Alsager being ‘sacrificed’ in bid to improve train times

There is “little justification” for suspending services to Alsager, rail watchdogs and the town council said this week in a joint statement that accused the train operator of a “dereliction of duty”.
As previously reported, East Midlands Railway (EMR) decided to suspend almost all its services for passengers at Alsager from 7th September.
Only the first and last train of the day in each direction on the Crewe–Derby service will stop at Alsager “for the foreseeable future,” the company has said.
The company has admitted that Alsager is being “sacrificed” to improve punctuality for the Crewe–Derby route as a whole. It has also admitted that its consultation with stakeholders was lacking and not what it would normally expect.
As we report on our front page, cuts to train services in her constituency are “completely unacceptable”, MP Fiona Bruce has told Parliament, as she asked for a Parliamentary debate on the need to maintain local train services.
On the Alsager cuts, Michael Willmot, chair of the North Staffs Community Rail Partnership, said: “We cannot support this dereliction of service as a way of compensating for the extra dwell time at other stations that East Midlands Railway is anticipating because of boarding and alighting with social distancing.
“We are asking EMR to let us see train punctuality information regularly so we can press for service reinstatement as soon as possible.”
East Midlands Railway has said that there can be “occasional” short delays due to Alsager level crossing for eastbound trains, as they follow close behind the London Northwestern Railway (LNR) services.
The joint statement, from the chairs of Alsager Town Council, North Staffs Rail Promotion Group and North Staffs Community Rail Partnership, said that omitting the Alsager stop was the “unsatisfactory” way of “regaining the occasional short delay”, together with compensating for possible delays at other stations caused by passengers social distancing while boarding.
The statement said: “There is no such problem for westbound services and there is little justification for suspending the stop for trains travelling in this direction towards Crewe. This results in a wait of 35 minutes at Kidsgrove for the EMR service for passengers travelling to Alsager from Longport or the Derby line.”
The joint statement said the chairs had been assured that the service withdrawal from Alsager would be temporary.
“We are in dialogue with EMR who will, every four weeks, share with us the evidence for not stopping at the station,” said the statement.
But Coun Rod Fletcher, chair of Alsager Town Council and one of the signatories of the statement, said: “What is likely to happen is that Alsager passengers, many of whom walk to Alsager Station, will either drive to Kidsgrove Station or travel on the A500 which is very busy at peak times. Both local and central government are trying to reduce carbon. This proposal will have the opposite effect.”
Passengers will now be almost wholly reliant on the remaining hourly service provided by LNR calling at Crewe, Alsager, Kidsgrove and Stoke-on-Trent. Anyone who wants to travel to Longport and stations between Stoke-on-Trent and Derby will have to change trains at Kidsgrove or Stoke-on-Trent, extending journey times.
Jonathan Heal, chair of the North Staffs Rail Promotion Group, said: “This abandonment of a station will damage local trust in the train operator at a time when it is already difficult to persuade people to return to rail travel.”
The statement said that EMR claimed that punctuality needed to be improved. In September 2019 punctuality was poor, the statement said, with a public performance measure of 86%. Of the 240 Crewe-bound services reviewed by the North Staffordshire Community Rail Partnership, 23 were delayed by more than five minutes and 11 were cancelled.
Eleven delays/cancellations were caused by faults with Network Rail level crossings (the Alsager level crossing was not one of them) or with East Midlands Trains’ rolling stock.
Without these faults the public performance measure would have been 91%, which would probably have avoided the proposed cuts now planned for Alsager, the chairs’ statement said.
“Alsager passengers are paying the price for the rail industry’s shortcomings,” said the statement. EMR stands to lose much goodwill in a community it previously claimed it was committed to serving.”
EMR took over the franchise in August 2019 and has since doubled the number of carriages, using more reliable rolling stock.
A review of 390 weekday services to Crewe in early March 2020 (pre covid-19) showed that 96% of trains were on time or early.
This meant there was “little justification” for suspending the Alsager stops because of punctuality problems, the statement said.
The statement added: “Since the strengthened two-car service has twice as many doors as the single car it replaces, we question whether station dwell times will need to be increased because of social distancing among boarding and alighting passengers.
“Rather than massaging PPM by abandoning once loyal passengers at Alsager, EMR would be better engaged in working with other train operators and Network Rail to reduce the delays on the route between Stoke and Kidsgrove – much the greatest delay factor.”
Alsager is one of the busier stations between Crewe and Derby, comprising 13% of the line’s total footfall.