Overcrowding has been a big problem for Bolton's trains over many years and it is an issue that I have always campaigned to improve. Positive changes have been won through hard work and perseverance, but the growing popularity of the railway means that there is always more work to do to improve local services.
Unfortunately the recent history of Bolton’s railways is one characterised by broken promises and unmet expectations. It is more important than ever for local residents to make their voices heard to ensure that our service is not left behind.
Aims For The Next Few Years
Address overcrowding – the biggest issue on Bolton’s trains. If you pay for a ticket you should be able to expect to sit down on a train and not be left on a platform or jammed into the smallest space possible.
Bring back redirected services – Many Transpennine Express services were redirected away from Bolton in late 2013. This was to allow them to use new electric trains. I want these services to return to Bolton once the electrification of our line is complete.
No more old trains – The pacer trains used by Northern Rail were supposed to be a temporary fix in the 1980s, they have no role in our modern rail service. I want to see all of these replaced by 2020.
Why Is The Future So Uncertain?
Division of responsibility between different rail companies, network rail, rolling stock leasing companies and the Government has seen them each blaming each other for failures. I have done what I can to put pressure on all the players involved to try and push them into action.
The ultimate responsibility must lie with the Secretary of State for Transport and the Prime Minister, but they have shown a complete lack of leadership and disappointed Bolton residents repeatedly.
That is why my campaign will continue until we see the carriages on the tracks.
What Has Happened So Far?
Railways across the North West are being electrified, including the line from Preston to Manchester via Bolton. I am a supporter of the electrification scheme, I think it will help to improve services in the long term and it is a positive step forward.
As Bolton is one of the last places to be electrified I was concerned that services would suffer in the interim period. First Transpennine Express (FTPE) had bought new electric trains and would begin using them from December 2013. However, as Bolton's line will not be electrified for another two years, this meant that many services would be redirected through Wigan instead and some remaining trains would have fewer carriages.
I was repeatedly given assurances that extra diesel trains would be provided to make up for any shortfall. However, in November 2013 I met with a representative of FTPE who told me that other parts of the Network were being given priority.
I wrote to the Transport Secretary and began asking questions in Parliament. I launched a petition alongside the Bolton News and presented it to Parliament and at No.10 Downing Street. I met with FTPE, Northern Rail and Transport For Greater Manchester at the station during rush hour.
It was clear that there simply are not enough carriages. Letter and emails and facebook messages continued to come to me from people who are suffering because of overcrowding.
Eventually the Prime Minister responded personally. He pledged to provide 200 extra seats during rush hour by moving diesel trains from other lines to Bolton from December 2014, this didn’t happen.
David Cameron then visited Bolton in April 2015 to declare his promise had been fulfilled. What actually happened was 200 extra places (not seats, this included standing room) were added to a train that leaves Bolton at 8:56am, not exactly a key commuter service for local residents.
We have seen similar disappointments when it comes to the replacement of the Pacer trains. Multiple times George Osborne has announced their departure only for the Department for Transport to back pedal. Commitments to force rail companies to replace them are watered down into friendly suggestions, or possible upgrades being made to old carriages. In one month the Transport Secretary said he thought pacer trains would still have a role to play beyond 2020, while George Osborne was making yet another announcement to say they would all certainly be gone before then.
Update - December 2015
Finally some positive news. The Farnworth tunnel project is about to be completed, a full service will resume from 14th December. Electrification is not yet complete so our lost services cannot yet return, but Northern Rail have finally conceded to provide extra diesel carriages in the mean time to boost capacity and address overcrowding. I'm told there will be an extra 571 seats each morning on routes into Manchester. It's been a long two years of broken promises but I hope that this means we will see the back of overcrowded, unsafe trains and people will be able to set out for work or university in confidence that they won't be left on the platform.
Update - October 2017
A long awaited upgrade to the line between Bolton and Blackburn was completed last year, which should allow for double the number of services to run through Hall i’ th’ Wood and Bromley Cross stations. Extra services were due last Christmas, but Northern Rail has still not delivered on this. I now have assurances from them that extra services will appear in the May 2018 timetable.
The electrification of the Preston-Bolton-Manchester line has been causing a wide range of issues for commuters since 2014. Not only have the works made commuting difficult at times, overcrowding was made worsened by trains being diverted away from Bolton. Regrettably this project has been delayed yet again. A number of services, including our links to Scotland, can only return to Bolton once electrification is complete. This is now not estimated to be before the May 2018 timetable.
Your experiences of our train service often make the best case for change. If you regularly struggle to use local trains, or if you’ve seen a change to the service recently positive or negative, then please let me know.
I will continue to put pressure on the Government to get our train service back on track and address the long term problem of overcrowding. I will post regular updates about my activities on my blog, click here for the trains related posts.