NORTH Wales will retain its direct rail links with Manchester Airport under new rail route proposals praised by business leaders amid fears over their economic impact.

Politicians and business leaders had feared that North Wales could lose the service after three new timetable options were put forward by transport chiefs at the start of the year, with the possibility of further increasing what are already lengthy journey times for rail users between the regions, with potential consequences for tourism.

The proposals by the UK Government's Manchester Recovery Task Force (MRTF) aimed to boost the performance of the Manchester area rail services and stated concerns that the train service from Holyhead to Manchester Piccadilly was contributing delays to other services. A new pattern of running the service through to Manchester Airport was introduced in December last year, which resulted in the loss of an additional peak service, however there were concerns that the direct airport link would be scrapped altogether.


The direct link from from Holyhead to Manchester Airport will be continued, transport chiefs have confirmed. Picture: Transport for Wales

The direct link from from Holyhead to Manchester Airport will be continued, transport chiefs have confirmed. Picture: Transport for Wales


Rail users would have to either had to get the airport via Stalybridge (Option A) or Knutsford (Option C). There were also worries that the seizure would disrupt tourism: in 2019, the airport welcomed 522,000 tourists destined for Snowdonia or other areas of North Wales, with 22 per cent using rail services upon arrival.

But the plans have now been dropped after MRTF has decided to go ahead with Option B in their proposals, which will see changes to services from Warrington, Liverpool and Sheffield from December 2022.

Dr James Davies, Vale of Clwyd MP and chair of the Mersey Dee North Wales All-Party Parliamentary Group (MDNW), praised the decision after calling for the continuation of the service since March this year, which he says will protect tourism in North Wales.

“I am very relieved that North Wales won’t lose its hard fought for direct rail links with Manchester Airport under these new rail route proposals," he said. “Retaining a direct rail connection with Manchester Airport is particularly important in order to allow our region to cater for inbound tourism and students.

"A large majority of journeys are currently made by car, largely due to inadequate public transport options. As an example, the 65 miles from Prestatyn to central Manchester currently takes up to 105 minutes on the train, while the same distance is covered in under 50 minutes in many parts of southern England.

“The new-look timetable aims to create a simpler, more evenly spaced timetable that reduces the risk of delays from a congested network, delivering a service that people can rely on, and I hope it will be very much welcomed by rail users here in North Wales.

“There does however remain much work to do to reduce rail journey times from North Wales to Manchester and beyond, and I and my colleagues await the release of the Union Connectivity Review, which we hope will make the clear case for investment in this.”

Mobile phone data acquired by Transport for Wales showed that over a 24-hour period, an average of 153,000 journeys are made between North Wales and North West England, 20 times higher than the number of journeys from North Wales to other regions of Wales.

MRTF was set up in January last year and includes the UK Government Department for Transport, Transport for the North, Transport for Greater Manchester, Network Rail and the train operators Northern and TransPennine Express.

It believes the changes to services will ensure that the wider Manchester area remains closely connected while bottlenecks become unclogged and services are improved across a number of ‘hotspots’.

The new timetable follows a public consultation over its three proposals which ended in March. More than 800 passengers and stakeholders including businesses, rail passenger groups, local authorities, MPs and Trade Unions gave their views.

Chris Heaton-Harris, the UK Government Minister for Rail, said: "This new timetable has been built around the voices of Manchester that helped design it, focused on cutting delays on Manchester’s railways and boosting punctuality.

"Our plan for rail sets out our commitment to putting passengers first when it comes to our rail network. The work we are doing to fix Manchester’s railways, which were bursting at the seams pre-pandemic, is all part of us building back better from COVID-19."

Liam Robinson, chair of the Rail North Committee, which represents Northern leaders on the task force, said: "This part of the network is the buckle in the belt of the North’s rail network. It has to be able to do its job. The interim service solution in this consultation is, inevitably a compromise, but it allows us the chance to run more reliable services until the task force can deliver on infrastructure solutions to enable the network to run as it needs to."

"What’s important is that we now have a commitment from government and the rail industry to develop and deliver a railmap which will enable us to build back services in a smarter and more intelligent way and provide an exit strategy from the temporary timetable we need in the interim."