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‘Complex solution’ devised to increase northern rail capacity

A “complex solution” has been devised by the Department for Transport (DfT), First TransPennine Express (FTPE) and Northern Rail to ‘maintain and increase capacity on key routes’ in the north. 

From 15 May, capacity on some services between Blackpool North and Manchester Airport/Manchester Oxford Road will be increased. 

In what a FTPE document called a “complex solution”, some of these services will be operated by four-car Class 156s, as opposed to three-car Class 185s. These will be branded as Northern Rail but will be operated by FTPE staff. 

There will be additional capacity on Cumbrian Coast services, but Northern Rail told RTM that the details of this are still “ongoing and we are awaiting confirmation”. 

It is expected, though, that longer trains will provide extra capacity to Carlisle, Maryport, Workington, Whitehaven, Sellafield and Barrow-in-Furness, with potential to create additional jobs. There will also be an enhanced early-morning service from Carlisle to Sellafield, arriving in time for the morning shift at the power station. 

Whilst frequency and capacity will be maintained on these services, FTPE said it will need to amend the direct services between Manchester Airport and Barrow-in-Furness, with some passengers needing to change at Preston or Lancaster. 

FTPE has also negotiated a way to hold on to four of the nine Class 170 diesels that are scheduled to be transferred to Chiltern Railways in May. FTPE will retain the four trains until February 2016 under an agreement with Porterbrook. 

Northern Rail is also to roll-out refreshed Class 319 electric trains, providing faster, smoother and greener journeys, on busy commuter routes between Liverpool and Manchester Victoria, via Newton le Willows, at a “faster rate than previously planned”. However, the electrification of this line has been beset with delays. 

In addition, an unconfirmed number of 319s will be rolled out on the Liverpool to Preston route in the autumn. This is expected to free up existing diesel trains to create additional capacity elsewhere on the north’s network.


Alex Hynes, managing director of Northern Rail, said: “Rail travel is increasingly popular in the north of England placing capacity at a premium. That is why we have been working with First TransPennine Express and the Department for Transport to ensure customers would not be disadvantaged by the loss of some FTPE trains.” 

FTPE added that whilst frequency will be maintained on its direct services between Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes, it will not be able to operate two direct services. Instead, customers for the 15.55 between Manchester Airport and Cleethorpes and the 16.26

Cleethorpes to Manchester Airport will need to change at Doncaster. There had been lots of local opposition for the potential to remove services on this route, as RTM previously reported

Nick Donovan, managing director for FTPE, said: “A great deal of background work has been undertaken by ourselves, Northern Rail and the DfT that seeks to ensure capacity and frequency of FTPE services across our network is maintained for the timetable change in May 2015.” 

Martin Abrams, the Campaign For Better Transport’s public transport campaigner, said: “We welcome this announcement. This will provide short-term relief for passengers using overcrowded trains. 

“The government now needs to use the refranchising of Northern Rail and TPE to guarantee investment better rail services right across the region, including a clear timetable for replacing the outdated Pacer trains.” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email [email protected]


John   09/01/2015 at 13:03

Absolute priority is to scrap the wretched Pacers! The Class 319's are getting equally gereatric! "Refreshed" - you mean a lick of paint and a deep clean and not much else!! It's disgraceful!

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