I decided to head over to Dudley today, so I could pay one last visit to the bus station there before it closes from tomorrow, and is eventually bulldozed to make way for a brand new transport ‘interchange’ due to open in 2025.
Being born in Dudley myself, I’ve always had an affinity with this town, and certainly when I was younger and living near Oldbury, it was easy enough to get to on the old 88 or 120 (now the 12).
Now I live in south Birmingham, it’s even further away, so I decided to make a ‘proper afternoon’ of it with my first bus excursion of the year.
A ride on the 76 service from Billesley took me to the QE Hospital. Not that I needed treatment or a checkup or anything like that, it just so happened that I’d decided to try out the 19 service as a ‘different’ way to get to Dudley.
The 19 runs between Dudley and the QE Hospital, via Netherton, Old Hill, Halesowen, Quinton and Harborne. It’s one of those strange routes, that is clearly two routes that have been combined together but it sort of works. I doubt there are many passengers that regularly do the full route, but it was pleasing to see that it was well used along various parts.
My memory is a bit hazy but I believe the section between Halesowen and the QE was previously the 636 (then the 20?) which continued on to Birmingham city centre. The section between Dudley and Halesowen was previously the 244, which was then extended to the QE Hospital to partly replace the withdrawn 636/20, and was then renumbered as the 19 as part of a review of Dudley bus services.
The journey took around an hour and twenty minutes, but was pleasant enough. Not that smooth running though, due to parking issues on some of the narrow roads it has to traverse, especially through Quinton and the outer parts of Halesowen.
I haven’t been in to Dudley town centre for several years though. For all the talk of ‘regeneration’, and the excitement of the arrival of the Metro tram service, much of the outskirts resemble a war zone, with large fenced off areas containing rubble and dug out holes and trenches.
On arrival at the bus station, the driver of the 19 had to negotiate some very tight turns, before waiting for the driver of an 87 to move out of the way as they were blocking what appeared to be the designated ‘unloading’ stand.
Why did I choose to travel all the way to Dudley bus station? A bit of ‘feel-good’ nostalgia really, well it was certainly ‘nostalgic’! The bus station itself is pretty much the same as I remember from when I used to regularly go there. To the point where I automatically knew where I was going, I knew where most of the buses I used to catch still call at.
But I also felt like I had stepped back in time. Most of the signage at each stand was still in the ‘old’ Centro / Network West Midlands ‘style’ fonts. It was almost like the rest of the West Midlands had moved on, yet this poor unloved bus station had been ‘left behind’.
There were only two things I noticed that were different: one was real-time departure displays at each stand, also I remember there used to be barriers at each stand, which allowed for orderly queues to form when waiting to board, those are now gone, so like with stops in Birmingham city centre, it just becomes a free-for-all once a bus pulls up and the doors open, as I saw at the stand for the 87 service.
The ‘grim’ environment wasn’t helped by the sight of a 74 bus with a police car parked in front of it, surrounded by PCSOs, while police officers appeared to be ‘speaking with’ a passenger sat at the rear of the bus.
I went there looking for nostalgia, but left with a feeling that I couldn’t wait for this decrepit abomination to be bulldozed and cleared away.
I did have a further wander around the town centre to scope out where the buses will be stopping from tomorrow. New temporary stops have been put up on Ednam Road and Priory Road, and at least that environment around Coronation Gardens (pictured above) is a pleasant enough one.
I guess from Monday we’ll see if these new arrangements impact on bus service reliability with the amount of other traffic in the area.
The new bus station, sorry ‘transport interchange’, is not scheduled to open until mid-2025, yet apparently it is being claimed by mayor Andy Street that tram services will be running into Dudley by the end of this year. It is being promoted as a ‘gateway to Dudley’, yet from what I saw in my brief walkaround, I’m not really sure what is there that will ‘attract people to Dudley’. (Maybe the intention is a gateway ‘from Dudley’!)
I’m pretty sure that even with the Metro tram in place, it will still be quicker (and cheaper) to get to Birmingham on a bus, and maybe to Wolverhampton as well.
For my return journey home, I chose to take a more ‘conventional’ route, by getting the 126 to Bearwood, from where I got the 11A back to Billesley. On a Saturday afternoon, the 126 I caught took less than half an hour to get to Bearwood from Dudley, so it is probably still a close toss-up between the X8 and 126 as to which is the fastest bus service from Dudley to Birmingham city centre.
So it does make you wonder about the point of this Wednesbury to Merry Hill tram line via Dudley. As well as what other ‘regeneration’ is going to take place in Dudley?