North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.
The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.
The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.
Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.
The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.
The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.
And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.
Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:
“This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.
“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.
“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:
“The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”
Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.
Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:
“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:
“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”
However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Sept 2014
Better rail links between Middlesbrough and London could generate almost £6m a year in extra revenue to the town’s economy.
Vital improvements are needed to the town’s rail links, which are the “poorest rail service to London of any city” in the UK except for Bradford, according to a new report.
The review by the Middlesbrough Council‘s highways and transportation manager Derek Gittins “conservatively estimates” the introduction of a direct Middlesbrough to London service every two hours could generate upwards of £5.8m a year in extra revenue.
Of the largest 20 cities and towns in the UK outside London, only Bradford and Huddersfield – which has no service – don’t have a better service to London than Middlesbrough.
Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald is among those who has campaigned for rail improvements, saying it is an “extremely important issue for the region”.
A Middlesbrough Council executive meeting heard that in 2013/14 there were 1.37 million passengers at Middlesbrough railway station.
In the last five years rail improvements have been made to stations across the town including new lifts at Middlesbrough station and better waiting facilities at Marton, Gypsy Lane and Nunthorpe.
A new station behind James Cook University Hospital has recently opened to serve the hospital, new housing developments and sports village and to ease congestion on Marton Road.
The bids from rail operators to run the East Coast Mainline franchise from March 2015 have been submitted to the Department for Transport.
Contained within the invitation to tender is an option to include a direct train service from Middlesbrough to London.
Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool and Darlington are the closest stations to Middlesbrough which currently have a direct link to the capital.
The Department for Transport has established a joint Electrification Task Force with infrastructure manager Network Rail to study options for further electrification in the north.
The executive agreed to support the drive for improved rail services for Middlesbrough and the wider Teesside area, specifically for a direct service to London; improve connectivity via the North Transpennine route; and support the case for electrification.
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 24 July 2014
Sunderland has the lowest number of businesses out of any city in the UK, according to the latest report from think tank Centre for Cities.
Authors of the annual ‘health check’ of UK cities for 2014 also found Sunderland had the slowest-growing population, and was second bottom for business start ups.
The central spine of the report was the trend which showed the economic gap is widening between London and other cities.
Highlighting Sunderland, the report’s authors also listed Newcastle and Middlesbrough in the bottom ten cities for businesses in the UK.
The report also found there almost 10 times more jobs being created in the capital than the next best area.
Centre for Cities research revealed that London accounted for 80 per cent of national private sector employment growth between 2010 and 2012.
For every public sector job created in the capital, two have been lost in other cities, the study found.
While London is “booming”, cities such as Bradford, Blackpool and Glasgow have seen jobs lost in private and public sectors, said the report.
There has also been a significant number of jobs created in private firms in Edinburgh, Birmingham and Liverpool which have helped offset the impact of public sector job cuts.
In the two years to 2012 there were 216,000 private sector and 66,300 public sector jobs created in London, compared with losses of 7,800 and 6,800 in Glasgow, said Centre for Cities.
Other cities where jobs have been created in private companies included Nottingham (8,900), Brighton (6,400) and Aberdeen (4,900), but they were all hit by cuts in public sector employment.
The report said: “London remains the UK’s economic power house and is pivotal to the UK’s future success.”
Alexandra Jones, chief executive of Centre for Cities, said: “The gap between London and other UK cities is widening and we are failing to make the most of cities’ economic potential.
“Devolving more funding and powers to UK cities so they can generate more of their own income and play to their different strengths will be critical to ensuring this is a sustainable, job-rich recovery.”
Sunderland Echo, 27 January 2014