Manchester-bound morning peak wobbles ….

Posted on January 8th, 2010, by The Chairman

The train service was very reliable through the summer months, but we started noticing some problems from October, especially with the first and then the second trains in the Stockport direction.

Since December, the first train has become even less reliable and the following 3 often late.

Through our Performance QIT (Quality Improvement Team) with Northern and Network Rail, we’ve been looking into the reasons.

The last few weeks have seen this get worse. This week’s weather has exacerbated it even further, and this morning’s Manchester-bound peak was poor, made worse by the failure of a point heater at Northenden Junction.

The QIT is to have an emergency meeting early next week and meanwhile the traincrew and unit (train) diagrams are being reviewed to see what can be done to get the service back to its previous excellent levels of reliability.

Please leave a comment

  1. John Kitchen Says:

    Travelled from Carlisle to Crewe via Manchester today and despite travelling on not one train that I had thought I was going to catch I made it.

    I have had an interesting observation made to me this week by a senior technical man that the ex BR equipment has stood the arctic conditions far better. At Carlisle where my office overlooks the North end of the station at one point we had 3 broken Pendolinos blocking all the through platforms with two dead 185s clogging up the Newcastle and S&C bays – while the Cumbrian Coast was running to time with its diet of 156s and 153s – not to mention the shuttles.

    This morning I arrived in the office at 8am to the sight of reluctant passengers being extracted from the southbound Caledonian Sleeper which had broken down between Lockerbie and Carlisle and had taken an age to rescue because Virgin’s Thunderbird locos are leased to people like Arriva and freight operators – no need for them! Hmmmmm!

    It is also notable that the Royal Mail electric multiple units have been hauled extensively by Class 86 electric locos over the past few days. So it is not just the Mid Cheshire….

  2. Andrew Macfarlane Says:

    The first train to Manchester today (Satuday 9th January) started from Altrincham because of a mix-up with the empty stock working to Chester. By the time it was resolved there was only time to run as far as Altrincham from Manchester.

  3. The Chairman Says:

    Hi, Andrew!

    I checked in the meeting this morning about the problem last Saturday.

    Apparently, the problem was the train to form the service was “frozen up” and had to be defrosted, thus delaying getting the empties to Chester so much that they only got as far as Altrincham before having to turn round to come back.

  4. The Chairman Says:

    An update on this morning’s meeting that I mentioned in my original post above.

    Here’s a summary of the main culprits and what is being done about them.

    The first train from Chester, the 0605, is made up of a class 142 unit which spends the night at Chester. The driver for it arrives with the empty trains from Manchester for the following 2 services (Sprinter units), and has around 15 minutes to get the unit started and ready to go. This is fine if the empties arrive on time and the unit starts fine, but prone to disruption if anything doesn’t quite go to plan.

    A further factor is that this unit arrives into Chester at 2345 the previous evening on the 2217 from Piccadilly. However, this has been cancelled 20% of the time in the last few months due to traincrew shortages, something mentioned in a previous post and slowly being remedied. When this happens, a unit that arrives much earlier at 1913 is left at Chester for the 0603, meaning that when the driver comes to start it up, it’s been standing “cold” for over 10 hours. In this cold weather this can be problematic, and as the drivers based at Chester work for another train company (Arriva Trains Wales) and don’t drive class 142 units, any extra effort to cover this through the night has to come from 40+ miles away in Manchester.

    Northern are looking at the diagrams to see how this train can be made more reliable.

    The second train is the 0635 from Chester. This is made up of 2 of the 3 Sprinter units that come in from Manchester. This is much more reliable than the 0605, and some of its unreliability relates to the 0605 running late. Overall this train is much less of a problem, but is to be “watched” more closely in the coming months.

    The third train is the 0703 from Chester. This mainly runs on time until just before Stockport, from where it regularly meets with 5-10 minutes delay. This is almost entirely due to it having to wait for and then follow the 0722 from Crewe to Manchester Oxford Road which calls at Heaton Chapel and Levenshulme (we don’t). Until early 2009 this was formed of a 3-car class 323 electric unit. However, there has been a shortage of these since one of them collided at around 70mph in December 2008 with a 4-wheel drive road vehicle at North Rode near Congleton which had come down an embankment, apparently after the driver parked the vehicle but omitted to put the handbrake on. This seriously damaged the unit and also traumatised both the train driver and conductor, both of whom we’re delighted to say are now back at work.

    This train is currently formed of 2 class 142 Pacer units. These accelerate much more slowly than a class 323 and have a lower top speed of 75mph, rather than 92mph. There are no appropriate paths available for the train to leave Crewe earlier, it already sits to one side for 5 minutes at Sandbach whilst the first Cardiff to Manchester passes. This train is regularly 5-10 minutes late at Stockport. If it’s more than about 8 minutes late, our train gets in front of it, but most of the time we don’t, hence arriving into Piccadilly 7-10 minutes late.

    The class 323 is currently being rebuilt at Wolverton, near Milton Keynes. I understand it is expected to be handed back to Northern at the end of March. After a week or two of test running, it should be back in service and the 0722 from Crewe will revert to electric operation and shouldn’t suffer from delay. Thus our 0703 shouldn’t either. And all because a car driver forgot to put the handbrake on!

    I’ve given the above detailed explanation as quite a number of you have been complaining about how from a very reliable morning peak service up to the early autumn, things have slipped. Well you did ask! This should also give you some insight into some of the detail the QIT goes into.

    Hopefully, we’ll see a significant improvement in the next few months.

  5. The Chairman Says:


    Both yesterday and this morning the first train was over 20 minutes late, and today the 2nd through train to Manchester was also late – 19 minutes.

    I understand this is currently being worked on for short-term fixes, with longer-term fixes being looked at in detail next week.

    I’ll provide a further update soon.

  6. Shelia Says:

    One day in the week commecing 4th January (I forget exactly which day it was) a work colleague told me about a problem with the 8:17 Manchester to Chester service.

    Unusually passengers were advised to go to platform 13 at Piccadilly for this service. A Northern Rail train arrived and they boarded it. After boarding, they were told there had been a mix up and the train wasn’t going to Chester via Altrincham, so the passengers alighted and then a few minutes later were told to board the train at platform 13 again as it was going to Chester via Altrincham.

    My colleague said they got the impression the problem was because a crew member wasn’t informed that the train would be departing from platform 13 and they were told to alight because the train couldn’t sit at platform 13 for long and couldn’t take the passengers with a missing crew member.

  7. The Chairman Says:


    The Performance QIT has had a further meeting, that’s Northern Rail, Network Rail and MCRUA.

    The performance of the first three “Up” trains (i.e. in the Manchester direction) is being monitored in detail. The performance of the first two for the last two weeks has been good apart from a couple of hiccups (one this morning due to a unit problem). Work is being carried out to look at changing the unit and traincrew diagrams to make them more resilient, i.e. more likely to work consistently well.

    The third “Up” service continues to suffer 2-3 days a week between Stockport and Piccadilly for the same reasons as before. Northern are desperately short of trains making this difficult to fix in the short term. The accident damaged class 323 electric unit (323.231) is still expected back in late March, and it’s still looking like this late-running of our 3rd “Up” service will cease to be an issue from sometime in April, though not until then.

    If I hear more, I’ll provide a further update here.

    Meanwhile, Northern and Network Rail have asked me to thank you for your patience whilst they work to get these trains back to being reliable and punctual.

  8. Ian Says:

    Wednesday 3 February was a nightmare morning.

    I caught the 07:17 service from Manchester, hoping to get to Northwich. At about 07:55 the train eventually left Manchester. I understand that delay was no fault of Northern’s (fatality at Piccadilly – Ed)., but on departure from Navigation Road the conductor announced the next station is Altrincham where this train will terminate. I then had to catch the next train, which was also about half-an-hour late and arrived in Northwich about 90 minutes late on a train that was very packed.

    I contacted Northern Customer Relations and they said the disruption was out of their control and there’s nothing they could have done that would have worked better – not terminating a train at Altrincham when most passengers use the service between Altrincham and Greenbank certainly would have helped. I still don’t know why the service did terminate at Altrincham!

  9. The Chairman Says:

    Thanks, Ian. Bad luck being caught up in this. I was stuck in the other direction.

    I’ve already asked why the 0717 was terminated at Altrincham on Wednesday. I would have thought running it as far as Greenbank at least would have been possible and would have put its return working on time from Greenbank.

    I’ve yet to receive a response to my question that makes sense to me.

    Best wishes,


  10. Steve Says:

    In the latter half of 2008 Northern terminated two or three of the St-Annes-on-Sea to Greenbank services at Altrincham. I don’t really know why they did this as from my personal experience a lot of people alighted that service at Knutsford.

    Also, the odd occasion when I caught the weekday Northwich-Blackpool service (the return working), it seemed to be popular for an off-peak service – possibly a combination of being the first off-peak service and it being the only direct train to Salford, Bolton, Preston and Blackpool helped.

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