CALLS are being made for the Prime Minister to maintain vital rail services between Southport and Manchester.
A cross-party group of MPs and community leaders have come together to safeguard essential rail services that serve half a million people in the North West.
The MPs for Southport, Damien Moore and West Lancashire, Rosie Cooper, as well as Lancashire County Council and rail campaign group OPSTA are all calling for the direct train lines to be saved between Southport and the south of Manchester city centre.
The Manchester Task Force, led by the Department for Transport and Network Rail, is running a consultation giving people three options over how the network can best cope with increasing levels of change from the pre-COVID service patterns. The consultation runs until March 10.
All three options call for changes that could lead to Southport services no longer calling at stations to the south of the city including Piccadilly, Deansgate and Oxford Road, instead being directed by Manchester Victoria in the north of the city. People in the region are being urged to reply to the consultation and object to the proposals.
Southport MP Damien Moore appeared at Prime Minister’s Questions recently, when he asked for “unacceptable” proposals to the line to be scrapped.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions Mr Moore said: “The Prime Minister knows how important that the rail link between Southport and Manchester Piccadilly is for my constituents and for those living in the wider Lancashire area.
“All of the changes put forward by the Manchester Rail Recovery Task Force are unacceptable. They would stop these services from happening and take our levelling up agenda off track.
“Would my Right Honourable Friend (the Prime Minister) meet with me to discuss changes to these proposals so that we can keep this service and keep my constituents with the service they have come to rely on and which is vital to their economy?”
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson replied: “I congratulate my Right Honourable Friend for his campaign for better local transport.
“We are investing massively in rail connectivity in his area, in local bus routes, and the particular line that he advocates is one that I know is of great interest to the Secretary of State for Transport and I will make sure he has a chance to discuss this personally with him.”
Southport Conservative MP Damien Moore; West Lancashire Labour MP Rosie Cooper; Lancashire County Council Leader Cllr Geoff Driver; and Ormskirk, Preston and Southport Traveller’s Association spokesperson Alan Fantom have written to the Manchester Task Force and to the Minister of State for Railways Chris Heaton-Harris arguing against the “simply unacceptable” proposals.
The campaigners previously won a campaign to save the same line when it was withdrawn in January 2018, with the line only reinstated in December 2019.
Their research discovered that journeys to Manchester were destination specific to one of the five city centre stations for reasons of work, business, study, health, leisure and in the case of Piccadilly connections to the rest of the country. Two thirds of Southport and Lancashire residents travelling to Manchester used and required the south side service.
Damien Moore, Rosie Cooper, Geoff Driver and Alan Fanton have instead put forward an alternative option: a switch of a Blackpool and Southport service and extension of Wigan North Western peak service to Blackpool which would save the existing services.
They said: “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 Task Forces’ 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.”