Cumbria Better Connected Campaign

The final report of the Cumbria Better Connected campaign has now been made public following the Furness Line CRP's AGM on the 12th September, 2014. Both the summary document and full report are attached. 

 Click the links for CBC Summary  or  Full CBC Report 2014 

The report is the outcome of the conference held last January in Barrow. That resulted an all the partners contributing a total of £32,000 towards the cost of the research and the study. This will now be used to influence franchise bidders and make the case for future investment in the line and its train services.

An outline of the Conference at Barrow-in-Furness, on Friday 17th January, 2014, is below:


Presentation by Peter Robinson
Chairman, Furness Line Community Rail Partnership
So what is the role of our local railway ?    In the mid 19th century, the Furness Railway Company was the catalyst for the spectacular growth of Barrow, from a small fishing hamlet into the major industrial town we know today.  Even now, despite the emergence and dominance of road transport, the railway plays an important role in the economy of Furness and South Lakes, linking communities round Morecambe Bay to each other, to our regional capital and international airport at Manchester, and into longer distance rail services at Lancaster and Preston.

In 1994, following the opening of the rail link to Manchester Airport, initially operating four times a day, but soon a two hourly train service was introduced from Barrow to Manchester, our key regional hub. Since then this has been diluted a little, but has until very recently has provided a reasonably good service. The quality of the trains on the route has improved markedly since 2000, with 100 mph trains and even the introduction of  First Class facilities on the current TPE Class 185 units – though the Northern trains which provide local services are now about 25 years old.  

Despite the overall pattern of service remaining little changed for many years, patronage has increased markedly - and in line with national trends.   As the amount of rolling stock allocated to the Furness line has remained static, this means that some popular services are frequently heavily overcrowded with passengers being left behind of the platform because there is no room – even to squeeze on the trains.

Despite this success story, the Furness line faces new challenges, both to keep its existing quality of rolling stock and also the level of direct train services to Manchester.

Elsewhere in the North West, electrification schemes have been approved and the first section has been completed. With this has come the introduction of a fleet of ten new electric trains for an enhanced TransPennine-operated Manchester to Scotland service, with a full electric service being implemented from May this year.
Until this last December (2013), a number of the Barrow to Manchester services coupled up to the Scottish services at Preston to make best use of the limited number of train paths (or slots) on the busy route into Manchester -- but - this will no longer be possible. TransPennine  has considered the possibility of making the couplings of the existing diesels and new electric trains compatible, but without success  - so far.
TPE are also having to transfer the Class 185 units freed up by the new electric trains to North TransPennine services on the overcrowded Manchester  to  Leeds corridor.   Therefore, despite a claimed 82% increase in capacity of TransPennine trains between Lancaster and Scotland, there will be a significantly lower increase in capacity between Lancaster and Manchester, leading to potential overcrowding problems - and these are already becoming evident!

The result of all these timetable changes will, in May, see a reduction in through services between Barrow and Manchester from six to four, and reduction in the Manchester to Barrow direction from ten to seven.   We should note that there is an even bigger reduction in through services on the Windermere line.

To give full credit where due, the Community Rail Partnership was consulted in detail about the timetable changes at an early stage and worked  closely with TransPennine to ensure that through services at key times of the day were maintained - as a result, some of the services will now couple up at Preston with Blackpool to Manchester trains, but with some changes in timings. The overall level of train service between Lancaster and Barrow will remain the same and some of the smaller stations along the line will actually have  a slightly improved service.

 However, there are more serious clouds on the horizon.  Looking forward to 2016 and beyond, the completion of the Manchester Hub, Blackpool and North TransPennine electrification schemes, and perhaps to Windermere as well, will potentially leave the Furness line further out on a limb. The Class 185 units will no longer be able to couple to other Manchester bound trains at Preston and there are even question marks over whether these 100 mph trains will be made available to North West services from that date - but their 100 mph capability is crucial to being able to be allocated slots on the West Coast Main Line between Carnforth and Preston.

2016 will also see the renewal of rail operating franchises in the North West.  There is current discussion about the “re-mapping” of the routes for the probable two separate operators – as now.  Will the Furness Line be able to retain its express regional services to Manchester?  The process begins this coming spring with a wide-ranging consultation on how rail services in the North should be restructured.  This is the vital point for us on the Furness Line to have our say – if we are to influence the pattern of our rail services into the 2020s.

As Harry will no doubt tell us, the Furness area is in the process of receiving a huge amount of industrial investment in the coming years. The Community Rail Partnership believes that a high quality of connectivity between Furness and Manchester and its airport will be vital to its future success. It is also vital for the South Lakes tourist trade, which is also crucial to substantial sections of the local economy.    In short, the Furness Community has to stand up now to be counted on this matter;  otherwise there is a serious possibility of the Furness Line being reduced to no more than a branch line from Lancaster or, at best, Preston.

In reacting to this situation it is important to learn from the successes of others. For instance, many businesses from the Central Lakes area took the time to write to and lobby their MP, the Department for Transport and government ministers to campaign for the Windermere line to maintain its link with Manchester and the airport.  As a result Patrick McLoughlin came to Windermere in August to announce a full evaluation of the case for electrification of the Lakes Line would be conducted,  with the possibility that it will be electrified in 2016.

Electrification of the Furness line would be much more expensive, but we believe that the economic case for such investment needs to be evaluated fully and quickly.

To conclude, the priorities for the Furness line must be:
a)  to maintain the existing high quality 100 mph diesel trains.
b)  to campaign for a full economic evaluation of the case for electrification of the line, to enable future connectivity with the rest of the electrified rail network and through trains to Manchester, its regional hub.
c)  to improve capacity and provide a more regular interval service on the line, which we believe will maximise revenue from the existing suppressed demand.