The Manchester commuters who say train timetable cuts are stopping them returning to office working
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Rail bosses are under pressure to reinstate a ‘full service’ from parts of Stockport to Manchester city centre - with angry commuters complaining of overcrowded trains and a timetable that makes juggling work and family commitments a near impossibility.
Northern has cut the number of trains between New Mills and Manchester Piccadilly at peak times – a move campaigners say is causing ‘real issues’ for commuters in places such as Marple, Bredbury and Reddish.
Cuts to services on the Buxton line are also affecting those in Disley, Hazel Grove and central Stockport.
Northern says it recognises some customers are ‘disappointed’ with the number of services but has prioritised routes with the highest customer demand.
To date, more than 1,200 people have signed a petition demanding the operator – which was taken into public ownership in 2020 after years of failings – ‘restores a full timetable between New Mills and Buxton and Manchester Piccadilly’.
Marple resident Claire Vibert, who launched the petition, says the cuts are having a big impact on commuters who are missing work meetings and struggling to get back home to collect children, while finding the remaining services ‘increasingly packed, making the journey unpleasant and less safe’.
“The expectation from employers is that they will go back to the office, but the train services are not allowing people to do that,” she said.
“Or they are pushed into their cars, which is counter-intuitive when we are trying to reduce emissions and traffic.”
Among those affected is Lou Harvey, from Marple Bridge, who commutes twice a week to BUPA’s head office at Media City.
Lou, says the new timetable makes it far more difficult to drop her two young children at nursery and make it into work on time
“You have one option, where you have to drop off at nursery really early to even be able to make it in for 9am,” says the director of proposition development.
“There used to be three an hour – it’s one now. That key drop-off time when you are dropping off kids is when they have cut services down. It’s mad.”
Lou, who lives in Marple Bridge with her children and business-owner husband, says services are reasonably reliable ‘but if there’s a chance it might be cancelled you can’t risk it if you have a meeting’.
“It’s pretty rubbish,” she adds.
“You’re constantly sweating, panicking that you are throwing them into a nursery without seeing them off properly because you have such limited time.”
And she says the other end of the working day is ‘just as bad’.
“You get that last train back to get them to after-school clubs. There’s one service that gets you in from Marple. There’s a lot of people that get that train, it’s always busy, it doesn’t make sense.
“They have not considered working parents at all, I think that’s the key. It’s all very well if you have not got those responsibilities, but you can’t be flexible when you have other things to do.”
Jen Lewis, also from Marple Bridge, is in a similar position.
“I commute to Manchester for work, my husband does as well,” says Jen, a lawyer.
“We have two primary school-age children so we juggle the work commute and picking up the kids between the two of us – which we have always been able to do really well.”
The 44-year-old says she and her husband – a civil servant – chose to live in Marple Bridge because it had good rail links to the city centre. But changes to the timetable have made life much more difficult.
Whereas there was previously a train at 7.30am, this has now been scrapped. The 7.51am is not early enough, so she has to get the 7.02am instead.
“Most people will aim for that,” says Jen. “ It’s so busy because there hasn’t been a train for basically 50 minutes at quite a key time of the morning. If you want to get in for half-eight, that’s one you have got to get, there’s no other option.”
In order to get her children to after school activities, Jen needs to leave work at 3.30pm for a 3.50pm train from Picaddilly. The next train after that is 4.50pm, whereas there was previously a service at 4.20pm.
But she says that, if that sevice is cancelled, the next one is inevitably ‘rammed’ with everyone trying to get on to the same train.
“If I could rely on the ones they put on it would be – not okay, but fine – but they cancel them all the time, or they are running late all the time. It used to be 20 minutes at rush hour, then 30 minutes during the day if you missed one.
“Sometimes you would try to get the one beforehand in case that one got cancelled, but now there’s no slack in the system.”
And while she wants to go back to office working, she is finding it virtually impossible to commute and meet her family commitments on the same day.
“My husband and myself switch that between us because we can’t rely on the trains to come back and pick the kids up,” she says.
“It’s just not practical. We work really flexible jobs, but there must be people who work fixed hours who find it completely impossible. I don’t know how you would manage.”
Meanwhile, Alex Blenkhorn, from Reddish, is also finding his twice-weekly commuting to the city city centre fraught with difficulties.
While the dad-of-two is happy to have seen the back of the old Pacer trains, he says problems with overcrowding and not enough carriages remain.
And with fewer services, he says it only takes a ‘small disruption’ to have a significant impact.
“For example, the other day there was an issue on the Stockport line, which meant lots of people couldn’t get on at Stockport or Reddish. Therefore, there were two trains’ worth [of passengers] trying to get on one train,” he says.
“Some people were unable to get on, while others resorted to ‘packing themselves in ‘very, very tightly’ – uncomfortable and potentially a risk to health with Covid still in circulation.
“It’s just not great in terms of trying to get yourself set up for the day,” adds Alex. “I try to work on the train, but you literally can’t move to open your laptop up, or it’s really uncomfortable.
“It’s not a suitable working environment. It nullifies the fact there is wi-fi on the train.”
What Northern said?
Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, has responded to commuters’ grievances.
He said: “We recognise that some of our customers are disappointed with the number of services between New Mills & Buxton and Manchester Piccadilly.
“The new timetables are designed to deliver high levels of reliability.
“We’ve made decisions about our timetables based on the levels of resource we have available. We’ve then prioritised the routes with the highest customer demand, and which support the region’s economic growth.”