Memorandum by Wigan Council (REN 45)
RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND
Further to Press Notice No. 65 dated 9 May 2002,
it has come to the attention of Wigan Council that the Committee
is to conduct an inquiry into rail services in the North of England
and that submissions are requested by 10 June.
The Committee's principal concerns are noted
and the following is submitted by Wigan Council to inform the
Committee of how some of the issues and opportunities relate to
the area of the Borough.
My Authority is aware that the North West Regional
Assembly has made a submission to you. Wigan Council supports
this submission but would like to inform the Committee about how
some of the issues relate to Wigan.
Wigan is an Authority of around 312,000 population
covering an area of over 70 square miles. There are large towns
in the Borough, Wigan (80,000) and Leigh (45,000). Most rail services
are concentrated on Wigan; Leigh is now the largest town in England
without its own railway station. Of the remaining townships only
Ashton, Atherton, Hindley, Ince, Pemberton and Orrell are served
Wigan is served by both main line and local
rail services. The West Coast Main Line through Wigan North Western,
links the area with Scotland and London and also provides links
to Birmingham, the South West and South Coast, through both the
Virgin West Coast and Cross Country franchises. Wallgate Station
adjacent to North Western is a centre for local services to Southport,
Kirkby and Manchester via Atherton and Bolton. Local services
to Liverpool and St Helens and Preston/Blackpool and a few Manchester
peak hour services also use North Western Station. Services into
Manchester provide direct links to Manchester Airport, Rochdale
and Oldham. All local services are provided by First North Western.
Only the West Coast Main Line is electrified,
all other services being provided by Sprinter (Class 150); SuperSprinter
(Class 156) or Pacer (Class 142) diesel multiple units. There
is no local service on the West Coast Main Line south of Wigan.
Only one direct service is available to Liverpool as the other
direct connection to Liverpool was severed when the line from
Liverpool to Kirkby was electrified (Merseyrail Electrics franchise).
The pattern of service on the West Coast Main
Line currently provides for one train an hour to and from London
and Preston with a few trains travelling beyond Preston to Carlisle,
Edinburgh or Glasgow. Currently Cross Country services provide
an irregular service to Birmingham and stations beyond and to
Blackpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Franchise changes will affect
this service pattern. A new, more frequent Cross Country service
will be introduced this year and an enhanced West Coast service
next year, both with new trains.
On the lines through Wallgate there is an hourly
service to Kirkby and two trains an hour to Southport, one of
which is limited stop. Three trains an hour link Wigan with Manchester
via Bolton with two of these going on to Shaw via Oldham and one
to the Airport via Manchester Piccadilly. Two trains an hour link
Wigan with Manchester via Atherton, one of which is limited stop.
Some of these trains go on to Rochdale via Oldham. There are three
services an hour between Wigan and Liverpool, one of which stops
only at St Helens and Huyton. Preston is served by an hourly service
calling at Euxton (a recently opened station in Lancashire) and
Leyland. There is no evening or Sunday service on the line to
Kirkby and no Sunday service on the line via Atherton. In addition
Bryn and Ince Stations have no Sunday service.
Except for the Atherton and Kirkby routes, most
lines have a reasonably modern signalling system with two or three
aspect signals and track circuiting. The Atherton line between
Hindley and Swinton is signalled on the absolute block principal
which limits the frequency of train operation. On the Kirkby line
an added complication is the existence of single track beyond
Rainford to Kirkby (where there is also a growing freight operation).
In addition to the Virgin franchise changes,
bidders for the Transpennine Express franchise have been asked
to look at the prospect of a TPE service to Wigan and Southport
in the later stages of the new franchise.
PunctualityMost of the routes
into Wigan suffer from poor punctuality. Both Virgin and First
North Western have consistently failed to achieve the SRA targets
for punctuality. Some of these delays are caused by Railtrack,
particularly when weekend Engineering possessions overrun into
Monday whilst others are due to operators ranging from staffing
problems to unreliable rolling stock. There has been some improvement
in this area recently.
Rolling StockMost local services
in the Wigan area are operated by rolling stock of varying quality.
More than half the services are operated by Class 142 Pacers which
offer poor standards of comfort, particularly when operating on
poorly maintained track. These units hold out no attractions for
potential new customers who might be tempted to switch from their
OvercrowdingIn the peak hour a
number of trains to and from Manchester suffer from acute overcrowding.
Most trains in the am and pm peak normally consist of only two
cars. A few trains are strengthened to four cars to give a maximum
seating capacity of around 250 seats. Over last winter, due to
shortage of units or just because of pressure of numbers, some
trains could not pick up passengers at their booked stops. There
were also a number of incidents when BT Police were called to
remove passengers from trains which had too many passengers to
proceed safely. The overcrowding problem can be particularly bad
between Atherton and Manchester.
West Coast Main Line Upgrade: Railtrack
have already announced that they need to review the PUG2 upgrade.
There is a concern that this will be at the cost of extra capacity
for freight and local passenger trains.
Securing Major Network Improvements: There
is no clear mechanism for securing more than minor network improvements.
Northern Refranchising:This seems to
be concentrating on a continuation of the status quo instead of
concentrating on tackling the issues of overcrowding, poor rolling
stock and inadequate infrastructure so as to achieve ridership
Consultation: The manner of consultation
undertaken by the SRA is disappointing in that there is no opportunity
to debate with them the range of issues to be addressed in refranchising.
The SRA seem to expect bidders to consult stakeholders such as
ourselves. In Greater Manchester so as to save duplication and
to put forward a cohesive view we are organising meetings between
the bidders and the local authorities and the PTA.
Capacity in Central ManchesterThe
capacity restraints in Manchester limit the potential for improvements
to both passenger and freight services. It is disappointing that
the SRA does not see this as a priority and that a solution is
unlikely to be even considered before 2010.
West Coast Main Line: This is a vital
artery for both freight and passengers and the reduction in scale
of proposed upgrades will be a major economic disbenefit. Improvements
in capacity are essential not just to provide for high speed passenger
services but also local stopping services and freight. The WCML
south of Wigan parallels an increasingly congested section of
the M6 yet no local services exist. Even the expected upgrade
of services by Virgin Trains will not improve this situation as
many of the additional services will not call at both Warrington
and Wigan. Wigan Council has an aspiration for the provision of
a local service from Wigan to Warrington and onward to Crewe/Chester
and the re-opening of a station at Golborne. This would not only
reinstate local services between adjacent large centres of population
but would also help to deliver NW Development Agency economic
objectives by providing better public transport connections to
foster economic interaction between the relatively prosperous
North Cheshire Crescent and the deprived former Coalfield areas
of the priority Mersey Belt area.
Manchester Airport Western Rail Link:
This regional priority has no commitment within the SRA Strategic
Plan and its use as a reference (given) scheme in the Mid Man
and SEEMS multi model study reports. In combination with the Wigan
Hub (see below) this would provide a quick access into the Airport
without having to travel through Manchester.
Major Infrastructure Solutions: The SRA
Strategic Plan does not identify any major infrastructure projects
for the region. For some time now Wigan Council has had the vision
of a major Transport Hub based on the concept of linking the two
Wigan Stations and creating a park and ride facility with easy
access to the national motorway network. This would provide an
interchange between local and long distance rail services, buses
and car borne traffic and could also provide a remote terminal
for the Airport. The fundamental objectives of the scheme are
not only to integrate public transport provision at an important
strategic point on the network but, more importantly, to help
relieve the M6 and M61 and M62 by creating an attractive gateway
to the regional and national rail systems for travellers who would
otherwise use their cars for their complete journeys. The concept
of such a transport interchange is reflected both in Regional
Planning Guidance and in the current work of the N W Development
Agency. Consultants are currently looking at the feasibility of
the Hub proposal and it is included in our ten year local transport
vision linked to the current G M Local Transport Plan.
Refranchising Opportunities: As mentioned
earlier, the scope of the refranchising of local rail services
is disappointing. The opportunity should be seized to include
renewal of the infrastructure and extension of the franchise to
include new services (such as the local service on the WCML) and