Political and transport leaders from across the North of England have urged the government to fully commit to delivering key rail investment projects in the region to increase capacity and connectivity on the network.
The call comes following a consultation on proposed service and timetable changes in Greater Manchester to help tackle congestion around the Castlefield Corridor (pictured), a key bottleneck for services through the service.
Transport for the North’s (TfN) Rail North Committee have argued that planned infrastructure upgrades have not progressed quickly enough and are adding to rail congestion in Greater Manchester; as a result, services will need to be removed from timetables in order that they operate more reliably.
However, with the Government having yet to publish the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, the mayors and political leaders say they are being asked to make decisions about services on behalf of the North’s passengers whilst ‘totally in the dark’ about funding and timing of rail investments over the next decade.
TfN’s Rail North Committee has now resolved in its latest meeting that timetable changes will only be accepted once the government has responded to the following conditions:
- The Integrated Rail Plan to be published this month (July 2021), detailing what rail projects in the North will be funded and when they will be delivered
- An accelerated timetable for a package of initial rail infrastructure schemes in Manchester, to start earlier than currently planned
- Ensure the infrastructure schemes in Manchester enable long-held commitments for new connections, including services from Bradford and the Calder Valley to Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport
- Provide firm commitment to reinstate the direct rail link between South Yorkshire and Manchester Airport, if removed in December 2022, and timescales of when the service will be reinstated
- Satisfactory resolution of the detailed Cheshire and cross-Warrington service pattern (and Manchester services) during the next phase of timetable development
Transport for the North has now written publicly to Ministers on behalf of the North’s passengers and will meet again to consider next steps before the end of July.
The issues centre on congestion on the Manchester corridor – a key rail hub impacting the reliability of many of the North’s rail services. This part of the network supports over 116,000 passenger trips into Manchester daily, with a 72% increase since 2002. It’s also key for east-west routes that carry thousands of cross-Manchester journeys, including over 7,000 passenger trips per day to Manchester Airport, including those passing through Stockport. TfN’s members also argue Greater Manchester’s reliability and congestion problems are a symptom of a wider issue across the North, as without the Integrated Rail Plan, there is no plan for rail upgrades in the region or commitment to delivering major investment to improve capacity, including Northern Powerhouse Rail and upgrades to the Transpennine Route.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said:
“The North of England is being asked to accept a reduced rail timetable because of the failure to prioritise our rail network for the investment it desperately needs.
“This is unacceptable to me and many other Mayors and Leaders across the North. We can’t keep making decisions that impact on communities without a commitment to deliver the infrastructure we need to make sure passengers don’t have to suffer longer.
“We need the government to give a clear timetable for work to solve rail congestion in Central Manchester. We are fed up with being fobbed off and need action, not words.”