Friday, January 09, 2009

'New timetable has ruined train service, say commuters'

I spoke with a reporter from The Bolton News before Christmas and they published this short article. No photograph appeared, so I'll go back to them to see if I can get it in.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A little bit of people power

On Wednesday December 10, 2008, on a cold concrete platform, we held our little protest against the machinery of Northern Rail and the GMPTE which is choosing to cut our direct services to the main Manchester stations by 90%. Here's our picture. Check it out. A cross section of normal people going to work. This week, the 0811 service has been delayed by about an hour twice, and 30 minutes once. This is not a long haul flight delayed by an hour. This is a 35 minute train ride, delayed by twice its own duration.

I hope that the above photo will appear in the Bolton News (they seem to have dropped the 'Evening' bit) very soon.

End of an era

So, that's it. As of Monday, Blackrod's 19 trains a day direct to Piccadilly become two. Two crumbs from the mighty table of Northern Rail and the subservient GMPTE. Presumably these two trains are timetabled in some sort of meaningful way to allow commuters some sort of choice? Err, no. One train is at 0721 and the next 0740. We then wait 23 hours and 41 minutes until the next service to the main Manchester stations. I'm not making this up.

So, the final day of services. Surely the excellent Northern Rail machine would have arranged an unending stream of razzmatazz to celebrate? A jazz band, perhaps. The staff in fancy dress. Garlands for all the happy commuters? Well, a more fitting tribute. The train was 50 minutes late and we had the pleasure of sitting on those terrible carriages with the bus doors. What are they? 30 years old.

The backdrop to this is that the City Council lost its Congestion Charge plebiscite by a landslide. Personally, I voted 'Yes'. The offer of £3 billion to restructure public transport in our region seemed like a gift we should not refuse; an opportunity of a lifetime. But that debate is for another time. The GMPTE is already sanctioning severe cuts to local services and forcing people onto the roads. Pathetic.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

One week to update

Thanks to everyone who left their comments after the entry below; please continue to leave messages about how the timetable changes will affect you. I bundled all the comments into a PDF file and sent them to the GMPTE (no reply) and to our MP Ruth Kelly (a 'we are keeping an eye on this' reply). More news as it develops.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

All change! (The short version).

Earlier, I wrote this long detailed version of the changes to the Blackrod timetable. If you have any thoughts on this, perhaps add them in the comments below. If you would like to join the e-mail list for the Friends of Blackrod Station (an occasional e-mail group to keep people informed of changes to the service), click here to send me an e-mail.

All change! (for the worse)

Facts and figures
Well, well, time to fire up the old blog again. And this time it's serious. Blackrod is seeing the most significant reduction in its train service in the 18 years which I have faithfully been descending the hill and climbing the bridge.

The rumours seemed to spread in early October when an A4 sheet with details of the new timetable were passed amongst morning commuters on the Manchester platform. It's a double whammy it seems for travelling into Manchester. The times are somewhat altered, but more importantly, rather than serving three city centre stations (Deansgate, Oxford Road and the area's main hub for onward travel, Manchester Piccadilly) in addition to the Airport and other destinations, most services will now go to Manchester Victoria.

The current morning services are scheduled to depart at: 0659, 0721, 0742, 0811 and 0900. Those with only shortish memories will recall that this already represents a poorer service to 2004 and earlier when there was also a 0842 service to get people into the city for a reasonable work time. We lost that battle and we are faced with further reductions to service.

The new times are 0710, 0721, 0740, 0810 and 0910 with only the second and third train of the day going via Piccadilly and the other trains (and in fact all trains later in the day going to Victoria).

So, the first train of the day is 11 minutes later than now – bad news for those making an early start. The second train is bizarrely only 11 minutes after the first and the 0900 is replaced by a less desirable alternative of 0910 for those hoping to reach Manchester for about half past nine.

Let's look at how individual services might be affected. Currently the 0811 is timetabled to take 36 minutes to reach Piccadilly (cue rye smiles from the weatherbeaten commuting community – but let's take that at face value for now). The new 0810 service needs a change at Bolton to arrive at Piccadilly at 0855 – 45 minutes or 25% longer. At least all the journey lengths are divisable by 9 to make my maths easier.

But, what chance of making this connection at Bolton? It's a 10 minute wait. In an earlier blog entry I reported that the last time I made a proper record of these things, 0% of trains arrived on time in Manchester and about 60% were within 10 minutes. I suspect things are better now, but it seems quite possible that this connection will be missed one or two days per week, leaving the next train from Bolton which arrives at Piccadilly at 0918, 68 minutes after leaving Blackrod; let's call that twice as long as at present (for pedants, it's a 89% increase in journey time).

Odd timing
Just this evening, I happened to see an advert on television which was a plug for the 'Yes' campaign for the current vote on the Congestion Charge. I recall getting the paperwork some weeks ago and I was pleased to see that Blackrod station had been coloured purple or crimson or some other hue which meant that it would be 'improved' in some way. This could mean anything from toilets to a coffee bar to a luxury lounge although if we are realistic we might get a revamped bridge (as we did in 2005) or possibly extra massive advertising hoardings as recently installed.

I've already voted 'Yes' and I've tried to convince skeptical friends and colleagues about why a congestion charge should work. I like the idea of public transport. Magnanimously, surely things will just work better if we keep off the roads. Selfishly, I get to work faster given that the alternative is the M61-M60 junction.

Allow me a short aside: Google Maps now has this interesting feature of tracking live traffic status; you can also look at typical traffic pattern at 8am in the morning at the bottom end of the M61. No-one is going anywhere.

So, bizarrely, commuters in our little village and its environs are being offered a poorer train service at the same time that the GMPTE are encouraging us to back the Congestion Charge and sending us booklets of chirpy clip-art people merrily getting on trains and trams and longboats. Actually, I'm not convinced by the canal option.

Even getting to the next station with a largely unaffected service – Horwich Parkway – means getting across Junction 6 of the M61. It's only a couple of miles between stations, but it would be necessary to allow 20 minutes and even then, parking at Horwich is infamously troublesome.

How have these proposed changes been communicated to the commuters of Blackrod? Trick question. They haven't. As of today, there is no poster on the drab station notice boards and although the formal voice of Blackrod travellers – the Friends of Blackrod Station – is on the case, chasing up Northern Trains and the GMPTE, this was only as a result of someone stumbling across the timetable changes and not due to some prior notice.

Next steps
Having sneaked in the new timetable, Northern Trains say that it's too late to make any changes. Very cunning. Despite months of planning (presumably), tell no-one until a couple of weeks before and then shrug the corporate shoulders when people complain. You know, the people who pay the wages and account for the profits (in addition to the GMPTE subsidy, naturally). E-mail correspondence with Northern Trains say that the situation will be monitored. I have asked how this monitoring will take place, but I have not received a reply as yet. One would think that a simple measure would be to count the number of morning passengers before and after the changes are implemented. This would require some sort of survey and anecdotal feedback suggests that this has not happened for some years. It's difficult to understand how anything will be monitored or even if this is seen as important to our railway masters.

Does the relegation of our station to 'just' a Victoria feeding station signal the start of a downward spiral? Sending trains to Manchester's smaller main station might be expected to see a reduction in passenger numbers with futher reductions to services in the future.

More news as things develop.

By the way
Services going the other way are similarly affected and the evening schedule is something of a mirror image of the morning situation. Potentially, you can download the timetable as a PDF from Northern Trains; this evening, no such timetable was available on their web site. Perhaps someone is trying to tell us something.

Friday, January 21, 2005

A Quick Reminder

Something of a flashback with the 17:15 train home from Manchester tonight. We limped into Oxford Road where suspicions were raised after we did not move for 10 minutes. Then the classic signs of trouble: driver emerging from his sanctum and walking up and down the train for no apparent reason and then the Grim Reaper himself - a fluorescent jacketed engineer clutching a torch and a screw driver. Hmmm.

But good news, the 17:33 has just pulled into the next platform and a mass exodous begins, although there has been no formal announcement from anyone. Just as the outpouring onto the platform begins, everyone starts to return to their still-warm seats. Everything is fixed, the rumour goes, and just after the 17:33 departs, we follow. Well, we get to Salford Crescent where the towel is thrown in and the train formally delared defunct.

Problems now for the Blackrod commuter. Although the 17:33 would have been fine, the 17:50 no longer stops at Blackrod, and we are faced with a long wait for the 18:10. I opt to board the 17:50 and arrange to be collected from Lostock where the train stops.

The good news about this is that it has been ages since we faced a number of problems and gaffes. And I decided to look up the records I took of November 2002 when things were at an all time low. If I were French, my response to a dire train service might have been to chain myself to the ticket office or to blockade one the entrances to Piccadilly somehow. But I am English, and my approach was to keep a spreadsheet in the knowledge that I could - but never would - use it as some sort of leverage or something.

Anyway, the spreadsheet shows that leaving from Blackrod in the morning that month, 0% of trains left on time and 88% within 10 minutes. Arriving at Piccadilly, 0% were on time and only 59% within 10 minutes. Coming home was even worse. One third of trains left on time and only 35% arrived at Blackrod within 10 minutes of schedule and 0% on time. This month included the famous events of November 4 when we pulled into Blackrod two hours late. Not bad for a 35 minute journey.

Things seem to have improved since then. Usually, the trains are vaguely on time, both in and out. Perhaps the new company, Northern Trains (motto: same staff, same trains, new ties) has something to do with this. Anyway, touching wood, hopefully the events of this evening will remain rare.