Walkden residents are campaigning for their station to receive funding for a step-free access to the platform.
Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and Northern Rail had ranked the station number one in priority to receive Access for All funding, which is central government money dedicated to improve accessible facilities in the rail network.
But the Department for Transport (DfT) decided otherwise, to the disappointment and surprise of residents.
Now campaigners are asking for the system to be reviewed for more devolution, which would allow funding to be distributed according to local needs.
Andy Barlow, chair of local community group Friends of Walkden Station, said: “We were hopeful that in the next round of Access for All funding, when it was announced, we would be successful, as we were already listed as the number one priority.
“But in fact, we were not chosen and only two stations in Greater Manchester were funded, which are Irlam and Daisy Hill. Walkden wasn’t successful, which came as a big surprise and a big disappointment to us.”
The “Access for All” plan is designed to improve accessibility in train stations.
It makes £300 million available nationally for the period running 2019-2024. Local transport authorities such as TfGM and Northern Rail make recommendations, and the final decision is taken by the Department for Transport.
Mr Barlow added: “In our view, one of the main problems is that there is one funding pot at the moment, which is essentially a government-controlled funding pot which only comes around every five years.
“So, we’re pressing the point that there should be a different pot of money allocated to schemes like this and perhaps with increasing devolution – which seems to be favoured politically at the moment – and that as part of that process, a different method of funding Access for All-type projects in greater Manchester, and therefore in Salford, would be needed.
“Hopefully, if that comes to fruition, and a different source of funding is found, we would have a very strong case to move forward rather than having to wait another five years which is just unacceptable.”
Walkden station is used by more than 300,000 people each year, and 20 percent of the local population is over 65. Yet 42 steps separate the platform from the entrance, making it difficult for people with reduced mobility, buggies or large items of luggage to access the station.
Neil Stapleton, a founding member of the friends of Walkden station, which has been established for 12 years, said: “Every station should have step-free access of course.
“Some of the older trains on the network are being scrapped as we speak because they don’t meet disability access rights, and yet new trains are being introduced that people can’t get on board because so many of the stations around Greater Manchester are still inaccessible to people – not only disabled people, but people with prams, pushchairs, large items of luggage.
“They’ve got 50 odd stairs to get up here and it’s just impossible for many people to access the station. In particular at Walkden, our demographic here shows that for a lot of metrics like the percentage of retired people, the percentage of people with mobility issues, the percentage of people with long-term illnesses are all above the England national average.”
The Friends of Walkden Station have submitted a Freedom of Information request to DfT asking why the funding was awarded to Irlam and Daisy Hill (which were ranked after Walkden by TfGM and Northern Rail in order of priority), but this information was not disclosed by the Government.
From next summer, Walkden Station will be the gateway to the new RHS Bridgewater Garden, expected to attract half a million visitors a year.
Mr Barlow said: “The likely demographic of those visitors means that there will probably be quite a lot of people travelling fairly long distances to visit the garden, and quite a lot of those people may be older people who may also have mobility challenges.
“Therefore, given the sustainability element as well as a development like that, we feel it’s very important that as many of those people as possible arrive by train. And if we don’t have an accessible station, we don’t have a means for those people to be able to travel here by train, which is inherently unfair, and also will mean a greater pressure on visitors effectively forced to arrive by roads.
“It’s one of the biggest opportunities I would say that we’ve had in this area for a very long time, and it’s another reason why the Access for All submission being unsuccessful here has been another huge disappointment to us.”
The campaigners also argue that an Accessible Station would represent a huge commercial interested for Northern Rail, the only train operator to provide services at Walkden, which is already a cash-strapped franchise.
Mr Barlow added: “If 10 percent of the visitors of the HRS arrive by train, that’s 50 thousand extra passengers a year potentially for Northern. So there’s a big commercial imperative for them to work with us and support us, and resolve these issues. And hopefully in the future, we’ll see a much better service and a much better situation for everyone.”
The Friends of Walkden Station are a group of volunteers trying to raise the status and profile of the station in the community. The members work to improve the environment of the station, installing artwork and flowerbeds on the platform.
They also campaign for bigger works to be done, for example the refurbishment of the original Victorian roof which shelters most of the platform, as well as infrastructure improvements such as step-free access. Another aspect of their action involves campaigning for better train services.
TfGM was contacted for comment.
Image credit- Laura Joffre