MP slams 'disastrous' draft rail timetable plans that could cut number of trains stopping at Northumberland stations

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A Northumberland MP has called on the Government to put a stop to “disastrous” plans that could slash the number of trains stopping in the county.

It emerged before Christmas that major changes to railway timetables are expected to come into force in December 2024 that have infuriated North East leaders.

The shake-up would see more and faster trains running between Newcastle and London – but at the expense of smaller stations such as Berwick and Morpeth.

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Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery wrote to transport secretary Mark Harper on Tuesday, urging the Government to oppose the rail industry’s proposals.

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck.

The Labour politician said he was “alarmed” by the news that the timetable change plans had been revived, having previously been shelved in 2021 following a backlash.

Details of the December 2024 timetable have not yet been finalised, but council leaders were told at a North East Joint Transport Committee last month that the effects would be broadly similar to the 2021 proposal.

Those original plans, designed to accommodate a third train per hour between London and Newcastle and speed up journey times, would have resulted in a reduction in the number of services stopping at Berwick and Morpeth, as well as Durham and Darlington further south.

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Due to capacity limits on the congested East Coast Main Line, it would also mean that only one train would be able to run from Newcastle to Manchester every hour rather than two – though this is already the case due to recent cutbacks by TransPennine Express caused by staffing issues.

In his letter to the transport secretary, Mr Lavery wrote: “Morpeth Station, which is in my constituency, will lose LNER off peak services to London. Whilst Lumo provides additional stops, their lack of capacity means they are not always available for people booking last minute.

“Lumo have wanted to lengthen their trains to increase supply but this has been thwarted by Network Rail cancelling the power supply upgrade at Chathill and decoping the one at Marshall Meadows (near Berwick).

“Additionally, Northern Rail services will not all terminate at Newcastle. This means that Morpeth station will lose direct connectivity to the Metrocentre, Hexham, and beyond. Statistics from the Office for Rail and Road showed Morpeth to be Northumberland’s second busiest station and I have no doubt that enhancing rather than restricting services would see this grow yet further.

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“I am perplexed that a government which has made ‘levelling up’ one of its key pledges is seeking to weaken regional rail services. I also cannot accept that such swingeing changes, withdrawn due to opposition, could be reintroduced without any public consultation only a few years later.

“I urge you as Secretary of State to oppose these disastrous changes and to support regional rail users here in Northumberland.”

The Department for Transport was contacted for a response and indicated that it would reply to Mr Lavery in due course.

LNER said last month that wider rail industry plans for the December 2024 changes were still yet to be confirmed.

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A spokesperson said at the time: “To enable faster trains, increase services and passenger numbers, we recognise our enhancements may not satisfy everyone, but the proposed timetable will be of benefit to the greatest number of customers across the north.”