Rail providers will be held to account over problems on trains between Bolton and Manchester, says the Mayor of Greater Manchester as he demands a timetable for improvements to the service.
Andy Burnham said delays, cancellations and overcrowding experienced by passengers on the line in recent weeks are “completely unacceptable”.
He has stepped up pressure on Network Rail and Northern who run the services to deliver improvements in the first half of next year in terms of both the infrastructure and the trains.
The Mayor has also advised passengers affected by problems on the line to contact the companies about seeking compensation.
It follows a meeting between the Mayor and rail officials and a statement of apology issued by the companies last week, in which they said disruption to services between Manchester and Preston via Bolton had been caused by upgrades to the services, worsened by recent slippery conditions caused by autumnal leaves on the lines.
Reacting to last week’s apology, the Mayor said: “It is clear that services on the line between Manchester and Preston, via Bolton, have been completely unacceptable in recent months. People have experienced regular delays, cancellations and severe overcrowding.
“Whilst I welcome Northern’s acknowledgement of the poor service and apology for it, passengers will want to know when things will get better. I asked Northern to provide a clear timetable for the completion of the line upgrade and the introduction of new carriages and, whilst I note that some improvements are expected over the coming weeks, it is disappointing they could not give more clarity on this issue.”
Northern said that 281 brand new carriages were ordered last year to help increase capacity and that they remain on target to start arriving from late next year.
Network Rail said poor ground conditions – old mine workings, running sand and varying layers of rock, as well as emergency repairs to Moses Gate Bridge – have delayed work to complete the Manchester to Preston line upgrade in 2018. These works are a key strand of the Great North Rail Project which was due to be complete this December.
But the company has committed to its engineers working around the clock between January and May 2018 to make up time.
The Mayor continued: “I will now be meeting regularly with Northern and Network Rail to ensure service improvements are delivered and delivered on time. I am clear that we need to see real improvements to this service in the first half of 2018 and I will hold the rail industry to account for that.
“I will also be taking advice from transport watchdog Transport Focus in relation to fair compensation for season ticket holders on this line. In the meantime, I would encourage all rail users who have experienced long delays or cancellations to contact Northern Rail and request compensation through their delay repay scheme.”