The Manchester Recovery Task Force Public Consultation, launched on January 14, will consider three possible timetabling options aimed at improving rail performance in the Manchester area. This will in turn inform potential changes to passenger services from May 2022 onwards. 

The consultation will seek responses from the public and various stakeholders such as regional transport body Transport for the North (TfN), infrastructure manager Network Rail (NR), and operators Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE). 

“We are putting the power to improve Manchester’s rail network in the hands of those that use it daily,” says Mr Chris Heaton-Harris, the British rail minister. “I urge passengers to use this opportunity to comment on the future of your railway. Improving punctuality and reliability is one of my key priorities. As we continue to build back better from the pandemic, these proposals will ensure that the rail network is more dependable for those who use it every day.” 

The three options will affect different routes, including which routes have direct services to Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, and Manchester Airport. The DfT says that the changes will also offer wider improvements to rail services across the whole of northern England.  

The options under evaluation are designed to: 

  • simplify and distribute service patterns more evenly 
  • reduce the number of services running on the most congested part of the network, and 
  • reduce the potential for one delayed train to affect another. 

The consultation will also seek views on timetable work previously undertaken in 2020 to improve performance, punctuality and reliability of services on Manchester’s rail network. 

The consultation builds on previous efforts by the DfT to improve rail services in the region, including the approval of £589m of funding to upgrade and electrify the Manchester - Leeds Trans-Pennine main line in July 2020. 

The announcement follows the release of the Rail Needs Assessment report on December 15 by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), which recommended that inter-city links in northern and central England should be prioritised by the government over other key projects such as High-Speed 2 (HS2). 

“I welcome this consultation and the government’s focus on this issue,” says Mr Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester. “The bottleneck in central Manchester is a problem for the whole of the north and solving these congestion issues will improve the reliability of rail services for passengers right across the north.” 

“Manchester’s congested rail network has long been the source of delays and frustration for passengers, with knock-on effects for the north’s communities,” says Mr Liam Robinson, chair of TfN’s Rail North Committee. “While the goal of these short-term changes is to reduce delays and increase reliability, the work we are doing with government and the industry on longer-term investment in rail infrastructure is also critically important, alongside changes to services.”