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Background

On the 16th July, Northern Rail announced in a letter to local MPs, that they propose to suspend all train services between Rose Hill Marple and Manchester Piccadilly via Hyde from mid-September to mid-December 2020 and will instead run more trains from Bredbury station during peak times. 

At present Northern is operating 1 train per hour from Rose Hill to Manchester via Hyde, 3 trains every 2 hours between New Mills and Manchester via Bredbury and 2 trains per hour between Hadfield / Glossop and Manchester. From September onwards they propose to operate 2 trains per hour on both the New Mills and Hadfield / Glossop services (plus extra peak time trains) and none from Rose Hill. 

This would mean that there will be no trains running from Rose Hill, Woodley, Hyde Central, Hyde North and Fairfield. Gorton and Ashburys will be reduced compared to the current “Key Workers Timetable” that has been operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We believe that these changes will have a detrimental impact on local residents and we urge you to support our campaign to save our local train stations before it’s too late!

Impact of the changes

In summary, the effect of the proposed changes include:

1. Severely inconveniencing the users of the suspended service. Although the number of passengers has been low during the lockdown, it will increase as more people are encouraged to return to work and to go into Manchester for shopping and other activities.

2. It will hinder, and some cases prevent, students from attending school and college. Over 100 students commute daily to Rose Hill Marple to access the High School and Sixth Form College. The proposed changes could further worsen their loss of education since March, which will reduce their life chances. 

3. It will damage public health in our communities. Those affected will likely switch to travelling by car, with consequent air pollution and congestion effects. Increased pollution has been shown to worsen the symptoms of people who are infected with COVID-19.

4. It will increase pressure on our public transport system. Those affected will have to travel by less convenient bus and rail services which will make social distancing on these services harder and put the health of local residents at risk.

5. It will undermine the government’s attempt to get the economy growing again. Some local residents may choose not to travel at all due to the risks and inconvenience that the changes create.  

Alternative Stations

In a letter sent to MPs by Chris Jackson, Regional Director of Northern Rail, it is argued that the inconvenience caused to passengers will be limited due to the availability of other public transport services including “nearby stations”. 

In reality, the walking distance to the nearest stations to those which will lose their service are:

  • Rose Hill to Marple – 1.6 kilometres;
  • Woodley to Bredbury – 1.5 kilometres;
  • Hyde Central to Flowery Field – 1.5 kilometres;
  • Hyde North to Flowery Field – 0.8 kilometres;
  • Fairfield to Gorton – 2.2 kilometres.

The generally accepted maximum walking distance to a station is 800m. Clearly all the above stations, except Hyde North, are further than this from their nearest alternative. In addition there is a steep hill between Marple and Rose Hill.

This means that most passengers who wish to continue to use rail will need to either drive or catch a bus to the station. This will cause extra pollution and congestion if they use car or increase pressure on bus services, as above.

Mitigation measures proposed by Northern Rail

Northern Rail are planning to operate a circular feeder bus service on a Rose Hill – Marple – Romiley – Rose Hill loop, with some buses continuing to and from Woodley at peak times. You can download the timetable here.

This is not an adequate alternative to the train because:

1. There is no certainty that the capacity would be adequate. For example, the number of students using the train to Marple is at least 100, while Northern seem to believe it is about 35.

2. There is significant congestion at peak periods, especially between Marple Town Centre and Dan Bank and on Compstall Road Marple Bridge, so any service would be slow and unreliable.

 3. Even if it does operate on time it will be much slower than the train. Rose Hill to Romiley will take 15-18 minutes by the shuttle bus compared to 5 minutes by train. People travelling beyond Marple or Romiley will be further delayed waiting for a connecting train.

4. Hyde Central, Hyde North and Fairfield get no alternative to the train. Woodley only gets a shuttle bus at peak times

Why Northern Rail are reducing services

Northern Rail, and other train operators, have been instructed by the Department for Transport to only schedule the level of service that they can operate reliably with the trains and train crew that they have available. 

We have been told that the principal constraint is the availability of drivers, rather than trains or guards. Northern claim that they currently employ their full complement of drivers and that this would be sufficient to operate the complete timetable under normal circumstances. 

However, some drivers are recent recruits and are not yet fully trained on the various types of train and the routes that they operate on. There is also a backlog of drivers awaiting training on the new trains being introduced.

There may also be an issue with drivers returning from sickness or shielding, whose knowledge may need re-assessment. There is also uncertainty about future sickness levels, especially about the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19 infections.

Northern have also said that, while many of their drivers are trained to operate both the Rose Hill via Hyde route and the New Mills/ Sheffield via Bredbury line, some may be trained on only one of these. 

If true, removing the Rose Hill service reduces the number of drivers available to work on the Goyt Valley routes as those only trained to operate Rose Hill are not available at all, though presumably they can be re-deployed elsewhere on Northern.

Overall it is probably true that Northern do not have enough drivers available to operate the full service reliably, although we do not know if they have been excessively cautious in the assumptions they have made about driver availability and therefore about the number of services they can operate. 

It may be that more services could be operated without significantly impacting on reliability, although we do not know this because we do not have the necessary information.

Why the Rose Hill via Hyde route

At present a reduced service operates on both the New Mills via Bredbury and Rose Hill via Hyde routes. 

Northern argue that the best use of limited resources is to concentrate on providing more trains via Bredbury and suspend the service via Hyde completely. However, this decision seems to be based on:

1. Outdated ridership data whichignores the 40% increase in ridership between 2016 and 2019 (Office of Rail and Road Station Usage statistics) at the stations which will lose their service.

2. Use of a 2016 AM peak usage diagram which ignores the more recent improvements to peak hour services from Rose Hill, which have increased morning peak period usage by over 50% since 2015.

3. Use of inappropriate modelling tools. They have used the MOIRA package which simulates the ridership impacts of timetable changes. This is designed for assessing marginal changes, not the complete suspension of services.

4.Lack of local knowledge. They seem to believe that only 35 students at Marple Hall School use the train to get there, while our count data shows at least 100.

Based on the ORR station usage data, about 2.8 million passengers used the 2 routes between New Mills/ Rose Hill and Manchester in 2019. Of these around 300,000 would have used trains on the Glossop line. 

Of the remaining 2.5 million, the split between Bredbury and Hyde trains is about 60/40. Passengers using the Hyde Loop services from Romiley and Guide Bridge could switch to other trains, but about 600,000 people travelling from other stations will have no alternative to the suspended service. 

This suggests that it would be right to operate at a rather higher frequency via Bredbury, but not to suspend the existing (already severely reduced) hourly service via Hyde.

Long term impact

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to sudden and dramatic falls in public transport usage, of up to and over 90% in some areas. As the economy starts to recover and people begin to travel more, public transport use is increasing but the activities people engage in and their travel patterns are changing. 

If rail is to re-build its market share it needs to provide a credible service to meet these changing needs. 

There is a serious risk that people will change their behaviour and choose to travel by car instead with the accompanying congestion and environmental problems this will cause. 

The impact of the proposed 3 month service suspension, at a time when usage is starting to grow again, will be severe. But Northern Rail cannot guarantee that the suspension will not be extended beyond December, potentially creating an even worse situation.

The longer the service is suspended, the higher the risk of permanent closure. 

It will become harder to re-build ridership as people find alternatives and the service will quickly become an easy target in future spending cuts.

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