Friday, 7 February 2014

No trains for the new train line. Only the Tories could achieve this.

I have written to LCC as the PTA responsible and received a reply on the shambles that engulfs Accrington's new direct rail line to Manchester.

At transport questions yesterday Craig Whittaker MP asked about the line; and the "£8 million in the reopening of the Todmorden curve railway line between Todmorden and Blackburn, which is due for completion in May", asking the Secretary of State whether a diesel train can be found "so that the service can start before December?"

Last month Jack Straw MP (on his and my behalf) asked* a similar question of the minister Philip Hammond MP who said he hoped to make a statement in January.

Having now entered February it was left to Patrick McLoughlin MP (Secretary of State) to admit that the government has no idea when it will get a train to run on this new line. There may be rolling stock available (hand me downs) from the Manchester to Liverpool electrification. The government have built the line and simply forgotten about ordering trains to run it.

"I know that Northern Rail has been working on how best to deliver those services, including the provision for rolling stock. A small number of diesel trains from within the current northern fleet may become available for use on this service from December 2014 when the electric trains are due to start operating on some services between Liverpool and Manchester".

* As transport whip I can't ask transport question on the floor of the house.

I did write to LCC - the passenger transport authority responsible and received this more detailed reply.

Thank you for your letter of 4 December 2013 regarding the Todmorden Curve and Quality Contracts.

Unfortunately, the talk in the media about delays to the new service between Blackburn/ Accrington/ Burnley and Manchester due to there presently being insufficient rolling stock is true.

The physical works to restore the Todmorden West Curve are proceeding well and the infrastructure should be completed and commissioned by April 2014. The new rail service had originally been planned to start with the May 2014 timetable as an extension of the Todmorden terminating service from Wigan Wallgate via Manchester Victoria.

However, due to changes forced on Northern Rail by the diversion of the Trans Pennine Express Scotland/Barrow/Windermere services away from the Chorley/Bolton corridor to the newly electrified Chat Moss line in December 2013 has meant that additional capacity has had to be found to boost the remaining, largely Northern, services between Bolton and Manchester. This means there are now no spare units available to provide the additional diesel unit required to extend the Todmorden service to Burnley and Blackburn from May 2014.

Northern Rail has done a national trawl to see if it could spot hire a unit for 7 months from another train operating company. Unfortunately, no unit could be spared for so long a period which confirms the generally recognised situation that the diesel multiple unit fleet is fully committed with little or no flexibility in the event of heavy overhaul or accidents.

As a result of the NW electrification programme diesel units will be progressively released as services transfer to electric operation. For Northern the first conversion takes place in December 2014 when the Manchester to Liverpool service becomes electric. One of the diesel units released by this will be used to provide the extra resource required to enable passenger services to be extended from Todmorden to Burnley and Blackburn. On this basis the service should start on Sunday, 7 December 2014.

Yours sincerely
County Councillor John Fillis
Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport