Bolton MP Chris Green has called for a direct rail link between the town and London – but a transport expert has said local services could have to be cut if the idea was put into practice.

The MP, who currently commutes between his Horwich home and Parliament via the direct train from Wigan North Western, told The Bolton News that a direct service could help the town to "prosper".

He said: “A key part of that is having good quality transport routes, obviously we need better links, or more reliable links, with Manchester – but that shouldn’t be the limit of our ambition.

"We want to be easily accessible for people right around the country.”

The Bolton News: Bolton MP Chris Green said a direct service would help Bolton 'prosper'Bolton MP Chris Green said a direct service would help Bolton 'prosper' (Image: Office of Chris Green MP)

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Making platform changes ‘really inconvenient’

Mr Green said he would not go into specific numbers, but that one train per hour would be "fantastic".

He added: “This could pick people up on the way to Bolton, perhaps pick more people up going through Manchester and then straight on to London, rather than having to make that change at Manchester Piccadilly, which can add a great deal of time and inconvenience, especially, for example, for families or people with lots of luggage.

“It’s really inconvenient making those platform changes.

"Having a train per hour, I think, would be a huge boost to Bolton – not just for people going from Bolton down to London, but also Londoners coming up here as well, and also the stops along the way.”

However, any plans for the service would have to consider the capacity of already overstretched rail lines.

The Castlefield corridor, which carries trains between Deansgate, Manchester Oxford Road, and Manchester Piccadilly, is considered a bottleneck for services across the region.

A report published in February by sub-national transport body Transport for the North said "urgent action must be taken to address performance" on the corridor, which "will limit the ability to accommodate more direct through services".

The Bolton News: A bottleneck restricts local services travelling via Manchester PiccadillyA bottleneck restricts local services travelling via Manchester Piccadilly (Image: Network Rail)

Plans to help relieve the bottleneck, termed "Northern Hub", were only partially completed.

A new connection between Piccadilly and Victoria, called the Ordsall Chord, was built – but decade-old plans to build two new platforms at Manchester Piccadilly were withdrawn last year – to the chagrin of many campaigners.

Rail engineer and writer Gareth Dennis said these problems would make any new service difficult to deliver – and that investment should instead be focussed on increasing frequency on local services.

‘What local services do you intend to sacrifice?’

Speaking to The Bolton News, Gareth said: “There’s not enough capacity.

“One of the problems with Britain’s railways right now is that we have too many direct services from secondary towns – not that I want to be too mean about Bolton.

“By running those long distances services to places like Bolton, what you actually do is wipe out capacity for local services, and those are really the important ones.

“What would be far better is if you had a train every 10 minutes that went into Manchester, and then you could get the long-distance service from Manchester – ultimately, a High Speed 2 service from Manchester.”

Gareth said he would ask anyone calling for the direct train: “What local services do you intend to sacrifice, what local stations in the area around Bolton are going to get a worse service as a result of the direct train?”

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The Bolton News: Gareth Dennis is a railway engineer and writerGareth Dennis is a railway engineer and writer (Image: Gareth Dennis)

Long-distances services ‘cause the headache’

The engineer, who has lectured at the University of Birmingham, said simplifying timetables and services would increase the reliability of the network for Boltonians.

He added: “It’s the long-distance services, the services to London, that cause the headache – they’re the services that wreck the timetable.

"They don’t stop at all the local stations which means you have to leave huge gaps in the timetable, which means that you eat up capacity.

“If everything’s doing the same thing, if all the local trains are stopping at all the local stations, and doing so with nice, new electric services, it’s basically a conveyer belt.

“You’ve created a train conveyer belt, and it can carry huge numbers of people – it’s that ability to carry huge numbers of people that’s important for places like Bolton.”

‘A huge opportunity’

Mr Green, however, thinks direct services from Bolton can be achieved – but he admits it will take investment.

The MP said: “I think getting the timetabling right is an immensely challenging job, but I think it’s the duty of every Member of Parliament to champion the interests of their community, and for the powers that be – whether it’s the ministers, whether it’s the experts on the railways, to try and make all of these competing interests and competing challenges work the best they can.”

He added: “There’s a huge opportunity in improving the Castlefield corridor for more trains to go through Manchester and for there to be greater reliability.

“Just look, for example, at the London Underground – that has good quality digital signals which means they can get very large numbers of underground trains to stations in rapid succession, and I think we need a wider upgrade of that sort of infrastructure to enable us to get those better connections and more capacity.”

Asked about work to upgrade the Castlefield corridor, a spokesperson for Transport for the North said: “Central Manchester is a major bottleneck affecting journeys right across the North.

“Improving capacity on the Castlefield Corridor in Manchester is essential if we are going to fix the railways in the North. Resolving the constraints on this part of the network requires a programme of interventions across the wider region.

“Currently the Manchester Task Force is overseeing a programme of interventions through the Manchester and North West Transformation Programme and good progress has been made with the delivery of the first phase which supported introduction of the December 2022 timetable change which improved performance.

“The next stage under development will support the reintroduction of some services in North Manchester while the full programme is likely to include interventions at Manchester Oxford Road and Manchester Airport, which will enable additional services to operate.”

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