Fears daily trains service may be permanently axed
Further cuts to a train service that stopped daily at Congleton are feared as light was shed on a “ridiculous situation”, which it has been claimed stems from an ongoing reduction in services already impacting commuters.
During the summer, the Chronicle reported how CrossCountry had scrapped its one daily service between Congleton and Manchester in a move to run longer trains, providing more space on board and resume services to places not connected to its long-distance network following the lockdown.
It led to fears that alternative trains services would become overcrowded as passengers attempted to observe social distancing measures in carriages.
CrossCountry confirmed that the daily service had been axed up until the middle of December but now rail expert and regular train user Richard Eadie, of Mossley, said he feared CrossCountry's service to Congleton may be gone for good.
Mr Eadie reported the situation, as he saw it, in an update to Congleton MP Fiona Bruce, who herself has written to the department for transport with her concerns about CrossCountry's cuts asking for a full explanation of the decision and a “firm confirmation that the CrossCountry service will be re-instated, in full, as soon as is practicable, and indeed, that they will look at improving the service going forward”.
Mr Eadie told her: “The bad news is that the next 'long term plan' has now been published to public-facing systems (to allow reservations to be made etc) and that plan now permanently excludes Congleton calls from all CrossCountry services.
“This means that there will be no calls by these trains until at least 15th May, 2021 (the next timetable change date) and, more likely, never as it seems our suspicions of covid being used as an excuse to remove Congleton calls (despite these being a franchise commitment and not being mentioned as an issue in last year's franchise consultation) is being realised.”
He told Mrs Bruce: “Please ensure that Mr (Grant) Shapps (transport secretary) is aware of the incompatibility between any future 'return to the workplace' guidance and the continuing inadequate rail service at Congleton in peak hours to deal with it this side of next May.”
The Chronicle asked CrossCountry to comment but it had not responded by deadline yesterday (Wednesday).
Speaking during the summer, CrossCountry's regional director John Robson said: “To help people travel safely and apart we've been using longer trains, but unfortunately these are too long to stop safely at the platforms at Congleton. I am sorry this means our two daily trains still can't call here, but customers can continue to travel using the hourly Northern services in each direction.”
Mr Eadie also explained the current impact of services not stopping at Congleton.
He said: “This results in the ridiculous situation of our previous morning service to Manchester waiting five full minutes at Stoke on Trent in platform two before running non-stop to Macclesfield whereupon it resumes its original timings, simply to avoid stopping at Congleton as it was originally scheduled to do.
“In the other direction, the evening train (or trains on a Saturday) now simply call at Macclesfield instead of Congleton (which is frustrating considering that Macclesfield is already incredibly well served by Northern, CrossCountry and Avanti's other trains!).”
Mr Eadie also mentioned that Northern's long-term plan for December to May has not been published but is likely to be little changed from the current timetable, meaning that Congleton's service (now served only by Northern) will consist of an off-peak only hourly service throughout the day, including at peak hours.
He said: “As previously stated this is a dangerous place to be if a return to offices is seriously contemplated this side of next spring for Congleton commuters. Incidentally, it also means that Northern's long-running promise of increasing Congleton's dismal six trains a day Sunday service is likely to be broken again, given that Northern want to 'maintain' their current service levels before introducing a performance-led timetable next year.”
In relation to HS2 he said the “very long term plan” for post-HS2 services on classic routes has been published for consultation and includes semi-fast services to London for those larger places he said had been “neglected” in recent years such as Bramhall, Poynton and even Prestbury.
“But this consultation does not mention Congleton in this service proposal!” said Mr Eadie. “Before this is set in aspic, we must ensure that Congleton is not overlooked in such future proposals but instead profits from new services brought about as a result of the capacity release generated by HS2.”