A joint statement from the Chairs of Alsager Town Council, North Staffs Rail Promotion Group and North Staffs Community Rail Partnership
From: North Staffs Community Rail Partnership
c/o Claire Sandys, Community Rail Partnership Officer
East Midlands Railway withdraws rail service at Alsager
East Midlands Railway (EMR) has chosen to suspend almost all its services for passengers at Alsager from September 7th 2020. Only the first and last train of the day in each direction on the Crewe –Derby service will stop at Alsager for the foreseeable future.
EMR admits that Alsager is being sacrificed to improve punctuality for the Crewe – Derby route as a whole. They also state their consultation with stakeholders was lacking and not what EMR aspires to.
EMR has explained that there can be occasional short delays due to Alsager level crossing for their eastbound trains as they follow close behind the London Northwestern Railway (LNR) services. Omitting the Alsager stop is the unsatisfactory way of regaining this occasional short delay together with compensating for possible delays at other stations caused by passengers social distancing whilst boarding. However there is no such problem for westbound services and there is little justification for suspending the stop for trains travelling in this direction towards Crewe. This results in a wait of 35 minutes at Kidsgrove for the EMR service for passengers travelling to Alsager from Longport or the Derby line.
We are assured that this service withdrawal from Alsager will be temporary. We are in dialogue with EMR who will, every 4 weeks, share with us the evidence for not stopping at the station.
Michael Willmot, Chair of the North Staffs Community Rail Partnership, commented “We cannot support this dereliction of service as a way of compensating for the extra dwell time at other stations that EMR is anticipating because of boarding and alighting with social distancing. We are asking EMR to let us see train punctuality information regularly so we can press for service reinstatement as soon as possible.”
Councillor Rod Fletcher, Chairman of Alsager Town Council, said: “What is likely to happen is that Alsager passengers, many of whom walk to Alsager Station, will either drive to Kidsgrove Station or travel on the A500 which is very busy at peak times. Both Local and Central government are trying to reduce carbon. This proposal will have the opposite effect.”
Passengers will now be almost wholly reliant on the remaining hourly service provided by LNR calling at Crewe, Alsager, Kidsgrove and Stoke-on-Trent. Those wishing to travel to Longport and stations between Stoke-on-Trent and Derby will have to change trains at Kidsgrove or Stoke-on-Trent, thereby extending journey times.
Jonathan Heal, Chair of the North Staffs Rail Promotion Group said “This abandonment of a station will damage local trust in the train operator at a time when it is already difficult to persuade people to return to rail travel”
EMR states that punctuality needs to be improved. Indeed in September 2019 punctuality was poor, with a Public Performance Measure (PPM) of 86%. Of the 240 Crewe bound services reviewed by the North Staffordshire Community Rail Partnership, 23 were delayed by more than 5 minutes and 11 were cancelled.
Eleven delays/cancellations were caused by faults with Network Rail level crossings (the Alsager level crossing was not one of them) or with East Midlands Trains rolling stock. Without these faults the PPM would have been 91% which would probably have avoided the proposed cuts now planned for Alsager. Alsager passengers are paying the price for the rail Industry’s shortcomings. EMR stands to lose much goodwill in a community it previously claimed it was committed to serving.
In August 2019 EMR took over the franchise and has since doubled the number of carriages, using more reliable rolling stock. A review of 390 weekday services to Crewe in early March 2020 (pre Covid-19) shows that 96% of trains were on time or early. So there is no justification for suspending the Alsager stops because of punctuality problems.
Also since the strengthened two car service has twice as many doors as the single car it replaces, we question whether station dwell times will need to be increased because of social distancing among boarding and alighting passengers.
Rather than massaging PPM by abandoning once loyal passengers at Alsager, EMR would be better engaged in working with other train operators and Network Rail to reduce the delays on the route between Stoke and Kidsgrove – much the greatest delay factor.
Alsager is one of the busier stations between Crewe and Derby, comprising 13% of the line’s total footfall.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and consequent lock down measures, the Department for Transport’s Rail Emergency Measures came into effect on 23 March 2020 in order to support train operators running franchises. Emergency Measures Agreements are due to expire on 22 September 2020.
Train operator franchisees are expected to abide by the terms of their franchise. These include a commitment to agreed timetables serving agreed stations. These cannot be changed during the life span of the franchise (normally 7 years).
For Alsager Town Council, contact Chair, Councillor Rod Fletcher at: Rod.Fletcher@cheshireeast.gov.uk
For North Staffordshire Rail Promotion Group, contact Chair, Jonathan Heal at: firstname.lastname@example.org
North Staffs Community Rail Partnership, contact Chair, Mike Willmot at:
01431 821297 / 07864 081094
North Staffordshire Community Rail Partnership (NSCRP) was formed in 2005 and works to promote and develop the North Staffordshire Line (Crewe-Stoke-Derby) and to extend community rail principles across the wider area of Staffordshire.
NSCRP funding partners are Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Cheshire East, Derbyshire and Staffordshire County Councils and train operators East Midlands Railway, West Midlands Trains, Avanti West Coast and Cross Country Trains.
For more information about the Partnership visit www.northstaffsrail.org.uk
Community rail partnerships are the backbone of the community rail movement, bringing together local groups and partners along railway lines to work with industry, and delivering a range of community engagement and promotional activities. They promote understanding of the importance of local railways, in terms of improving mobility and sustainable travel, community cohesion and wellbeing, and social and economic development. Community Rail Network is the umbrella organisation, at https://communityrail.org.uk/