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Rail industry takes responsibility for recent problems on Bolton corridor

23 November 2017
Northern and Network Rail have today (Thursday) outlined the ongoing issues which are impacting on rail services in and around Bolton.

Customers in the town have faced delays, cancellations and capacity issues this year, as well as experiencing disruption while upgrades are delivered to enable greener, quieter and more reliable services between Manchester and Preston, via Bolton.

Such issues have continued in recent weeks and have been made worse by adverse autumn weather.

Liam Sumpter, Regional Director at Northern, said: “I want to apologise to our customers for the poor service and overcrowded conditions they have endured when travelling to and from Bolton.

“I understand that the ‘leaves on the line’ explanation irritates customers and is often seen as a convenient excuse, but from a technical perspective, this autumn has been particularly challenging. The operational difficulties the weather and falling leaves create for all train operators cannot be underestimated.

“Our train drivers have to exercise extra caution to ensure they approach junctions and stations safely due to slippery conditions created by the build-up of leaves on the tracks.”

Liam added: “The autumn conditions have also put extra pressure on the maintenance schedule of our fleet. A significant number of trains have had to be taken out of service for wheel repairs following damage caused as a result of leaves on the line. This has directly affected the number of trains we have been able to operate and, subsequently, the capacity we have been able to offer. Customers can be assured though that we always put all available trains out on the network.

"We know the fleet is really stretched so we are working hard on increasing our capacity through the introduction of 281 brand new carriages which were ordered last year and remain on target to start arriving from late next year. 

“Thankfully, with autumn almost over, we expect to see some improvements in the coming weeks and once Network Rail have completed the electrification work we can look forward to more improvements. In the mean time, I would like to apologise once again and ensure you that we are working to improve things for everyone on the Bolton line And we are working to increase our capacity with refurbished trains and the introduction of our brand new carriages."

Network Rail has also faced poor ground conditions along the Bolton corridor as it continues to work to complete the Manchester – Preston line upgrade in 2018.

These works are a key strand of the Great North Rail Project, an industry team effort to transform train travel across the North that will give customers greener, quieter and more reliable services across the 25 mile stretch.

The project was due to complete this December, but poor ground conditions - old mine workings, running sand and varying layers of rock, as well as emergency repairs to Moses Gate bridge, have significantly hampered the laying of steel columns to carry the power cables for the introduction of electric trains.

Duncan Law, Network Rail scheme sponsor for the Preston-via Bolton-to-Manchester route upgrade, said: “We’ve encountered challenges and we are working to combat those challenges.

“Ourselves, Northern, TransPennine Express, the Department of Transport and Rail North are working as one rail industry team to bring lasting improvements for fare-paying customers and freight companies.

“The short-term pain of disruption and crowding will give rise to the long-term gain of transformed train travel for local people in the future.”

The team have been working hard to find alternative methods which will now see steel cylinders inserted in the ground and filled with concrete to prevent any collapse.

To make up time where it has been lost, engineers will be working around the clock between January and May 2018. This will mean more overnight working, as well as some week and weekend closures of the railway in the New Year.

Currently, train and freight train operators are working hard with Network Rail to agree railway access that is the least disruptive to passengers. Once confirmed, passengers and lineside neighbours will be notified.

Building on the improvement work being delivered by the Great North Rail Project, Northern is also undertaking a major train refurbishment programme to improve and modernise its entire fleet.

This will provide an enhanced on train customer offering for Bolton customers, including free WiFi on all trains.

The manufacture of the company’s brand new fleet of 98 trains is on time, and with the new trains being phased in across the network over the next three years, there will ultimately be more capacity across Northern’s network, including between Bolton – Manchester.

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