Manchester’s rail users are being given three options as to how the city’s train services should be improved, with the aim of bettering performance and punctuality for passengers.
The Government has launched a major consultation, with the three options featuring increasing levels of change from the pre-Covid service levels.
They each effect different routes, including which ones will have direct services to Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, and Manchester Airport.
Following the consultation, the agreed option will be introduced in May 2022, and is hoped to “significantly improve” reliability while maintaining the pre-Covid travel connections for passengers.
The three options on offer to Manchester’s rail commuters:
The Manchester Recovery Taskforce was launched by the Transport Secretary and tasked with recommending three different packages of changes to the rail timetable into and out of Manchester.
Most existing origins and destinations are retained, particularly for Newcastle to Piccadilly and Sheffield to 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 2 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.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “I welcome this consultation and the Government’s focus on this issue. The bottleneck in central Manchester is a problem for the whole of the North – and solving these congestion issues will improve the reliability of rail services for passengers right across the North.
“As we look to build back better from the pandemic, we want to work with the Government to deliver a reliable and dependable timetable, alongside the much-needed upgrades to our Victorian infrastructure.”
Congestion in the region before the pandemic created regular delays to services around Manchester, with knock-on impacts to reliability across the North.
While the public are being asked to stay at home, the rail industry is planning improvements around Manchester ready for when passengers return in greater numbers.
The work brings together the Department for Transport, Transport for the North, Network Rail and the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express.
Chris Heaton-Harris, Rail Minister, said: “We are putting the power to improve Manchester’s rail network in the hands of those that use it daily.
“I urge passengers to use this opportunity to comment on the future of your railway.
“Improving punctuality and reliability is one of my key priorities. 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.”
It comes after mayors and political leaders from across the North lined up to denounce plans for the UK rail network, saying they make a mockery of the Government’s plans for ‘levelling up’.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham joined Liverpool city region colleague Steve Rotheram and South Yorkshire’s Dan Jarvis to criticise plans from the National Infrastructure Commission, which could see rail schemes in the North downgraded.
Responding to the Manchester consultation, Liam Robinson, Transport for The North’s Rail North Committee Chair, said: “Passengers need a better deal when it comes to reliability. When they return to the North’s trains, they need to step onto services with confidence.
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“Manchester’s congested rail network has long been the source of delays and frustration for passengers, with knock-on effects for the North’s communities. We urge everyone to take a look and give their view on these proposals.
“Whilst the goal of these short term changes is to reduce delays and increase reliability, it is clear that the work we are doing with Government and the industry on longer-term investment in rail infrastructure is also critically important, alongside changes to services.”