Labour has refused to rule out higher rail fares or keeping decrepit trains, in a bleak message for the North’s passengers.
Mary Creagh, the party’s transport spokeswoman, said the Government’s controversial plans for the new Northern Rail franchise may be impossible to reverse – even if it wins the general election.
Ministers claim local fares are higher in the South and have put forward proposals to wipe out those differences by hiking ticket prices on cheaper Northern routes.
Asked if Labour opposed that move, Ms Creagh said:
“That’s not a fair question without civil service advice – that’s what ministers are doing on the basis of advice.”
She added that halting that process was “not impossible”, particularly if Labour plans to devolve decision-making to local transport authorities went ahead.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has also sparked anger by planning to “modernise” the 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” – despite an earlier vow to replace them.
But Ms Creagh said it would take around seven years to bring in different trains – which must be ‘cascaded’ from other lines, where electrification schemes are in doubt.
“I don’t want to upgrade the Pacers – I’m not sure you can. They’re not disability compliant.
“However, they have the enormous advantage that they exist – unlike better trains for the future that don’t exist yet.”
Ms Creagh was speaking after the launch of the Right Lines campaign, to end decades of underinvestment in rail in the region.
The crucial date looms in December, when specifications for the new franchises – potentially including fare hikes and retaining the Pacers – are published.
The North’s transport leaders have warned that hoped-for improvements will be “locked out for seven to nine years” unless their message is heard by then.
For example, an annual season ticket for the 13.5 mile journey between Darlington and Middlesbrough is £928 – but Bath to Bristol, a similar distance, costs £1,504.
But Northern transport bosses say the difference is justified because of lower incomes in the region, as well as by the older trains passengers must use.
Ms Creagh insisted Labour had a strong plan for the railways, which would end the damaging fragmentation of the privatised system.
It will create a rail authority – a “single guiding mind to plan investment and services” – bringing Network Rail together with passenger organisations.
The new body would contract routes, coordinate services and oversee stations, fares and ticketing, with a state-owned company bidding to run rail lines.
Source – Northern Echo, 17 Oct 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
High speed rail will slow down services from the North East to Scotland and reduce London journeys by just 11 minutes, the region is today warned.
A series of route documents have shown how the North will be increasingly isolated if the £42bn railway project is completed.
After a trickle of concerns at the plans for a new railway emerged over the last year, the final picture increasingly shows a high speed network in which Newcastle actually loses services.
Consultation documents put out by HS2 and Network Rail show:
- From 2033, Newcastle’s direct trains to and from Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow are replaced by a stopping service calling at small towns throughout the line, hugely adding to journey times;
- All London to Scotland services will go up the West Coast;
- High speed rail will replace, not add, to all existing East Coast London to Newcastle routes in order to free up capacity south of York;
- Under High speed plans, Durham would lose out on direct links, while Darlington moves from two trains an hour to London to one train;
- Total journey saving times to London when Durham’s Hitachi trains are built are just 11 minutes.
Under Government plans, the high speed railway will go from London to Birmingham, heading in a Y-shape to Leeds and Manchester by 2033. The fast trains then switch down to regular speeds and travel either to Newcastle or up the west coast to Scotland, with Newcastle now becoming simply the end of a branch line.
Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who sits on the House of Commons group overseeing the London to Birmingham high speed work, said he had warned his own party’s front bench team that something will have to change if the North East is not to lose out.
He told The Journal: “We have some of the worst rail connections already. As I have said to our front bench, the North East first of all needs to be recompensed for the disruption we will face as work goes on from York to London.
“But also, this new line will build economic powerhouses in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester, while whatever happens in Scotland it is going to be given more economic powers.
“The North East risks being trapped in between these economic honeytraps, with slower connections to Scotland and losing some services to London. How will we sell ourselves to investors after High Speed 2?”
Other Labour MPs hitting out at the high speed plans include Durham’s Kevan Jones and Newcastle’s Nick Brown. They are at odds with Labour councils such as Newcastle and the Association of North East Councils, which have campaigned for new route despite the concerns.
Many of the damaging changes to North East services come as a result of a lack of investment in the East Coast Main Line north of York.
The four-lane line railway network changes to a two-lane line between Northallerton up to Newcastle. And with that system already leading to congestion on a one-in one-out basis, the new high speed route would only be able to replace, rather than add to, existing services.
In its consultation document, Network Rail admits that High Speed duplicates services up the East Coast, and as such, it wants to “reduce the quantum of long distance services,” axing long distance trains and replace them with slower, stopping services.
South of York there is increased extra capacity as all trains from Newcastle and Scotland are sent past Birmingham to Euston, with six trains an hour from the North moved off the existing system.
The system would mean there is an end to services from London to Edinburgh via Newcastle, documents show.
Instead a new stopping services would start at Newcastle and call at Cramlington, Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Dunbar, Drem, Prestonpans and Edinburgh Waverley.
And the same capacity constraints that force all these changes mean that from 2019, transport officials have decided the only way to increase services on the Transpennine service is to reduce one train an hour on the Birmingham via Leeds Cross Country routes.
Source – Newcastle Journal 06 May 2014
A damning list of North rail failures has been put to the Government.
MPs have accused the Department for Transport of overseeing years of neglect and of “blundering” its way into years more of service failures on crowded and outdated Northern trains.
Ministers were told it was disgraceful that they were planning to take 170 modern trains from across the entire North of England and send them south, serving constituencies such as the prime minister’s.
Shadow deputy leader of the House Angela Smith said the loss of stock on the North’s First Transpennine Express service came as result of officials pushing back its franchise renewal while they “rushed” into the sale of mainline services.
And the Government was forced to admit it will try and phase out the unloved Pacer trains, used by Northern rail on the Hexham to Newcastle line, as soon as possible in the next franchise. Speaking in parliamentary debate, the MP said: “It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.
“As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers.
“We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.”
She added: “We in the North believe we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity a growing network needs. We need those trains so our economy can compete with the South – we all know how big that challenge is – if we are to close the North-South gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 2, which compares with a national average of 18 years.
> I think they meant an average age of 20+, not 2. If only it was 2.
“Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.”
Ms Smith was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: “We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country.
“At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the North, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the Northern hub.
“However, the only reference to the North East of England were signs on the map saying, York, and, To Scotland. The North East of England was not an afterthought – it was not even a thought.”
Junior transport minister Stephen Hammond said discussions were ongoing to try and let the North keep the modern trains until May 2015.
The minister added: “Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention.
“With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.
“We expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 14 March 2014