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Bolton's railway overcrowding - Update

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It’s just coming up to three weeks since my last update on the local trains situation and there have been a number of developments.

I’m pleased to say that the start date for the long-awaited additional daytime services for the Bromley Cross and Hall i’ th’ Wood stations has been brought forward.

From 10th December 2017 the extra service per hour in between Blackburn and Manchester Victoria will call at Darwen, Bromley Cross, Hall I’ th’ Wood, Bolton, Salford Crescent and Salford Central, before arriving in Manchester.

While this is welcome news it is unlikely to address the more pressing issues of peak time overcrowding. Almost every day there are serious issues with people being crammed into short trains or left behind on platforms.

Northern have got back to me about evening services to Bromley Cross. Local residents will know that these have been replaced after 9pm by a bus service for several months now. Unfortunately this looks set to continue until next May at the earliest, which has been attributed to the delays on the electrification project on the Manchester-Preston line. I will continue to press Network Rail and Northern on this to have a full evening service restored as soon as possible.

Unfortunately I still have 4 separate outstanding issues that I have raised with Northern Rail without a direct response. These relate to:

  • The frequent use of 2 carriage trains at peak times
  • Poor quality of information given to passengers
  • Access to parking facilities at Bromley Cross and Hall i’ th’ Wood
  • Disabled passengers being told they need to make an extra journey to Wigan and back if they want to leave Bolton station due to a broken lift on platforms 4&5

Northern Rail have, however, put out an open message last night which covers some of these issues. Oddly they describe it as a “proactive message” despite weeks of messages from myself and many others asking for their comments. This statement can be seen in full below:

Northern and Network Rail have today (Thursday) outlined the ongoing issues which are impacting on rail services in and around Bolton. Customers in the town have faced delays, cancellations and capacity issues this year, as well as experiencing disruption while upgrades are delivered to enable greener, quieter and more reliable services between Manchester and Preston, via Bolton.

Such issues have continued in recent weeks and have been made worse by adverse autumn weather.

Liam Sumpter, Regional Director at Northern, said:

“I want to apologise to our customers for the poor service and overcrowded conditions they have endured when travelling to and from Bolton.

“I understand that the ‘leaves on the line’ explanation irritates customers and is often seen as a convenient excuse, but from a technical perspective, this autumn has been particularly challenging. The operational difficulties the weather and falling leaves create for all train operators cannot be underestimated.

“Our train drivers have to exercise extra caution to ensure they approach junctions and stations safely due to slippery conditions created by the build-up of leaves on the tracks.”

Liam added:

“The autumn conditions have also put extra pressure on the maintenance schedule of our fleet. A significant number of trains have had to be taken out of service for wheel repairs following damage caused as a result of leaves on the line. This has directly affected the number of trains we have been able to operate and, subsequently, the capacity we have been able to offer. Customers can be assured though that we always put all available trains out on the network.

"We know the fleet is really stretched so we are working hard on increasing our capacity through the introduction of 281 brand new carriages which were ordered last year and remain on target to start arriving from late next year.

“Thankfully, with autumn almost over, we expect to see some improvements in the coming weeks and once Network Rail have completed the electrification work we can look forward to more improvements. In the meantime, I would like to apologise once again and ensure you that we are working to improve things for everyone on the Bolton line and we are working to increase our capacity with refurbished trains and the introduction of our brand new carriages."

Network Rail has also faced poor ground conditions along the Bolton corridor as it continues to work to complete the Manchester – Preston line upgrade in 2018. These works are a key strand of the Great North Rail Project, an industry team effort to transform train travel across the North that will give customers greener, quieter and more reliable services across the 25 mile stretch.

The project was due to complete this December, but poor ground conditions - old mine workings, running sand and varying layers of rock, as well as emergency repairs to Moses Gate bridge, have significantly hampered the laying of steel columns to carry the power cables for the introduction of electric trains.

Duncan Law, Network Rail scheme sponsor for the Preston-via Bolton-to-Manchester route upgrade, said:

“We’ve encountered challenges and we are working to combat those challenges.

“Ourselves, Northern, TransPennine Express, the Department of Transport and Rail North are working as one rail industry team to bring lasting improvements for fare-paying customers and freight companies.

“The short-term pain of disruption and crowding will give rise to the long-term gain of transformed train travel for local people in the future.”

The team have been working hard to find alternative methods which will now see steel cylinders inserted in the ground and filled with concrete to prevent any collapse. To make up time where it has been lost, engineers will be working around the clock between January and May 2018. This will mean more overnight working, as well as some week and weekend closures of the railway in the New Year.

Currently, train and freight train operators are working hard with Network Rail to agree railway access that is the least disruptive to passengers. Once confirmed, passengers and lineside neighbours will be notified.

Building on the improvement work being delivered by the Great North Rail Project, Northern is also undertaking a major train refurbishment programme to improve and modernise its entire fleet.

This will provide an enhanced on train customer offering for Bolton customers, including free WiFi on all trains.

The manufacture of the company’s brand new fleet of 98 trains is on time, and with the new trains being phased in across the network over the next three years, there will ultimately be more capacity across Northern’s network, including between Bolton – Manchester.

 

Update: 29/11/17

I have now received a response to all of my correspondence with Northern.

As regards the disabled access situation, I have been told that they are reviewing the advice given to passengers to apply some common sense.

On the matter of increased parking facilities. The franchise model effectively makes Northern temporary operatives of local stations, which does not incentivise them to make long term investments in those stations. Investment would have to come from elsewhere in the public sector. This disjointed approach to our railways is a constant source of frustration and again shows why must look to nationalise and create one system that puts passenger needs first.

Responses to other concerns echo the public statement put out last week, so there is nothing further to add at this time.

I will continue to engage with the local railway operators to push for improvements.

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