Correspondent editor Tony Bugby buys a ticket to ride on what has been affectionately described as the ‘ghost train’ between Stalybridge and Stockport.
RAIL enthusiast Dave Ashworth spoke of the significance of a return journey being added to the Stalybridge to Stockport ‘ghost train’ for the first time in 27 years.
“It is first time since 1991 that I have been able to go shopping by train to Stockport,” explained the website manager of the Friends of Reddish South.
“The only trouble is that I have to go home by bus as the return is 36 minutes later – not sufficient time to do my shopping.”
The Friends of both stations are campaigning for a commuter service from Stockport and via their stations to Manchester Victoria, Dave explaining this has been reinforced by studies they have carried out.
While that is their priority, Dave added it would also nice to see the whole line opened up with a regular service between Stockport and Stalybridge.
Retired building surveyor Peter Brookes, from Denton, was also making a nostalgic trip on the train.
He said: “In the days when it was a regular service, I was a joiner and travelled to work by train from Denton to Stockport.
“When the service was halted, I had to go by bus and eventually by car.
“I was pleased to see a return journey re-introduced after more than 20 years and, as a rail enthusiast, I wanted to be on the first train.”
Peter added he was stood on the platform at Denton the previous week for the first service, blissfully unaware it had been cancelled due to industrial action by Northern.
Peter and Dave were among a hardy group of around 30 rail enthusiasts who were passengers on the newly-introduced Saturday return journey on one of the country’s most fascinating lines.
When TransPennine Express from Leeds and points east terminated at Manchester Victoria, there was a regular service between Stalybridge and Stockport that prevented passengers from having to switch stations in Manchester.
Re-routing the TPE services to Manchester Piccadilly in May 1989 removed the main reason for the Stalybridge to Stockport service that initially was reduced to five trains each day – three in one direction and two in the other.
By 1992 the service had been cut to one train each week run by Northern on a Friday morning from Stockport to Stalybridge, which is when it became known as the ‘ghost train’.
This minimal service was termed a parliamentary train for historical reasons, to avoid the costly procedures involved in terminating the passenger service.
Since 1992, the line, which features passenger stops at Reddish South, Denton and Guide Bridge, had mostly been used by freight and empty stock workings.
It was in keeping with the recent turmoil on the railways that there was a delay to the introduction of the new service that was scheduled to be introduced on Saturday, May 26.
I arrived at Stalybridge for the historic first journey only to be told by the ticket office that it was not running due to a day of industrial action – in layman’s terms they were on strike. I was informed I was not the only punter to have had a wasted journey.
Fast forward one week and this time my £5.40 for a return journey was accepted by the ticket office for the 8.46am to Stockport, returning at 9.45pm.
Until minutes before departure it looked as though pensioner Gerald England and myself would be the only two passengers.
Gerald, 71, from Hyde was clearly a rail enthusiast as he had a camera around his neck. It turned out he was a keen amateur photographer who used to have a blog called Hyde Daily Photos.
“It is the first return journey on this line this century which is why I wanted to be on it to take photos. I have photographed the train once before,” he explained.
By the time the two-carriage train came to a halt on platform two, a group of 14 enthusiasts had assembled.
They included Charlie Jones, 14, from Cheadle Hulme, who said: “I was on a train recently and somebody was looking at a poster of the Stalybridge to Stockport line.
“I did some research on Realtime Trains and found out it was an interesting train, especially when it was run only once a week.
“As this was the first return journey for 26 years, I wanted to be on it as it is a piece of history.”
In the light of the timetable mayhem involving Northern, the 8.46am to Stockport left on time and, for me, it was a trip down memory lane as it was the first time I had used it for more than 30 years.
Between 1981-85 I used the service daily when I lived in Stockport and worked on the Stalybridge Reporter.
It was a 20-minute journey and quicker than travelling by car. The timings were perfect, leaving platform 3a at Stockport at 8.24am and returning from Stalybridge’s platform two at 5.07pm, which meant a quick getaway from the newspaper office on Melbourne Street.
What was most noticeable about the journey, which evoked many nostalgic memories, was how the line needs attention as the carriages were struck several times by branches from overhanging trees. As there is no regular passenger service this had clearly not been a priority.
Half a dozen passengers joined the train at Guide Bridge, four at Denton and a further six at Reddish South.
You would have expected the stations to be neglected and decaying, but that was far from the case thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Reddish South and Friends of Denton who have created little gems.
Alighting at Stockport we had Dave Ashworth, from the Friends of Reddish Station, taking photos of a group from the Friends of Denton Station, a snap for posterity.
For the return journey it was effectively the same clientele – Gerard had alighted at Reddish South and caught the bus to Stockport before rejoining it.
As for Charlie he had to figure out how to get back from Stalybridge to Cheadle Hulme as two TPE services from Stalybridge and Manchester Piccadilly were cancelled.
It wasn’t as though he could pass the time in Stalybridge’s world famous buffet bar unless his beverages were non-alcoholic!