Monday, 23 February 2009

Greater Manchester rail travel comes under scrutiny

Rail travel in Greater Manchester has been criticised by watchdog groups and commuters over the past few days regarding rail prices and timetables. Recent research by rail watchdog Passenger Focus has found that season ticket prices in the region are the most expensive in the country outside of London. Similarly, research found that rail travel between Greater Manchester and London can be the most expensive, and also the cheapest, in Europe. This journey can be the cheapest as commuters can buy tickets at “buy in advance, one train only” low prices for journeys from Manchester to London, which equates to being cheaper than the prices Europeans pay to travel to Paris, Hamburg, Milan, Amsterdam, Madrid, Stockholm and Zurich. However, at the same time travelling at short notice or needing flexibility about the train you catch can be hugely expensive. For example, 25% of passengers buy a Manchester to London second class return of £247 by buying their tickets on the day, but only 10% manage to get the cheapest £26 return by booking in advance.

The research found that across all of Britain rail prices were 50% higher than in Europe, which the average cost of an unrestricted one day return ticket being nearly 3½ times that of the equivalent in France and Spain. This research came about as current Bolton South MP Ruth Kelly, when she was Transport Secretary, asked for an investigation into why passengers who were generally satisfied with their rail services still said they were poor value for money.

Similarly, the MEN have today reported that members of the Greater Manchester Integrated Transport Authority have been criticised for the way in which the ‘new winter timetable’ failed to be integrated quickly. The largest number of timetable changes to occur in Manchester in over 2 decades was introduced in January, e.g. 3 Virgin trains from Manchester to London per hour, aiming to provide faster journeys, more services and more room for harassed commuters. However, on the first day of changes alone Northern Rail had to cancel 123 trains, with 5 times as many letters of complaint as normal being received by Northern. It has been reported that it has taken until now for punctuality and cancellations to return to normal. GMPTE boss Michael Renshaw and Northern director Lee Wasnidge have defended the problems which have occurred, ensuring that intensive training for both maintenance staff and train crew members, in order to get accustomed to the new timetables and trains, was carried out thoroughly in advance to the changes being implemented.

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