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Railwatch 080 - July 1999

North West

By Robert Cummings

Was it really worth it? My initial objections to railway privatisation were overcome when the franchising process began and I became a real enthusiast, expecting an improvement in marketing and customer service, even if otherwise it was the same old trains and services. Two years on, perhaps such optimism was misdirected. The North Western Trains franchise started well and there were promising improvements, the Glossop-Manchester service saw the introduction of new rolling stock, improved frequencies and a Sunday service, for the first time in 30 years. Was this a model for urban rail services in the region? Sadly not. Very little marketing effort was put in. The departure sheets and Manchester's Piccadilly station continued to read "No Sunday Service" for a month after the Sunday service was introduced. Not surprisingly these services remained a secret to anyone who wasn't already a rail user. In September 1998 the daytime frequency was cut back to half hourly, less than a year after being introduced. Further cuts to the evening service were made this summer. Meanwhile the newly introduced North Western Trains (or First North Western as we should now call them) services between London and Blackpool, Rochdale and Manchester Airport faltered badly, denied the vital oxygen of publicity and with a fares policy that changed with the seasons. Only the Rochdale service survives the May 1999 timetable changes. In the meantime the North Western Trains franchise went into freefall, with abysmal reliability during the summer of 1998, more management changes than Manchester City football club, job losses and further service cuts. First Group finance director Tony Osbaldiston recently had the temerity to blame their poor performance on the unfeasible service targets promised by the previous owners of the North Western franchise. Stick to counting beans Mr Osbaldiston!

Sport for all Anyone intending to go to Manchester's Commonwealth Games in 2002 will have to be pretty sporty, preferably long-distance runners, as this may be the best way to negotiate the chaos that will surround the Games stadium at Eastlands. The authorities have decided there will be insufficient time to build the planned Metrolink extension to the stadium and therefore the only public transport available will be Mr Prescott's beloved buses. Perhaps the organisers should speak to those responsible for the Olympics at Seoul and Atlanta, who similarly relied on bus transport, with disastrous results! Of course, making use of the freight-only line that runs adjacent to the stadium site is too obvious.

New leaflet RDS has been working on a new leaflet advocating a number of developments to the region's rail network that we have identified, including reopened lines, new and reopened stations and lines that should be electrified. The leaflet will be sent to MPs, pro-rail councillors, rail managers and the media as well as the Strategic Rail Authority. This exercise will strain the branch's resources, so any donations will be gratefully received.

Pendleton station The branch was disappointed to learn of the Rail Regulator's decision to consent to the closure of Pendleton station which we had campaigned against. An appeal to the Transport Secretary will be made as we feel the situation, in which the station was virtually closed in 1994 when damaged by fire. When the closure proposal was made four years later no users could be found to justify hardship, what a way to run a railway!

Future meetings Saturday 10 July: The Station Hotel, Preston (opposite side entrance to station). Don't turn up early because the pub doesn't open until 11.00. Saturday 18 September: The Forum, Romiley, Stockport (opposite Romiley Station). Martin Smith of Peak Park Planning Authority will address the afternoon session on transport issues facing the Peak District National Park.

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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