Investigation over "disgraceful" Wigan rail line e-mails

An inquiry is underway within the Department for Transport after Wigan's MP uncovered bombshell e-mails involving route changes.
Lisa Nandy with the bombshell e-mails in ParliamentLisa Nandy with the bombshell e-mails in Parliament
Lisa Nandy with the bombshell e-mails in Parliament

Controversial plans to divert Wigan services from Southport to Manchester's Victoria, instead of Piccadilly station, were being debated by the department as long ago as October 2015, Lisa Nandy has discovered.

And internal correspondence between DfT officials noted that: "Diversion of the Southport (line) to Victoria is a pretty much inevitable consequence of our specification.

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"Paths through the Oxford Road corridor are scarce and demand flows west of Wigan are materially than other places that are getting new services.."

Mandarins also discuss deploying "classic handling strategies" by intimating that the line was under threat, before confirming that it would be diverted to Victoria instead.

And reference is made to offering a "sop" to Southport line users, with a new Leeds connection, as they would be losing their link to Piccadilly and Manchester Airport. One message is even signed off "yours cynically".

Yesterday the MP labelled the e-mails a "disgrace" and accused Prime Minister Theresa May of "incompetence", as Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was forced to defend his department once again.

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Ms Nandy said: "All these e-mails released under the Freedom of Information Act will be made available to the Transport Select Committee.

"The government must now release e-mails from the past 18 months - which it has not yet disclosed - and come clean about what they knew and when."

A DfT spokesman said: "These e-mails are nothing to do with the current timetabling issues being endured by Northern.

"The e-mails are more than two years old and relate to the wider design of the Northern franchise and deciding which trains were most needed to best serve the passengers in the region.

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"The excerpts quoted relate solely to a decision over whether trains from Southport would stop at Manchester Piccadilly or Manchester Victoria and have no further implications beyond that individual route.

"It is deeply regrettable that a DfT official used inappropriate language and that matter is being looked at."