The new, cut-price plan to deal with Manchester’s rail chaos

After years of waiting Manchester will finally be getting an apparent solution to the rail gridlock that cripples our transport system - but it won't be the fix we were promised.

Instead of adding new platforms at Piccadilly station, two platforms could be removed from Manchester's Oxford Road, as part of a new attempt to deal with the capacity problem that plagues trains coming in and out of the city centre.

It's part of what Rail bosses is calling a 'new approach' to reducing congestion on the region's railways. They say the previous plans for platforms 15 and 16 at Piccadilly[1] which date back more than a decade would be 'hugely expensive' and 'incredibly disruptive' – despite past promises that they would be built in a bid to fix the chaos on our trains.

Local leaders say the North has been 'left in limbo' for too long, demanding an alternative plan to increase capacity on the trains is drawn up immediately. It comes as rail minister Huw Merriman visited Manchester Victoria station today (May 25) to announce £72m worth of upgrades to the region's railways.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said, he only discovered yesterday (May 24) that the plans for new platforms at Piccadilly have been withdrawn. The Labour said that investment is welcome, but it will not solve the current rail capacity problems in the city centre.

He said: "What we need is a coherent plan for the railways in Manchester city centre because as long as it isn't solved, it will mean misery for people here and it will mean misery for people across the North – it's not good enough."

Minister of State for Transport Huw Merriman MP visits Manchester's Victoria Station to announce an additional £72 million to boost train servIces in Manchester and the north. Left to right: Network Rail's Tim Shoveller, rail minister Huw Merriman and mayor Andy Burnham

The £72m package will pay for a third platform at Salford Crescent station as well as improvements to existing platforms at Manchester's Victoria station. New 'turnback tracks' will also be built near Salford Central and Victoria in the hope that this helps reduce delays, bottlenecks and overcrowding at stations.

But Manchester council leader Bev Craig said congestion on the Castlefield Corridor still needs to be addressed. She has demanded an urgent plan to fix the long-term problem which she said 'clogs up' the whole of the North West.

Mr Burnham, who met the rail minister at Victoria station, said he was sceptical about the 'new approach'.

Oxford Road Train Station

He said: "What I would say to [the minister] is, don't take a plan off the table if you've not got another one to put back on because people, particularly in the North when it comes to railways, will just be suspicious about that."

Mr Merriman said, although the application for new platforms at Piccadilly has been withdrawn, plans to redevelop Oxford Road station will still be looked at. However, Network Rail revealed that this could involve removing platforms.

Tim Shoveller, who is the managing director for the North West and Central region at Network Rail, said replacing the four existing platforms at Oxford Road with two long platforms and a turnback platform in the middle would be the quickest way of making trains more reliable for passengers in Manchester. He did not rule out revisiting the Piccadilly plans, but said this is not a priority.

Minister of State for Transport Huw Merriman MP visits Manchester's Victoria Station to announce an additional £72 million to boost train servIces in Manchester and the north. Rail minister Huw Merriman met mayor Andy Burnham at Manchester Victoria

He said: "If you just stand at Manchester Piccadilly and imagine the disruption that would be necessary to build two new platforms alongside the two that are there now. It's up an embankment, it's raised on a 1960s concrete structure.

"It would be the most incredible feat of engineering. It would be hugely expensive and incredibly disruptive. No one in Manchester would thank us for building that right now. It is not the priority."

Mr Shoveller said the 'real priority' is about addressing the 'complexity of the junctions' at either end of the Castlefield Corridor, not the platforms at Oxford Road and Piccadilly which he described as a 'minor element' of the problem. But Mr Burnham said building the platforms 15 and 16 made 'complete sense'.

Northern Powerhouse Partnership chief executive Henri Murison said: "In May 2018, the rail industry and government tried to run more trains through the Castlefield Corridor than its infrastructure could cope with and today's announcement is still short of what was supposed to be in place then, half a decade ago. The Ordsall Chord is an iconic piece of Manchester's skyline but it was only ever meant to be part of the long promised major upgrades supposed to be well in advance of full Northern Powerhouse Rail east to west.

"These incremental investments may bring some benefits but key northern cities like Sheffield still lack direct access to Manchester Airport, our long-haul hub. We cannot fail to be disappointed that plans for two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly, which have been on the cards for so long have been dropped by the government without equivalent commitments."

Minister of State for Transport Huw Merriman MP visits Manchester's Victoria Station to announce an additional £72 million to boost train servIces in Manchester and the north. The £72m package will pay for a new platform at Salford Crescent and improvements at Victoria

The rail minister told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that he wants Manchester to get 'more than its fair share' or rail investment. And he rejected claims that the £96bn Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands is a 'cut-price' plan, saying that this is 'the largest intervention that's ever been made'.

He said: "The investment is coming here to the North. It's just important we focus on the here and now and the changes that will really impact passengers right now as well as these longer term projects which we're committed to delivering."

He added: "In the future, we will of course be looking at Piccadilly station because Piccadilly is going to be home of Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2."


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