Rail Replacement buses are apparently one of the most hated - and dreaded - aspects of rail travel. So the complete closure of the service between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport for three weeks will no doubt upset many passengers.
Travel Watch North West - a public transport pressure group - has asked its members to undertake some monitoring of the service in order to judge how well it is being run. I've volunteered to do a few checks myself, so yesterday found me on the train to Manchester and heading for the Airport.
Usually, the 10.27 from Lancaster runs directly to the Airport, so I was pleased to hear the guard announcing over the PA that it would only be going as far as Piccadilly and not only telling passengers they would need to catch a bus but also telling them where it went from, which was outside the station concourse.
Arriving at Platform 13 there were plentiful signs directing passengers to the "Rail Replacement Service" (although despite the international nature of the Airport's traffic these were only in English). The signs clearly marked the way from the platform as far as the concourse which nowadays, as in many large stations, is as much a shopping centre as a transport terminal and like all shopping centres the one thing they don't go out of their way to tell you is the way out!
Of course, I knew the way. But it struck me that a stranger might have had difficulty. Once outside there was a pretty obvious clue as to where the bus might leave from in the presence of a large group of men in high-viz jackets carrying clip boards. What there wasn't was any form of signage to indicate that the Airport buses actually left from there. There were large signs telling passengers for the City Centre Shuttle, which usually leaves from that point, where they might now find their bus, which has been moved, but no explanation of why this had been necessary.
Once aboard the bus, the driver made an announcement (obviously only in English) to the effect that the bus was going directly to the airport, which we did following the obvious route along the Mancunian Way and Princess Road. I was required to report on the quality of the vehicle, which was good. In fact, more comfortable and warmer than the train I'd been on (and you can see out the windows from every seat). There was, however, no provision for wheelchairs or pushchairs and all luggage had to go in the underfloor locker (not that there's all that much room for luggage on the trains).
Journey time was 36 minutes - about double the train time but that's understandable and anyone with a plane to catch would hopefully have built in a little recovery time to their schedule. So apart from the lack of any information in anything but English and the poor facilities for persons of reduced mobility (for whom I presume alternative arrangements are in place) it wasn't bad - Say 8/10.
The return journey was faster (30 minutes due to a more direct inward route in the city centre) and equally comfortable. But there was no one to tell passengers to put their luggage in the lockers other than the driver who was already on the bus, so people had to get back off with their luggage and stow it before getting back on. There was also confusion over where the bus left from. Large signs directed passengers to the Airport Bus Station and to "Stands L/M" (Two bays that share a common door). That door, however, was out of action and passengers had to use the adjacent stand. No one had thought to alter the signs or even to move the large "Rail Replacement Buses Go from Here" sign that was next to the inaccessible stand L/M! All the staff who could have helped were standing beyond the closed doors that lead to the departure bays themselves and out of reach of passengers. Not as good as at Piccadilly therefore and perhaps only a 7 or even a 6 out of ten.
Still, it all goes to show just what has to be considered when buses have to replace trains and no doubt by the time I've made a few more trips I'll be an expert myself.