Rail Campaigner's Summit – Guide Bridge Theatre - 26th May 2011
Over 40 rail campaigners attended the event organised by the Re-open the Woodhead Line Campaign at Guide Bridge Theatre on 26th May 2011.
Dave Shaw welcomed everybody and recognised the support the Woodhead group had received from Railfuture in funding the event.
The opening speech was given by Andrew Gwynne who made an appeal to grass-root rail campaigners to support the development of the Opposition's rail and wider transport strategy. Andrew set out the national context for rail developments, including the reduced budget for rail developments. The plans to bring a regular service back to Reddish South and Denton had his strong support, as well as the need for more rail capacity between Manchester and Sheffield and he believed a re-opened Woodhead line could be part of the solution.
Northern Rail provided an informative presentation about their Route 28 strategy. This is a low cost / high impact strategy to improve the facilities and appearance of stations on two historic lines out of Manchester to Liverpool (via Chat Moss) and Glossop / Hadfield. Dwayne Wells, Service Quality Manager from Northern, spoke particularly about his aspirations for Hadfield Station.
This led nicely into the next presentation which was from Steve Bagshaw, one of the members of the Campaign to Re-open the Woodhead Line group. Steve made an important announcement – the setting up of a Friends of Hadfield Station group (FoHS). This would be in partnership with Northern Rail and the partnership was consequently christened 'Friends and FoHS'.
Steve also recounted his trip to deliver an important consignment to the HQ of his local authority by rail. This involved exiting and re-entering the county four times, travelling from Glossop via Manchester, Sheffield and Derby before heading NORTH to Matlock. A distance of 38 miles which took 9.5 hours for the return journey!
A series of presentations followed from local campaign groups; first of all Kim Burrows and Dot Ashworth spoke of the campaign by the Friends of Reddish South station to get a regular service re-instated between Reddish, Denton and Manchester Victoria. This had received endorsement from Stockport Borough Council, Travelwatch Northwest and nationally by Railfuture. Both spoke of the importance of engaging the wider community in their campaign. The station was undergoing a transformation, as plants and flowers set last year were coming into bloom and importantly two excursion trains had decided make Reddish South a pick up / drop off point.
Alan Jones added to this from the Denton perspective and gave notice of a community open day on 2nd July 2011 when they would be manning a stall in the foyer of Sainburys to raise awareness of the station group and recruit new members. The group had recently received the alarming news from Network Rail that the platforms were slowly collapsing onto the track and that this may bring about the stations demise. Assurances had been received from Andrew Gwynne, prior to the conference that this was not an option.
The summit next focused on Woodhead proper with a presentation from the Don Valley Railway and their proposals for the re-instating of a passenger commuter service on the stretch of line currently open for freight only, between Sheffield Victoria and Stocksbridge. Originally an 11 minute non-stop journey between Stocksbridge and Sheffield had been regarded as the most cost-effective, however the need to engage with all the communities along the line of route had brought a recognition that the DVR could not ignore the wishes of these communities to see their stations re-opened. DVR also stated its long term aims of pressing for re-opening of the route as far as Penistone and its support of the Woodhead group in their campaign to re-open the whole line.
A presentation on behalf of the Woodhead group was delivered by David Bryson and Colin Elliff. This firmly set the campaign in the context of the wider environmental agenda and the need for a contingency rail route between the country's 3rd and 4th largest cities. It was unacceptable that passengers were put on buses everytime the Hope Valley Line was closed for engineering work. The essential connectivity which the line could provide across the North was outlined. In engineering terms a re-opened Woodhead line offered the most cost-effective means of increasing rail capacity, as well as allowing for electrification, between East and West ports.
Jim Bamford delivered an extremely interesting presentation demonstrating how line speed improvements on the Robin Hood Line had vastly improved reliability and was prising open the door for a potential route extension to Ollerton. Jim emphasised the importance of best utilisation of diesel trains as few new units were likely to be built. In addition line speed improvements could reduce the number of units required to operate routes and consequently improve their cost efficiency. The need to have local authorities on board was emphasised and how holding regular conversations with network Rail could reduce scheme costs.
Angela Smith closed the conference commending all the groups for their presentations, but particularly pointing out the way in which Kim and Dot from Reddish South had illustrated the valuable roles that women could play in rail campaigns and better engagement with the local community. Angela restated her support for the DVR proposals and promised to work hard to see them come to fruition. She also supported the need to ensure that the rest of the Woodhead line was safeguarded for re-opening. However greater political pressure was required at this time as the dialogue between Network rail and National Grid over the situation at Woodhead had stopped and Angela stated there was a danger of the re-opening scheme being kicked into the long grass by Government, in view of the financial situation. National Grid had offered to sell the old tunnels for a nominal sum, however the costs of upkeep, reckoned to be in the region of £500k per annum, would not be taken on by the National Park and consequently the old tunnels could end up being sealed off. She urged all the groups to engage with the political process to ensure that the need for re-opening was given a far hearing within the DfT.