Wigan to get new delay-busting rail service

Wallgate StationWallgate Station
Wallgate Station
A new hourly train connecting Southport, Wigan and Manchester has been approved as part of plans aimed at cutting rail delays by a quarter in the area.

The Department for Transport (DfT) said the schedule – to be introduced in December 2022 – will boost punctuality and journey times.

Before the coronavirus pandemic led to a collapse in demand for travel, services around Manchester were regularly disrupted, creating further delays across the North.

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Problems were exacerbated by the chaotic introduction of new timetables in May 2018.

The DfT said the updated version will unclog “bottlenecks” such as in the congested Castlefield area of Manchester, which has constrained the flow of trains for several years and “generated millions of minutes of costly and damaging delays”.

The timetable was produced by a cross-industry task force comprising the DfT, regional transport bodies, Network Rail and train operators Northern and TransPennine Express.

It follows a public consultation with options for keeping or scrapping certain services in a bid to limit the risk of knock-on delays when trains are held up.

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The introduction of the new timetable was initially due to happen in May 2022, but it has been pushed back by six months in an attempt to ensure it happens smoothly.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “This new timetable has been built around the voices of Manchester that helped design it, focused on cutting delays on Manchester’s railways and boosting punctuality.

“Our Plan for Rail sets out our commitment to putting passengers first when it comes to our rail network.

“The work we are doing to fix Manchester’s railways, which were bursting at the seams pre-pandemic, is all part of us building back better from Covid-19.”

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The new timetable will see direct connections with Manchester Airport for Liverpool, Chester and North Wales retained.

There will also be an hourly service between Southport, Wigan and Manchester Oxford Road, and a second hourly service from Southport to Manchester Victoria and Stalybridge.

But some stations will not be served by trains running between Manchester and Liverpool, and no additional station calls will be added to trains operating between Huddersfield and Manchester above the December 2019 timetable.

David Sidebottom, director at the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “Passengers consistently tell us that improving punctuality and reliability is their top priority for improvement.

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“Any new timetable will involve compromises, but overall, these changes will be an important step to make rail services both more reliable and attractive for passengers across the North.”

But the plans have not been universally welcomed.

West Lancs MP Rosie Cooper, who has been campaigning for a new railway station in Skelmersdale, said: “Those with good rail services get more, those who don’t get less!

“When they say “senior leaders have agreed”… what they mean is the Metropolitan Mayors have got more for their bigger, already well served areas. It’s very sad that levelling up seems to mean big gets bigger and smaller gets forgotten.

“I will keep fighting until West Lancashire has the improved rail connections that it desperately needs”

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