The campaign for retention of direct services to the south side of Manchester City Centre

    This page reports on the issues and challenges faced by the campaign group, our activities and progress towards securing the retention of direct rail services from Southport via Bolton to the south side of Manchester. Although the campaign effectively started in Summer 2014, the commentary only goes back to March 1st 2017.

    Previously, this page explained and sought active support, lobbying and other action by rail users and anyone that may be affected by changes to our rail services. Now a separate page, sopman has been set up to gather passenger requirements in support of a well grounded response to Northern’s consultation on the changes proposed in the timetables to be introduced in May 2018 and to inform the business case we are developing in support of an improved service.

    Our campaign priority and objective is unequivocally to achieve full, direct services to Piccadilly but all of the groups involved are striving for better services to Manchester, which is why we also would like users of the Victoria services also to go to the sopman page and make your travel requirements and concerns known.

    If you have any queries or wish to know more of the background to the prospect of facing a degradation in services when the promise is for franchise-wide improvements please do not hesitate to Contact us.

    Campaign Update (9th May)

    While the Northern franchise plan is to divert most of our services to Manchester Victoria, the campaign to retain direct services to the south side of Manchester remains our biggest, most pressing issue and takes most of our effort.

    On March 1st the Rail Minister Paul Maynard met with the 5 MPs along the route (Southport to Bolton West), Northern (train operator) and the campaign group. He stated his clear support for a solution and directed this was a matter for the Rail North and Dept for Transport Partnership to resolve by putting forward a formal proposition that demonstrates value-for-money.

    Since then we strived to remain in dialogue and work with all stakeholders and on 8th May the latest working group meeting with Northern and Rail North took place. With Northern having just commenced its consultation on the major timetable changes planned for May 2018, it was a full agenda. The discussions were constructive with a number of positives coming out of it but we still have a long way to go.

    Northern has developed and proposed a solution for May 2018 using its current resources which provides direct Monday-Saturday services from Wigan and Bolton to Manchester Piccadilly, but west of Wigan this will only extend to two inbound commuter trains to the south side of Manchester in the morning and two back in the early evening. 

    The plan is based on the bi mode Class 319 Flex train presently in development; these units will offer a very cost-effective solution that makes full use of electrified lines and yet permits direct services to destinations which have not been electrified. 

    It is a major step forward but, clearly, does not satisfy the requirement for a full direct service all day, every day of the week. Northern is committed to working with us on the development of a business case for the early delivery of
    2 additional Class 319 Flex units that would allow them to offer more direct services to Piccadilly for the full line-of-route (ie from Southport). Northern consider this would be feasible from October '18 so there would be a hiatus.

    Disappointingly this will not deliver a Sunday service which Northern stated was a consequence of how the franchise Train Service Requirement was specified. Moreover, both Northern and Rail North were less accepting it was required. We will conduct some further passenger surveys and data analysis to prove this.

    There is a strong benefit case (revenue and economic) to be made for the full 7 day service and given the Class 319 Flex trains will displace diesel units on Southport to Manchester routes, the incremental cost is limited.  We have backing from the Metropolitan Borough Councils and Liverpool City Region.

    In the meantime Northern has invited the campaign group to make a formal response to the timetable consultation that will reflect passengers’ needs and concerns. 

    The local TV Channel That's Lancashire recently covered this issue which can be viewed using this link

    Who is involved in the campaign?

    The campaign is a collaboration between OPSTA, Southport Rail Transport Forum (SRTF), Friends of Hindley Station and Friends of Westhoughton station; all non-political groups comprising rail users campaigning to protect (and seek improvement) of all aspects of our local rail services.

    Prior to the dissolution of Parliament in May 2017 we have been engaged with all 5 MPs whose constituencies cover the rail corridor from Southport to Westhoughton, those constituencies being Southport, West Lancs, Wigan, Makerfield and Bolton West. All have shown commitment and been active in trying to get an acceptable  resolution.

    We have also received backing from all parish councils, One West Lancs Transport group, Railfuture, business groups (eg Liverpool&Sefton Chamber of Commerce), the Metropolitan Borough Councils and Councillors and Liverpool City Region, and most notably the passengers.