Electrification at Bolton not fully utilised?

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Peter Lanky

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After a seemingly endless upgrade to accommodate overhead cables and faster track, the line between Manchester an Preston has now had some time to establish itself. However, having looked at realtime trains and selected a few dates in summer, it seems that only 2 of the 9 Scotland bound trains per day stop at Bolton, with no direct service to Glasgow. There's a slightly better service on Saturday and full service on Sunday. I haven't been following the 'politics' of late, but why is this so? Bolton has been one of the most neglected towns for rail over the last 50 years, so this seems a bit of a kick in the teeth for a town of such size.

Was this the intention when the upgrade was planned? I'm sure that direct trains from Bolton was one of the touted benefits. It can't be anything to do with commuters and stopping them from using the train as I doubt that many people are commuting in this direction before 4pm.
 
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Wasted electrication? What about the regular 3, 4 and 6 car electric trains on local services? It isn't just about having a stopping train to Scotland :lol:
 

Peter Lanky

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I don't really like asking questions on forums, especially as an occasional user, because the question is rarely answered properly. I have now altered the title to try to avoid correct but completely unhelpful responses, though I can't do much about responses that make a 3 word completely unhelpful response.

Now lets try again. Taken in context with the original statement, is there a reason why the majority of trains bound for Scotland pass through a large town station without stopping?
 

waverley47

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I don't really like asking questions on forums, especially as an occasional user, because the question is rarely answered properly. I have now altered the title to try to avoid correct but completely unhelpful responses, though I can't do much about responses that make a 3 word completely unhelpful response.

Now lets try again. Taken in context with the original statement, is there a reason why the majority of trains bound for Scotland pass through a large town station without stopping?

Yes and no.

Electrification on that line was never about the intercity journey time, or about shoving more stops on the Scotland services. The benefit was always to get better journey times and longer trains across the north west.

The benefits to stringing up wires are mainly felt by local journeys. Don't forget that Manchester to Scotland is five coaches each hour, of relatively high speed with few stops. Preston to Manchester by comparison is up to four trains per hour of six coach trains, with more emphasis on acceleration and frequent stops. Wiring local services is much more useful, as you speed up journeys more with every pound invested than you ever can speed up high speed services.

If your question is "why is Bolton wiring underutilised?" the answer is that it isn't. It's served by a huge number of stopping trains using the wires, it's sped up journeys, it's removed pollution from Manchester city centre, and it's improved rolling stock. Wiring has been incredibly successful.

If, on the other hand, your question is "I think Bolton wiring is underutilised because Scotland services don't stop there, please discuss" then the answer is much more complicated.

Bolton is tiny in comparison to the populations of Manchester and the Scottish Central Belt. Yes, it's important, and yes it's a big commuter town and an important junction, but it's still almost irrelevant in comparison. TPE exists to service the intercity flows from Scotland to the North West, and Bolton isnt a city. The Scotland services prioritise journey times and capacity rather than connectivity, and small towns have to lose out.

Bear in mind, that Scotland services can go either via Bolton or via Wigan, and trying to serve either town would remove the ability to divert during disruption. Also bear in mind that the Bolton line is busy, and sending fast trains that way is a good way to get them delayed. Bolton just isn't important enough to warrant stopping every intercity train there.


Somewhere has to lose out, you can't have express trains from everywhere to everywhere. Bolton, as you argue, has trains to few destinations, but to argue that it's one of the most neglected towns in the country is way off the mark. The wiring project sped up journey times and improved capacity to both of it's nearest cities, and it has new rolling stock. Bolton has a better deal than a lot of places, think Sunderland for example, and losing out on Scotland calls isn't the end of the world.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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The service from Southport across Manchester to Alderley Edge, currently run by diesel trains, should become electric from Bolton later this year when bi-modes are used.
They've been coming for two years already, mind!
 

willgreen

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I don't really like asking questions on forums, especially as an occasional user, because the question is rarely answered properly. I have now altered the title to try to avoid correct but completely unhelpful responses, though I can't do much about responses that make a 3 word completely unhelpful response.

Now lets try again. Taken in context with the original statement, is there a reason why the majority of trains bound for Scotland pass through a large town station without stopping?
Sorry if my post came across the wrong way - I wasn't trying to be rude.
The flipside of forums is that whilst, as you say, it is a place for questions to be answered, it is also a place for debate. Your original post included a very strong statement which I felt I should reply to (whilst it is getting off-topic). You are of course welcome to come back at me and back your original comment about Bolton's service up - I don't pretend to be an expert - but I would hope we are allowed to pick up on questionable points from other posters on this site.
 

Peter Lanky

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Waverley47.

Thank you for the useful answer. At the moment I am only thinking about the Express trains rather than commuter trains. I don't live in Bolton any more, but in Wigan for the past 27 years, so this is not a personal whinge because the service is letting me down personally.

Can I ask if this is the official line or how you see it? The trains also stop at Lancaster (smaller than Bolton) and Lockerbie (barely relevant) so if speed is the answer, and it seems speed (at the expense of passenger convenience) is very important, why not miss those out too? How many minutes are saved by slowing down at Bolton and stopping for 2 minutes? When the service ran via Wigan before the upgrade, the trains always stopped there. I knew I was losing a service (I regularly did Wigan to Inverness for holidays and Avanti is far more expensive) but thought that at least our loss would be Bolton's gain seeing as despite note having the title of city, it has double the population of Wigan.

I realise that places like Sunderland had/have a far worse service (and there's another topic to discuss) but like Bolton is very close to a well served hub, so from the comfort of a desk in a distant place it probably looks like walking distance. :D. I still stand by it being ONE of the worst served (per head of population) prior to the upgrade which takes care of most of the past 50 years, with only local services, predominantly on pacers and other poor trains. Not great when you have to faff around in Manchester or Preston to get anywhere distant, and when I was younger, even having to walk across Manchester. Now as a wheelchair user, I notice those changes even more.
 

jfollows

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The service from Southport across Manchester to Alderley Edge, currently run by diesel trains, should become electric from Bolton later this year when bi-modes are used.
They've been coming for two years already, mind!
My recollection is that they were first promised for May 2018, my memory might be faulty, nothing unusual there, but if not that'd make it almost three years that we've had them promised to us.
 

Peter Lanky

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The service from Southport across Manchester to Alderley Edge, currently run by diesel trains, should become electric from Bolton later this year when bi-modes are used.
They've been coming for two years already, mind.
Do you know if there has been any progress on electrification between Wigan and Bolton? This seems to be another project hanging by a thread.
 
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edwin_m

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When the Manchester-Scotland trains went over to electrics a few years ago, they were re-routed via Wigan instead of Bolton, as the latter route wasn't electrified at the time. This is an indication that having electric instead of diesel traction on these trains was seen as more important than serving Bolton. Now that both routes are electrified, the choice of which one it uses depends on how best it can be fitted into the timetable.

Bolton is probably a better place to serve than Wigan is, if you have to serve one or the other, because Wigan has other services to Scotland. But as mentioned the main markets are between Manchester and Scotland. Lancaster served because (unlike Bolton) it has fairly few other services connecting it to Manchester, and Lockerbie is served because it has to be, and this is the most operationally convenient way of doing so.

The other issue is the severe overcrowding between Manchester and Bolton at busy times of day. TPE don't want local commuters packing the train out for this fairly short distance, meaning either that a longer train has to be run mostly empty to/from Scotland or that longer-distance passengers out of Manchester will have to stand or even be unable to board. It's not really practicable to manage this by trying to prevent Manchester-Bolton passengers from boarding, so the only workable answer is to omit the Bolton stops. This overcrowding is unfortunate but the answer is to provide more capacity on the Northern services.
 

waverley47

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Waverley47.

Thank you for the useful answer. At the moment I am only thinking about the Express trains rather than commuter trains. I don't live in Bolton any more, but in Wigan for the past 27 years, so this is not a personal whinge because the service is letting me down personally.

Can I ask if this is the official line or how you see it? The trains also stop at Lancaster (smaller than Bolton) and Lockerbie (barely relevant) so if speed is the answer, and it seems speed (at the expense of passenger convenience) is very important, why not miss those out too? How many minutes are saved by slowing down at Bolton and stopping for 2 minutes? When the service ran via Wigan before the upgrade, the trains always stopped there. I knew I was losing a service (I regularly did Wigan to Inverness for holidays and Avanti is far more expensive) but thought that at least our loss would be Bolton's gain seeing as despite note having the title of city, it has double the population of Wigan.

I realise that places like Sunderland had/have a far worse service (and there's another topic to discuss) but like Bolton is very close to a well served hub, so from the comfort of a desk in a distant place it probably looks like walking distance. :D. I still stand by it being ONE of the worst served (per head of population) prior to the upgrade which takes care of most of the past 50 years, with only local services, predominantly on pacers and other poor trains. Not great when you have to faff around in Manchester or Preston to get anywhere distant, and when I was younger, even having to walk across Manchester. Now as a wheelchair user, I notice those changes even more.

No problem.

You make some very interesting points here. In regards to official or otherwise, the reasons for many of the timetabling quirks across this country are a combination of you can't to x until you've done y. We have a problem, which limits a decision; you can't make the perfect decision to serve everyone, so you have to serve the people who are already there.*

The problem with the Bolton line is that it's a two track line with lots of stations, a selection of termini, and really poor capacity to send trains into Manchester. The problem is eating to send more trains, but you can't do that until you build more capacity in Manchester, so in the meantime you have to serve everyone you can. The best way to serve Bolton is to give it fast trains every ten minutes to Manchester Piccadilly, where you could get to everywhere you wanted with a single change.

The issue of Lancaster and Lockerbie is difficult. Lockerbie is served because TPE and Avanti are the only services that could serve it, and TPE is a better fit for a smallish town in the borders. Lancaster serves a huge hinterland, and again, is served for connectivity.

There is an argument to be made that if either of those are served, then Bolton should be, but that would just clog up Scotland fast trains with Bolton commuters. Noone has ever managed to figure that one out, apart from the famous Reading case under BR. Furthermore, given the connectivity you gain by calling at Wigan instead of Bolton, and the fact that Bolton has a nice frequent service connecting onto northbound trains at Preston, it makes sense to serve Wigan.

The issue of connectivity in Bolton is strange. It has frequent services on new trains, and although I can see the argument for better links further afield, we return to the first big problem; to serve it properly you'd need to gut out all the lines in Manchester and start again. To serve Bolton, somewhere else has to lose, and the places that would lose out have a far worse service already than Bolton does.

Bolton does allright for its size. It can never be perfect, but it's done nicely out of the north west sparks, and certainly better than somewhere like Rochdale.

* I personally did a lot of work on reopening and timetabling of new lines, but the Bolton line isn't one of mine. While these issues exist, every single person in the industry would argue there is a different "first problem" that opens up all sorts of possibilities if it were to be solved.

None of the issues or solutions raised on this forum are official policy unless otherwise stated, however collectively there is an enormous amount of experience contained in these threads. While you should take everything with a pinch of salt, generally the reasons explained on here are part of the problem. I can't for example give you the exact reasons for why the Bolton timetable is the way it is, I can explain why those reasons are important. I hope I have done so here.
 
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Peter Lanky

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When the Manchester-Scotland trains went over to electrics a few years ago, etc . . .
Why do you say Lockerbie has to be served? I can't imagine many people wanting to travel from south Lancashire to Lockerbie or vice versa. Even without this route it has a fantastic service for a village of under 5,000 population.
As for commuters, in the morning all commuters will be going towards Manchester. It's only the last 3 services that could be hijacked by commuters. Surely though, there must be somebody clever enough in the industry, to devise a means of stopping travellers with a Bolton ticket from using the service. I'm sure I could myself if I thought long enough about it (and somebody was paying me) :E:E
 

Hardcastle

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Just to point out Bolton (Notlob) is one of the largest towns in England as i understand the reason some of the Transpennine trains don't call was is to keep the commuters off some of the busier journeys to & from Manchester. By the way Lockerbie is not a village but a small town it also serves Dumfries as a parkway station giving faster journeys to Glasgow & Edinburgh.
 

XAM2175

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... but like Bolton is very close to a well served hub ...
Surely then it's not unreasonable to ask passengers to travel that short distance into said well-served hub, in order that they might connect to long-distance services?

Why do you say Lockerbie has to be served? I can't imagine many people wanting to travel from south Lancashire to Lockerbie or vice versa. Even without this route it has a fantastic service for a village of under 5,000 population.
Passengers from Lockerbie or its surrounds might, however, wish to use the TPE services to travel to the likes of Carlisle or Glasgow. Without the TPE stops the station would be served by only a handful of Avanti services, which is somewhat different from Bolton's situation.

Surely though, there must be somebody clever enough in the industry, to devise a means of stopping travellers with a Bolton ticket from using the service.
They have indeed found such a means! It's remarkably straightforward; all you have to do is not stop at Bolton.
 

LNW-GW Joint

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Wigan was served by TP Manchester-Scotland trains partly to provide a connection from Liverpool (which is a bit bigger than Bolton).
Liverpool now has its own TP service to Glasgow, so less need for Manchester trains to call at Wigan.
And because of Covid, in the last year all services have been reduced from the 2019 timetable, and some places have lost out more than others.
There was also the issue of overcrowding on TP services by local passengers, which caused a lot of complaints.
The general idea of electrification was for Northern services to be increased, and lengthened, so less need for TP to call.
Things haven't turned out quite like that though.
And we haven't mentioned the Castlefield problem yet.
 

Ianno87

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Just to point out Bolton (Notlob) is one of the largest towns in England as i understand the reason some of the Transpennine trains don't call was is to keep the commuters off some of the busier journeys to & from Manchester.

Though that was an issue with the old 3 car 185s and 4 car 350s. 5 car 397s should address this problem.

They have indeed found such a means! It's remarkably straightforward; all you have to do is not stop at Bolton.

Or compulsory reservations, with Bolton-Manchester blocked to reservations.

However, such a thing is an incendiary suggestion in this forum, even when it could address problems like this.
 
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I think that if we want to talk about the electrification at Bolton not being fully utilised, it’d be better to talk about how Moses Gate, Farnworth and Kearsley are still only served by an hourly DMU.

Surely the main point of electrifying busy rail arteries is to get stopping trains out of the way of fast trains quicker. From what I can understand, the 769s will only be used on the Southport to Alderley Edge services and not the Southport to Stalybridge services that stop at these stations, so this problem won’t be addressed.

Had the Lostock to Wigan electrification actually taken place then these stations could have been served by the 9 surplus 323s, ideally half-hourly.
 

Gathursty

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I think that if we want to talk about the electrification at Bolton not being fully utilised, it’d be better to talk about how Moses Gate, Farnworth and Kearsley are still only served by an hourly DMU.

Surely the main point of electrifying busy rail arteries is to get stopping trains out of the way of fast trains quicker. From what I can understand, the 769s will only be used on the Southport to Alderley Edge services and not the Southport to Stalybridge services that stop at these stations, so this problem won’t be addressed.

Had the Lostock to Wigan electrification actually taken place then these stations could have been served by the 9 surplus 323s, ideally half-hourly.

I think the issue is that to get to Wigan Wallgate, you have to electrify under that bridge which will be a clearance problem as well as having businesses and a major road above it.
 
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I think the issue is that to get to Wigan Wallgate, you have to electrify under that bridge which will be a clearance problem as well as having businesses and a major road above it.
Which is why pre-Dec 2019, services to Stalybridge & Alderley Edge started at Wigan North Western in preparation for these services to swap to electric traction. I’d imagine that Northern would rather have trains terminate at Wallgate due to the lack of ticket barriers, although displacing DMUs would be much more important than a bit of lost revenue.
 

driver9000

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Why do you say Lockerbie has to be served? I can't imagine many people wanting to travel from south Lancashire to Lockerbie or vice versa. Even without this route it has a fantastic service for a village of under 5,000 population.
As for commuters, in the morning all commuters will be going towards Manchester. It's only the last 3 services that could be hijacked by commuters. Surely though, there must be somebody clever enough in the industry, to devise a means of stopping travellers with a Bolton ticket from using the service. I'm sure I could myself if I thought long enough about it (and somebody was paying me) :E:E

Lockerbie is a busy station with its own commuter flows into Carlisle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Before COVID the peak time arrivals and departures from Edinburgh and Glasgow were very busy trains. The station also serves the surrounding district. You can't use Lockerbie as a comparison to Bolton if you're going to write it off because you feel Bolton is hard done by.
 

chiltern trev

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Re Lockerbie. There was study/strategy document (100+pages) into transport in South West Scotland (i.e.) in the last 12-24 months done by one (or more) Scottish government entities ( I forget which) and it contained numerous tables on who used what trains etc.

One noticeable fact was if you lived in Dumfries (pop 50,000ish) and wanted to go to Edinburgh or Glasgow you got in your car and drove the 15 or so miles to Lockerbie. The number of users from Dumfries on the train via Kilmarnock was effectively zero.
Reasons:
- more trains and more regular service from Lockerbie
- price, huge difference. Something like £80 from Dumfries Vs £35 from Lockerbie as all northbound Lockerbie were off peak - until either TPE or Avanti hit Lockerbie with peak priced tickets for the early am services - the relevant MP's mailbox got loads of complaints
- quicker overall journey time, particularly to Edinburgh.

Plus the requirement for trains to call at Lockerbie - only TPE or Avanti passing through - so the call went into the TPE service, although I think there maybe the odd Avanti at first/last type times which calls as there is no TPE for that hour so the passing Avanti plugs the gap or maybe the Avanti calls at a busy time so there can be a train to Edinburgh and also to Glasgow in the same hour.
 

AndyW33

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Why do you say Lockerbie has to be served? I can't imagine many people wanting to travel from south Lancashire to Lockerbie or vice versa. Even without this route it has a fantastic service for a village of under 5,000 population.
It isn't really the posters in this forum, even those who are rail industry professionals, who decide this sort of thing. Back in the days when franchises were still flavour of the month, stops at Lockerbie were written into the TPE and West Coast franchises by the Civil Servants in London and Edinburgh and approved by the relevant Government Ministers. Unless and until the policy made at Westminster and Holyrood changes, it doesn't matter whether you or I think that stops on TransPennine Express at Lockerbie should cease in favour of a minibus service once a fortnight, or whatever, nothing is going to change, especially just days away from the Scottish Parliament elections. You could try lobbying the two governments, I believe there's a chap called Cameron who might be able to advise you.
 

Philip

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If I was to suggest Wigan lose it's direct hourly Glasgow and fast London services (ie. the one via the Trent Valley), with these services passing through so as not to unnecessarily add to journey times and an easy change at Preston and Manchester or Crewe for the Scotland/southbound services, how would people see that? That is a similar situation for Bolton right now.
 

Peter Lanky

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If I was to suggest Wigan lose it's direct hourly Glasgow and fast London services (ie. the one via the Trent Valley), with these services passing through so as not to unnecessarily add to journey times and an easy change at Preston and Manchester or Crewe for the Scotland/southbound services, how would people see that? That is a similar situation for Bolton right now.
As I live in Wigan it would be very annoying, enough so to stop me making many journeys, and to use the car instead if inconvenienced enough, which is the exact opposite of what our clever politicians want us to do. There seems an obsession about reducing journey times by those in positions of significance (unlike us, who can easily be ignored) and love to boast fast times, while depriving large numbers of people from using a service. I am recently disabled and have not made a long train journey since my accident, but changing trains more than once (for example changing at Haymarket for Wigan to Inverness which is fine) is a real no no for me.

I have to take a cynical look at all these speed records from 100 years ago (yes it really is that long now) when brilliant engineers built fantastic machines with the sole purpose of doing a 400 mile journey non stop, and thus being completely useless for anyone living along the route. The speed obsession seems not to have changed with the pointless HS2 (oops sorry). I'm sure that if people were asked, they would rather have a 3 hour journey with a few stops than a 2.5 hour journey that was regularly 15 minutes late.
 

edwin_m

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If I was to suggest Wigan lose it's direct hourly Glasgow and fast London services (ie. the one via the Trent Valley), with these services passing through so as not to unnecessarily add to journey times and an easy change at Preston and Manchester or Crewe for the Scotland/southbound services, how would people see that? That is a similar situation for Bolton right now.
In terms of north-south services that would leave Wigan with only an hourly train to Crewe and beyond, and two per hour to Preston, which may or may not have good connections with longer distance services, plus much slower options via Manchester or Liverpool. Bolton has a much more frequent service so connection times at Manchester or Preston are short, which also means that the extra time taken for a connection to Scotland is quite small compared with a through train.
 

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Which is why pre-Dec 2019, services to Stalybridge & Alderley Edge started at Wigan North Western in preparation for these services to swap to electric traction. I’d imagine that Northern would rather have trains terminate at Wallgate due to the lack of ticket barriers,
More to do with that Northern have to pay Avanti a fee every time they call as it's a dispatched station, whereas Wallgate is a Northern operated station. North Western is now only used if a 153 could be in formation or the unit is going to/ from Springs Branch.
 

JonathanH

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If I was to suggest Wigan lose it's direct hourly Glasgow and fast London services (ie. the one via the Trent Valley), with these services passing through so as not to unnecessarily add to journey times and an easy change at Preston and Manchester or Crewe for the Scotland/southbound services, how would people see that? That is a similar situation for Bolton right now.
That is quite conceivable though for Wigan - if more stock and paths were available a London to Blackpool service would take the Warrington and Wigan calls with the Glasgow service running non-stop from London to Preston.
 

Peter Lanky

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In terms of north-south services that would leave Wigan with only an hourly train to Crewe and beyond, and two per hour to Preston, which may or may not have good connections with longer distance services, plus much slower options via Manchester or Liverpool. Bolton has a much more frequent service so connection times at Manchester or Preston are short, which also means that the extra time taken for a connection to Scotland is quite small compared with a through train.
Going south from Bolton, has never been completely straightforward. Even now, the 'journey' from platform 13/14 at Man Picc to the other platforms is far from straightforward, especially for people with a mobility problem (i.e. me). I have seen many discussions about having Euston trains continuing to Bolton and why not? With so many Eus to Man trains, one per hour or even one per 2 hours could continue to Bolton. I have noticed in the past, many people leaving a Eus train to make their way to platform 14 and I have also noticed when a packed train arrives at Bolton, around half or even more passengers alight. It's not difficult to conclude that there is a market. Being a cynic, I guess that having Bolton on the departure board at Eus is simply not prestigious enough.

As for Preston, much easier than going South, but on the few unfortunate times (I hate Preston station with a passion) I have taken a train from there, an extraordinary number have included a last second platform change, which now would mean I probably miss it. The planners also make the assumption that everyone is savvy with changes. Again at Preston I am invariably asked a question about connections and platforms by a complete stranger.

More to do with that Northern have to pay Avanti a fee every time they call as it's a dispatched station, whereas Wallgate is a Northern operated station. North Western is now only used if a 153 could be in formation or the unit is going to/ from Springs Branch.
If ever there was a good reason to renationalise the railways, it would be to do away with these petty inconveniences of who owns what. A joined up national network is what we need for starters.
 
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