Major overheaul of rail network in the North ‘deeply regressive’, say GM leaders

Reporter: Niall Griffiths
Date published: 15 February 2021

Major plans to overhaul the rail network in the North which could see train services reduced in parts of Greater Manchester are ‘deeply regressive’, leaders say.

The government is consulting on changes to pre-Covid timetables aimed at easing congestion in and around Manchester, spacing services more evenly, and reducing delays from May 2022.

A task force has been working towards improving services on the network since the disastrous introduction of new timetables in May 2018 caused widespread disruption.

Three proposals tabled by the Department for Transport (DfT) will affect different train lines and which routes run directly to Oxford Road, Piccadilly, and Manchester Airport.

Each of the three options would see services through the Castlefield Corridor bottleneck capped at 12 trains per hour each way – as opposed to 15 per hour on pre-Covid timetables.

Sheffield’s direct link to Manchester Airport, a route which has proved ‘operationally challenging’ at Piccadilly, would be axed under two of the proposals.

Another option would deliver more frequent services to some outlying stations in Greater Manchester and further afield.

But the consultation, which is also seeking views of rail passengers, has been met with caution by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA)

Mayor Andy Burnham told a meeting of leaders on Friday that the proposals would bring stability to some parts of the city-region, whilst impacting on other boroughs.

“Promises made to us and the wider north of England over many years have not been fulfilled, we have an infrastructure that can’t cope,” he said.

“It’s frustrating to even have to consider a timetable that reduces services, but at the same time we need to bring some reliability back to rail services in the north of England.

“We should have a working principle of not letting one or two boroughs shoulder the full burden, we need to spread the pain.”

Transport for Greater Manchester is one of several rail industry stakeholders tasked with the timetable proposals as part of the Manchester Recovery Task Force. 

Mr Burnham said the public body would be proposing a fourth option as part of its response to the consultation, which runs until March 10.

Councillor Sean Fielding, leader of Oldham council, said parts of his borough, such as the village of Greenfield, would benefit by getting a half hourly service.

But they would have a detrimental effect on the stations at Walkden and Swinton in Salford, according to the city’s mayor Councillor Paul Dennett.

Under the proposals the Atherton line in its peak would be cut to one train per hour, while the fast service from Wigan to Manchester via Eccles would also be axed.

Coun Dennett said: “These are deeply regressive proposals if we’re serious about encouraging integrated transport and more use of public transport across the city-region.”

Concerns were also raised about the effect the changes would have on the new £15m rail station planned at Golborne in Wigan borough.

Councillor David Molyneux, leader of Wigan council, spoke of the ‘horrific’ lack of capacity on the existing Wigan to Manchester train before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“This is just another kick in the teeth,” he added.

Stockport station is a central part of the Mayoral Development Corporation’s plans to regenerate the town centre.

Councillor Elise Wilson, leader of Stockport council, said the authority was committed to encouraging modal shift, the move from private vehicles to more sustainable forms of transport.

Coun Wilson added: “I accept services are not as good as we want them to be, but reducing them isn’t making them better is it?”

Each of the 10 leaders in Greater Manchester agreed to support a regional response to the DfT consultation, but each of the authorities will be submitting their own reply.

Announcing the consultation in January, rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the government was ‘putting the power to improve Mancheter’s rail network in the hands of those that use it daily’.

He added: “As we continue to build back better from the pandemic, these proposals will ensure that the rail network is more dependable for those who use it every day.”

For more information on the consultation, go to:

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