Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.

INTRODUCTION

  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.

BACKGROUND

  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 by rail.

  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.

WIGAN'S VIEW ON YOUR ISSUES

Existing Franchises

  Punctuality—Most 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 Stock—Most 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 cars.

  Overcrowding—In 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.

RAIL INVESTMENT

  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 targets.

  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.

CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL PROGRESS

  Capacity in Central Manchester—The 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 new stations.

June 2002



 
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