Southport could lose its direct rail link with Manchester Piccadilly, under new plans from the Department for Transport (DfT).
Southport BID has criticised the timing of a rail consultation, which could see the town lose one of its vital links to Manchester.
BID CEO Rachel Fitzgerald is now urging as many people as possible to give their views, to avoid the service being axed before passengers even realise it’s gone.
People are being presented with three options by the Manchester Rail Task Force led by the Department for Transport and Network Rail, that feature increasing levels of change from the pre-COVID service patterns.
The three options affect different routes, and which routes have direct services to Manchester Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations, and Manchester Airport.
Scheduled to be introduced in May 2022, they aim to “significantly improve overall reliability”. This could see the removal of the direct rail line from Southport to Deansgate, Oxford Road and Piccadilly stations in the south of the city centre, which was only recently restored following a fierce local campaign to save it.
A service to Manchester Victoria, in the north of the city centre would remain.
However, around two-thirds of regular commuters from Southport rely on the south side service which offers access to businesses, hospitals and onward connections to multiple other destinations, including Manchester Airport.
Southport BID CEO Rachel Fitzgerald said: “The decision by Manchester Rail Task Force to run this consultation during the middle of a national lockdown in the Covid pandemic, when the usual train services are not running and the vast majority of rail passengers are at home, is extremely disappointing.
“Normally, a consultation like this would record the views of thousands of rail users on board the trains between Southport and Manchester.
“With the current lockdown in place, lots of commuters and other passengers won’t even know that their rail service is under threat, until it is too late.
“We are asking all of the local businesses in Southport and everyone else in our town to give your views on this consultation. It is important that people’s voices are heard.”
Congestion in the region before the pandemic created regular delays to services around Manchester, with knock-on impacts to reliability across the North.
The Manchester Rail Task Force is looking to solve these issues and improve the reliability of rail services.
Southport BID CEO Rachel Fitzgerald said: “Good connectivity is absolutely critical to growing Southport’s economy in the years to come.
“We want to attract young professionals to come and live in the town, either taking advantage of opportunities here or choosing a great quality of life while commuting to cities such as Liverpool and Manchester.
“Recently, Southport BID was a key part in the submission of a £50million proposal to the Government through the Southport Town Deal.
“We want to reinvigorate Southport, attract more visitors and encourage more businesses to open here.
“But losing this connection to stations at Manchester Piccadilly, Deansgate and Oxford Road would be a huge blow.
“I think we all need to make our voices heard on this. People living in Southport now rely on this service to get to and from their jobs and visitors from Greater Manchester rely on it to get to and from Southport. I would urge as many people as possible to contribute to the public consultation.”
Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Travellers Association (OPSTA) Chair Alan Fantom said: “Many highly remunerated professionals make the daily journey from Southport to the south side of Manchester, as do many health and key workers. That’s why this route had far more value than the route to Manchester Victoria.
“There are also the onward connections to other places such as Manchester Airport and to other parts of the country. It would be a double-hit. The professionals who live in Southport and work in Manchester make a big contribution to our economy. How can we retain them, and attract more people to come and live here, if we cut connectivity.
“It also poses a risk to our visitor economy, people who want to visit Southport from other parts of the country would likely look to come via Piccadilly. Cutting the service would remove that option. There are other viable options for reducing congestion without having to cut this service.”
Deadline for submissions to the consultation is 11.59pm on Wednesday, March 10.