A northbound Northern Rail service pauses at Settle en route to Carlisle (photo © hidden europe).
Revised rail timetables come into effect in Britain later this month with many train operators launching their summer schedules on Sunday 17 May. Here’s a run-down of some the main features of the new timetables in north-west England.
The chord at Todmorden opens to regular passenger traffic, allowing the introduction of a new direct train service from Manchester to Blackburn via Rochdale and Burnley. The route will not pull a lot of traffic from Manchester to Blackburn, for the existing route between the two towns via Bolton and Darwen is much shorter. But the new line is an important step in enhancing rail connectivity in East Lancashire, creating new links from Burney and Accrington to Rochdale and Manchester. The new service will run at hourly intervals seven days a week. Sunday trains will extend north beyond Blackburn to Clitheroe.
Sunday 17 May will see the reintroduction of the seasonal Sunday train from Blackpool North to Carlisle via Clitheroe and Settle. The service will run this year until Sunday 6 September
Elsewhere in north-west England, devotees of old-style services hauled by a diesel locomotive will delight at developments on the Cumbrian Coast route which sees the reintroduction of what rail fans will regard as ‘real trains’ rather than sprinter units. Operator Northern Rail is not doing this merely to play the nostalgia card. It’s more a question of providing extra capacity on the route from Carlisle to Barrow where there has often been standing room only on some trains. Four departures from Carlisle (daily except Sundays) will be operated by Class 37 locomotives hauling legacy carriages. The first loco-hauled trains will run on Monday 18 May.
For early birds, train 2C32 from Carlisle on Mondays to Fridays might well hold special appeal. This service is booked to leave Carlisle at 05.15 and runs beyond Barrow through to Preston, where it arrives at 09.35. It thus surely claims the record as this summer’s longest daytime journey entirely within England on a loco-hauled diesel train. Though it is not quite as long a ride as that offered on Arriva Wales 1W96 train, which takes 4 hrs 29 mins on a journey which criss-crosses the Anglo-Welsh border seven times en route from Cardiff to Holyhead via Shrewsbury.
There’s some juggling of rolling stock on routes from Manchester to the Lancashire coast and across the Pennines to Yorkshire. Operator TransPennine Express (TPE) is feeling the pinch as it loses some of its rolling stock to Chiltern Railways for use on that company’s new service from London Marylebone to Oxford Parkway which starts in October this year.
So TPE called for help from Northern Rail which will provide some trains for the busy TPE route from Manchester Airport to Blackpool North. The Northern trains (Class 156 in geek-speak) do offer more seats than the TPE units, but it’s a step down in comfort. There will be no first-class seating, no on-board service of refreshments and no seat reservations. It’s no surprise, perhaps, that Lancashire media are making a fuss about the North losing out to the South.
But the north-west of England is benefiting from major investment in its rail infrastructure. The North West Electrification Programme progresses apace with the focus this summer on the Manchester-Bolton-Preston corridor where engineering work is taking place in Farnworth Tunnel to prepare the route for electrification. Some services from Manchester to Preston will therefore be rerouted during the Farnworth Tunnel work.
The fruits of recent electrification in the region will be seen from later this month when Northern Rail introduces electric services between Wigan and Liverpool Lime Street and also between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool.
About The Authors
Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
Nicky and Susanne manage hidden europe, a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine. Nicky and Susanne are dedicated slow travellers and the authors of the book Europe by Rail: The Definitive Guide. The 17th edition of that book will be published in mid-April 2022. You'll find a list of outlets that sell the book on this website.