Train overcrowding fears grow as government backtracks on new carriages

July 1, 2009 12:00 AM

Rochdale's Transport Boss - Councillor Peter DavidsonPlans to tackle overcrowding on Greater Manchester's rail network have been dealt a blow, amid fears the region is set to lose out on more than 70 additional train carriages promised by the Department for Transport.

The Chair of Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority (GMITA), Councillor Keith Whitmore, has expressed concern that Northern Rail is likely to get just 106 of the 182 carriages previously pledged by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Councillor Whitmore has now written to Transport Minister Chris Mole asking for him to give the situation his "urgent attention".

GMITA is also calling on local MPs and rail user groups to support a campaign to get Greater Manchester its fair share of carriages as previously promised.

MPs will have the opportunity to voice their concerns at the Westminster Hall debate 'Spending on railways in the North of England' on Wednesday morning (1 July).

Councillor Whitmore said: "The situation as it stands is extremely disappointing and I fear that Greater Manchester is going to be shortchanged.

"Over the past 18 months the Department for Transport has repeatedly pledged 182 carriages for Northern Rail, and I have been given no plausible reason why this should now be slashed by over 40 per cent.

"We have no guarantee around how many of the carriages will be new, whether any second-hand ones will be refurbished, or when they can be added to overcrowded services.

"This comes at a time when the demand for rail in our city region has never been higher. Many services are overcrowded and at some stations passengers cannot even get on the busiest trains in the peak.

"Fewer carriages would not just be a blow for passengers, but for the North as a whole. This is a time to be investing in our future economic growth by offering frequent and reliable transport links that can meet passenger demands.

"Rail commuting in Greater Manchester has grown at a rate of over twice that in London in the past five years. But while London and the South East have had 580 new carriages in that period, Northern Rail has had not had a single one delivered under this plan.

"The north really is the poor relation to the South when it comes to transport spending."

GMITA has also been pressing to keep the five trains that currently run on the Oldham and Rochdale Loop Line within Greater Manchester when the line is converted to Metrolink later this year. But while DfT officials agree that there is a strong case for this, they have refused to fund it. Without these carriages, even further overcrowding on local train services is likely.

Alongside current plans to reduce the number of promised train carriages to Northern Rail, the DfT has not confirmed plans for other train operators in Greater Manchester, including TransPennine Express, East Midlands Trains and Arriva Trains Wales.

Between 1995/6 and 2007/8 passenger journeys were up by 57 per cent in Greater Manchester. Over half of all trains in the peak now have standing passengers. People are increasingly being put off travelling by rail to use less sustainable modes.

The Northern Way study of the Manchester Hub published in April predicted that growth in Manchester commuter services will continue to outpace that of all other services in the area.