Fiona Bruce MP calls on Rail Minister to improve Alsager Rail Services

In a speech in Parliament, addressing Rail Minister Andrew Jones MP, Fiona Bruce said:
“As a Cheshire MP, I speak on behalf of residents of the town of Alsager, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) mentioned in his excellent speech.
Alsager station is just a mile from the Staffordshire border. The rail route from it passes through Staffordshire, runs to Stoke-on-Trent and beyond, and is served by the same rail companies: East Midlands Trains, London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Railway. In his speech, my hon. Friend harked back to the days when many of the workers in the pottery manufacturing companies travelled conveniently to their jobs in the Stoke area, including from Alsager. I think trains are particularly valued by Alsager residents for that reason. One wrote to me that
“Alsager residents value their trains, particularly as bus services aren’t brilliant, but there needs to be better communication between train companies and better links between stations.”
I will come on to the detail of that in a moment.
Earlier this month, I held a surgery late one evening at Congleton station. I was impressed, though not entirely surprised, that no less than 30 to 40 residents came along on a dark wintry evening. I know from my postbag that there are considerable concerns in my constituency about train services. Many of the points raised by residents at that meeting are echoed by residents in Alsager. They include a lack of joined-up thinking by rail companies on the services and timing of trains; trains are too infrequent and often overcrowded, and they stop too early in the evening; and there is some confusion and a perception of unfairness about charges. Having held that surgery with Congleton residents, I now contribute to this debate on behalf of my Alsager residents.
I have four points, and I apologise if some appear to be somewhat technical in detail, but the detail of timing can make all the difference to a daily commuter, and the detail of charges can make all the difference to young people for whom finances are a big consideration. The main issue is that, with only two trains an hour each way from Alsager, they are timetabled too closely together—only five minutes apart. I have raised that with train operators to no avail, so I hope that the Minister might be able to do something. I know he is a very hard-working and earnest Minister, always smiling, whatever is put before him.
Here is an example of the problem: the 11.11 am from Alsager to Stoke is followed by the 11.16 am from Alsager to Stoke, provided by a different service. The next train is at 12.11 pm. The trains that arrive close together from Crewe can also cause problems for cars and congestion at the barriers at Alsager, because the barriers can be down for 10 minutes or more. Passengers who aim for the later of the two trains, but arrive a little short of time, albeit with enough time to make their train, can be stuck on the other side of a barrier that has been down since the earlier train, and they miss their train.
My second point is on ticket pricing. An advance single ticket from Stoke to Manchester can cost as little as £6.10, but an anytime ticket from Alsager via Crewe, which is two stops closer to Manchester, costs £12.70. I asked the young person who raised this with me, “Can you not buy an advance ticket from Alsager?” They said, “Yes, technically you can buy an advance ticket from Alsager to Manchester, but it is not economical. You buy the £6.10 advance ticket from Stoke to Manchester, and to make use of that, you pay £5.10 to travel two stops back on the line from Alsager to Stoke.” The difference in price for a young person travelling regularly is a big one.
My third point is about the lack of connectivity and joined-up thinking. To get from Alsager to Congleton on the train, a passenger would have to go via Stoke or Kidsgrove. I drive that in about 10 minutes by car, but travelling by rail can involve long waits for connecting trains. The connecting trains are not well timed or organised. I apologise for the figures here, but to get to Manchester, National Rail recommends the 11.16 am to Kidsgrove, which is one stop further away from Manchester, which gets in at 11.21 am; there is then a 40-minute wait for the 12.03 pm to Manchester. The passenger might as well drive to Kidsgrove and park there—if they have a car. Again, that is not always practical for young people. Alternatively, there is a 24-minute wait at Crewe station, but the ticket is about £1 more expensive, so it is cheapest and quickest to pay £5.10 to go two stops back to Stoke, then catch a quicker and cheaper £6.10 train to Manchester from there. That is all too confusing unless someone is very familiar with the way the trains work.
My fourth and final point relates to a promise made in August 2017, when a West Midlands Rail spokesman said:
“The new franchisee, West Midlands Trains Limited, will continue to run direct services to London from Stone, Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent and Alsager.”
Alsager passengers all hope that they will still be getting the service in December this year—three days’ time—as suggested then. The franchisee representative continued:
“The only difference from December 2018 is that these services will go to Euston via...Birmingham...rather than Tamworth and Lichfield on the Trent Valley Line. The change of route for London bound services so they run through the heart of the West Midlands Conurbation follows a major public consultation in 2015 where the majority of passengers said they wanted more trains from Stone, Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent and Alsager to Birmingham.”
My constituents tell me that not much has been said about that since then. It would be very helpful to know whether the service to London is going to go ahead in three days’ time.”

Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport responded:
One particular feature of colleague concern has been communication and collaboration between the different parts of our rail network, whether on the detail of the 12.11 and the 12.16 at Alsager, or on the services to London—which I believe will continue but, from May next year, are likely to go via New Street station in Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) highlighted a number of other questions, as have a lot of colleagues, and I will go through the record of the debate to ensure that I write to everyone with the detailed answers they sought. From May next year, however, she may at least expect an attractive service via New Street.”

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