C is for Carlisle

Sunday 13th February 2022

Having explored a couple of southern towns to kick off this year’s A to Z of public transport provision in small to mid sized English towns last month I thought I’d better level up and select this month’s two contenders in the north. And what’s more they’re both cities rather than just plain old (or new) towns.

Which brings me to Carlisle with a population of around 75,000 in the city itself and another 30,000 living in the wider district making it a very similar size to Bracknell, which I explored a fortnight ago. But, spoiler alert, bus use and the network of buses in considerably better as is the significant rail network.

Carlisle is administered by a two tier District (City) Council as well as Cumbria County Council both headquartered in the city and has a long and distinguished history going back to Roman times not least due to its strategic location just eight miles south of the Scottish border and at the confluence of three rivers (Eden, Caldew and Petteril).

Not surprisingly, unlike Andover and Bracknell, Carlisle is also an important junction on the country’s rail network being at the apex of six wonderfully scenic railway lines.

In clockwise order heading north is the line to Glasgow via Dumfries and Kilmarnock served by ScotRail which leaves the second scenic line – the West Coast main line at Gretna Green, the latter being served by Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Third up heading east is the line to Newcastle operated by Northern Rail as is the renowned line through Settle to Leeds. The West Coast main line heading south with Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express trains offers spectacular views through Penrith, over Shap and on past Oxenholme and finally the Cumbrian coastal line operated by Northern is a joy to behold and always worth a ride round to Barrow-in-Furness and the long way round to Lancaster.

As well as all this with around nine passenger trains per hour there are regular freight trains passing through making the station a popular choice with enthusiasts.

The station building itself is impressive. Both externally and internally following a complex refurbishment including renewing hundreds of glass panels in its roof.

Avanti West Coast manage the station and do a good job doing so too. It’s always a pleasure to visit.

Immediately outside the station are reminders of Carlisle’s rich history with castlesque battlements and a row of bus shelters for catching the city’s busy network of bus routes heading north and west of the city as well as the starting point for two lengthy inter urban routes heading north into Scotland – Border Bus route X95 which links Carlisle with Galashiels and with a change there on to Edinburgh…

… and which is a truly wonderful route to travel on …

… and Houston’s route 382 to Lockerbie.

Neither route are frequent with the X95 providing six journeys a day (only four run through from Edinburgh to Carlisle in the southbound direction, and none northbound; and just three journeys on Sundays) and four journeys on route 382 (three on Sundays).

Other inter-urban bus routes are all operated by Stagecoach and depart from the Stagecoach run bus station just a short walk from the railway station in Lonsdale Street. It’s a shame the X95 and 382 can’t be made welcome there so everything would be in one place.

There’s a small waiting room with a hatchway to where staff are in a ‘back office’ if you have an enquiry, and, don’t tell the corporate bosses at Stagecoach HQ, but there’s also a display of timetable leaflets for passengers wishing to obtain helpful information in print. Wonders will never cease.

It was almost a full house of leaflets too, and I even picked up a winter timetable booklet for bus routes through The Lakes from one of the buses I travelled on.

Amazing.

There’s also some handy information on display outside the building for when it’s closed, including maps.

Although it’s a shame the map showing the wider Lake District network doesn’t include the inter-urban routes from Carlisle to the north and east.

Stagecoach’s inter-urban bus routes from Carlisle include (in clockwise order) route 79/179 to Annan (half hourly) and Dumfries (hourly); the Cross Pennine 685 operated jointly with Arriva to Brampton (half hourly) and Newcastle (hourly); route 104 to Penrith (hourly); route 554 to Keswick via Wigton (four journeys); route 300 to Workington (hourly); and route 400 to Sillouth (two-hourly).

Route 300 was once treated to an upgraded Gold brand, and the Cross Pennine 685 enjoyed a Best Impressions smart bespoke branding a few years ago which was initially applied to buses (certainly Arriva’s single decks) but sadly all this has now gone. Mind you, I didn’t see any ‘school bus’ yellow liveried buses denoting inter-urban routes so that was a plus.

I’ve travelled on all these inter-urban routes bar the 400 on previous occasions so decided for my visit to the city on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning earlier this week to concentrate on having a good look at the city’s local bus route network. And there’s a nice coloured map to show where they all go.

The six routes operate cross city, in most cases with loops at the terminal ends, and link together residential areas which need a similar level of service including frequencies of 7-8 minutes, 10, 15, 20, 30 and 60 minutes. So it’s quite a clever network which works well and appears to be very efficient to operate as well as meeting passengers’ travel needs.

Almost all routes are operated by Enviro 300 single deck buses in either standard or new style Stagecoach livery. I spotted one bus (pictured below) with remnants of the once smart local branding which adorned the previous fleet – it was still displaying the logo devised for the branding.

Other buses still carried a personalised rear behind the driver …

… giving a local feel and creating interest but I got the impression these will also soon be gone as sadly the drive to centralised corporatisation at Stagecoach with no scope for localism continues.

One bus had some timetables in the leaflet rack including just one left of the Lakes booklet which I helped myself too.

Cumbria County Council do a good job at displaying lists of departures at most bus stops – and in very large print too.

Some bus stops in the city centre also show return times from the outer terminus too.

As you’d expect, I managed to find one display where attention to detail was lacking (see the left hand column of hidden times in the photo below), but generally they were pretty good.

Even if they religiously list every single departure even on a very frequent route making for very long lists of times.

On the other hand bus shelters were a disgrace. I’m guessing they’re the responsibility of the District Council rather than the County but there’s clearly no budget for cleanliness nor keeping on top of graffiti.

Regretfully this was all too typical of bus shelters in many of the residential areas.

Almost all bus shelters out in the residential areas are covered in graffiti making for an unpleasant environment to wait. There’s no way the image of bus travel depicted above is going to attract motorists over to buses.

In the city centre the shelters didn’t seem to be so badly impacted but mainly because they’re clear panels but I question whether this is the most comfortable arrangement for passengers to sit and wait for their bus?

There’s a conglomeration of five northbound bus stops close by the station in English Street with more modern shelters ….

….. at the southern end of the main shopping area which includes The Lanes covered over shopping centre, while at the northern end are further bus stops grouped together adjacent to the indoor market building.

Here there is even a network map on display for the city’s bus routes. Which is good to see.

There are also a number of where to catch your bus diagrams at various city centre bus stops and the bus station, although this one fooled me as the orientation was the opposite to what you’d expect with what was showing on the left (eg bus stops J and Q) actually to your left in reality.

Lowther Street connects the Market Hall bus stops and The Crescent/English Street which includes a very effective contra-flow bus lane which is a huge help to enable city bus routes to take a direct routing through the city in a southbound direction.

The southbound bus stops by the station at The Crescent have natty protrusions into the road to facilitate level boarding.

Some timetable cases in the city centre are filled with so much information and announcements it’s difficult to know where to begin reading. I kind of think the effectiveness of whatever is trying to be conveyed is simply lost, as shown below.

I took a ride on most of the city’s bus routes including some on Sunday afternoon and others during the morning peak on Monday and into mid morning up to lunch time. Passenger numbers were obviously fairly low on Sunday but Monday morning showed some good loadings.

Not surprisingly one of the busiest routes is the 61/61A which links Morton Park (61) and Morton West (61A) in the south west (each every 15 minutes) via the city centre and London Road to Harraby in the south east every 7-8 minutes, and just to make it easy for passengers, buses only display route number 61 when heading to Harraby when originating from Morton West where they show 61A in that direction.

A bus in Harraby heading back to Morton West as a 61A.
A bus on route 61 waits at the start of the Morton Park loop after which it will return to Harraby.

Morton Park also benefits from the 15 minute frequency route 62 which heads north after the city centre to Lowry Hill from where every other bus continues further north to Kingmoor Park. Loadings on the northern part of this route were fairly light.

Route 67 was another busy one running every 10 minutes between Belle Vue in the west via Cumberland Infirmary (two nostalgic names together) and the city centre to Upperby in the south. One double deck is allocated to this route to help with school loadings.

Routes 60 and 76 both run every twenty minutes. My journey on the former from Sandsfield Park (in the west) carried the best load of the day – a late morning journey with 22 on board, mainly because we ran in front of a 67 and 61 where the routes share a common section of road towards the city centre.

Buses then continue to Carleton Clinic via London Road south of Harraby. As you can see this route is operated by Optare Versas which have transferred from Fife and have some rather nice seats.

In contrast my journey from St Anns Hill (in the north) on route 76 was the quietest with just one other passenger boarding along with me. It fared a bit better crossing the city to Durranhill via the University of Cumbria’s buildings.

Finally route 69 runs hourly linking Edentown with Holme Head being operated with a Solo reflecting the low numbers using that route.

It’s a tidy city network and was being well run in my travel experiences. Only one bus was more than five minutes late. All journeys seemed to be running too. And a day ticket at £3.50 is excellent value.

Of my AtoZ travels so far in Andover, Bracknell and Carlisle it’s no contest with Carlisle topping the leader board for bus use and frequency of service. Will upcoming D beat that? Find out in a couple of weeks.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu.

Next blog, Tuesday 15th February 2022: The crazy world of rail ticketing.

23 thoughts on “C is for Carlisle

Add yours

  1. The X95 from Galashiels not using the bus station is a relic from an early-1980s integration initiative whereby the route was extended from the bus station to terminate at the railway station. Unfortunately the station management was indifferent to prioritising bus access to the forecourt and an increasingly-hazardous reversal into the layover space meant the terminus was eventually relocated to its current on-street position.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting about the 1980s integration initiative. From a quick look at the X95 timetable and RealTimetrains, it seems like the initiative has come badly unstuck, as the current times match very badly at the Carlisle end. I assume that through tickets are not available, and that there is close to zero information re the X95 at the station, so the initiative is currently failing on all the major points – Place, Time, Ticketing and Publicity!

      The X95 times don’t seem to match at the Galashiels end either, though there is a more frequent service from Hawick which does connect with the new Borders railway – maybe by coincidence. Do any bus people talk to any train people anywhere?

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      1. “Do any bus people talk to any train people anywhere?”
        In my (admittedly limited) experience bus company management only talk to rail company management when there’s money on the table, such as for rail replacement contracts.

        I worked for some time for East Midlands Trains in Lincolnshire, which was a Stagecoach operated franchise, with the major local bus operator also a Stagecoach company. At the start of EMT local railway managers tried to get the local bus managers to supply timetables/maps for display at the railway stations but the bus managers weren’t really interested. Every so often a box of leaflets might turn up but that was often many months after they’d been issued and only a month or so before those bus services changed (summer timetables being delivered in September, for example, when they’d been valid since Easter), and Stagecoach Bus never told Stagecoach Rail what bus services changes they had planned.

        There’s no genuine interest in cooperation between the bus and railway industries, whatever fine words might be spouted in PR blurb.

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  2. The third river should be the Petteril, as in Petteril Bridge Junction (where the Newcastle and Settle lines diverge from one another).

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  3. A further cross border route running into Carlisle is Telfords Coaches 127A from their home village of Newcastleton via Longtown. This runs 5 times a day each way Mondays to Fridays with just 1 return journey on Saturdays. The northbound journeys leave from Devonshire Street. Interestingly, the Where to Catch Your Bus map you photographed only shows this route as serving Morrison’s and Longtown.

    Telfords also have a Tuesday and Thursday during school terms only route into the city from Brampton which serves villages to the south of the A69. This route terminates In English Street at The Courts.

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  4. Thanks for this long – but very readable – review! I particularly like that you cover bus-stops as well as buses. It may get forgotten by busy bus managers that passengers may spend a significant proportion of the total journey-time waiting – and maybe worrying – before they get on the bus; it would be good to follow your example and actually try being a bus passenger…

    Your point about large-print information is well made. Large print is good for all of us – particularly on a rainy day, or when there is graffiti on the glass, or a big crowd all trying to read the timetable. Also, people tend to trust information more if it’s printed in large letters – presumably on the basis that if it’s large the seller must also be confident about it.

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  5. The X95 is in effect still the rail replacement bus service for the southern portion of the former Waverley Route. Vehicles on the service used to carry Borders Rail Link branding, even those of MacEwan’s of Amisfield when they held the contract.
    It is also worth noting that the current timetable is still running as an emergency COVID version every 2 hours from Edinburgh; prior to lockdowns etc there was a 30 minute frequency between Edinburgh and Galashiels/Hawick.

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  6. Another interesting thing about Carlisle is that Explorer North East is now valid on all Stagecoach Cumbia and North Lancs services within the Carlisle City Council area.Unlike many cities this covers a vast rural area although on the minus side Weardale seem to have dropped out of Explorer NE.That route from Newcastle to Carlisle is very slow and use to be a joint services between United and Ribble and went from the Haymarket Bus Station but maybe has moved to Eldon Sq now?When the Hadrian’s Wall bus started about 20 years ago it use to run all the way from Wallsend to Bowness on Solway! It’s cut back now to sections and I think just runs from Carlisle to Hexham.

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  7. If you haven’t already listened to Roger’s (and Ray Stenning’s) ‘Lunch with Leon’ podcasts I would encourage you to do so. These provide helpful background to the challenges facing the modern industry and certainly helped me appreciate the focus on maps, infrastructure, livery etc in these articles and not simpy the bus routes!

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    1. Thank you so much for this tip – I’ve really enjoyed listening to Roger French in full flow: great to hear a lot of good bus news (as well as the financial problems), and his excellent examples of local management (as opposed to centralisation, as currently practiced by Arriva and Stagecoach). So I was a little surprised when the podcast ended with an appeal to make all rail-tickets include PlusBus – surely a ‘centralised’ measure; PlusBus is great – but one drawback is that the level of bus service you get on alighting from your train will be decided by local bus managers – who may not have considered the needs of visiting passengers …

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  8. Very interesting. We spent a few hours in Carlisle in August between runs on the Settle-Carlisle line. I was very please d to find the Stagecoach timetables and lake booklet too. What a contrast to Aldershot- office “permanently” closed and Guildford where Stagecoach have taken over the empty office from Arriva.
    How do we get Reading to keep our key route to Fleet on after 1st May? I thought buses were supposed to be better after 1 April, not worse.

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  9. Nice to see an example of a well run bus network. I think Andover and Bracknell need “levelling up”.

    I noticed the shoddy bus shelters in the residential areas, which like in Chippenham, Wiltshire are maintained by an authority that isn’t an LTA. This clearly doesn’t work as they have no stake in their town’s local public transport and therefore don’t care. Hopefully the new Enhanced Partnerships will solve this, assuming the promised money actually materialises.

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  10. William, the pre Covid timetable on the X95 north of Galashiels was hourly. The opening of the Borders Railway in 2016 affected the number of bus passengers travelling over this section of the route and the 30 minute frequency, a Bus Route Development Grant initiative, was reduced to hourly.

    As far as I am aware, Borders Buses try to ensure there are reasonable connections with the Borders Railway at Galashiels. The timings also ensure that there is a connection every half hour between Hawick and the Borders General Hospital near Melrose.

    The Rail Link initiative has effectively been killed off by a mixture of deregulation, rail privatisation and changes in bus company ownership. A Rail Link was also introduced between Galashiels and Berwick upon Tweed. This link is still advertised on the screen at Berwick, so it may be the case that the X95 is still shown at Carlisle. It would be interesting to know whether a through fare is still available from the south on either bus. It was not that long ago, though if I recall correctly, the fare via Berwick certainly was not that attractive.

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  11. With just over a month to go, another circularhas beeb sent to operators.

    1). Applications from operators to reduce services using a temporary (short notice) variation. Operators will now be permitted to apply for a temporary variation up to and including 18 March 2022. This date has been extended from 28 February.

    2). Services currently running under a temporary (short notice) variation. All services temporarily varied must revert to their pre-March 2020 (or subsequent permanent registration) position on or before 1 January 2023. This date has been extended from 1 September 2022.

    With effect from 19 March 2022, the notice period for all service registrations lodged with the traffic commissioners will revert to the relevant legislative requirement, unless short notice dispensation is requested and granted.

    Where there is continuing uncertainty after 18 March 2022, and service levels cannot be determined in line with the 70 day maximum registration period, operators seeking to gradually increase services are advised to work with local authorities to agree a shorter consultation period. Once this is agreed they can then apply to a traffic commissioner for short-notice dispensation on the basis that the operator could not have reasonably foreseen the circumstances to make an earlier variation or registration. Traffic commissioners will consider applications on a case by case basis but will seek to be supportive of operators where appropriate.

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  12. The presentation of the Stagecoach buses in Cumbria are a little disappointing. One of the advantages of centralisation should be a levelling of standards, but this area seems below par. Perhaps they have lost impetus of late with the merger talk, but this has been going for a couple of years.
    Good that the publicity is still available.

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  13. What is the point of those “natty protrusions into the road” on The Crescent? I don’t see how they facilitate level boarding as they are no higher than the kerb. All they do is force buses in and out of the traffic.

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