A cross-party group of MPs and community leaders have come together to safeguard essential rail services that serve half a million people in the North West. The MPs for Southport and West Lancashire, Lancashire County Council and rail campaign group OPSTA are all calling for the direct train lines to be saved between Southport and the south of Manchester city centre.
The Manchester Task Force, led by the Department for Transport and Network Rail, is running a consultation giving people three options over how the network can best cope with increasing levels of change from the pre-COVID service patterns.The consultation runs until 10th March.
All three options call for changes that could lead to Southport services no longer calling at stations to the south of the city including Piccadilly, Deansgate and Oxford Road, instead being directed by Manchester Victoria in the north of the city. People in the region are being urged to reply to the consultation and object to the proposals.
Southport BID has been calling for local businesses and local residents to do what they can to make their voices heard through the consultation.
Read More: Southport BID: ‘Timing of Manchester rail consultation is poor. People must give their views’
Southport Conservative MP Damien Moore; West Lancashire Labour MP Rosie Cooper; Lancashire County Council Leader Cllr Geoff Driver; and Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Traveller’s Association spokesperson Alan Fantom have written to the Manchester Task Force and to the Minister of State for Railways Chris Heaton-Harris arguing against the “simply unacceptable” proposals.
In a letter to the taskforce, the group said: “We understand proposals have been developed by a ‘Manchester Recovery Task Force’ to enable train operators to ‘Improve Performance’ by reducing the number of rail services running through the very congested central Manchester network.
“The consultation asks, “Do you support the aim of standardising and simplifying service patterns if this will significantly improve overall train performance?” offering three ‘options’. All three options propose the withdrawal of the direct Southport to Manchester Piccadilly service, which would mean the Southport line would be the only one to lose an entire route. This is simply unacceptable.
“Any solution must be holistic and based on an objective 360-degree assessment of specific travel requirements into Manchester that has recognised each of the five city centre stations serves as a destination in its own right according to travel purpose.
“The options proposed in the consultation document make it apparent that the term ‘standardising’ is being used to mean route rationalisation which is one but not the only way of “reducing the number of services” as it is stated in the consultation description.
“Consequently, the approach taken to meeting this objective appears not to consider meeting travel requirements to be the most important critical success factor and creates a significant gap in the routes offered that will affect at least 500,000 of the North West population.”
The campaigners previously won a campaign to save the same line when it was withdrawn in January 2018, with the line only reinstated in December 2019.
Their research discovered that journeys to Manchester were destination specific to one of the five city centre stations for reasons of work, business, study, health, leisure and in the case of Piccadilly connections to the rest of the country. Two thirds of Southport and Lancashire residents travelling to Manchester used and required the south side service.
Damien Moore, Rosie Cooper, Geoff Driver and Alan Fanton have instead put forward an alternative option: a switch of a Blackpool and Southport service and extension of Wigan North Western peak service to Blackpool which would save the existing services.
They said: “The MRFT states in its outline consultation document that the proposed options are ‘to improve train performance in the Manchester area and beyond by altering the north of England rail timetable.’
“However, it is quite clear that the Task Forces’ proposals are heavily biased toward the metropolitan communities in and around Manchester, leaving our constituents in Southport and West Lancashire respectively without a direct rail service.”