The Greenfield Rail Action Group (GRAG) are dismayed at the announcement by Transport Minister Theresa Villiers that train operators will ultimately make final decisions regarding stopping and service patterns on the Leeds to Manchester line.
The franchises for the two companies which run the trains are likely to be amalgamated when they are renewed in 2014. Currently Trans Pennine runs the express trains and Northern Rail the others. The recently-formed Greenfield Rail Action Group has a main aim to have an half-hourly service between Huddersfield and Manchester. The main proposal being discussed is the increase of the number of trains between Leeds and Manchester from 5 to 6 per hour. At first sight this seems an improvement. What’s more there would be 2 stopping trains per hour. However, there is a catch, the stopping trains would stop alternately at Greenfield and Mossley with the second stopping at Slaithwaite and Marsden. This ‘skip-stopping’ will severe any link by rail between the stations on opposite sides of thePennines. GRAG said that this will result in a lessening of the service, not an improvement for local travellers.
Since its formation the group has had contact with two other groups along the line. The three are working with the same basic objective of more frequent trains under the banner of the Stalybridge to Huddersfield Rail Users’ Group (SHRUG). The Greenfield Group were disturbed to read a recent letter from the Transport Minister Theresa Villiers addressed to the Huddersfield M.P. Barry Sheerman. The letter read: ‘ultimately the final stopping and service patterns will be decided by the successful franchisee’.
The Greenfield Group’s Chair, Mark Ashmore asks: “Where is the accountability? Surely it should be up to the government in consultation with local authorities and passengers to determine what it wants from the franchisee, not the other way round? It illustrates that the government is not concerned about local travellers who need to travel into the regional centres like Leeds and Manchester for work, services or leisure.”
Furthermore, he added, “During this year there are improvements planned at Stalybridge station which follow a platform lengthening at Mossley. All these are positive factors. Faster trains will always have to take precedence over slower ones and it should not be beyond the wit of man to devise a timetable which enables fast trains to pass slower ones at an improved Stalybridge station so enabling a 30 minute service at all the local stations for instance. Such an action depends upon political common sense. This is sadly lacking it appears at the moment.”