LOCAL MPs Andrew Gwynne and Jonathan Reynolds have welcomed the decision by Northern to reverse their plans to temporarily stop all services on the Rose Hill Marple-Manchester Piccadilly line.
Northern Rail had previously advised that the service would be suspended on a ‘temporary basis’ from September 14 to December 14.
It would have left the 100,000 passengers which use Hyde Central annually and those who travel from Hyde North and Fairfield needing to find an alternative means of travel.
MPs Mr Gwynne, Mr Reynolds and William Wragg (Conservative, Hazel Grove) put party politics aside to try and get the decision reversed along with Audenshaw councillors Oliver Ryan, Teresa Smith and Charlotte Martin and Stockport’s transport lead Cllr David Meller.
During an adjournment debate in Parliament on Thursday, September 10, secured by Mr Wragg, Transport Minister Chris Heaton-Harris announced that from October 26, Northern intends to introduce a temporary 90-minute interval service from Rose Hill to Manchester across the day and ending in the evening.
The intention is still to return to the full service at normal levels in December.
Mr Gwynne said: “Whilst we would all like to have seen an immediate return to the full service, this is very welcome news for many of my constituents who rely on this service.
“I am particularly happy that trains will continue to call at Fairfield Station, in my constituency, but the Rose Hill to Manchester service is also important for those in Haughton Green who use Hyde Central station.
“Temporary closure would also have caused extra pressure on the line through Reddish North, which has thankfully been avoided.
“This was a great example of cross-party working and I’m sure that we will all be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that Northern resumes a full service from mid-December as promised.”
Mr Reynolds said: “Together with Andrew Gwynne and William Wragg, who both have affected stations, I have worked tirelessly to oppose these botched station closures since the moment we heard about it.
“I am thrilled the minister has listened and reconsidered. The last thing we need this year with the pressing challenges of Covid-19 is greater barriers to getting to work or school or welcoming shoppers to town.”
Mr Reynolds had earlier been reassured the future of the railway line is not under threat.
The decision to close the line for three months left passengers angry and bemused as they had to find an alternative means of travel to the fury of the four MPs whose constituencies the line dissects. It also affects the Gorton MP Afzal Khan.
A petition organised by Stockport’s Liberal Democrat group against the proposals has been signed by more than 5,000 people.
Hyde will still be served by Godley, Newton and Flowery Field which are on the Glossop line.
Mr Reynolds and Mr Wragg met Mr Heaton-Harris and Northern managing director Nick Donovan to discuss the situation.
He said: “The decision came out of nowhere and my constituency is worst affected as 100,000 passengers use Hyde Central each year.
“I have always felt this line is the poor relation of local services compared to the Huddersfield and Glossop lines.
“I was worried it might go the same way as the Stockport to Stalybridge service which was cut back to one train a week.”Mr Reynolds added he was assured the suspension was nothing to do with money or funding but was forced upon the rail company through a shortage of drivers for this line.
He was also promised a full service will be restored as soon as possible.
Mr Reynolds continued: “I am not entirely happy but am happier than when the news dropped.
“I have been given an assurance over the future of the service from Northern’s MD who was very apologetic.
“It has not been handled well and does not send the right message to commuters at a time when rail companies are trying to get passengers back.”
Mr Reynolds added he had suggested just operating a rush-hour service on the line, but he was told it was not possible as Northern did not have the drivers to man the trains.
There was an earlier meeting involving the three MPs, Cllr Mellor and Northern.
The MPs feared a wider concern that Northern regards the route as ‘expendable’ rather than an ‘asset’.
Mr Gwynne said: “We expressed the strongest concerns and objections to the temporary closure of the Rose Hill, Marple, to Piccadilly line, and will continue to do so with the Rail Minister when Parliament resumes.
“In terms of the meeting, Northern explained their staff shortage problems arising from Covid-19.
We pushed them on several issues relating to this, including the possibility of redeploying drivers from other lines. Northern’s position remains unchanged.”
Mr Gwynne pointed out they achieved some “minor successes” at their online meeting. He added the situation is “far from ideal but assurances have been given”.
• Northern clarified that the situation is temporary and not part of an attempt to remove services. Northern has set December 14 for the restoration of services and will seek to bring them back earlier if the staffing situation improves.
• The stations will be refurbished during the period they are not in use so hopefully there will be a better passenger experience for users once the services are back.
• Northern and Metrolink have come to an agreement that Fairfield users’ tickets will be accepted on the tram services through Droylsden.
• At Mr Gwynne’s request, Northern is in dialogue with Stagecoach Manchester to try and arrange for rail ticket acceptance on bus services from Haughton Green for Denton users of Hyde Central.
• Northern is confident that any patronage shift from Rose Hill onto the New Mills line, through Reddish North, can be accommodated safely on the current lower numbers using train services, and will monitor this and report back to ensure Reddish North passengers will not be adversely affected.
• Refunds for tickets already purchased will be provided at no charge for anybody not wishing to use the alternatives in place.
The service from Rose Hill, Marple, stops at Romiley, Marple and Woodley in Stockport, as well as Hyde Central, Hyde North and Fairfield in Tameside.
Northern has provided an hourly shuttle bus from Rose Hill to Romiley for passengers to connect with an alternative service with an additional stop at Woodley in the morning and evening to help children get to school.
The rail company added the ‘tough decision’ was taken due to the continuing impact of Covid-19, with many staff classed as vulnerable and a training backlog affecting the number of drivers available.
Northern, which was brought under Government control in March after years of disruption, added it will be ‘some time’ before services return to pre-Covid levels.
Northern’s regional director Chris Jackson said the coronavirus pandemic has had a ‘significant impact’ on society, including on the railway.
“We have done all we can to continue to provide the best possible service across the network but we still have members of staff shielding and the knock-on effects of the virus will be felt for many months,” he added.
“As we work towards reintroducing services and re-instate our driving training programme, we have had to make some very tough decisions and one of those is to suspend our timetable to and from Rose Hill.
“This will provide the flexibility amongst train crew and trains themselves to protect the reliability of services across the rest of Manchester and beyond.
“I completely understand this may frustrate customers on that route, but it was chosen carefully as the route has other excellent public transport links and several nearby stations which will still have a good service to and from Manchester.”