Regional leaders criticise ‘managed decline’ of northern railways

A new railway timetable scheduled to come into force from next December should not be accepted without a clear plan, leaders and transport representatives said in a meeting held on Thursday.

In a Transport for the North (TfN) – Rail North Committee meeting, chaired by Councillor Liam Robinson, leaders, including Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham said more is needed to improve the North’s railway infrastructure.

Andy Burnham, said: “In 2014 we were promised an expanded timetable for the North, but at the moment we’re looking at a managed decline of railways in the North with no end in sight.

“It feels to me that we’re being fobbed off on [rail] infrastructure, which is not acceptable. Everywhere we look we’re seeing reductions on what we were promised and a failure to deliver.

Burnham said that he is not prepared to give any endorsement to the new timetable without the delivery of infrastructure needed "to run our rail services".

“If we sign this off, we know what the reality will be on rail services across the North for years to come. We won’t have the capacity to meet demand and passengers won’t be able to find a seat – particularly between Manchester and Leeds.”

Burnham was backed by Bradford Council leader, Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, who warned of the prospect of passengers not being able to get a train – let alone find an unoccupied seat.

Hinchcliffe said said that there still is no direct service to Bradford from Manchester Airport, which is what they have been promised for many years.

“West Yorkshire would like to have better links to Manchester and we want to see any timetable changes fully take that into account.”

Cllr Hinchcliffe and Cllr Robinson said the fact rail passengers numbers have recovered faster in the North in the wake of lockdown restrictions than in other parts of the country, shows there is demand in the region for better train services.

Cllr Robinson stressed the December 2021 railway timetable was heavily influenced by pandemic related conditions, so must not be seen as “the new normal.”

“No one wants to accept this as the baseline timetable,” he said. “We want to be equal partners in deciding what the timetable is in the future, and not just have it imposed on us as a fait accompli.”