Rail service problems - no quick and easy fix

Date published: 22 November 2018

Following the comments from Francesca Barker about local rail services, Richard Greenwood from Support the Oldham, Rochdale and Manchester lines (STORM) rail user group says that STORM sympathises with Ms Barker whose experience can be matched by commuters from Greenfield, Bolton, Walkden and other places, but there is no quick and easy fix.

Rail services in the North have suffered from many years of neglect by all Governments, especially that of Gordon Brown who stipulated a franchise with an expectation of nil growth. There was an immediate increase in patronage of 10% per year and over the length of the franchise the increase was 40% growth.

The new timetable instituted in May 2018 was an attempt to run many more trains than ever before. 

This still gave Littleborough nine trains to Manchester before 08.40, Smithy Bridge six and Walsden four.

The timetable fell down for a variety of reasons. Network Rail are over a year late in completing the electrification between Blackpool and Manchester via Bolton. This means that diesel units are still having to run this service when they should have been available for use on services such as those through Rochdale.

Additionally, the new trains promised to Northern railway are late being delivered and entering service. In other words, the present Northern railway franchisees do not have enough trains through no fault of their own. There are no spare diesel trains available anywhere.

This shortage has been exacerbated by more trains than usual having to be taken out of service for repairs to faults caused by the leaf fall season.

Over fifty years ago in steam days, sparks from the locomotives coupled with attention by local track gangs prevented the growth of trees along the tracks. And if there was a case of very slippery rails, the steam locos could blow sand under the wheels to provide a better grip.  Now there are trees almost everywhere. When the leaves drop, they get on to the rails and form a very slippery film on the railheads. Many attempts have been made to find a way of preventing this but so far nothing has been developed which is 100% reliable.

Slippery rails cause two problems.  

First the wheels can spin and prevent the train accelerating as quickly as it should which of course makes the train run late. 

More serious is that when the driver applies the brakes, the wheels can start sliding - very much like trying to stop a car on ice.

When this happens, the wheels can be damaged by sliding along instead of revolving and flat spots can be formed. In minor cases, the flats will wear out, but in serious cases, it is dangerous to run the vehicle and it has to be taken out of service to have the wheels returned to a circular profile.  

Cautious braking by the drivers to avoid wheels sliding can also make the train run late. Recently Northern railway have had an average of twenty trains out of service every day for remedial work to remove flats.

It's not just Northern railway.

The Welsh railways currently have 25% of their vehicles out of service to rectify this damage.

The railway between Burnley and Todmorden with its steep gradients and extensive tree cover is especially difficult.

Almost half of the Littleborough trains travel via this route so they are particularly vulnerable to leaf fall problems.

STORM believes that every local train at Littleborough and Smithy Bridge should have four carriages.

Efforts to improve the local rail services have the backing of Rochdale BC Councillors and officers but neither of the two MPs for the area have shown any interest in trying to improve the local rail service.

Services in Greater Manchester, are dictated by Rail North which is based in Leeds and seems always to favour West Yorkshire stations.

It has never been the case that every commuter could expect a seat on the train.

The Department of Transport guideline is that anyone travelling on a journey of more than 20 minutes should have a seat.

The leaf fall season normally lasts only three weeks after which services should improve.

Richard invites Ms Barker, and all other passengers affected, visit the STORM website (contact us) and if she and other passengers feels so inclined to keep a diary of their journeys which STORM can take up with Rail North and Northern railway.

STORM is a local rail support group which monitors the provision of services and campaigns on behalf of public transport passengers and potential passengers.



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