Major disruption to Lancashire rail services over the Easter bank holiday weekend
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A combination of strike action and engineering works looks set to put the brakes on the expected bank holiday getaway for those planning to travel within or beyond the county by track.
One train operator has been forced to cancel its services through Preston on both Saturday and Easter Sunday.
TransPennine Express (TPE) will not be running trains on the route connecting Manchester Airport, Preston, Lancaster, Carlisle and Scotland amid a walkout by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union.
The company is advising anyone who needs to make an essential journey between Liverpool/Manchester and Glasgow/Edinburgh via Preston and Carlisle to make alternative arrangements or travel on Good Friday or Easter Monday instead.
Other operators have agreed to carry some TPE passengers on strike days – if they have flexible tickets such as Off-Peak and Anytime or if their tickets are marked “AP TPE ONLY” or “TPE ONLY”.
Avanti West Coast will accept such tickets between Wigan and Glasgow Central or Edinburgh until 19th April, while Northern will accept them across its network until 9th May, according to the TPE website.
Anyone planning to use other TPE services on Saturday or Easter Sunday is being warned that they will be “very limited” and urged to travel only “if they absolutely have to”, to plan ahead and to allow extra time as trains are expected to be extremely busy and short-notice changes and cancellations are likely.
Kathryn O’Brien, customer experience director for TransPennine Express, said: “Easter is such a special time for many, with people making plans to see family or friends, or to enjoy a day out or trip away.
“Sadly, strike action by RMT means there will be major disruption to our services over the bank holiday weekend, and we are recommending people avoid travel on Easter Saturday and Sunday.
“With major events including the Manchester City v Liverpool FA Cup semi-final planned to take place over the affected dates, we are urging people to plan ahead and seek alternative transport.”
Meanwhile, engineering work will see some train services to the most picturesque parts of Lancashire and Cumbria replaced with buses instead – and journey times extended as a result.
On Easter Sunday itself (17th April), rail replacement buses will operate on Northern train company routes between Lancaster, Oxenholme Lake District, Kendal and Windermere and between Bentham, Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham Port.
Buses will also replace Northern services between Lancaster and Grange-over-Sands, with Arnside and Silverdale stations being served by a minibus.
The company is advising people travelling by train at anytime at all between Good Friday and Easter Monday to check services before they travel and to be “flexible” with their journeys.
Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, said: “We know the bank holiday provides a great opportunity for people to get out, explore, and enjoy all the North of England has to offer.
“We’re doing all we can to prepare for the weekend and are also asking our customers to plan ahead, expect services to be busy, allow extra time for journeys and, where possible, to avoid travelling during the busiest times.”
Track maintenance will also cause disruption around Carnforth on Easter Sunday.
However, train travel will not be any more hassle-free for those heading far beyond Lancashire’s borders over the Easter weekend, because of engineering work being carried out in other parts of the country.
No trains will serve London Euston between Good Friday and Easter Monday (15th to 18th April) and services will start and finish at Milton Keynes instead, according to Network Rail.
It is “strongly advising” West Coast Mainline passengers travelling between London Euston and Scotland – on services which pass through Preston and Wigan – to do so “either side” of the long weekend in order to “avoid longer journeys on busier trains” and the need to use bus replacement services between Milton Keynes and the capital.
James Dean, Network Rail’s West Coast South route director acknowledged that there was “never an ideal time to shut the railway”.
But he added: “We have to carefully balance the best time to do this essential work with the needs of our passengers. Long bank holiday weekends continue to give our engineers the time they need to close the railway for complex jobs like track replacements and bridge overhauls while disrupting the fewest passengers.
“Our advice this Easter is to travel either side of the bank holiday weekend and to plan ahead by checking National Rail Enquiries to see how your journey could be impacted by our essential upgrades to improve the railway for the future.”
The RMT strike action affecting TransPennine Express services this weekend is the latest in a series of walkouts by conductors planned for between April and June in a row over pay and Sunday working.
The union wants enhanced flat payments of £250 for rest day working and £275 for working Sundays to be fully restored. It also says that there is a “large discrepancy” in pay levels between conductors and other train crews for doing the same work.
Speaking before the last walkout earlier this month, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that the blame for the dispute “firmly lies with TPE management’s intransigence on this issue”.
“What we are asking for would cost the company less than the loss of revenue from strike action.
“RMT remains open to talks about properly rewarding our conductors for the crucial role they play in keeping the trains moving,” Mr. Lynch added.
The expected railway chaos over the Easter weekend comes after it emerged at Transport for the North’s annual conference last year that train travel for leisure purposes across the North of England was often exceeding 2019, pre-pandemic levels.
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Neither National Highways, which is responsible for the motorway and trunk road network in England, nor Lancashire County Council, which looks after the rest of the road network across the county – except in Blackpool and Blackburn – is planning any major roadworks over the bank holiday weekend.
National Highways has actually lifted more than 1,000 miles of roadworks, meaning that around 98 per cent of England’s major A-roads and motorway network will be cone-free over the four-day break.
Research conducted by breakdown service Green Flag estimates that 45 percent of North West motorists will hit the road during the Easter period, travelling an average of 92 miles.
Nationwide, millions of people are expected to drive to airports, ferry terminals or the Eurotunnel to go abroad, while 25 percent will visit friends and family and 21 percent go on a staycation.
However, drivers are being urged to carry out basic vehicle checks – especially on the condition of their tyres – before setting off on long journeys.
Dave Harford, a National Highways traffic officer, said that motorists should look out for cuts or wear over the full width of the tyre and not forget to check the side of the tyre wall.
He added: “Although the legal limit for tyre tread depth is 1.6mm, we recommend you don’t let the tread get that low. Changing the tyre at 2mm in summer and 3mm in winter is good practice and maintains overall good tyre performance in all conditions.
“To check your tyre pressure, visit most fuel and service station forecourts, which have an air machine for checking and inflating your tyre pressure.
“If you are stopped by the police and found with illegal tyres, you could receive a £2,500 fine and 3 penalty points per tyre."