New Bus Route Week Day 2: Route 319

Tuesday 21st February 2023

All this week I’m describing travel experiences on brand new bus routes. It certainly makes a change from cataloguing routes about to be withdrawn and with Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) funding now starting to flow, we can expect to see many more forlorn initiatives like the ones I’m featuring in the coming months.

Yesterday we were in Telford, today we’re on the border where Lancashire meets Merseyside. Skelmersdale to be precise, one of those new towns from the 1960s, and which gained a new express bus link across to Kirkby on the Merseyrail network from 22nd January thanks to Lancashire County Council’s Government funded BSIP.

Skelmersdale is often cited as being the largest town in the north west without a railway, but rail-less Leigh in Greater Manchester is actually bigger although that town now has a guided busway of course. Poor old Skelmersdale has had nothing, until now.

Last year the DfT rebuffed a local campaign for a pie-in-the-sky new rail link to the Kirkby to Wigan railway line which passes north of Skelmersdale. The County Council had even purchased the site of a former college for a possible station. Hopes were raised when Boris Johnson included the project in a list of pre-General Election promises in 2019. In the event characteristically that turned out to be the kiss of death for the project.

Amid much disappointment that campaign failed funding has instead been made available for a new dedicated bus link to Kirkby station which is at the end of a branch of the Merseyrail network.

Once the new station at Headbolt Lane opens (sited north east of Kirkby) it’s planned that the bus will call there.

As well as a number 319, the route has been christened ‘trainlink’ complete with a Best Impressions designed livery and branding.

At the moment route 319 operates from the small bus station known as Skelmersdale Concourse adjacent to a shopping centre making a small deviation to serve the Chapel House area to the north of the town before joining the M58 for a fast run to Kirkby.

The service is being operated by Stagecoach from its Gillmoss bus garage.

The ‘trainlink’ logo and departure times are on display at the Concourse departure bay.

But at Kirkby railway station at the other end of the route, where I started my journey having arrived by train, there was nothing.

No indication at all of where the bus would depart from which isn’t very reassuring for passengers wanting to use a trainlink.

The bus stop for Skelmersdale on route 319 – at least it has a shelter.

Luckily Kirkby has a staffed ticket office – with two members of staff on duty too – and one of them kindly directed me towards the bus stop over the road on the other side of a road junction.

Quite why the 319 trainlink doesn’t stop right outside the station is a mystery. It’s not that there’s no room as a full size rail replacement coach was there.

I made it over to the designated bus stop where there was a timetable …

… and after a short wait the bus appeared having started its journey at Kirkby’s bus station a few minutes away.

As you can see it was a former Stagecoach Gold branded single deck offering a slightly higher than standard level of comfort.

The one passenger already on board alighted at the stop after the railway station and then it was just me for the rest of the journey.

Joining the M58.

The only way to work out which way we were going was to look through the front windscreen as all the side windows were caked in grime and dirt making them impossible to see through which was very disorientating.

The driver said the dirt is thrown up from the motorway and as it was only lunchtime I dread to think what state the bus was in at the end of the day.

I’m not convinced it had been washed overnight.

As we pulled into Skelmersdale Concourse there were two passengers waiting for the next trip and it wasn’t long before the bus was on its way again.

Not only does this trainlink not call at the railway station but there are no integrated tickets available. Lancashire County Council are quoted as saying that integrated ticketing is being developed “for future introduction with Merseytravel.” It’s a pity whatever is being developed wasn’t in place from the start. I understand there was a £6 introductory weekly offer.

For the numbers travelling you might as well offer free travel to the station and make the bus for the exclusive use of passengers connecting with the train. That might raise its profile.

It’s a fairly tightly timed service taking 26 minutes with each of the two buses rounding in an hour including four minutes layover at each end thereby providing a half hourly frequency from 06:00 to 18:00 and hourly until 23:30 with Sundays also hourly all day.

A seven/eight minute connection is available between buses arriving/departing from/to Skelmersdale and trains arriving/departing to and from Liverpool Central at Kirkby station so that’s good to see.

Numbers travelling weren’t very impressive four and a half weeks since introduction and like any new route of this kind it needs relentless high profile marketing and promotion.

A dirty branded bus (albeit attractive looking) won’t cut it.

Likely long term success rating: 2/10 (although once Headbolt Lane station opens it might creep up to 3/10).

Roger French

Next New Bus Route Week blog posting tomorrow comes from Oxfordshire.

16 thoughts on “New Bus Route Week Day 2: Route 319

Add yours

    1. Change of driver, presumably.
      Stagecoach is the major operator in that area so a driver could do part of the shift on the 319, take a break then go onto another route (or vice versa).


  1. A bus called “Trainlink” which doesn’t even stop at the station?
    You couldn’t make it up!
    I don’t think I’d be happy with a 7/8 minute connection. What happens if the train is slightly late in arriving and the junction is heavy with traffic?


  2. Skelmersdale itself only has a population of about 40,000. It is hard to see how that route will succeed. Even in London and the Home counties the remnant’s of Greenline struggle to survive


  3. I got caught out the same on the first trip i tried and watched the bus sail by, then realised you had to walk down the road.
    the second time a group of us did it the other direction, and some were not in possession of rail tickets.
    you have a slightly further walk in this direction and the group buying tickets missed the connection. to add insult one train was missing and the frequency was 30/15/15 so we jumped a service 20 instead.
    I too asked about not calling at the station which would make it more successful. It is the left hand turn to come out cannot be done by an e300, but with loadings as they are a solo could do it instead.


  4. Just about sums up my experience of the service. Non existent direction signage from Kirkby Station (although the Streetview facility directed me to the right stop). As for not serving the station forecourt, it’s not possible for a large vehicle to turn left out (towards Skem) as the crossing infrastructure prevents it (the other way is OK though). Passenger loadings were just me to Skem, plus one other on the return. As for the ‘connection’ at Kirkby from Skem, that is a bit tight, as the running time in that direction needs to be slightly more to take account of the longer routing via the one way system out of Skem, but that would reduce the already short recovery time, that in addition to the walk back to the station and negotiating the steep steps down to the platform. If you have to go the the ticket office as well, that that connection would be in doubt. The Headbolt Lane stop should improve things.


  5. Pointless it being a Train Link if it doesn’t actually stop at the station and you have to cross dangerous roads to get to the stops.Regarding the biggest towns in the north west without stations Cockermouth , Fleetwood and Keswick are fairly big .


  6. Route 319 in days gone by was Southport – Ormskirk – St Helens – Warrington as a variation and alternatively to service 309 to provide 30 minute frequency end of to be end in 1960s.


  7. I doubt that this won’t be the last case of metro-mayor madness spilling over into an adjacent shire authority. I’d also say you’re very generous with your success rating as without integrated tickets, particularly bus-to-train, I’d be giving it 0/10.


  8. Its unbelievably stupid for a new trainlink bus service not to serve the stop inside the station, & force would be passengers hike across busy roads to get to the nearest stops, i got caught out by is first time i used the 319 & ended up at Kirkby Bus Station

    Powers that be, should have waited for the new Headbolt Lane station to open, & started the 319 then


  9. It was the intention of Lancashire County Council to start the service to coincide with the opening of Headbolt Lane station and at the same time, the integrated ticketing would be in place.
    However, the DfT were keen to get ‘spades in the ground’ and insisted that the service comment during Jan/Feb, or the entire element of service 319 funding would be removed from the BSIP funding package. This rather focussed the minds and resulted in a ‘soft launch’, or end up with no launch at all!
    Other commenters are quite right that large buses can access Kirkby Station forecourt and indeed Stagecoach services 97/97A already do so, but the left turn out of the station grounds was indeed rejected at risk assessment stage as being virtually impossible to perform safely and so an admittedly unattractive compromise had to be made.
    The new Headbolt Lane station does have bus access planned in and the 319 will serve a new stop right outside the station front entrance when it opens.


  10. The success of this sort of service do rely on the reliability of the connection.

    Here the bus service is tightly timed which will preclude waiting for any delayed train. Having to wait a further half hour having missed a connection will remove those who can choose.


  11. I have seen so many Stagecoach Buses in recent weeks covered in dirt. Is there some cost-cutting accountant there trying to save them a bit of money ?


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