Friday, 19 December 2008

West Coast Upgrade Claims Challenged

Lancaster's local Rail User Group has challenged the claims made in recent announcements about completion of the West Coast mainline, as line closures continue in the area at weekends and changes to local train services which are causing problems for local commuters.

Last month, virtual-lancaster reported how the Secretary of State for the Department for Transport Geoff Hoon had agreed to meet with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith to discuss changes to local train times which could see commuters forced back onto Lancaster's already congested network.

"Only today I have been speaking to TransPennine Express trying to get some truth about the upgrade," Mike Machin tells virtual-lancaster. "Whilst we as a Rail User Group very much welcome the improved journey times, we locally cannot accept that the upgrade is complete.

"Only six weeks back I was at a meeting where Network Rail told us that from December we would have a six & a half day railway," he expanded. "However, looking at the new timetables, from 31 January until 16 May at week-ends we see that between Preston and Glasgow or Edinburgh we have buses operating between some stations. For instance from 31 January to 21 March buses will convey passengers between Lancaster and Lockerbie."

Machin is concerned the race to publicise completion of the upgrade has gotten ahead of reality. "In interviews over the past week Network Rail have given the impression that the upgrade is complete, and that the line will only be closed for routine maintenance. However, in this area we have had this sort of week end disruption for over five years now. If the upgrade is complete, why is it necessary to have blockades at weekends so soon?

"I have done interviews for Radio Lancashire and the local press and they also obtained interviews with Network Rail who are still saying the upgrade is complete. I am therefore doing my utmost to publicise this situation for the benefit of the public travelling at weekends.

Local timetable changes also seem to be having the feared affect on passenger numbers previously reported, which local MP Geraldine Smith raised in Parliament in November.

"Concerning the local issue of trains between Morecambe and Lancaster in the morning commuter period, I did a passenger count on Wednesday on the one train arriving in Lancaster between 8 and 9.00 am," Machin says. "The one leaving Morecambe at 08-11 and had 10 more passengers on as opposed to the old 08-05 departure, begging the question -- where have the 70 to 80 passengers gone who used to catch the 08-33 departure? Are they now catching the train arriving in Lancaster at 09-03 or have they moved to using cars and thereby creating more traffic in Lancaster?

"Unfortunately it will now be January before I am able to do a passenger count on both trains to get a more realistic view of the situation."

virtual-lancaster will bring you thr results of Michael's counts as we get them and any conclusions the Rail Users Group can draw from them when they have taken place. He is also hopeing to meet with the Department for Transport soon to discuss the situation.

• For more information about Lancaster & Morecambe Rail User Group contact Michael via

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