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AT A CEREMONY ON WEDNESDAY 26 JUNE 2019 ON PRESTON STATION, NORTHERN LAUNCHED THEIR NEW TRAINS, NAMING THE FIRST ONE "PROUD TO BE NORTHERN"
AS NORTHERN OFFICIALS WELCOMED GUESTS AND STARTED THE CEREMONY, BRAND NEW 3-CAR DIESEL UNIT NUMBER 195 116 GLIDED SMOOTHLY INTO THE BAY PLATFORM TO RECEIVE ITS NAME.
EVERYONE LOOKED ON AS THE NAME "PROUD TO BE NORTHERN" WAS UNVEILED, TO SUITABLE APPLAUSE
STUART HASLAM, BOLTON COUNCIL'S CABINET MEMBER FOR HIGHWAYS AND TRANSPORT, READY TO BOARD
ONCE ABOARD, GUESTS WERE ABLE TO ADMIRE THE QUALITY INTERIORS OF THE CARRIAGES, WITH THEIR LIGHT, SPACIOUS ENVIRONMENT, MODERN, COMFORTABLE SEATING, AIR CONDITIONING, WI-FI AND POWER SOCKETS ETC.
THE TRAIN THEN DEPARTED, TAKING GUESTS NON-STOP TO MANCHESTER, WHERE REFRESHMENTS WERE AVAILABLE ON ARRIVAL AT VICTORIA STATION. THIS WAS THE FIRST KNOWN APPEARANCE OF ONE OF THE NEW TRAINS IN BOLTON STATION.
The train shown is actually one of the 4-car electric trains, pictured on a previous occasion in Preston Station at the end of a day's testing.
We exist solely to help people who use Bolton’s rail services. Our members get:
We push constantly for a solution to the problems - the overcrowded trains, not enough of them, and not enough carriages.
We maintain close links with the train companies, especially Northern.
We keep Bolton’s needs at the forefront of their minds.
We monitor their progress towards the transformed railway which they are required to deliver by their franchise agreement with the Department for Transport and Rail North.
BUT- it has not all been plain sailing
PROBLEMS - IN FACT NEAR DISASTER!
LIKE ALL BOLTON RAIL USERS WE WERE STAGGERED AT THE MASSIVE TIMETABLE CRASH AND NEAR COLLAPSE OF OUR SERVICES IN MAY 2018, when cancellations, delays and even worse overcrowding became rife..
TWO INQUIRIES SUBSEQUENTLY CARRIED OUT BY THE ORR ("OFFICE OF RAIL AND ROAD") CONCLUDED THAT NETWORK RAIL AND THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORT WERE AT FAULT, BUT THEY DID CLEAR THE NORTHERN COMPANY OF BLAME.
UNFORTUNATELY, BUT UNDERSTANDABLY, THAT'S NOT HOW IT LOOKED TO BOLTON RAIL USERS.
NORTHERN WERE THE SUPPLIERS OF OUR SERVICES AND THEY WERE SEEN AS DOING IT BADLY. The fact was that the delays in electrification by Network Rail, here and elsewhere, meant that the extra diesels that were to have been cascaded into Northern services from the Bolton line and other companies in the south and Scotland, which Northern needed in order to reduce overcrowding and run the additional services they were required by the franchise to operate in other parts of the north, were simply not there. We now know that they in fact saw the problem coming and asked for the new timetable to be deferred, but their request was refused.
The problems were made worse by shortcomings and delay on the part of Network Rail in the actual preparation of the new timetable; a necessary and ongoing loss by Northern of further existing trains while they were away being refurbished ( another franchise requirement); and the discovery that the length of railway bypassing Manchester City Centre between Deansgate and Manchester Piccadilly (known as "The Castlefield Corridor") didn't have the capacity to cope adequately with the extra services now being run along it. The result of the latter was that TransPennineExpress trains were also affected and the problems spread to other parts of the north.
After a fairly lengthy period, things began to improve gradually as the various companies got to grips with the problems and Northern's train shortage was lessened by the completion of the Bolton and other electrification projects and the delayed transfer onto Bolton line services of surplus Thameslink electric trains and cascading of diesels from Great Western, the West Midlands and Scotland.
Meanwhile, the 101 new diesel and electric trains ordered by Northern from the Spanish company CAF were taking longer to build than planned and there were delays in the testing of the earlier units to reach the UK. It also became apparent that Northern had staffing problems additional to those of the Guards strike (caused by Department of Transport requirements in the franchise agreement). These related to a system of 5 day week working for train crews, with weekends covered by voluntary overtime and part-timers. This was something inherited from the previous northern franchise holder, not created by the present one.
The result was that Northern encountered difficulties in finding enough staff to run all services, especially at weekends. The non-availability of trains being re-furbished continued and an ageing fleet meant that faults or mechanical breakdown of trains also seemed to becoming more frequent.
Cancellation of services, part-cancellation and short-formation of trains therefore worsened in the first part of 2019, amid great public concern and cries for the franchise to be taken away from Northern. The Department of Transport have declined to do that, saying that Northern has not breached its obligations under the franchise agreement.
However, as this is being written (end June 2019), cancellations have reduced to numbers which seem more reasonable and which seem to be caused as much by train shortages or faults, signalling faults, incidents or emergencies as by crew shortages.
New trains are now about to go into service, so the future is looking better. But this will take time and progress is bound to be gradual, not immediate.
For well over a decade the Government, through its control of the franchise, prevented the previous operators of the Northern services from obtaining any new trains. They argued that rail travel in the north was declining. In fact it more than doubled over the period.
But the refusal to allow new trains still continued. No doubt this was convenient to the Government by keeping the amount of subsidy down. However it was the direct cause of today’s problems.
In 2015 the Government saw the light, after a lot of pressure. Both of the new North of England rail franchises, Northern and TransPennine Express, are now based on growth and require the companies to make massive investment in trains and service improvements. TransPennine Express's Glasgow and Edinburgh services will also be serving Bolton again from the May 2019 timetable change. That has been made possible by electrification of the Manchester - Bolton- Euxton Junction line, now completed and energised after repeated and lengthy delays (mid-December 2018).
We are a "not for profit" community body. We operate on a minimum cost basis.
Membership is free. We charge no subscription. Our policy is to operate on voluntary donations only.
We don’t make demands on your time either. You don’t have to come to meetings or do any work for us if you don’t wish to.
The Group is led by people with good understanding of rail services, the structure of the rail industry and how it works. We understand the causes of the current massive overcrowding. We know what needs to be done to eliminate it, including what’s feasible and what isn’t. So we are well equipped to press convincingly for what Bolton’s rail users need.
If you are a user (whether often or only occasionally) of any rail service that starts, terminates or calls at any station within the Bolton Metropolitan Borough, you are eligible to join us. If you like what we are doing, may we ask that you become a member and add your voice?
The more members we have, the more influence we have.
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Despite the problems, Bolton rail users still stand on the threshold of what should be a new era for the services.
Northern Rail are required by their franchise agreement with the Secretary of State for Transport to:
PUT INTO SERVICE HUNDREDS OF NEW AND REFURBISHED TRAINS
Northern's new trains are on schedule. The first have arrived and are undergoing tests etc. Extra diesel trains are being cascaded from other areas following electrification there also. A significant number of Northern's existing trains have already been refurbished. All the rest (except for the Pacers) will follow.
DISPOSE OF THE PACER TRAINS
These cramped, half-bus, half-freight truck trains are much disliked . Their disposal will start during 2019 and should be complete by the end of that year.
This has been happening, but suffered a setback in the May 2018 timetable crash. It will begin again as more cascaded and new trains arrive.
INTRODUCE NEW AND EXTENDED SERVICES
This too has been delayed by the timetable crash and unfortunately Northern currently has no plans to give Bolton additional services. A solution to the overcrowding problems will therefore only be possible by more lengthening of trains.
Our hourly Blackpool to Manchester and Manchester Airport service will however be rebranded sometime in the next two years as part of Northern's forthcoming "Northern Connect" network. This will extend over a number of lines throughout the Northern region. They trains are to be faster and to a higher specification, including air-conditioning, wi-fi and charging facilities and refreshments. In practice this means at least one of our services would be run with one of Northern's new electric trains.
From the May 2019 timetable change, Bolton will also have an additional hourly service provided by First TransPennine Express. This will be run between Manchester Airport and Glasgow or Edinburgh, with brand new 5-car trains instead of the 3-cars used when it previously ran through Bolton and the 4-cars of the present service via Lowton Junction and Wigan.
It will restore the service we used to have before the Liverpool-Manchester electrification. But it will only be for journeys to and from Preston and beyond. It won't help Bolton commuters and travellers to or from Manchester or the Airport. Those journeys will not be allowed, presumably in order to protect their longer-distance passengers from overcrowding south of Bolton.
We have this under discussion with FTPE at present and they have at least agreed to review the situation in the light of experience a year or so after the services via Bolton have commenced.
Over the last few years A NUMBER OF MUCH NEEDED INFRASTRUCTURE WORKS HAVE BEEN UNDERTAKEN AND COMPLETED BY NETWORK RAIL:
We have to hope so.
But we'll only see the improvement we need if Northern allocate enough of the additional trains, services and carriages to the Bolton lines. Bolton Rail Users Group will continue to advocate that and closely follow Northern's progress. Despite the timetable fiasco, the signs are good. The company know about Bolton, it’s a very important line for them and they want to do what they can. Resources will of course not be unlimited, other lines too have overcrowding and no commitments are possible at this stage.
We nevertheless remain optimistic. We keep in contact with Northern, watch developments and continue to make the case.
If you use the Bolton lines, you can help us by joining the Group and swelling our numbers. At present we have less than a hundred, out of the thousands who use the services and signed the Bolton News petition a few years ago.
Please do so. We won't release or pass on your details outside the Group.
We have had a personal data protection policy right from the foundation of the Group in 2015. You can see it by clicking on the Data Protection button in the white bar at the top of our Home page.