Birmingham loses the Salt Road connection

Thursday 21st April 2022

The bus route between Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Droitwich Spa, Worcester and Great Malvern was first introduced by Midland Red in 1914 and although extended to Malvern Wells two years later and given route number 144 in 1928, it’s pretty much continued unchanged for the past hundred years or so, save for the section south of Worcester being hived off to a separate service (numbered 44) and recent frequency reductions as passenger numbers have declined, particularly on the section of route between Birmingham and Bromsgrove.

Thanks to Phil Tonks and Paul Teague on Twitter, we can see there was a 15 minute frequency running along the full length of the route in the 1970s.

Image courtesy Paul Teague

Now, while the route between Worcester and Bromsgrove enjoys a 20 minute frequency supplemented by additional school day only journeys, with two journeys each hour continuing to Catshill (just north of Bromsgrove off the A38), only an hourly frequency runs through to Birmingham. And that’s not for much longer.

From 1st May this long standing route will cease to serve Birmingham as First Bus introduce changes to reflect reduced numbers of passengers travelling in the Worcester and surrounding area. Route 144 will only run between Worcester, Bromsgrove and Catshill on a 20 minute frequency and the historic link to Birmingham will end.

Inevitably these changes have been vividly reported in the local media with politicians jumping on a pre local election propaganda platform offering their take on the situation, particularly those in the area north of Bromsgrove, including Rubery, which will no longer be served by route 144’s buses, and crucially lies outside the West Midlands Combined Authority area.

Worcestershire County Councillor Peter McDonald representing Rubery told the Bromsgrove Standard “this is absolutely diabolical, it will cause so much disruption. This could see carers, healthcare staff, shop assistants and others losing their jobs if they cannot get to work”.

Although just over the border, Rubery enjoys a frequent link into Birmingham by National Express West Midlands route 63 currently running every 12 minutes but the link south to Bromsgrove will be severed which will no doubt cause much consternation and inconvenience.

It had all looked so positive for the 144 just four years ago when the route was given its high profile makeover incorporating a new Salt Road branding with an attractive bright green livery and logo making the buses stand out from the more bland and insipid First Bus colours. Bus stops along the route (outside of Birmingham) also became on brand.

The Salt Road name was chosen with a nod to historic links to the extensive salt trade in Droitwich. Salt routes were used for transporting salt from the Iron Age, and throughout the Roman and medieval period. Salt appears naturally as Brine in Droitwich, bubbling up from the ground at a concentration twenty times stronger than sea water. The result, after boiling off the water, was a much cheaper, purer and more desirable salt making it a valuable and universally needed commodity.

As part of the brand makeover in 2018 the buses were given a refreshed look

That was then, and this is now, with the Salt Road about to be severed with buses no longer continuing into Birmingham. I took a ride out on the route on Tuesday to see how many passengers were travelling on the soon-to-be-withdrawn section.

I caught the 11:25 departure from Birmingham Smallbrook Queensway, a stone’s throw from New Street station.

The bus was already on stand from its incoming journey and the driver appeared at about 11:20 and five of us boarded.

We left slightly late at 11:29 but had made most of this up even by Selly Oak and were spot on time at Northfield at 11:53

The Salt Road took us along the A38 Bristol Road out of the city and we picked up one more passenger as we passed through Edgbaston with seven more boarding in the commercial area of Northfield, where two alighted giving us a total compliment of 11 on board.

We hit roadworks as we approached Longbridge at midday which delayed us for about seven or eight minutes and picked another passenger up when we got through the congestion.

The timetable allows a three minute pause in Rubery between 12:05 and 12:08 but we passed by at 12:12 and dropped one passenger off and picked two and a child up.

As we passed through Catshill, the soon-to-be northern terminus for all journeys we dropped five passengers off arriving into Bromsgrove with eight adults and a child. Fourteen passengers travelled who won’t be able to from the end of the month.

After a short break in Bromsgrove I returned to Birmingham on the 13:07 departure. This arrived from Worcester in good time with 10 passengers staying on board and 12 boarding.

22 passengers was an impressive number heading north from Bromsgrove for a soon-to-be-wthdrawn section of route, especially as only five had alighted by Catshill and one more had boarded making for 18 on board.

This was impressive all the more so as the previous bus (144A) from Worcester terminating in Catshill had arrived and left Bromsgrove twelve minutes later than it’s 12:45 scheduled time.

We picked up another passenger as we headed towards Rubery and two more in Rubery itself with five alighting. One more alighted in Longridge and six in Northfield with nine travelling all the way to Birmingham including five who’d been on the bus from south of Bromsgrove.

These loadings were more than I’d been expecting and I reckon there’s going to be quite a few shocked passengers when they find out the service is ending.

Obviously my two journeys are just a snapshot but by coicnidence my friends David and Stuart were also travelling on Tuesday and David contacted me to say “we had around a dozen on board over the short rural stretch between the West Midlands boundary and Worcestershire that is being lost”

I’m sure First Bus has done its sums, and taken in the round, I can appreciate the two buses it takes to run the section of route north of Catshill may not be being fully remunerated by the numbers travelling. It was noteworthy how we passed many bus stops on the way into and out of Birmingham with no-one about.

Whether NatEx’s routes 61/63 which parallel the route, albeit stopping at more stops, every 6 minutes (reduced from a previous 5 minute combined frequency) are doing any better is a moot point – perhaps passengers have drifted to the parallel railway with stations at Longbridge and Northfields although that’s only on a 4 trains per hour frequency and not an even 15 minutes at that.

Maybe Councillor McDonald will persuade Worcestershire County Council to provide some last minute funding to keep the service going?

Although by the appalling state of the County’s presentation of timetables in the bus shelters in Bromsgrove I doubt they’ll be interested.

Hardly an attractive advert for travelling by bus.

Mind you, I didn’t see any information on board the buses about the imminent service cut back either. Although there are nice posters about the Salt Road and goddesses.

I reckon there’ll be quite a few passengers surprised their bus isn’t running from 1st May.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

47 thoughts on “Birmingham loses the Salt Road connection

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  1. Amazingly Roger I used the 144 journey you commented on from Selly Oak to Longbridge so we used the same journey on Tuesday. I was actually surprised how many were on that journey as the previous Thursday there were just two of us on it. The 144 has been in decline for years its withdrawal between Catshill & Brum will be no great loss to most. Its hilarious that it’s local election time and a councillors are jumping on board. Utterly pathetic I have used the service throughout and it’s time is up & what everyone seems to have forgotten Diamond Bus 145/A will continue to maintain the bus link between Longbridge, Bromsgrove & Redditch hourly albeit by a slightly less straightforward route. Anybody wanting to save the 144 obviously never actually uses it. It finishes this weekend and will not be missed, we’ll other than me I have to get the 20 from Monday & NXWM have just cut the frequency of that too as no uses it – Says it all doesn’t it !

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  2. Correction: Droitwich not Redditch somehow had a ghostly appiration of the 143 as I typed that. One footnote on the Tuesday before Easter I got the 144 from Selly Oak to Bromsgrove before getting the 147 home & there were just three of us between the WMCA boundary and Bromsgrove it’s funny since the axe was announced suddenly it’s busy. Will have my final ride on it Friday after 54 years but frankly can’t see the point of keeping it running who actually needs it any more?

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      1. For anyone interested in the 144 there is an article about the withdrawal of the First service & the total waste of time trying to save the route written by me with my photographs in today’s Birmingham Mail.

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  3. I lived in Bromsgrove as a small boy in the 1960s and remember being taken to Worcester and occasionally Birmingham on the Midland Red 144, whizzing past passengers awaiting Birmingham Corporation buses they weren’t allowed to pick up on Bristol Road.

    I also saw the buses on my way to Catshill Infants.

    Bromsgrove-Birmingham passengers have had the benefit of half-hourly electric trains for some years now. It’s perhaps not surprising that the bus service is no longer commercially viable. I can’t see Worcestershire County Council subsidising it either, whatever election candidates might say.

    It’s ironic that a publicly funded railway service is allowed to compete with a commercial bus service to the point of putting it out of business but a tendered bus service is not supposed to compete at all.

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    1. This is Worcestershire no one really uses the bus outside of Concessionarys . The county frankly get the bus service it deserves I can’t understand why FirstGroup don’t throw the towel in in Worcester & leave it to the excellent DIAMOND BUS . Even in Midland Red West days the bus network was in terminal decline & nothing will change that.

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      1. If First threw in the towel and left it to the excellent DIAMOND BUS, what good would that do if as you say, the bus network is in terminal decline & nothing will change that?

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      2. Diamond Bus is locally owned & managed and operates to lower margins than First. As has been demonstrated very sucessfully in Redditch & Kidderminster Rotala can manage actual demand to service provision excellently and commercialy its also worth remembering Diamond Bus continue to operate between Birmingham, Bromsgrove & Droitwich hourly after the end of the 144 everyone is moaning there will be no link between the City & Droitwich after First ends quite simply Diamond Bus know thier market in Worcestershire.

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  4. The petition on Change.org has reached over 2000 signatures now. So once again, numbers on a petition don’t match the actual number of passengers. I do feel sorry for anyone who is genuinely inconvenienced by this, but as has been pointed out already, NX West Mids provides a frequent 63 service from Rubery to Birmingham along the Bristol Road. and there are also Diamond’s 147 and 202 services which connect Rubery to Bromsgrove, so its not like people in Rubery or Bromsgrove are being cut off from the rest of civilisation!
    Perhaps the problem in Bromsgrove is the apparent poor bus connection between the town centre and the rail station?
    I don’t know for certain, as I’m not familiar with the Rubery or Bromsgrove areas, but clearly passenger habits are changing, and services can’t keep going just on “fond memories” as was quoted in one Bromsgrove Standard article.

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    1. Stu, Kevs operate the 147 mate thru Catshill to here in Halesowen & excellently so in very recent difficult circumstances, Diamond run the 145 145A 182 183 & 202 in North Worcestershire mate, Cheers Richard

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      1. Thanks for the clarification Richard, yes I got those mixed up, but as I said its not like residents of Rubery are being completely cut off, there are other bus services beyond the 144 that serve Rubery, but I can appreciate that some people are going to be inconvenienced if they now have to catch more than one bus.

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      2. One point of note is the end of the 144 marks the end of the final iconic Midland Red trunk route withdrawal into Worcestershire following the end of the 146 to Redditch & Evesham and 192 to Kidderminster & Bewdley after over a 100 years of the City being linked to Worcestershire.

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    1. What exactly has this to do with Brum & Worcestershire and the end of the 144 in the City?

      Thankfully we don’t have to put up with poor quality shambolic bus operators such as featured in your post in Brum having Diamond Bus and its premium, quality operations across Brum & North Worcestershire

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  5. What exactly has this to do with Brum & Worcestershire and the end of the 144 in the City?

    Thankfully we don’t have to put up with poor quality shambolic bus operators such as featured in your post in Brum having Diamond Bus and its premium, quality operations across Brum & North Worcestershire

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  6. I first,no pun intended!,did that route before it was run by First: Transforming Travel in 1988 when I was at a college on Birmingham’s Bristol Road to see what Worcester held it was run by Midland Red(West)then.And about 4 years ago from Worcester to Birmingham.I don’t ever recall it going to the Malverns but it obviously must have done in NBC times when it was just Midland Red with no compass point (….) behind.It would be too slow for most people to use it to go all the way from Worcester to Birmingham and there use to be an express service but I don’t ever recall seeing this going down the Bristol Road so it must have left Birmingham some other way.Worcestershire County Council won’t be interested in funding any bus services other than park and ride but they are not alone in this.At least, assuming that you can read them through the grime, there are actually timetables at the bus stops I was at Hadfield, Derbyshire at the opposite end of the midlands 2 days ago and there where no timetables at all at the bus stops outside of the rail station without using the internet the only way to gauge where they might go was seeing a bus and what it said on the front;Ashton under Lyme the one I saw but I got the train.

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    1. Funny enough the 144 is still run by Midland Red West and on the 09.40 from Selly Oak this norning there was only one other passenger aboard which is normal , oddly no sign of the 2000 + petition signers using it!. Incidentally it last ran thru to Malvern on a weekday in 1977………

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  7. Until withdrawn in 1992 by Midland Red West the X43 & X44 used the M5 while the X43 left the City usually via Hagley Road usually picking up at Bearwood , the X44 left via Selly Oak. At various times there was X41, X42 , M44 and originally it only ran to Worcester it was extended to Malvern after the 144 was curtailed eventually becoming the 44 between Worcester & Malvern which continues today

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    1. Not for the first time, you haven’t read my post properly before commenting. The words “according to these observations” are important in this context and clearly mean I was referring to the content of he post and not on whether the bus routinely runs with lots of people on it or not.

      You said yourself you were surprised at the number of people observed travelling so I am rather at a loss as to how you see the element of comedy in my post.

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      1. Well leafy Hertfordshire is a long way from here in Brum for accurate observations & I was on the same 144 as Rodger and was astounded at the number of passengers that day the totally bizarre media publicity had obviously got more on the bus however it was business as usual with just me & 1 other passenger yesterday. There is just 8 days to go & whatever so called armchair bus experts might say the 144 will be missed by no one between Longbridge & Bromsgrove as the excellent DIAMOND BUS 145/A will continue to provide a regular link between the two.

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      2. Just a footnote & another farewell I am sure everyone who enjoys Rodgers brilliant website will wish Steve Minor & all at Claribels Coaches the very best for the future as they bow out after over 30 years from tomorrow Diamond Bus will operate thier network. Thank you guys.

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  8. You can’t really blame bus passengers to take the ‘use it or lose it’ mantra to heart, though in this instance they are cutting it fine!

    It would appear that, according to these observations, use is quite bouyant and I do wonder whether First have got this right. Maybe it’s more difficult to make a return within the Birmingham boundary if your fares have to be ‘pegged’ close to what NatEx WM charge?

    Richard Jones – have you ever considered going for a PR position with Diamond?!! I think you would walk it!

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    1. Dan Tancock I love your usage is buoyant quote. I simply couldn’t stop laughing. If you supply me your email address or if Rodger can I will supply you with a photo of me on the 144 this morning which shows there was just me & 1 other passenger on the bus. I don’t need to be Diamond Bus PR man in Worcestershire they continue to operate a viable network while First Midland Red Buses Limited continue to cut mileage month after month. I couldn’t stop laughing when you said have First got this right, of course they have no one uses the 144 between Brum & Catshill I use it most days & it’s empty & quite simply if anyone did Diamond Bus would have a registered a replacement commercial service to add to its 145 145A 182 183 and 202 in North Worcestershire & quite simply they haven’t I would suggest you ask yourself why?

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      1. I am pleased that you are such an ardent fan of buses especially in view of the Government campaign to get more people on the buses. Your negativity is astounding and the way things are going there will be no buses for people to use. Thank goodness that most bus minded people are more positive than either you or First

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  9. In an interesting development West Midlands Travel Limited have been awarded an emergency tender by Worcestershire County Council to operate a service between Bromsgrove, Catshill, Lydiate Ash , Rubery & Longbridge from Tuesday 3rd May

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    1. The seevice will continue to operate from Tuesday run by West Midlands Travel Limited between the City & Bromsgrove & First Midland Red Buses Limited between Catshill & Worcester. Worcs Concenta tickets will be valid on both operators between Rubery & Worcester as a thru ticket within Worcestershire.

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  10. Hi

    Just to clarify, it looks as if the National Express West Midlands 144A will operate every 70minutes between Bromsgrove and Longbridge only. So unless that changes I suspect it won’t last very long!!

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    1. The service is mainly HOURLY and is under contract for 6 months to WCC and will be operated by National Express West Midlands garage at Yardley Wood using Dennis Tridents from Tuesday

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    2. Correction the 144A service will run aproximently every 70 minuets hourly between Bromsgrove Bus Station & Longbridge Traffic Island .The timetable is available on the National Express West Midlands website.

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  11. Just setting home on the last ever Midland Red 144. Unfortunately I did not ever thought I would be the subject of censorship or moderation. We live in a sad society if one cannot comment on the West Midlands Bus scene from an insiders position as I have. If I have upset or caused offence to any other contributor I perfusly apologise but I will never change my views or comments for anyone whoever they may be. I hope I have given you an insight into the world of Brums Buses from an insiders point of view & thank everyone who has corresponded with me it’s much appreciated. Now after 54 I am going to enjoy a final ride with best bus company in the world MIDLAND RED

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  12. Well that is it the final MIDLAND RED 144 has departed Brum for Worcester after 108 years and thank you to everyone who has corresponded with me on Rogers forum from Monday West Midlands Travel provide a limited replacement service from Longbridge to Bromsgrove and quite simply use it or lose it.

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  13. A comment from an excellent member of Kevs Coaches & Cars team on Tony Hunters brilliant WM BUS PICTURES FORUM about the new 144/A from Tuesday

    “Surely this will all end in tears forcing more passengers into cars. If the services commencing on Tuesday actually happen then in an 140 minute time span we will have 7 First buses, 2 NatEx buses and two Kevs buses all operating between Bromsgrove and Catshill. That equals on average a bus every 13 minutes which is a higher frequency than most urban services. This will prove to be unsustainable with who knows what result. The average number of passengers per day boarding between Catshill and Rubery and reverse at the moment is less than 20 so a lot less than the numbers that have signed the petition, which I hear is 3000, so if everyone of those uses the bus once every week it is only 11 passengers per trip. Perhaps the odds are that First will eventually withdraw within the six months and terminate at Bromsgrove leaving NatEx with a 70 minute headway so what will they do then, go every hour using two buses or decide not worth it an pull out leaving passengers high and dry again ??”

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  14. Well this is a great start not a single passenger throughout Longbridge to Bromsgrove on the 144A of West Midlands Travel Limited. Passengers let it thru Catshill obviously waiting for the more frequent First Midland Red 144. On the return just 1 passenger. This is obviously going to be a complete waste of Council Tax Payers money in Worcestershire if today is anything to go. I wonder what’s happened to the thousands of online signatures that wanted to save the service, funny that………

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  15. Done another few round trips and the WMT 144A is carrying zero passengers. For all those campaigning for the service this is very disappointing on day 1. Personally I an not surprised I rarely saw anyone on First 144. Roger rode it & I was surprised at the number of passengers on that journey as I was aboard. It’s clear there is no demand for a regular service between the City & Bromsgrove via Catshill funny how others on Rogers excellent blog seem to think they knew about at the 144 than me………..

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  16. Well I am the only passenger on the 19:20 ex Bromsgrove WMT 144 it’s not been the best start. I have used the 144 for 54 years being Edgbaston born . I really want the route to survive from the City but at moment its seems as likely as Villa winning the Championships League again.

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  17. Another day & no other passengers on the 144A from Longbridge to Catshill. It is obvious the service as I predicted is simply carrying fresh air.

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  18. Very few passengers again on the WMT 144A unfortunately today raising fears for the long term viability of the service between Catshill & Longbridge

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  19. Well the start of Week 2 and absolutely no one else on the 144A throughout my journey its so unfortunate the campaign to maintain a service between the City & Catshill is not materilising into actual passenger numbers.

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    1. It’s not bad news at all Rotala are simply telling the truth no one uses buses in Worcestershire if they did the First 144 would still be running. I was on the 192 on Monday & was the only passenger from Halesowen to Kidderminster. If the public in Worcestershire used the quality network provided by Diamond this would be a non story it isn’t and its time for Rotala to cut it losses and wield the axe. I use thier network in Worcestershire regularly no one will miss it. If Worcester County Council wish to support a network that is up to them and thier Council Tax Payers but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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  20. The 144A operated by NXWM has unfortunate been a total failure. I used the service today & I was the only passenger on the service from Longbridge. When the inital six months of operation is up soon it will be interesting to see what Worcestershire County Court & National Express West Midlands do next if anything.

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  21. The continuing ridiculous saga of the bus service no one uses takes yet another bizarre twist as National Express West Midlands uses one of its all electric Platinums from YW on the 144A bringing all electric buses to Bromsgrove for the first time. The sooner we get to November the better to axe this waste of council tax payers money especially when alternative facilities are available on Diamond Bus 145 from Longbridge to Bromsgrove whilst Catshill to Bromsgrove has First Midland Red 144 as well as Kevs 147 & 318. Just how many buses does Catshill actually need?

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