urban links. Rail might be fine for end-to-end, but there are no stations at the Snake or Ladybower Inns.


  8. Sorry. It’s the same as it’s always been, and always will be. If there are routes that we cherish, and we should, it’s our job to protect them, and that means one thing, using them enough. It’s not something we can trust to other people, Councils, LTAs or the Government. They’ll waste our money on their own ego trips, quite happily.

    The only partnership that matters is that between a bus Co and its passengers. Anything else is a distraction. And, perhaps, out of individual conscience, that means paying a fare even when we’re entitled not to. There is no law against charity, whatever we might find it convenient to believe. Perhaps we need a charity bus support fund.

    Other hobbyists pay for their hobbies (sometimes handsomely) why should bus enthusiasts be an exception?


  9. Stories like this are so common and make me sad. When wealthy countries like Switzerland can manage a totally integrated nationwide public transport system, yet the UK can’t or won’t.

    I’m sure in this case the operator tried so hard to make it work, but it needs a step change in local authority/PTA thinking and money. Where is the vision, imagination, and competence?



  10. Definitely a sad day for me when this was announced. As a university student in Preston going home to Rotherham, the X57 was a god send. Getting the train into Manchester and then hopping on the X57 to Sheffield before making my way home in familiar territory made my journey home much more enjoyable. Sadly I now have to resume the 2-3 trains route instead but of all the times I took the X57, it was very empty so you can’t blame Hulleys for discontinuing the service. I will miss it dearly


  11. As a crinkly living in the barbaric south, the failure of the X57 saddens me. As a Sheffielder born and bred, I used the X48 each week to get to Manchester as a student. I can also remember the days of the 39 over Snake Pass. It’s already been said, “Use it or lose it”. ….. but maybe a summer service?


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