Clifton (Junction) Station – what’s the point?

Clifton Station NameplateClifton Station, near Swinton, Manchester, used to be Clifton Junction Station, until Mr Beeching kindly took away the other line which made it a junction. The area around the station is still however called Clifton Junction.

It lies on the main line between Bolton and Manchester which carries trains between Scotland and Manchester, and also local trains including a good service between Blackpool – Preston – Bolton – Manchester – Stockport – Manchester Airport.

Sounds good, except only two trains stop at Clifton Station each day:

0710 (Bolton to Manchester)

Clifton 0710

and 1754 (Manchester to Bolton)

Clifton 1754

These are no use to anybody as evidenced by the fact that in 2004-05 only 417 people used the station in the whole year! Even if you could perhaps make use of these times, what happens if a train is cancelled? The next one is tomorrow!

Several other local trains (not expresses) pass through this station every day. Why can’t they stop?

Passing Train

This is not some backwater station in the middle of nowhere. It is right next door to four industrial sites: Magnesium Elektron, MEL Chemicals, Chloride Industrial Batteries and Pilkington Tiles. The government wants to get people off the roads and on to public transport, but what kind of incentive is this when a good number of the employees could arrive by train, if only it stopped here? All we are talking about is maybe three stops in the morning rush hour and three after work.

Clifton Junction Trains to Manchester SignA few years ago, a good deal of money was spent renovating the station. Why? If virtually no trains stop here.

The signs at the station even falsely claim that there is more than one train “This side for trains to Manchester and the south”.

It may well be that these two trains are what is termed as a parliamentary train, i.e. that this is being done on purpose to provide an excuse to close the station.

I am not sure who is responsible for the decision not to stop here, so I have emailed both Northern Rail and the GMPTE.

To date the only responses I have received is an automated response from Northern Rail and an acknowledgement from GMPTE. If these do not produce a satisfactory response then my MP will be the next step.

UPDATE: 2nd January 2007

I have finally received a reply from GMPTE:

Again thank you for your query, and please accept my apologies for the delay in replying.

As you may be aware, Clifton was once a Junction station. The line to Bury was closed in 1966, and since then use of Clifton Station has declined considerably.

However, until some ten years ago most local trains between Manchester and Bolton called at Clifton. Research at the time found that only some 12 to 20 passengers per day used the station. Whilst it is recognised that there are industrial companies close to the station, there are few residential properties.

As a facilitator of public transport services, GMPTE could ask the present train operating company (Northern Rail) to provide additional stops at Clifton. As Northern is a commercial concern, GMPTE would have to meet the full costs of those stops from its own (publicly funded) finances.

More recent research undertaken by GMPTE showed that the additional passenger numbers, less than 20 per day, and the revenue from additional ticket sales, that would be arise from more trains calling at Clifton would be insufficient to justify the cost of doing so. Therefore, GMPTE is not prepared to submit a request to Northern Rail for more trains to call at Clifton.

I appreciate that you will have hoped for a more positive answer. However, whilst GMPTE must do all it can to provide improving public transport services, it must also be prudent in managing its finances.

Yours sincerely,

Roy Chapman
Rail Services Planning Officer
GMPTE

So basically, we want you to use public transport, but we’re not prepared to provide it for you.

Ironically, in giving the above response, Roy Chapman has effectively given me a written excuse to not use public transport and stick to driving to work in my car.

I have replied:

Thank you for your reply.

I think this is a chicken and egg situation – the passenger numbers are low because the service is poor, but you won’t provide a better service because the numbers are low. Sorry, but that is just a feeble excuse (one that is usually used to justify the closure of a station)

Since the numbers cannot increase without a service, the only way to improve the situation is to provide a service.

You say “Whilst it is recognised that there are industrial companies close to the station, there are few residential properties.” What difference does that make? There are no residential properties next to Horwich Parkway, yet it is a thriving station because the non-residential properties are the actual destination (and it has a decent service) – your argument is therefore invalid.

I would be interested in knowing exactly what it costs to stop at a station when the train is already passing through it. It sounds from your comments that this is a substantial sum, in which case, you should be challenging the TOC to justify such charges.

You say that “GMPTE must also be prudent in managing its finances.” How prudent was it to spend a substantial amount of money on upgrading Clifton station (and continued maintenance expenditure) for the purpose of two trains a day?

You must agree that the current service is nothing more than pathetic.

GMPTE and the government want us to use public transport (and here is a perfect opportunity for me to use it to get to work) but they are not prepared to back it up with action.

Kind Regards

Still nothing from Northern Rail, so I’ve sent a reminder (and got another automated acknowledgement)

UPDATE: 3rd January 2007

I have finally received a reply from Northern. Rather inconsiderately they sent it in a proprietary format (Word) attached to a blank email:

Thank you for your correspondence, which I received recently.

Initially I must apologise that you have not received a response to your original email. Unfortunately it would appear that this has been subject to a clerical error and no discourtesy was intended.

I am sorry that you feel the times of our trains are unsuitable for you. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) sets the minimum number of trains we must run on each line. We then set our timetables to match this standard and exceed it whenever possible. Due to the nature of railway lines, we need to allocate a specific timing for each train to keep them a safe distance apart. This does limit our flexibility in creating our timetables and unfortunately, we are unable to tailor our timetables to suit the needs of every passenger.

We cannot implement the changes you have requested, but I would like to thank you for taking the trouble to look at ways in which you feel we could improve our timetables. I have passed your comments to the manager in charge of our timetables and asked that your suggestions be looked into when any changes are planned.

The specific reason for this is due to the large number of services operating on this route. It would have a negative effect on other services and may reduce the number of services we were able to provide into Manchester Piccadilly if additionally stops were made at this station.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your views on our services. We positively welcome all feedback from our customers as we look to continue improving the service we provide.

Yours sincerely

Claire Beat
Customer Relations Officer

The first thing to note here is that following the passing of the Railways Act 2005 the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) was wound up on 1 December 2006 and its functions transferred to the Department for Transport Rail Group, so Northern Rail are actually blaming a non-existent organisation – good start!

Secondly, the distance between trains is automatically taken care of by the signalling system. Are Northern seriously suggesting that the safety of its passengers is governed by the timetable? In any case, the frequency of trains through this station is not so high that the stopping of a small number of trains in the morning and evening would delay following trains.

Note that I am not asking for a regular service throughout the day. Given the proximity to the aforementioned industrial sites, it is obvious that the required services should operate between 7am and 9am, and between 4pm and 6pm.

UPDATE: 4th January 2007

Before I got the belated reply from Northern, I emailed the Association of Community Rail Partnerships to see if there was any local group who covered Clifton Station. Unfortunately there isn’t, but they did forward my query directly to their prinicipal contact at Northern, who has sent a short response:

ACoRP have passed on your message re Clifton station. The service level is set by GMPTE, as you probably know.

The local MP Ian Stewart has raised the issue of the low level of service.

From our perspective, we will provide the service which the PTE specifies, but given the station’s location it’s hard to see it having much potential.

So yet more excuses – “It’s not our fault, it’s the PTE”. Also, the comment about the station’s location is rather odd. The location has remained the same for the last 160 years.

It is interesting to note that Ian Stewart (MP for Eccles) has raised this, as he (along with my own MP Ruth Kelly) will be my next point of contact. In particular, Ian Stewart said:

The PTE needs more resources to allow better access. For example, it would be good if some trains stopped at the relatively accessible and pleasant rail stations of Clifton Junction, Irlam and Eccles in my constituency. That would make the whole pattern useful to my constituents.

Ian Stewart has replied and has stated that his campaign is ongoing, but no further information than that.

UPDATE: 9th January 2007

I have received another response from GMPTE:

Thank you for your email. Our Operational Service Planning Team investigated your queries and have provided me with the following information.

It is true that in some circumstances there is a “chicken and egg situation”, i.e. the provision of a service will lead to an increase in patronage which meets or exceeds the cost of providing the service. However, for that to happen there must be a critical mass of demand. Quite simply in the case of Clifton that critical mass does not exist. The total number of employees at the various works close to the station, plus the residential properties nearby are insufficient to generate sufficient rail journeys to justify a substantial increase in services.

That assertion is proven by the fact that when every local train between Bolton and Manchester last called at Clifton, patronage was much less that 20 passengers per day.

As to residential properties (quote “Whilst it is recognised that there are industrial companies close to the station, there are few residential properties.” What difference does that make?). Well established research shows that for most suburban stations, 60% plus of the patronage is drawn from 800 metres of the station (i.e. within approximately 10 minutes walking time). Therefore, in most cases residential properties make a huge difference.

Horwich Parkway is an exception, in that it was designed as a ‘park & ride’ station, which attracts passengers from west Bolton, the town of Horwich itself and elsewhere, as well as being a destination (on match days) for the Bolton Wanderers Stadium.

The investment in upgrading Clifton Station came from Railtrack (now Network Rail).

Thank you again for bringing this matter to our attention and should you have a problem in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Yours sincerely,

Louise Manning
Customer Relations Officer
GMPTE

My reply:

Thank you for your reply.

Regarding:

“As to residential properties (quote “Whilst it is recognised that there are industrial companies close to the station, there are few residential properties.” What difference does that make?). Well established research shows that for most suburban stations, 60% plus of the patronage is drawn from 800 metres of the station (i.e. within approximately 10 minutes walking time). Therefore, in most cases residential properties make a huge difference.”

If you apply this reasoning to Blackrod Station (similarly situated) then this should also have a poor service, but it doesn’t, and enjoys passenger numbers around a quarter of a million.

Your data on Horwich Parkway appears to be out of date if you think that the main destination is the Reebok stadium on match days. The large commercial estate adjacent to the station has caused Bolton MBC to reduce the speed limit on the road and install pedestrian crossings to accommodate the large numbers of people who ARRIVE at Horwich Parkway (ie not using the park and ride) to go to work at the adjacent businesses.

You also seem to be missing one very important point: I am not asking for EVERY train to stop, just 2-3 in the morning between 7 and 9, and 2-3 between 4 and 6. That would be usable.

As things stand now, the two trains a day are actually a waste of money, because they are of no use to anyone, yet you still run them – why?

Referring back to a previous email, you have not detailed exactly how much it costs to have a train stop at Clifton.

Comment received

Just to keep the chronology correct, 24C’s comment below was received at this point.

UPDATE: 26th January

The hypocrites at GMPTE are now trying to introduce a congestion charge for the whole of the Manchester area without providing an alternative mode of transport (ie. public transport). Gives you a real insight into the mentality of these people.

UPDATE: 9th February

On 22nd January, I decided to see if the rail passenger group Passenger Focus could lend any weight to my campaign. Their website claims that “PASSENGER FOCUS IS THE INDEPENDENT NATIONAL RAIL CONSUMER WATCHDOG. OUR MISSION IS TO GET THE BEST DEAL FOR PASSENGERS.”, yet their reply suggests otherwise, choosing instead to pass the buck to the DFT:

Thank you for your email regarding services at Clifton Station. I apologise for the delay in responding to you, this is due to a higher than usual amount of correspondence received recently.

The DfT sit down with the train company’s planning department and go over which routes they have access to, how many trains they have, how many services should be run and they come up with a Passenger Service Requirement (PSR) which states how many trains have to run on a particular line and how often. This is decided based on how many passengers use the line on a regular basis (they do random head counts! and have lots of complicated sums to estimate projected growth!) The DfT do all the counting work and come up with the figures for how many services are needed to meet passenger requirements and the train company has to runs those trains or they loose their franchise. That is why you see odd changes to timetables like a service being removed and all the train company can say is that they have had to do it to meet the DfT requirements.

Passenger Focus has no power to change timetables/services, I would therefore have to advise you to contact the DfT, I have set a link to their website below and also included their address details.

http://www.dft.gov.uk/

Department for Transport
Great Minster House
76 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DR

Tel: 020 7944 8300

I don’t expect Passenger Focus to be able to change timetables, but I would have thought they would have been interested in fighting my corner.

UPDATE: 3rd March

It is over a 7 weeks now since my last email to GMPTE (9th Jan) and I still have no reply.

UPDATE: 24th March

GMPTE have issued a press release yesterday entitled: Transport bosses look at getting Clifton back on track. The text of the release is:

Salford transport bosses have met with Clifton residents to discuss improving local rail services.

Chair of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority Councillor Roger Jones and Salford spokesperson Councillor Barry Warner met up with representatives from the local residents association at Clifton station.

At the moment, the area has just one train a day in either direction Mondays to Saturdays and none on Sundays. At 7.09am people can catch a train to Manchester, with a return journey from Manchester Victoria to Clifton at 5.42pm.

Councillor Jones said: “I feel that there may be a case to stop extra trains at Clifton to give local residents more travel options. But we do need to establish the real demand for rail travel at Clifton and I have therefore asked GMPTE officers to consult local residents in the summer about their transport needs.”

Councillor Barry Warner added: “I have lived in Clifton for over 40 years and have campaigned hard for improvements to local public transport. We have seen some improvements to bus services in recent years but it’s disappointing that Clifton residents have just one train service a day to Manchester and one back.

“There has been a lot of new housing developed in the area in recent years and I am sure that many more residents would take advantage of local rail services if they were available.”

Eccles MP Ian Stewart will also be discussing the situation at Clifton at his next meeting with Northern Rail.

Media contact: Becky Marr or David Harris on 0161 244 1055, or by email at communications@gmpte.gov.uk

While this appears to be good news, the people quoted are those campaigning for improvements, not the actual people at GMPTE and Northern Rail who make the decisions, so we’ll have to see whether anything actually comes of this.

Also, it is all based around consulting local residents. Clifton is not just a starting station. What about consulting people who would like to use Clifton as a destination? Surely this would add more weight to the case for increasing services.

UPDATE: 23rd April

It is now three and a half months since my last email to GMPTE (9th Jan) and I still have no reply.

2 Comments

24CJanuary 18th, 2007 at 12:39
Using Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows Windows 2000

Sir,
I continue to follow with interest your ongoing discourse with those agencies variously involved in the minimalistic provision of rail services currently ‘enjoyed’ by Clifton Station.

I can readily sympathise with frustrations felt at the ongoing apparent abject apathy (and, dare I say it, somewhat predictable, if not defensive, attitudes) displayed by the various parties you have taken to task along the way. The scenario sounds all so depressingly familiar. Indeed, the issues surrounding your personal crusade, mirror a similar situation – also extant for very many years now – facing innumerable potential rail passengers in my own hometown of Stockport.

Like many others, I make trips to nearby Stalybridge on a quite regular basis and am well aware that there are well-maintained train tracks directly connecting these two towns. However, (as far as Guide Bridge, at least), virtually the only regular traffic traversing the rails today are infrequent freight services avoiding the bottleneck routes through the City centre, the occasional empty diesel unit travelling between depots for servicing and main-line trains diverted at weekends due to engineering work. Nevertheless, the Stockport to Stalybridge line is still officially ‘open’ to passenger services and, ipso facto, technically, it is still possible to travel over it from Stockport Station – once a week, on a Saturday morning.

To attempt to return home at the conclusion of one’s business in Stalybridge is, however, quite another matter. There just isn’t a single train at all in the opposite direction at all! Upon discovering the sprouting weeds between the rusting tracks of the windswept and permanently deserted former Stockport bay platform at Stalybridge Station, any intending passenger finds himself forced to make a very time-consuming ‘dog-leg’ of a journey back home via Manchester Piccadilly. Such a poor alternative more than doubles the direct distance between the two places and involves also the additional inconvenience/expense of re-booking tickets when trains (and probably train-operating companies) are changed en-route.

For those poor souls unfortunate enough to reside in the localities of South Reddish and Denton, even that luxury isn’t an option today. To actively support their local stations (establishments, like Clifton, currently advertised as still nominally ‘open’ for business) and to travel entirely by rail to anywhere at all and then to attempt to return back home by the same means – would incur an absolute minimum of precisely 168 hours (or one week) ! It’s no small wonder that no-one uses the stations any more – they have all been systematically but deliberately starved of any useful purpose. Yet they do possess well-maintained platform surfaces, access ramps and modern waiting facilities, illuminated by powerful lights on high masts that burn on into the night long after any potential passenger has gone. Clifton even has a public telephone on one platform (although that hasn’t worked for months now and no-one has bothered to come to fix it).

We all know WHY these abysmal services remain nominally extant at Denton, Reddish South and Clifton – it’s all a big accounting fiddle to conceal the fact that no-one at all wishes to involve themselves in the embarrassment and phenomenal expense of pushing an Act through Parliament that would permit closure. Indeed, I would go so far as to submit that such gross professional negligence secretly belies the fact that those concerned (comfortably seated in their distant offices and with absolutely no concept of, or consideration for, the suffering and inconvenience being experienced by some of those who actually pay their salaries) have each personally failed in their individual duty to assist in retaining and promoting the public service for the custom that those localities concerned once provided.

I express no particular surprise at the indifference displayed by Roy Chapman of the GMPTE, my personal view being that this person has always appeared more interested in establishing a name for himself than to contribute anything really productive towards the common good – he resides close to both Reddish South and Denton stations, yet I have never been aware that he has lent his private support to assisting in finding ways to re-vitalise those specific services. (In actual matter of fact, it is common knowledge as being far from the first occasion upon which Mr. Chapman has demonstrated an inability to successfully run a business of his own in the area. Without wishing to cause any offence, let’s only hope that this is not a trend!!)

I am, however, somewhat dismayed at the reaction from Dr. Salveson, whom I should have expected to have been a little more supportive to this particular cause, particularly as he was raised in the area. Paul was, for example, very active in the protests at the time of the demise of the original Horwich station in 1965 and is more recently known for lending his support to the re-vitalising of the Huddersfield-Penistone line close to his current home!

Today’s problems cannot all be blamed upon the bus and the motorcar – the continued survival of the Huddersfield-Penistone service well-illustrates that point and, indeed, stations (and even whole branch lines) have actually been re-opened elsewhere – and this after years of lying dormant or even demolished.

Nothing has changed whatsoever at Denton, Reddish South and Clifton – at all of these places there are today exactly the same number of businesses employing the same number of personnel. Equally, again, there are, if anything, far more people residing today close by. Significantly, it must never be forgotten that these 3 stations survived the cull of the ‘Beeching Axe’ during the 1960s – a particularly depressing period during which many other un-remunerative local services actually did ‘go to the wall’ – so, very clearly, it naturally follows that Denton, Reddish South and Clifton MUST have been making a profit at some stage.

For Louise Manning of GMPTE to proffer the ridiculously unfounded claim that there has to be a ‘critical mass of demand’ and, in her words, in the case of Clifton that critical mass does not exist, is far too simplistic. Likewise, with Claire Beat of Northern Rail, I strongly suspect that an examination of the job descriptions of these two might reveal that a major segment of their specific roles within their respective organisations is to deflect (and browbeat?) adverse criticism with carefully pre-prepared individually customisable statements that have crossed the desks of very experienced legal teams before submission.

Rail travel into Manchester is, and always has been, much faster and far more convenient than any other mode of transport. However, only one train a day, and at 7-09am, is of absolutely no use to anyone at all. (But, perhaps that is the intention?) It is a matter of ‘horses for courses’, make train travel attractive enough compared with the alternatives and people will gradually return in their droves. This has been proven time and time again elsewhere in the UK. Repeatedly increase rail fares above the rate of inflation, whilst concurrently creating services less and less attractive to users, and it then comes as no particular surprise that people immediately reach for their car keys, or walk to the nearest bus stop. That, perhaps, is the major factor behind Mr. Chapman’s claim that research at the time discovered that, until some ten years ago although most local trains between Manchester and Bolton called at Clifton, only some 12 to 20 passengers per day used the station. Any proffered excuses, for example, that the station lost its (interchange) “Junction? status in 1966 or that there are ‘pathing’ issues in stopping trains here today on what is, admittedly now a far higher-speed route, are, nevertheless, mere ‘smokescreens’ and, upon in-depth examination, provide no real substance to any reasoned argument.

Although I personally reside in the Stockport area, I actually do commute on a regular daily basis to within 50 yards of Clifton Station. I would love the opportunity to use the train, but, for me, that just is not possible. I do not wish to leave home at some ungodly hour of the morning, nor do I wish to travel after work first to Bolton in order to get back to Manchester Victoria,. Similarly, a bus journey would involve no fewer than 4 changes in each direction, so, equally, timewise, that too, is not a practical proposition.

Therefore, I am faced with no alternative at all but to join the throngs on the M60. However, what is of far greater significance here is the fact that unaccompanied and taking my road tax and insurance into consideration (even in my own 2-litre car), I find it far, far cheaper to make that journey!

Before the wide-scale privatisation drives by recent Governments, a definition of public transport was supposed to be that transport supplied by the state agencies. Such a service was often run at a loss because of the government’s social obligations. It often involved servicing areas that private transport operations would not touch because they were unprofitable, but every single person was entitled to that service and at an acceptable level. All we are asking for today is an acceptable level of service, perhaps only at peak periods – in other words, merely the OPPORTUNITY to travel, should we so choose.

Perhaps it is time to seriously consider re-nationalising transport and to get rid of all the armchair profiteers, wofflers and political puppets – before it is all too late and Britain literally does grind to a halt.

“24C?

"Long Drag"January 11th, 2008 at 15:12
Using Internet Explorer Internet Explorer 6.0 on Windows Windows 2000

Given that the meagre TWO trains that call at Clifton daily currently both do so either before dawn or after dusk, can someone explain precisely WHY intending passengers are forced to blindly grope their way onto the platforms in order to make use of even this minimal service?

Given that the station lights ceased to function as far back as last October, also WHY is it that no-one has bothered to do anything about it?

Indeed, has anyone from Railtrack or Northern Rail EVEN NOTICED YET? I doubt it!

Leave a comment

Please note: Use of a non-personal web site or blog in the field below and/or comments that are off-topic or personal attacks will likely be removed at my discretion.

Your comment