Friendly Woodlands Creatures

Photo of platform sign at Woodlands Road Metrolink stopWhen I embarked on my Cheshire Day Ranger trip, I had thought that buses would be the weak link in my plans. As it turned out, while delayed trains had (briefly) thrown my plans into disarray, the buses had worked much better. My second bus of the day was just as good as the first, and turned up exactly on time. I was relieved as I had been waiting at the stop for some time – so long, in fact, that I actually saw the same bus go past on its inward journey some twenty minutes earlier.

As I gazed out of the window, picturesque Cheshire villages soon gave way to runway landing lights and budget hotels, as the number 200 made its way along the Manchester Airport approach roads. I alighted at the airport’s transport interchange complex and made my way to the railway station, where things were in slight disarray, with trains cancelled, passengers confused by the departure boards, and an unattended suitcase on platform 3 causing some consternation.

Photo of Metrolink Off Peak Return - Piccadilly to Woodlands RoadI settled down on a Transpennine Express service to Blackpool North (which, as the eagle-eyed among you may have spotted, doesn’t cross the Pennines at any point on its route). The train was busy but everyone got a seat – or so they thought: minutes before departure, the guard came through the train attaching the seat reservation labels, causing much harrumphing and shifting of luggage as passengers vacated seats which they mistakenly believed they were entitled to. As we got underway, an announcement came over the PA system that the air-conditioning in Coach B wasn’t working – cue another mass reshuffle as people tried to escape the stifling heat.

Extract from Metrolink network map showing Woodlands Road between Victoria and Abraham Moss stopsIt was all very stressful and I was glad to bail out at Piccadilly. I made a beeline for the Metrolink platforms where I boarded a tram for the short trip out to my final Station Master destination. Technically it was not a station at all, but a tram stop: Woodlands Road.

Woodlands Road opened as a railway station in 1913 and was retained when the Manchester to Bury line was converted to Metrolink operation in 1992. Its slightly out-of-the-way location has always limited its traffic potential, and from April 2011 it has been somewhat usurped by the new and better-located Abraham Moss stop, a mere 300 yards further north.

Photo of Woodlands Road Metrolink Stop

In recognition of this fact, GMPTE Transport for Greater Manchester started closure proceedings for Woodlands Road earlier this year. Final approval from the Department for Transport is still awaited, but Metrolink management have not waited for the legal niceties to be dealt with. The service at Woodlands Road has already been drastically cut back, with trams now only stopping there on weekdays between 10am and 4pm.

Signs at Woodlands Road pointing to Manchester and Bury platforms Photos of signs at Woodlands Road warning passengers to be in possession of a valid ticket

As I wandered around the station (sorry, stop) with my iPhone in hand, I recalled with slight apprehension the contents of GMPTE’s submission to the Department for Transport in support of closure. It included happy mentions of “a significant level of crime, with many incidents of vandalism and assaults on staff and a passenger” along with a bit of drug dealing for good measure. I was a little apprehensive at the possibility that I was alighting from a tram at Manchester’s equivalent of Dodge City, but at 3pm on Friday afternoon, all was quiet.

Woodlands Road is not going to win any beauty contests. It’s located on a concrete viaduct, necessitating a climb up a long flight of steps or a steep ramp to access the platforms. The station environment is certainly “retro” – with closure imminent, the stop has not benefited from the refurbishment that the rest of the network has received, so the platforms and signs are still in the original 1992 style. The ugly bus shelters — once the hallmark of the Metrolink system and now largely vanished — remain in situ here.

The only sign of the new Metrolink corporate identity is in the signs advertising the new limited service at the station.

Photo of Robert Hampton in front of the Woodlands Road stop sign Photo of sign at Woodlands Road advertising reduction in service to 1000-1600 Monday to Friday

There wasn’t much to see, so after grabbing the photo under the faded Metrolink sign, I crossed over to the city centre-bound platform for a tram back to Piccadilly. A couple of schoolchildren got off as I got on – so there’s at least two customers who are going to miss the stop when it has gone.

Some local residents are not taking the impending closure lying down. One of them, Sylvia Blye, has constructed an amazing web site to campaign for the stop’s retention.

Photo of Metrolink tram at Woodlands Road

That was my last station of the day, and I headed back to Manchester Piccadilly, where I made a Starbucks Frappucino my reward for a job well done. It had been a good day, helped by the excellent weather. Although it’s unlikely I’ll make any more trips before Christmas, I’m already looking forward to the adventures 2012 will bring.


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