Manchester Oxford Road has been named the worst railway station in the country for delayed and cancelled trains.
A staggering 68 per cent of services – rising to 77 per cent at peak times – suffered delays between January and September this year, according to data compiled by consumer magazine Which? Five per cent of trains were cancelled altogether.
Travellers at Manchester Piccadilly were hardly more fortunate, suffering delays to 56 per cent of trains and four per cent service cancellations.
It’s hardly surprising, as both stations have faced the same problem for decades. But don’t expect dramatic improvements anytime soon because this time the train operating companies – Northern Rail and First TransPennine Express, whose new timetables caused chaos in the summer – are not primarily to blame.
The line linking through platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly and Oxford Road is one of the most congested rail bottlenecks in the UK. Plans to increase capacity by adding two extra through platforms at Piccadilly (earmarked 15 and 16) and redesign the layout at Oxford Road were a key part of the so called Northern Hub but are now in serious doubt.
When Transport Secretary Chris Grayling announced a pause in rail upgrades in the north last year, the spotlight was on the indefinite postponement of the electrification of the TransPennine route. But the upgrade of Piccadilly station was also put in jeopardy.
Last September’s strategic rail briefing by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority noted that Grayling had asked Network Rail to study whether digital technology could be used to deliver increased capacity at Piccadilly Station – two years after proposals for platforms 15 and 16 were submitted.
The briefing said that as part of the original Northern Hub proposal, significant infrastructure investment would see two additional platforms built at the station alongside enhancements made to the rail routes across the north.
“We are very concerned about the ongoing uncertainty associated with the scheme and what the recent announcements indicate, this central Manchester rail corridor is the busiest in Greater Manchester and a key route for services across the north.
“Piccadilly’s platforms 13 and 14 are congested today and passengers often suffer delays due to overcrowding. We must ensure that Piccadilly Station is sufficiently future proofed, not just for today’s passengers but a future generation where HS2 and Northern Powerhouse services convene.”
But the ‘Northern Hub’ was overtaken by the ‘Northern Snub’, as Grayling gave the go-ahead to London’s north-south Crossrail 2 within hours of announcing delays on upgrades for northern tracks.
Graham Stringer, MP for Blackley and Broughton and a member of the key House of Commons transport select committee said: “I personally asked the chief executive of Network Rail about the status of the proposed Piccadilly station upgrade.
“He said it was still on the cards, but building platforms 15 and 16 over Fairfield Street would be a massive and expensive engineering project. He said they were looking to see if high-tech signalling could ease the bottleneck – about which I am profoundly sceptical.
“I got more or less the same answer from Chris Grayling.”
When the Ordsall Chord bridge was opened last November, Network Rail promised new direct links to Manchester Airport from across the north of England, while at the same time claiming that congestion at Manchester Piccadilly would reduce by a quarter, with some services being rerouted through Manchester Victoria.
Reduced congestion at Piccadilly with trains from all over the north passing through en route to the airport seems more than ever like a strange prediction to the thousands of people crammed daily onto platforms 13 and 14 and at Oxford Road as their trains have to queue to pass through.