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Manchester Rail commuters asked what do you want for Xmas? A New Train Set or a Cowboy Outfit?

news release

Father Christmas will greet passengers at Manchester Victoria Station and ask them to choose what they want for Christmas – a new train set or a cowboy outfit. He will be joined by Friends of the Earth campaigners dressed as a cowboy (representing a poorly-run and inefficient train company), and a schoolboy clasping a large Christmas parcel and a working model train set.

Father Christmas will visit Manchester Victoria Station between 7.30 and 9.30am on Monday (16th December) to ask commuters what sort of railway service they would like – a new train set or a cowboy outfit for Christmas?

The Manchester Friends of the Earth action coincides with key decisions by the Government’s Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) being made about the new Northern rail franchise [1]. This will decide the level and quality of rail services that passengers will be given over the next 15 years, and who will run them. Friends of the Earth will give passengers an easy opportunity to have their say by signing a letter to the SRA’s Chairman, also available on Friends of the Earth’s website [2].

Manchester Friends of the Earth believes that rail passengers have had to put up with a poor service for too long. In October 2001, Arriva Trains Northern was fined £2 million for  poor service [3]. Commenting on First North Western (FNW), the Rail Passenger Committee for NorthWestern England, the statutory passenger watchdog, in its annual report published earlier this year [4], stated that “a significant number of regular users have been let down by overcrowded, late-running or cancelled trains. Overall, trust in the ability of FNW to provide consistently comfortable, punctual, reliable services remains low”. Looking specifically at Manchester commuter services, it says that “passengers on these routes … have been badly served and have lost confidence in FNW’s ability to get them to their destination on time”

Manchester needs:
·  Upgrade of Manchester Piccadilly-Leeds line to achieve 45 minute journey time and more reliable service;
·  Re-instatement of the postponed SRA programme of Major track and signal improvements in Greater Manchester intended to triple the number of rail passengers
·  new trains on all routes currently served by the uncomfortable, overcrowded and
unreliable ‘Pacer’ railbus trains currently used) [5].
But Manchester Friends of the Earth is concerned that adequate investment may not  happen. The SRA’s current plans for the Northern franchise are unambitious [6] and likely to be hampered by a lack of money [7]. Friends of the Earth has shown the level of rail service the SRA should be aiming at in our briefing ‘Changing trains in the North’. [8]
Manchester Friends of the Earth rail campaigner Graeme Sherriff said:

“Passengers in Manchester have had to put up with a poor quality rail service for far too long. They need a safe, efficient, reliable and affordable railway. With adequate funding and vision the Strategic Rail Authority and the Government could dramatically improve the situation. A new train set that is reliable, efficient and affordable would be a welcome Christmas present for train-users in Manchester”.

“First NorthWestern’s service has been patchy at best. And the service provided by Arriva is recognised to have been so unacceptable that they have been fined by the Strategic Rail Authority and threatened with the possibility of having their franchise taken away if they didn’t improve their performance.”

Friends of the Earth are also highlighting the fact that passengers currently have no direct
say in the level and quality of rail services provided for them [9].

Graeme Sherriff added:
“The SRA asks lots of questions about the level and quality of rail services, but they don’t ask the passengers. Surely it’s common-sense to ask customers what they want. The SRA must open up the process and give fed up passengers on the 8.14 a real voice”.


Contact: Graeme Sherriff 07905 790426, Tony Bosworth 07941 176642,

FOE Media Unit 020 7566 1649

[1] The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) is expected to announce details of the Core  Specification for the new Northern franchise early in the New Year. The new franchise will cover a huge area stretching roughly from Stafford in the west and Hull in the east right up to the Scottish border. The Core Specification outlines the level, frequency and quality of services that prospective operators will have to run. The five short-listed prospective  operators then have 60 days to submit their bid to run the services. The SRA then decides which bid to accept.

[2] See

[3] The SRA’s Chief Executive Mike Grant commented “passengers on this intensive regional network have suffered an unacceptable level of cancellations in recent months … If performance does not improve, the company faces the possibility of further serious sanctions including, ultimately, franchise termination” (SRA press release 25th October 2001).

[4] Rail Passengers Committee North Western England Report for the Year 2001-2002, published April 2002

[5] – Network management statement (Railtrack 2000) – Greater Manchester Strategic Rail Study (SRA 2001) – Pacers are currently scheduled to remain in service until at least 2018, (Rail magazine 439)

[6] At a presentation in Manchester in June 2002, Graeme Hampshire, the SRA Director, North and East, outlined the aspirations for the franchise as “1-2 car trains” with “functional cabins” running at an “average speed of 20/30 mph”. He characterised the market as “low yield – lower growth”

[7] The SRA has decided that the best way to meet the Government’s target for rail passenger growth is to focus investment on London and the South East. This means that the North risks losing out due to lack of investment. As the Secretary of State for Transport recently said: “if you have a national target and it is being met because something happens in a quarter of the kingdom, but isn’t happening elsewhere, then your policy objective is not really being delivered” (speech to the annual conference of the Railway Forum 2/7/2002).

[8] ‘Changing Trains in the North’ (Friends of the Earth-Nov. 2002) is available on our website at;-

[9] Under current re-franchising arrangements there is no direct consultation with passengers. The views of passengers are represented by the little-known regional Rail Passenger Committees.

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