When SELNEC PTE took over the combined bus operations of the Greater Manchester municipals in 1969, there were no fewer than seven routes numbered “1” – in Salford, Bolton, Bury, Leigh, Rochdale, Ashton and Oldham. Many services were renumbered into three-digit route numbers that were (for the most part) unique within the county and remain with us today. How unfortunate therefore that recent service changes have left us with two X41s – and a 41X to boot!
Let’s look at how things used to be. Pre-September 2012, both Stagecoach and Finglands operated plain, simple service 41, from Manchester city centre through the student heartlands of Rusholme and Withington, on through Northenden and Sale Moor (hello Martin!) to the Metrolink stop at Sale. Most Finglands journeys terminated here, whilst Stagecoach journeys continued out along Chester Road to Altrincham – so far so good. Meanwhile, Blackburn-based Lancashire United has operated express service X41 between Manchester, Accrington and beyond since the mid-noughties, branded as “The Lancashire Way” to complement “The Witch Way” X43 to Burnley.
As of September 2012, Stagecoach have made their journeys on service 41 to be limited-stop along Wilmslow Road, in order to let it run faster on that section of route to try and counter timekeeping issues at the Altrincham end of the route. In order to show that it doesn’t stop at all stops, it is now numbered X41. That seems reasonable enough: thankfully the two X41s don’t share any bus stops, but the two termini (outside the coach station for Accrington, Piccadilly Gardens for Altrincham) are just round the corner from each other. For a short section of Portland Street, the two routes run cheek by jowel – a prize for the first photo of the two routes in the same shot!
At the same time, Finglands decided to renumber their service 48 between Manchester and Northenden. Makes sense, as they were essentially short workings on the main 41 service to Sale. But why choose 41X? They could have chosen 41A, if it weren’t for the fact that the few subsidised evening journeys they run into Altrincham use this route number as an internal identifier if not actually displayed (thanks to Nicholas for the correction!). Most other letter suffixes could have worked, but they’re perhaps not as “sexy” as X.
And thus on a bus lane paved with good intentions, Manchester city centre now plays host to two X41s and a 41X. We doubt that Tony Harrison, the first Director General of SELNEC PTE, would have been impressed.