Electric trains will not run between Manchester and Bolton until May 2018 at the earliest, according to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, while Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has slammed services on the line as “completely unacceptable”.
In a report to the GMCA’s Metrolink and Rail Networks Sub-Committee, due to be discussed next Friday, the combined authority said a number of changes to services which were expected by December this year will now not be implemented until May 2018.
These include a re-routing of Manchester Airport to Scotland services via Bolton; electric trains operating on the Bolton corridor; Trans Pennine Express services to Newcastle operating via the Ordsall Chord; and additional peak services between Manchester Victoria and Rochdale.
The changes in timetable follow delays to electrification work between Manchester and Preston.
Carillion took over the Phase Four electrification contract from Balfour Beatty in 2015, which covers the route from Preston via Lostock and Bolton to Manchester. At the time, Balfour Beatty said it could no longer deliver the project “on time and on budget”.
Electrification of the Manchester to Preston line was originally due to finish by December this year, but will now not complete until May.
Network Rail blamed “poor ground conditions” caused by “old, known and unknown underground mine workings” for the delays.
Burnham said that in recent weeks the services on the line had been “completely unacceptable” and called on Network Rail and Northern, the franchisee for the line, to set out a definite timetable for improvements.
“It is clear that services on the line between Manchester and Preston, via Bolton, have been completely unacceptable in recent months. People have experienced regular delays, cancellations and severe overcrowding,” he said.
“Whilst I welcome Northern’s acknowledgement of the poor service and apology for it, passengers will want to know when things will get better.
“I asked Northern to provide a clear timetable for the completion of the line upgrade and the introduction of new carriages and, whilst I note that some improvements are expected over the coming weeks, it is disappointing they could not give more clarity on this issue.”
Network Rail said its engineers would be working “around the clock” between January and May next year to complete the works to allow more trains to run on the line.
Meanwhile, the Government’s rail strategy, announced this week by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, has been praised by Transport for the North for “recognising the importance” of Northern Powerhouse Rail.
Grayling announced a series of measures to improve railways across the UK, primarily on lines outside the North West. These include new suburban lines around Bristol, a freight route that runs through Birmingham, aline from Okehampton to Exeter, and a line from Blyth to Ashington.
Tim Wood, Transport for the North’s Northern Powerhouse Rail programme director said: “Our studies indicate that Northern Powerhouse Rail would increase the number of people in the North able to access four or more of the North’s key cities within an hour from 10,000 to 1.3m. This has the potential to change the North’s contribution to the UK economy.”