COMMUTERS already bracing themselves for major disruption are now facing even bigger problems.
The main road through Atherton will close for more than 12 weeks later this month to allow crucial repairs to the old railway bridge in the town.
Drivers have already been warned that closing the structure spanning Bolton Road will mean a large scale diversion along with sporadic cancellation of some train services on the line to Manchester.
Now a councillor who co-represents the area on the Transport for Greater Manchester Committee is warning that a failure to agree to use a site compound as an emergency turning circle for buses with Network Rail (NR) could also mean that the bus service will also be significantly affected as well.
NR and their contractors Carillion held a well attended information drop-in session with residents earlier this week at St Philip’s Primary School to outline their plans for Bolton Road bridge reconstruction work.
The three span structure was built in 1885 and its riveted wrought iron girders and metallic deck plates are all suffering from extensive corrosion damage.
Two of the three spans will be completely rebuilt using pre-stressed concrete beams.
The third span is over a redundant track bed, so it can be filled in to strengthen it.
A temporary footbridge will be built so pedestrians and cyclists will be able to use Bolton Road throughout the work, and a diversion will be put in place for road vehicles.
But it will also now mean First Manchester’s No 582 service from Leigh to Bolton via Atherton being diverted through Tyldesley then via Mort Lane with the last stop enroute to Bolton now becoming Atherton, before returning to its original route at Four Lane Ends.
It is now being suggested that the No 581 service provided by South Lancs Travel will operate in two halves with a 15 minute service from the shops at Marlborough Road to Bolton during the day and a quarter of an hourly service from Atherton Central Station to Leigh, with a new emergency mini bus service funded by the Metro operating on Sundays and at night.
Independent Coun Norman Bradbury warned that the changes will mean “severe disruption” to the No 582 and significantly add to the length of the journey times for passengers using the No 581.
The changes are set to come into place from September 12 until December 3.
Coun Bradbury said: “This is not the ideal solution.
“But following the unexpected decision of Network Rail to withdraw their offer of a bus turning circle adjacent to the bridge on Bolton Road, due to safety considerations and the discovery of a previously unidentified high pressure gas main, Transport for Greater Manchester and the Bus operators reluctantly decided that the only option was to propose the services as previously outlined.”
But Network Rail insisted today that their site compound, in a field immediately next to the historic former Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company bridge, would need significant engineering itself to take a bus turning circle.
And the council, facing Government cuts, are unable to afford to fund it.
A spokesman said: “The intention was to build a bus turning circle in part of the field and fence it off from the site compound so there would be no danger to passengers from construction traffic. However, the field drops quite steeply away from the road and given the fact that it would be used during the first part of winter, we believe the only safe way we could build the turning circle was to create a properly constructed and tarmac surfaced road.
“Our contractor gave us an estimate of £200,000 for the work but Wigan council could not afford it.”
Network Rail say that the other suggestion, to turn the buses in the road, was rejected because the steepness of the slope from road to field meant there would be a serious risk of the buses grounding as they reversed into the compound
The presence of a high pressure gas main means the entrance is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, and with the timetable showing buses reversing in the site entrance every five minutes, this would interfere with site traffic.