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Railwatch 087 - March 2001

Railwatch - The great leap forward

By Rob Cummings

A key rail link - closed by Mrs Thatcher's government 20 years ago - may reopen if Arriva wins the TransPennine Express franchise.

The company plans to buy 26 new 125mph trains and reopen Woodhead tunnel along with 20 miles of track to provide a new 35-minute service from Sheffield to Manchester via Barnsley, Penistone and Guide Bridge. That would improve on the present 52-minute journey and provide four trains an hour in each direction.

Four trains per hour would be provided between the two cities and a parkway station created at Guide Bridge, to the east of Manchester. The scheme - to include park and ride and to allow for freight - could be in operation by 2007 after a £200million investment programme.

Arriva is submitting its bid for the franchise to the Strategic Rail Authority in mid March. "This is an exciting and innovative proposal which will enhance the quality and frequency of rail travel between these two major conurbations," said Arriva chief executive Bob Davies.

"Our bid for the Trans-Pennine Express rail franchise will commit Arriva to providing a rail service which is safe, efficient and reliable with better infrastructure and more emphasis on integrated travel."

Members of the North West branch and our associated rail user groups have attended a number of consultation events hosted by Arriva in their bid to win the franchise.

The presentations have been very impressive with commitments to provide an inter-city style service on what is now a basic Class 158 railway between Liverpool, Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes, Hull, Scarborough, Middlesbrough and Newcastle.

The company has made promising statements on customer service, station environments and integration with other modes.

Arriva's efforts to listen to rail users are very commendable, particularly as their competitors have not been as forthcoming.

It is, however, worth remembering that these are only promises and actually delivering the promises will be very challenging. However, Arriva is competing with Connex (which has lost the South Central franchise) and FirstGroup (First North Western - which has not won too many friends) and must be in a very strong position!

Arriva has also started a new round of consultations with user groups for the Northern franchise, which will see the amalgamation of the existing Northern Spirit (minus TransPennine) and North Western trains franchises.

Meanwhile, the Rail Passengers Council for North West England is questioning the logic behind the creation of a separate TransPennine franchise, against the trend for fewer, bigger franchises! Hopefully, common sense will prevail and the TransPennine and Northern franchises will be awarded to the same operator.

RDS North West has joined forces with RDS Yorkshire with respect to two other transPennine railways.

There has been a long-standing aim to see regular direct passenger trains between Greater Manchester and Lancashire to the Settle-Carlisle line.

A service was introduced to Clitheroe in the early 1990s and this is now well established, as is the summer Sunday Dalesrail from Blackpool to Carlisle.

However, a daily service along the remaining few miles to Hellifield remains frustratingly elusive.

Both branches are therefore pleased to support the new partnership that has been created at Hellifield with a view to campaigning for a restored service.

Another former route to Yorkshire, from Colne to Skipton, remains largely intact but this situation may not continue as Lancashire County Council have aims to extend the M65 eastwards along the trackbed. North West branch is therefore supporting Yorkshire branch's efforts to oppose this project.

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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