Combined authority offers initial views on railway shake-up proposals

Greater Manchester’s leaders have responded to proposals to improve the region’s rail services.

On January 14, the Department for Transport (DfT) launched a consultation exercise into three schemes aimed at improving the performance of the rail network in and around Manchester.

However, they could result in a shake-up of train services throughout the region.

The three proposals are:

  • Option A is for most existing origins and destinations being retained, particularly for Newcastle to Piccadilly and Sheffield to Manchester Airport journeys.
  • Option B is a variant that maintains airport connectivity for Liverpool and North Wales. The Cleethorpes/Nottingham service via Sheffield to Liverpool is increased to a standard two trains per hour. This means there is no longer a through service from Sheffield to Manchester Airport, a movement which is very operationally challenging at Manchester Piccadilly. Passengers from Warrington Central would also need to change at Piccadilly to access the airport.
  • Option C makes the most interventions and moves closest to 30-minute frequencies on most of the corridors into Manchester, including services on the Blackburn, Calder Valley, Chorley, Wigan, Buxton, Chester via Warrington Bank Quay, Airport (stopping) and Crewe lines. In timetable Option C, a number of stations gain an improvement in frequency, helping contribute to overall benefits.

The consultation closes on March 10, and the DfT aims to introduce the agreed changes in May 2022.

But Greater Manchester Combined Authority has offered an initial response, ahead of the end of the consultation period, and suggested the following points:

  • That we must learn the lessons of the failure of the May 2018 timetable.
  • That a first step to improve rail performance and rebuild passenger trust should be ‘making best use of what is available now’ providing longer, higher capacity vehicles with simpler service patterns to improve reliability and punctuality.
  • That deliverability is as important as choosing the right solution. If any of these options cannot be delivered robustly in May 2022, they should not be considered. It is important to implement a robust option and one which will perform well in practice.
  • That any changes to the timetable must be part of a wider COVID-19 recovery plan for the railway which helps encourage people back to the railway post-pandemic to support Greater Manchester’s economic and environmental objectives.
  • That the long-term solution to improving the reliability and resilience of rail services across the North is to deliver infrastructure enhancements in central Manchester at the earliest opportunity.

The consultation proposals will be considered at GMCA’s next meeting, on Friday, February 12.