The History of the 346

From Tram to Stagecoach [Manchester]


A dependable workhorse since 1905, today's 346 route has fulfilled the same purpose as the tram did in 1905. That is the carriage of passengers from Ashton-under-Lyne to Dukinfield uphill towards the Astley Arms.

The history of this route goes further than the Albion Hotel and also includes reference to its now sister route to Carrbrook, the 348.

346: Ashton - Dukinfield (Albion Hotel) - Hyde - Gee Cross

Operators since 1905 (11/11A/346 routes)


The year 1905 saw the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Board's realisation of connecting Stalybridge with Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield complete. The last section to be completed was the Ashton - Dukinfield (Albion Hotel) route. This was complete by February of 1905, after protracted negotiations over the fare stages of the route. With the service proposed to terminate at the Pitt and Nelson, 700 yards of the route up to Scotland Street fell within Ashton Corporation territory. This was resolved by July of 1905.

The Ashton (Pitt and Nelson) to Dukinfield (Albion Hotel) service was operated with single deck trams due to the low height of County Bridge at the time. They also interworked with its sister route between Ashton (Pitt and Nelson) and Stalybridge (Acres Lane). This served the Tame Valley area of Dukinfield, continuing to Park Road depot, thus passing the depot and power station.

Motor bus conversion

With motorbuses offering more flexibility, both the Park Road and Albion Hotel routes were converted to motor bus operation in August 1928.

By 1948, the Government's nationalisation of the electricity companies into bigger area boards saw a change of premises for SHMD. With the power station having moved to Hartshead, the depot was almost surplus to requirements for SHMD. The new Hartshead Power Station became part of the newly created Central Electricity Generating Board. New premises were sought for the buses on Tame Street, opposite the Victor and Ray cotton mills.

The tram depot and former power station was sold to the North West Electricity Board as a vehicle and storage depot before moving to new premises on Oldham Road, Ashton-under-Lyne in 1985.

By the early 1950s, with the trams now scrapped, numbers were allocated to its bus routes. Both the Park Road and Crescent Road came under numbers 11 and 11A. At Stalybridge, its Acres Lane terminus was extended to Grey Street, with some journeys continuing to the then new Brushes Estate. At the Dukinfield end of the route, some journeys continued to the new houses on Yew Tree Lane built by Dukinfield Urban District Council. The remainder continued to Newton (Lodge Street), where it would meet up with the 15 and 15A Hyde - Newton (Shaw Hall Estate) services.

Reorganisation and rationalisation

November 1969 saw the municipal companies and joint transport boards of South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire become part of SELNEC Passenger Transport Executive. Formed under the 1968 Transport Act, the PTE's aim was the integration of public transport undertakings. SELNEC was one of the first four such bodies (the other four were West Midlands PTE, Merseyside PTE, Tyneside PTE and Trans Clyde PTE, later Strathclyde PTE following local government reorganisation in Scotland).

The original intention was to have the PTE bus operations as quasi-autonomous from the PTE itself. SELNEC's operations were split into three divisions: Northern, Central and Southern.  The latter took in Ashton Corporation, Stockport Corporation and SHMD. A fourth division, Cheshire, was created after the acquisition of North Western Road Car Company's bus operations within the SELNEC area.

In preparation for local government reorganisation, the four divisions were known as plain SELNEC, rather than for example Southern being prefixed in timetables with SELNEC. The 1973 Local Government Act saw the formation of Metropolitan Counties for urban areas on similar lines to London's GLC. Among their responsibilities was public transport provision., which resulted in SELNEC changing to Greater Manchester Transport on the 1 April 1974.

In order to reduce duplication of numbers throughout the SELNEC area, a standard numbering system was created between 1973 - 1974. The 11 and 11A was allocated the number '346'. Its sister route in Newton was allocated the numbers 350 and 351. The Ashton - Dukinfield (Park Road) - Stalybridge (Grey Street) section was split and given the route number 341.

This arrangement was short lived as by 1978 the 350 and 351 routes were no more. They were absorbed by the 346 (Ashton - Newton) route, offering an alternative direct route to Newton and Hyde from Dukinfield. This also coincided with the opening of Greater Manchester Transport's new Tameside Depot off Whitelands, replacing facilities at Tame Street, Stalybridge and Mossley Road, Ashton-under-Lyne.

The 341 was renumbered the 351, leaving number 350 free till the 20th July 1980, (the date which saw radical restructuring of bus routes in Mossley and Saddleworth). By 1978 - 1979, the 346 ran a 20 minute frequency between Ashton - Hyde via Shaw Hall Estate (which in 1972 was blessed with buses every 10 minutes).

Into the 1980s

May 1979 saw one journey per hour of the 346 extended to Droylsden via Littlemoss and Crowhill. Absorbing part of former Ashton Corporation service 6 (Droylsden - Ashton - Smallshaw), it provided a direct link to Droylsden from Dukinfield without a need to change at Ashton.

By 1980 - 1981, Greater Manchester Transport was hit hard not only by the previous decade's rise in fuel prices, but also high unemployment. The recession saw Greater Manchester's unemployment figures soar with traditional manufacturing industries going to the wall - industries where heavy bus use was legion. Inevitably, this led to cutbacks affecting Greater Manchester Transport, from works buses to less profitable local services. The 346's short journeys to Yew Tree Lane was one example. This became part of a new service, the 342, serving Ashton and Hyde via Stalybridge (Ridge Hill estate) and Yew Tree estate.

By 1985 - 1986, the 342 was withdrawn and replaced by the 388, this time continuing to Gee Cross and Marple, interworking with the 389, which also started at Ashton as a result of the changes. In the same period, the Droylsden - Ashton link on the 346 was severed.

By the end of 1986, more change came, and this was to be more tumultous than severing the 346's link with Droylsden.

In the words of the then head of GMPTE, the conurbation, by government edict was forced to undo 50 years of integration and coordination in a matter of months.

The 1985 Transport Act was sold on the belief that competition would drive down prices and improve customer choice. Before the 26 October 1986, Greater Manchester saw a modest increase in patronage between 1982 - 1986 (the Labour controlled Greater Manchester Council held fares at 1981 - 1982 levels). Their efforts were to be undone, as choice was seemingly another word for confusion. To adapt to the free market madness cheerfully known as deregulation, the 346 saw its evening and Sunday frequency reduced to once an hour.

The early years saw service changes emerge at a rapid rate. New companies tried to compete with the PTE owned one with often substandard vehicles. The chaos also included several fare stages and ticket validity conditions to learn. Unthreatened by competition the 346 had a charmed life in the first few years of deregulation. This however was a lull before the storm.

Competition and Contraction

For the most part of the 1980s, the 346's frequency between Ashton and Hyde was unchanged throughout the daytime. The most significant changes were cutbacks to evening services and some peak hour journeys. By April 1990, this was set to change.

With King Street, Dukinfield and Yew Tree Lane seeing competition between the Bee Line Buzz Company, Stuart's Bus and Coach and GM Buses, the Albion Hotel was untapped territory for opportunist competitors. This was to change in April 1990 with the formation of Pennine Blue.

Owned by former Ashton Corporation employees, the company set up their first depot in Prince Edward Avenue, Denton before moving to the former Great Central carriage works off Astley Street in Dukinfield. Its buses wore a distinctive blue and cream livery, with the bulk of its fleet being Bristol RE single deckers, former Chesterfield and former Grimsby and Cleethorpes Daimler Fleetline double deckers.

Their first route was the 348, which operated between Haughton Green and Mossley (Hey Farm), via Huddersfield Road and Stamford Street, avoiding Park Road. Soon after, they set their sights on the 346. GM Buses reacted to this with the short lived A4 minibus route, which was not only competing with Pennine Blue, but another local company Pine Coaches.

Pine Coaches also held the distinction of being the first bus company to operate a regular service into Dukinfield's Morrisons store, operating the P1 service from Hyde to Ashton via a circuitous route including King Street, Armadale Road and Lyne Edge Road. GM Buses' response to this was the 1 minibus - also serving Morrisons. This offered a more direct route to Ashton from the Albion Hotel, following part of the 221 route up to Astley Street.

In 1991, Pine Coaches extended its P1 service to Oldham, adding another link to Oldham from Dukinfield - via Crowhill estate, Waterloo and part of GM Buses' existing 409 route to Oldham town centre. This was short lived, as the focus turned to Stamford Street, the domain of Pennine Blue's 348. Using former Stagecoach Ribble minibuses, they launched the 50p Budget Bus, a low rent attempt at recreating the Wilmslow Road corridor with step entrance Mercedes minibuses. The same concept was wheeled out for the P1 route in 1992.

By 1991 - 1992, the 346 between Ashton and Hyde saw 6 buses an hour, three of which Pennine Blue's. There was also the P1 and the 1 service, and the 339/340 Dukinfield Circular routes. The result: 11 buses an hour during the daytime and four different companies. Adding to the mix was an early morning journey operated by Red Rider, Stockport, which would later become part of the Badgerline Group, who took over Pennine Blue in 1993.

By 1993, the mighty buffet was down to its last two vol-au-vents, two dozen slices of Black Forest Gateau and a fully operational chocolate fountain. The result of this was GM Buses closing their Tameside depot. One knock-on effect of this was reduced frequencies on their 346 route. Having already seen their Bank Holiday services put to tender (Stuart's Bus and Coach having won), their daytime frequency was reduced to every half hour.

Making further inroads was Pennine Blue. Their 346 service too was revised to every half hour, this time with one of their journeys per hour extended to Stockport. This replaced the withdrawn Saturdays only 334 route. Also leaving early from the buffet was Pine Coaches, whose P1 service was deregistered. Another company took over the former P1 route, Dennis's Coaches. Instead of being an autonomous route, Dennis's merged these with their 216 and 219 routes - adding another direct route to Manchester from Dukinfield.

The end of 1993 also saw Pennine Blue's cream and blue livery give way to the yellow and red of Potteries Motor Traction. Pennine's spell as an independent company was over as Badgerline took over operations. Instead of being ran from Dukinfield, affairs were controlled from PMT's offices in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The founders of Pennine Blue continued to run buses, under the alias of South Manchester. This time, they chose the Wilmslow Road corridor, running former Merseyside PTE Leyland Atlanteans.

By 1994, GM Buses' involvement in the 346 lay in the Monday - Sunday daytime journeys. Following its split into three companies (GMN Buses, GM Buses South and Charterplan), evening services became Pennine's responsibility.


In 1994, the Badgerline owned Pennine made further inroads into the Tameside area. Most of Pennine Blue's buses were replaced by Eastern Coach Works bodied Leyland Olympians, and a mix of Plaxton Pointer and Marshall bodied Dennis Dart single deckers. A new weekly ticket, the Tripper 7 was introduced for use on Pennine routes only, and extensive revisions were made to their routes in the Mossley area.

First,the Haughton Green link with the 348 was discontinued and absorbed by GM Buses South's 347 route. This formed part of new circular routes 32 - 35. The 33 and 35 went via Park Road, whereas the 32 and 34 went via Stamford Street. The circular route included Huddersfield Road and Mossley Road, where it competed with Mayne of Manchester's 232 - 235 services, and GMN Buses' 343 route.

In Dukinfield, Pennine took over GM Buses South's 1 route, and introduced a further (though short lived) route, the 1A, which took in the Bradley Green area of Newton before terminating at Hyde via Bennett Street.

By 1996, both GMN Buses and GM Buses South ceased to be employee owned businesses. The latter company was acquired by Stagecoach in March 1996, trading as Stagecoach Manchester. A month after, GMN Buses was taken over by FirstBus, formed a year earlier after a merger of the GRT (Grampian Regional Transport) Group and Badgerline. Business carried on as usual, but the competition was far from over.

The dominance of the big bus owning groups saw little change to existing frequencies, apart from the lack of Bank Holiday services from 2000 to 2007 and rationalisation to journeys before 0700 hours. By 1996, the Stockport link was withdrawn. Two years later, evening journeys on the 346 were extended to Gee Cross, compensating for the loss of the 210 route.

The Albion Hotel stage saw a fillup in the form of the 33 and 35 routes. With Park Road no longer viable to Pennine, the 33 and 35 followed the 343 route from Mossley Brookbottom up to the Albion Hotel, then followed the 346 route up to Ashton Bus Station before continuing to Mossley via the 350 route. By September of 1999, the 33 and 35 was renumbered 349, with its sister Stamford Street route renumbered 348. They also ceased to be circular routes, leaving the 350 as the sole Pennine route between Tameside Hospital and Mossley. The result of this was Stalybridge Monday - Saturday daytime frequencies being 4 per hour from the Albion Hotel - the best since the mid 1970s.

By September 2000, Pennine became part of First Manchester, this time operated from Oldham rather than Newcastle-under-Lyme. Buses moved from the former carriage works to a new depot at Rothesay Garage, originally owned by Stuart's Bus and Coach. The yellow and red of Hobson Street was slowly replaced by the 'Tomato Soup' of Wallshaw Street.

By the start of 2001, Dennis's 216 and 219 services ceased to serve Dukinfield, leaving Mayne of Manchester as the sole locally owned operator on the Manchester route. This left the 346 and the 349 as the main routes into Morrisons. Also discontinued was its stopping place outside the store's entrance.

Towards the present day (2002 - 2011)

The start of this year also saw Park Road devoid of public transport after 96 years continuous service. Following First's withdrawal of the 33 and 35, Mayne of Manchester stepped in, operating a shuttle service between Ashton and Stalybridge. Numbered 222, this was an extension of its 221 (Dukinfield, Tennyson Avenue) route. The service was withdrawn in late January 2001, replaced by a demand responsive transport service.

March 2001's service changes also saw evening journeys on the 346 transfer to Mossley company Checkmate Coaches from First Pennine. The summer also Bank Holiday journeys introduced to First routes - too late for the 346.

By September 2001, the withdrawal of Stagecoach Manchester route 397 saw Gee Cross being served by the 346 all day (except for Sunday daytimes and Bank Holidays). This arrangement continues to this day.

A month after, further rationalisation affected the Albion Hotel stage. The 1 was discontinued and replaced by the 41, which combined the 1 route with the 40 route into Hyde. The 41 was cut from every 20 minutes to every 30 minutes in the daytime.

Though little happened to the 346 itself since 2002, most of the activity has been around its sister routes [339/340/348/349]. From 2002 - 2008, the timetable of the 346 has been virtually unchanged give or take slight retimings.

Whilst all was quiet on the 346, the opposite applied to the 41. In 2004, its Hyde link was withdrawn. The section between Yew Tree Lane and Hyde (via Newton) became part of route 387.

By July 2006, there was another change: Speedwell Bus took over First Manchester's daytime services, whilst leaving the 339 and 340 (its evening equivalents) to First Manchester. In line with the daytime service, September 2006 saw the 339 and 340 replaced by the 41.

Things could have been worse had it not been for swift action from First, whose First Manchester subsidiary was facing cuts in its vehicle allocation by the VOSA due to poor maintenance. In March 2005, most Tameside services were transferred to First Pioneer, a company name which was dormant following the acquisition of the Rochdale independent company in 2003. The Pioneer name was resurrected to avoid swingeing cuts in Tameside's bus network. The transfer had a minimal effect on services, apart from Sunday evening journeys on the 220 route, which were transferred to JP Travel, Middleton.

As for its other sister routes, the 348 and the 349, the following year saw the withdrawal of the latter service. October 2007 saw the 349 replaced by a residual daytime service terminating at Stalybridge. This was an extension of the 419 (Ashton - Middleton) route. With only eight journeys each way outside peak periods, it was doomed to failure. The Ashton - Stalybridge section of the 419 was withdrawn in January 2008. By then, frequencies from the Albion Hotel to Stalybridge were halved - the worst since 1995.

The 348 saw its frequency increased from every 30 minutes to every 10 minutes throughout the daytime. Though evening services remained once hourly, Sunday services were given a boost as the frequency was doubled to every 30 minutes during shopping hours.

However, 2008 did leave passengers of the 346 with something to smile about. For the first time since 1999, Bank Holiday services were restored to the 346 by Stagecoach Manchester - operating to their Sunday timetable. Passengers for Ashton no longer needed to wait till dinner time for the first bus, or even board a 220 to King Street for the 330.

Recent Changes

Between 2008 - 2010, only minor changes have affected the route, by means of timetable tweaks. This was to change in the summer of 2010 when The Coachmasters took over Checkmate Coaches' evening journeys. Its smart yellow buses were among the most modern seen in Tameside with Enviro 200s a common sight.

2011 has seen further changes made to the 346. From April, Stagecoach Manchester's daytime Sunday and Bank Holiday services were taken over by First Pioneer. Stagecoach's Hyde to Gee Cross section was added the following month, with no change to the timetable between Ashton and Hyde. Stagecoach's 346 journeys increased from every half hour to every 20 minutes - with a welcome later departure at 1810 from Ashton. New Enviro 200s have taken over ageing low-floor MAN vehicles, though they have made the odd cameo appearance.

One other welcome appearance to the 346 is the reinstatement of evening Bank Holiday journeys, starting from August 2011. These will be operated by First Manchester, who have taken over the evening service from The Coachmasters. By the end of October, First increased their daytime service from every 30 minutes to every 20 minutes, giving the 346 a daytime frequency of every 10 minutes, shared by First and Stagecoach.

Even now, the 346 performs the same function which its predecessors have done before then, of carrying its travelling public uphill to Dukinfield or downhill to Ashton. Long may this continue for another 110 years.

Route summary:

Monday - Saturday:

Daytime: First Manchester (3 per hour to Hyde)/Stagecoach Manchester (3 per hour to Hyde);
Evenings: First Manchester (1 per hour to Gee Cross).

Sundays and Bank Holidays:

Daytime and evenings: First Manchester (1 per hour to Gee Cross after 1900 hours).

The core route of the 346 from Ashton to Hyde enters via Crescent Road, Lodge Lane, Cheetham Hill Road, Talbot Street and Victoria Street before entering Hyde bus station via Clarke Way. From the bus station, First Manchester journeys continue to Gee Cross terminating at Stockport Road/Dowson Road junction. This route takes the Stockport Road route via the village of Gee Cross rather than Apethorn Road, which is taken by the evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday journeys of the 343 service.

Connections with other routes:

Bus and rail routes which may connect well with the 346 service. Please note that connections cannot always be guaranteed due to traffic conditions. Timetables may also be subject to change.

Stuart Vallantine,

Sunday 24 July 2011 (updated on Saturday 18 April 2015)