Northern timetable: a long way from integrated public transport

Liverpool Lime Street

Northern Rail’s new timetable kicks in on 20 May 2018.  The headline changes in the new timetable look to be more fast trains between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool Lime Street, and more use of the new Ordsall Chord that allows trains to go between the two main Manchester stations: Piccadilly and Victoria.

There are many other changes as well – more trains on some lines, fewer on others. But are the mechanisms in place to allow Northern to properly integrate their timetables with those of other train operators, and with trams and buses?

Everyone loves integrated public transport

Everyone agrees that public transport should be properly integrated.  Yes, of course the bus, train and tram services should work sensibly together. Of course your journey shouldn’t be five times more complicated because you happen to need to take a bus and a train. Of course it shouldn’t cost more just because you need to use tram, train and bus for your journey. Of course you should need to buy just one ticket.

As we reported back in December, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham is setting up a Strategic Transport Board to help tackle this problem, and Northern has a seat at the table.

Transport for the North, now a statutory body, may also contribute. Their Integrated and Smart Travel Programme aims to tackle these problems.

This is not appearing as a big issue in the council elections, where more local matters tend to get higher billing. Expect it to feature highly in the next Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region mayoral contests though.

We are still some way off from a solution. This time round, Northern consulted on the timetable, then presented the final version to TfGM in March. There is no mechanism to get an integrated outcome, with everyone working together to get a public transport timetable that really works for travellers.


Properly integrated public transport remains an aspiration. Bus companies run the routes that make money, with fewer and fewer subsidised bus routes. In Greater Manchester, TfGM manage the trams. The train companies decide their new timetables. Your journey may cost a lot more if you need to take a bus, tram and train. It will be cheaper if you can stick to just one mode of transport.

A properly integrated public transport system is essential if the Northern Powerhouse is to fulfil its potential. Someone who needs to travel from, say, Leeds to Liverpool needs to be able to go quickly and shouldn’t have to pay more just because they need to mix types of transport. We still have a long way to go.

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