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SOUTHPORT TO MANCHESTER: Politicians campaign to save rail link

SOUTHPORT TO MANCHESTER: Politicians campaign to save rail link

Image: Google Maps

Conservative and Labour politicians have joined forces to campaign against Southport losing its direct rail link to Manchester Piccadilly.

New plans from the Department for Transport (DfT) to “improve rail performance in the north of England”, would give Southport a raw deal, according to many residents and representatives.

This isn’t the first time the service has faced the axe in recent years.

In 2018, Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said she had been handed emails showing high-ranking decision-makers discussed in private the aim to axe prominent routes – including the Southport to Manchester line.

One of the emails between DfT officials said: “So Southport-Leeds is not really a ‘valued’ connection from an evaluation point of view, but my conclusion was that on balance we should contract it basically as a sop to Southport, at a time when they will be losing their Piccadilly/Airport link.”

OPSTA’s (Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers’ Association) Piccadilly campaign started in 2015 in response to a previous consultation with similar aims.

The direct link between Southport and Manchester Airport was controversially withdrawn in May 2018, though a few peak services to Piccadilly were kept.

By December 2019, after campaigning by OPSTA, Southport MP Damien Moore, Cllr John Pugh, and others, a full service to Manchester Piccadilly had been reinstated.

But the Manchester Recovery Task Force (MRTF), led by the Department for Transport and Network Rail, has again tabled proposals that would see the rail link axed.

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram yesterday slammed the plans, saying: “For all of Boris Johnson’s talk about ‘levelling up’ across the North, cutting services like Southport to Manchester Piccadilly only leaves communities left behind.”

“We’ve already fought to save it once before but now the Conservatives are trying to slash this vital rail service once again, cutting the area off not just from south Manchester directly but also all the towns along the route.”

“I’m not going to settle for a second class service for our area – the government needs to be investing in and growing our railways, not cutting back.”

Mayor Rotheram has also thrown his weight being the “Hands Off” rail campaign started by local Labour councillors Greg Myers and Gordon Friel.

The pair launched a petition against the plans some weeks ago, which has now been signed by almost a thousand people.

The petition, which is supported by all of the town’s Labour councillors, and OPSTA, accuses the government and DfT of treating the town unfairly.

Mayor Rotheram added: “I’d encourage as many Southport residents and commuters as possible to get behind the “Hands Off” rail campaign so that the government gets the message loud and clear.”

Conservative MP for Southport, Damien Moore, and Labour MP for West Lancashire, Rosie Cooper, along with Lancashire County Council and OPSTA have written to the MRTF and rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris, arguing against the “simply unacceptable” proposals.

In their letter, the group said: “All three options propose the withdrawal of the direct Southport to Manchester Piccadilly service, which would mean the Southport line would be the only one to lose an entire route.

“This is simply unacceptable.”

The group proposes that a switch of Blackpool and Southport service and extension of Wigan North Western peak service to Blackpool could save the existing Southport-Piccadilly rail link.

Their letter continues: “The MRFT states in its outline consultation document that the proposed options are ‘to improve train performance in the Manchester area and beyond by altering the north of England rail timetable.’

“However, it is quite clear that the proposals are heavily biased toward the metropolitan communities in and around Manchester, leaving our constituents in Southport and West Lancashire respectively without a direct rail service.”

Southport Lib Dem Leader Cllr John Pugh says he believes the proposed changes to rail links are of no benefit to Southport.

Cllr Pugh said: “It is not unusual for southern based governments to overlook our needs. What is new is the false assumption that we are stupid enough not to notice”.

You can view the proposed timetable options in full at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/timetable-options-to-improve-rail-performance-in-the-north-of-england

Rail users can email their views to performancerecoverytaskforce@dft.gov.uk by March 10.

Words: Kate Lally, Local Democracy Reporter


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