Northern leaders urged to stand against 'managed decline' of railways

Northern leaders have been urged to stand against a "period of managed decline” of the railways and resist plans to reduce passenger services

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, made the plea at a meeting of Transport for the North’s Rail Committee yesterday, when proposed timetable changes for December 2022 were being discussed.

Under the proposed timetable, which is still under consultation, operators would look to cut the number of services running to and from Manchester, on various routes, due to long-standing problems with congestion on railways in the city.

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Mr Burnham claimed this will affect passengers across the north, particularly those who travel between Yorkshire and Manchester, and the Government should instead look to increase capacity by investing in infrastructure.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: "we’re being told we can’t have a basic level of infrastructure that’s enough to run our services in the next 10 to 20 years.”

A report on the plans state a return to a pre-Covid timetable would “not be permitted” by Network Rail and during the pandemic operators have found “performance improves significantly even with a slight reduction” in the number of services.

One of the most controversial proposals, put forward by a cross-industry group known as Manchester Recovery Task Force (MRTF), stated there will no longer be a regular service running between Sheffield and Manchester Airport, and there will only be one service running at the start and end of the day.

Transport for the North, which is part of the MRTF along with Network Rail and several train operating companies, said there are a “series of issues” with the proposed timetable and “the Manchester situation is an urgent example of the requirement for infrastructure investment holding back the railway in the North”.

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Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, spoke about against the proposed timetable changes during a meeting of Transport for the North’s Rail Committee

It comes after the Government sparked a backlash when it announced Northern Powerhouse Rail will be scaled back and the eastern leg of HS2 has been scrapped, as part of the Integrated Rail Plan.

Mr Burnham told the Rail Committee: “I am not prepared to give any form of endorsement to the new timetable, without a second timetable for the delivery of infrastructure that will solve our problem.

“We’re not going to get what we want in the long-term from the Integrated Rail Plan, and that’s a debate for another day, but also we’re being told we can’t have a basic level of infrastructure that’s enough to run our services in the next 10 to 20 years.”

He added: “When the final proposal comes back in January, for the December 2022 timetable, we need to have the best offer on infrastructure at that point in time.

“It’s legitimate for this committee to say: are we accepting an unending period of managed decline or there needs to be a better timetable for infrastructure?”

The Government has offered £26m to allow Network Rail to begin work on upgrading platforms 13 and 14 at Manchester Piccadilly, which have been identified as major contributors to the congestion issues, but Mr Burnham said that is “nowhere near” enough.