Finding a real Eccles cake in Eccles
Lord McNulty’s railway report issued on May 19, which amongst many other items highlighted overcrowding on the Euston to Manchester trains on Fridays. In his view, the fares’ structure is a contributory factor in this overcrowding by providing artificial barriers to passengers on limited budgets.
A journey from Milton Keynes to Manchester was made by rail on May 20 joining the 1420hrs from Euston at Milton Keynes. This was on time throughout and the train well presented with cheerful on-board staff. First class was lightly loaded and standard class carried a number of empty seats.
A city centre hotel was booked for the night of May 20 and one of the free bus shuttles was taken from Manchester Piccadilly station to the hotel. This is located next to the former Manchester Central station (now the G-Mex centre) which backs on to the imposing St. Peters Square.
The Manchester Metrolink tram system was tested from St. Peters Square station in the Friday evening rush hour and a return to Victoria station was just £1.20 with the ticket valid until 1am the next morning.
The Metrolink ticket machines offered easy to understand instructions on how to use them and buying a ticket from the touch screen machine was an easy exercise. But, beware of trying to enter a station name that the system does not recognise. For example, the machine would not understand Manchester Victoria as a destination, but did recognise Victoria, instantly offering the full range of available tickets.
The trams have clear external LED displays telling you where they are going, supplemented by internal ones telling you where the next stop is as well as the ultimate destination.
Metrolink tram platforms have been well thought out and there is a minimal gap between the tram and platform. Ticket machines are at one end of the platform and the tram stops at the other end which means that there are no congested points on platforms as ticket purchasers are segregated from ticket holding passengers alighting or joining the tram.
After a major event at the MEN arena, the train and tram system at the adjacent Manchester Victoria station (built by the Cheshire Lines Committee) dispersed the crowds efficiently and without fuss. This station is a magnificent example of railway architecture with many features still to be seen and was featured as one of the worst stations in Britain a couple of years or so ago!
The following morning, a Saturday, the tram system was again put to the test with a ride from St. Peters Square to Eccles, with the objective of buying a real Eccles cake at Eccles, the end of the line.
The ticket price was £2.40 for about a half hour ride and there could be no complaints on the travel front. The trams run every 10 minutes or so which does away with the need for a timetable to be displayed. They run in both railway and street mode and the lack of city centre street pollution in terms of air and noise is very apparent when compared to London or Birmingham for example.
Perhaps the most difficult objective to achieve was finding a real Eccles cake in Eccles. It took 20 minutes to find a local family bakers shop next to the old Town Hall who sold them at 60p each. Morrison’s supermarket also sold their larger but much flakier version at 85p and after sampling both varieties, we scored the bakers at 8/10 and Morrisons 7/10.
The trams worked perfectly in both directions and for the return journey, it ran directly into Manchester Piccadilly station below the concourse. From stepping out of the tram, the Milton Keynes train was boarded within 4 minutes via two escalators.