This is the fascinating story of buses "just passing through" Saddleworth and it would not have been possible to tell it without detailed historical information provided by Phil Smith. None of these services stopped in Saddleworth but they all called in Oldham, usually making their way through Denshaw to and from the M62.
The story starts with the X98 (see the X97 story for the origin of this service). Renumbered 398 in autumn 1973, in May 1974 a revised timetable was put in place, which also saw LUT withdraw from the operation having traded mileage in the Greater Manchester/Merseyside areas with Ribble and Crosville. Their place was taken by Ribble (Liverpool depot) who then worked the 398 in conjunction with National Travel North West (Manchester depot) and National Travel North East (Liversedge depot). West Yorkshire also joined in and dropped out again at various times during this period.
In May 1977 the 398 was split into two different services, one via Huddersfield and the other via Oldham - in September of that year these were numbered 357 and 358 respectively. This continued until September 1980 whence, in preparation for coach deregulation on 6th October a revised 357 was introduced operating on a regular two-hourly daytime headway between Leeds, Bradford, Oldham and Manchester where it connected with a fledgling Service 960 shuttle between Manchester and Liverpool. Also at this time a once daily 960 was introduced between Liverpool, Manchester, Oldham, Leeds, Darlington, Durham & Newcastle with a vehicle and driver from National Travel West (NTW - the North East and North West companies both dropped the North from their names at this time following the taking over of the activities of National Travel Midlands which was insolvent). This was crewed exclusively by Manchester drivers, truly revolutionary in the autumn of 1980!
This structure was very short lived as on 8 November 1980 a two-hourly "Trans Pennine" 960 timetable was introduced that replaced the 357 and previous 960 journeys between Liverpool and Manchester and was operated by one vehicle each from National Travel East (NTE) Liversedge, NTW Liverpool and West Yorkshire. Coaches wore a special promotional livery (we would call it route branding now) for the 960. Also, the "through" journey of the 960 to Newcastle was revised to operate via Teeside, whereby on leaving Leeds it served Harrogate, Ripon. Thirsk, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Hartlepool & Sunderland.
On 22 March 1981 the 960 went hourly and in the peaks was more frequent still! This involved the three operators all increasing their allocations by one coach. The service was extremely popular due to the low fares which led to a huge increase in student traffic at weekends which involved much uneconomical hiring-in of vehicles. Charterplan was a regular supplier of additional vehicles.
On the same date a new 961 service was introduced from Manchester to Doncaster through Oldham and Huddersfield, replacing the X19 which ceased operation the previous day. The route was not defined between Oldham and Huddersfield so some drivers used the M62 and others the A62. This originally had four journeys a day and was worked by National Travel West and Yorkshire Traction but certainly by May 1982 it had reduced to two trips worked by Yorkshire Traction alone.
Unfortunately, the popularity of the 960 was not matched by the reliability so in June 1982 a further revised timetable was implemented (with more layover at each end), just in time for the two week national rail strike. This led to much curious duplication such as regular use of Crosville Bristol VRs with Leyland 510 engines. They really whined on the M62!
Other changes around this time saw a lot more "through" vehicle workings across Leeds, whereby Northern General vehicles and drivers would operate Newcastle to Liverpool and sleep over at Leeds whilst NTW Drivers from Liverpool would do the same thing in the other direction.
Returning to 1981 the inevitable incursion of Service 960 to Hull took place, this involved NTW and East Yorkshire vehicles operating two trips in each direction daily with drivers of each Company swapping vehicles at Leeds.
The next big changes were in in May 1983 when the offering was probably at its most imaginative, the "core" hourly frequency between Leeds & Liverpool was the foundation but there was much through running to Newcastle with some journeys that started life in Liverpool as ordinary 960s but on arrival at Leeds went non-stop to Newcastle!
A further timetable change in September 1983 saw a resurrection of the old 399 with through journeys from west of the Pennines to Teesside, though these were numbered 961 and went as far as Newcastle and took in York. The Hull service was numbered 962.
In January 1984 yet more timetable changes saw the controversial decision to drop Oldham from the route. In reality this was done to solve continuing reliability problems and to ease issues with EEC Drivers hours regulations, it was not sensible and lost revenue, the request stop at Chadderton was not even introduced at this time - it had to wait until October!
The solution to the withdrawal from Oldham was Service 963, this was 4 trips a day in each direction between Leeds and Manchester via Wakefield, Dewsbury, Huudersfield and Oldham, it was a financial disaster and in May 1984 it was joined to the Manchester to Llandudno service in a bid to justify it. By Autumn 1984 it had been revised to its original format and was being operated by London Country coaches with Green Line fleet names that used to form a four-day vehicle cycle in conjunction with National Express Service 802, one journey though was operated by Cumberland as an 807 and ran from Leeds to Inverness!
1984/1985 saw Devon General work regular diagrams on the 962 (vehicles with Greenslades fleet names) and Crosville Caernarfon also ran through to Hull.
Summer 1986 was important because more timetable changes brought new service numbers 360 and 362. Basically, this heralded the introduction of 79-seat MCW Metroliners operated by West Yorkshire, East Yorkshire and for two weeks, Crosville. They were replaced by Ribble Manchester after the trade union at Crosville Liverpool depot insisted that the Metroliners were equipped with driver assault screens! The 362 continued to be the Hull variant.
At the end of 2012 the 380, 381 and 382 are the closest National Express services, variants running as follows through Oldham:
380 - Liverpool to Newcastle
381 - Chester to Leeds/Newcastle
383 - Wrexham to Edinburgh
One other service is worthy of mention. This was a short-lived service operated by Yorkshire Traction which ran from Doncaster via Mexborough, Barnsley, Penistone, Holmfirth and Oldham to Manchester and numbered X60. It seems to have started operation on 28th August 1993 and finished a few months later.
© David Beilby