Northern Rail Timetable Changes

Part of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – in the House of Commons at 3:15 pm on 24th May 2018.

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Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Conservative, Hazel Grove 3:15 pm, 24th May 2018

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. There is surely no north-south divide in this situation.

The fault of the services, as I will explain, can be traced back to significant delays to the Network Rail upgrade works on the electrification of the Manchester to Preston via Bolton route. That has had a knock-on effect on Northern’s ability to run its timetable properly. Network Rail is ultimately the Government’s responsibility. What are Northern rail, Network Rail and the Department for Transport going to do to urgently solve the problem so that people can get into Manchester in the morning for work, so that pupils can get to school, and so that people can get home again?

The greatest—but by no means only—problem with the new timetable relates to the glaring gap in the morning rush-hour commuter service to Manchester. The service originates in Buxton and picks up passengers from Hazel Grove station, as well as from Woodsmoor and Davenport stations, which are just outside my constituency boundary but still used by a great number of my constituents. The train service is vital for people to get to work.

The new timetable, which came into effect this week, removed the two most popular peak-time trains: the 7.50 am and 8.01 am from Hazel Grove station, which went on to call at Woodsmoor and Davenport. That leaves a glaring hole. The new timetable has three trains in the space of half an hour between 7.9 am to 7.35 am, but then nothing calls at those three stations until just after 8.20 am. As I said, Hazel Grove no longer has the 7.50 am or 8.01 am service, and the 37-minute gap between 7.35 am to 8.12 am is far too long at that time of the morning.

Hazel Grove does fare slightly better, because an East Midlands train does call there, but it does not stop at later stations. Woodsmoor now has a 45-minute gap in service between 7.38 and 8.23, and then there is nothing until after 9 am. Similarly, Davenport has a 45-minute gap in service between 7.40 and 8.25, and then nothing until after 9 am.

The changes are having a massive effect on people’s ability to get into Manchester before 8.30 am. Oddly, from 9 am, the services resume to three an hour—at 10, 20, and 35 minutes past respectively. That is obviously a better service, but it comes too late for people to get into Manchester for work, and the situation is causing massive disruption. Many commuters are faced with the choice of being late for work because of taking a later train, or being forced to take an earlier train only to arrive at their place of work unreasonably early.

The change in the time of the arrival of the train from Buxton from 8.04 to 7.38 causes problems for local schools. For example, many pupils at Stockport Grammar School used the 8.04 service. The new timetable will have a significant effect on parents having to co-ordinate dropping off their children in the morning and arranging suitable childcare.

It is not only the gap in services that is causing the problem. The loss of two train services means that the same numbers of passengers are forced into fewer trains, so when a train does arrive, passengers have to stand in cramped conditions—they do not even have the privilege of a seat. People are in effect paying a premium rate to travel at that time although there are actually more regular services off-peak.

The situation was already bad with the 7.50 and 8.01 services, as they were generally quite overcrowded. One commuter even told me that last week their train had to be met by an ambulance at Piccadilly station because a passenger had passed out due to a combination of the hot weather and cramped conditions.

These changes will have a damaging and hurtful impact on the family and professional life of many of my constituents. Sadly, the view I hear from residents is that they have the impression that Northern, the Department for Transport and Network Rail do not care about passengers. There is extreme anger. The two words that have appeared most often in the dozens of letters and emails I have received on the subject have been “ridiculous” and “unacceptable”, and I must agree.

It is not just the weekday morning service that has been impacted, as the Sunday timetabled also changed. It sees the last train to Romiley in my constituency from Manchester Piccadilly moved from 22.20 to 21.45, so the service runs 35 minutes earlier. That means people are no longer able to use the service after visiting Manchester on a Sunday evening, particularly if they are going to theatres and concerts as most events finish at 10 pm or later. The 22.20 train was already too early as passengers usually had to leave events so that they could make the last train home. Now there is absolutely no chance of people getting the last train at 21.45. Again, the situation is ridiculous and unacceptable.

I know that the Government are working hard to rebalance the economy and to support northern cities such as Manchester and the conurbation through the northern powerhouse strategy. Getting commuter train timetables right is essential for that. The impact of poorer services—cancelled trains, uneven timetables, less available rolling stock and overcrowding—will spill out from the rail network and on to our roads. The upshot will be that people are forced back into their cars. Money was recently invested at Hazel Grove station on a new multi-storey car park to encourage train travel, but now the morning service is so poor as to put passengers off. As the Minister knows—I have raised this many times in this House—the A6 corridor from my constituency into Manchester is one of the most heavily congested roads in the country, so a modal shift from rail back to road is not the direction in which we ought to be heading.