Proposals to improve the performance and punctuality of the city-region’s creaking rail network have been unveiled for consultation, with the best of three options set to be rolled out from May 2022.
The plans have been drawn up by the Department for Transport with Transport for the North, Network Rail and the train operators, Northern and TransPennine Express.
The organisations noted that congestion in the region before the pandemic created regular delays to services around Manchester, with knock-on impacts to overall rail reliability across the North. Last March, the Government was forced to strip Northern of its operational franchise and take back control due to continued poor service.
The intention of the proposed network overhaul is to increase the reliability of services for commuters and other rail users with fewer knock-on delays as happens at present, once people start using public transport more widely after Covid-19.
In addition, longer term infrastructure changes – for example those proposed by Transport for the North and Northern Powerhouse Rail – that would enable more services to be added in the future.
The three options being presented to the public in the consultation feature increasing levels of change from pre-Covid service patterns. They also affect different routes, and which routes have direct services to Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, and Manchester Airport.
Option A – most existing origins and destinations are retained, particularly for the Newcastle to Piccadilly and Sheffield to Manchester Airport journeys.
Option B – 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 that is “very operationally challenging” at Manchester Piccadilly, according to the DfT. 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 Option C, several stations gain improvements in frequency, contributing to overall benefits for the wider network.
The consultation builds on Government investment in electrification schemes and new trains for Northern and TPE.
Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris 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.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he welcomed the Government’s focus on the 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.”
Liam Robinson, chair of Transport for The North’s Rail North Committee, added: “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.
“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.
“While the goal of these short-term changes is to reduce delays and increase reliability, it is clear that the work we are doing with the Government and the industry on longer-term investment in rail infrastructure is also critically important, alongside changes to services.”