The train times, they are a-changin’

Northern Rail Class 319 at Lime Street station

It may have passed some people by, but there are sweeping changes coming next week to train services across the Northern and Transpennine rail franchises. If you travel on either of those train companies, your train is almost certainly changing from next week. Some trains are retimed, some are rerouted, some will disappear entirely and there will be some new services too.

Cover of Northern Rail timetable Liverpool-Blackpool

The new timetable depended on Network Rail completing electrification works between Wigan and Bolton, allowing electric trains to take over from diesels. With depressing predictability, the works have overrun massively and will not be completed in time, which has forced the timetable planners to go back to square one. The resulting May 2018 timetable is a bodge job compromise, with some of the planned changes deferred until December 2018, and other services amended temporarily which will change again in six months’ time.

I’ve pored over the new timetables, available on the Transpennine Express and Northern websites, and found the biggest changes. Services across the whole north of England will change, but I have focused on Merseyside and the surrounding areas. Other areas will also see big changes, particularly in central Manchester where the new Ordsall Chord link will see several new journey opportunities opened up. As always with major changes of this kind, some people will benefit and others will find their journeys now take longer than before.

THE WINNERS

Liverpool-Blackpool becomes a through service once more. The service was split at Preston several years ago to free up diesel trains for use elsewhere. However, the Blackpool North line has now been electrified, allowing the service to be operated throughout with electric trains. Prospective passengers beware: the Blackpool line is somewhat chaotic at the moment, as driver shortages have been causing cancellations on a daily basis. Check before you travel, as they say.

Ormskirk-Preston sees an increase in frequency from a train every 90 minutes to a roughly hourly service. Still no Sunday service on this line, but every little helps.

Transpennine Class 185 at Liverpool Lime Street

Transpennine Express services from Liverpool to Leeds and beyond will see a speed increase, as all services are now routed via the faster Chat Moss route, rather than the slower Cheshire Lines route via Warrington Central. Liverpool to Manchester Victoria will get two express trains an hour for most of the day, taking around 35 minutes with stops at Newton-le-Willows or – controversially – Lea Green.

THE LOSERS

St Helens Junction and Wavertree Technology Park lose their fast train service to Manchester. These stations will be served only by slower stopping services. The downgrade of St Helens Junction is controversial, especially as a lot of money has recently been spent expanding the car park. However, Lea Green supposedly has better road links to the surrounding area and was chosen over St Helens to receive a call by the new Transpennine Express service.

Southport loses its direct trains to Manchester Airport and most of its services to Manchester Piccadilly – the main service now runs to and from Manchester Victoria. It should still be possible to reach Piccadilly and the Airport by changing trains at Manchester Victoria and travelling via the Ordsall Chord, but many Southport commuters are understandably unhappy.

Warrington Central, Liverpool South Parkway and Birchwood are disconnected from the Transpennine Express network, as the Liverpool-Scarborough service is diverted to run via Manchester Victoria. The TPE service is replaced by a new express service to Manchester Airport, operated by Northern and running at roughly the same times between Liverpool and Manchester. In theory that’s fine, but Northern is currently being blighted by industrial action which has caused severe disruption to services. There is also a distinct possibility, of course, that a Pacer will turn up one morning – a bit of a step down from a Class 185.

There’s a further complication for Liverpool passengers. Only a week after this new timetable starts, Lime Street station closes for eight weeks of upgrade work. Don’t get caught out – head to the National Rail journey planner and look up your new train times now!

Culture, Clubbed

UK: “Brexit means Brexit”
EU: “OK, you can’t be in the Capital of Culture contest any more.”
UK: “Wah, not like that!”

The website Politico had a minor scoop on its hands this morning, after it got hold of a leaked letter from the European Commission stating that the UK can no longer be part of European Capital of Culture.

What is amazing is how so many reputable news organisations (and Sky News) happily went along with the meme that rapidly developed on Twitter, implying this was a pure act of spite by the European Commission.

The above tweet is rather disingenuous. The rules are perfectly clear: to host the festivities, a country must be in the EU, or part of the EEA/EFTA, or be a candidate for membership. The “outside the EU” countries that have previously hosted have all met those requirements.

I will concede that the timing of the EC’s letter is poor, coming after the five potential host cities spent hundreds of thousands of pounds on bids. However, the UK government did warn last year that Brexit may have an impact on the bids. And given the reckless way the UK has been pursuing its exit, determined to take the UK out of any organisation with the letters E-U-R-O in its name, it can’t be too surprising that the European Commission have pulled the plug. Better now than in 2019 when even more money has been spent, I suppose.

Liverpool, of course, was the last (possibly ever) European Capital of Culture in the UK. I remember the joy I felt listening to the radio when the announcement was made in 2003. Five years later, I was shivering in the crowd outside St George’s Hall to watch the opening ceremony. Giant spiders, Paul McCartney playing Anfield, The MTV Europe Music Awards and many more events, large and small, contributed to a wonderful year.

Small wonder that studies after the event put the benefit to the local region at £750 million, not to mention the boost to the city’s image. It made a refreshing change to see camera crews in the city who were not doing yet another report on social deprivation. The benefits are still being felt nearly 10 years later.

On a personal level, the boost to my own opinion of my home town was incalculable. The received wisdom was that you had to move away from Liverpool to be a success at anything. That changed for me after 2008. Suddenly, it felt like anything was possible in this city (except Everton winning a title).

Thanks to myopic, shortsighted attitudes, no other city will receive that same boost to its economy and cultural life. It’s a sad indicator of what this country will lose by turning its back on Europe.

I do want to write a longer post on Brexit at some point. I need to get to the point where I can think about it without becoming angry and tearful, so you may be waiting some time.

Enjoy the little things

It’s fair to say the last few months have been a bit tough for me. I thought the end of Open University work would remove my main source of stress, but issues at work, worries over the clusterfuck that is Brexit, and various other issues have conspired to make me decidedly unhappy.

Yesterday I went for a long walk, all the way from my house in Aigburth into Liverpool city centre, a distance of about 7.5 km. I used to do this all the time before I got buried under the pressure of studying, so it was good to get back onto the riverside for the 90 minute stroll along Otterspool Promenade. Despite being October, the sun was shining and it was warm enough to not wear a coat. I breathed deeply, inhaling the fresh air.

My walk ended at the Albert Dock, where I stopped for a rest and a coffee. Rather than feeling tired, I actually felt invigorated. Walking through the dock complex, my ears detected a real mix of languages and accents: American, Polish, German, an Arabic dialect, as well as pure Scouse. All these people, visitors and locals alike, had one thing in common: they were enjoying all that the City of Liverpool has to offer. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride.

View of waterfront buildings including the Museum of Liverpool and Albert Dock

For one afternoon, life’s problems took a back seat and I was able to focus on the enjoyment I was feeling in that moment. I got home later that afternoon feeling more cheerful than I had felt in a long time. The phrase “you need to get out more” has never been more accurate.