Cross-border rail campaigners call on LNER to rethink proposed new timetable

LNER has been urged to make changes to its proposed new timetable to protect rail services in Northumberland.

A well-attended public meeting in Berwick town hall on Monday saw campaigners and local residents accuse LNER of putting aspirations for faster London to Edinburgh journey times ahead of connectivity.

Its proposed timetable from May 2022 would see the number of trains serving Berwick cut from 54 to 50 per day, while journey times from the town to the capital would also be slower.

Services would also be cut in Morpeth and Dunbar, while a new £20m station being built at Reston would be served by just four trains a day.

Trains cross the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick.

"It’s not good enough,” said Dennis Fancett, chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG).

"We recognise there is a requirement for some trains to run from London to Edinburgh fast.

"I would say to LNER that with two trains an hour, one could be fast and run non-stop from Newcastle to Edinburgh and let the other stop at two of the four stations in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders; let TransPennine Express be the semi-fast operator calling at Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick and Dunbar.”

He also reiterated the need for a fully local service stopping at stations between Berwick and Newcastle, including the reopening of Belford.

Ben Garrett, LNER head of engagement, addresses a public meeting in Berwick called to discuss the proposed new rail timetable.

Tom Thorburn, of Rail Action Group East of Scotland (RAGES), said: “We’ve worked so hard to get a new station at Reston which is currently being built at a cost of £20m. It’s going to be a laughing stock.”

Others noted the proposal was a stark contrast to the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and its drive to reduce carbon emissions.

Cllr Isabel Hunter, member for Berwick West with Ord on Northumberland County Council, said: "Covid has impacted on everyone’s way of working, including many more working from home. We need connectivity if people are going to relocate to north Northumberland.”

Edward Frank of Berwick Trades Union Council added: “If you had a better rail service for Berwick we could see more working professionals moving into the town.”

They were able to put their case to Ben Garrett, LNER head of engagement, who urged people to feed their views into the public consultation process which ends on August 5.

He said: “We’ve drafted a timetable for consultation that aims to deliver the Government’s priorities which is about more seats and faster services between the key destinations on the route.

"It’s not possible to deliver all the aims and deliver the same level of frequencies to all locations so we’ve got together with other operators and looked at the potential for more efficiency in how we each serve the route.”

He revealed that, on an average weekday in 2019, Berwick had an average of 900 people boarding and alighting LNER services, 200 of whom were travelling to London and back.

“What we are proposing is that Berwick has an hourly service between Newcastle and Edinburgh, alternating between LNER and CrossCountry so there are fewer LNER services and slightly more CrossCountry services,” he explained. “That’s a small overall reduction of services per day from 54 to 50 but still a high frequency service compared to similarly used stations.”

At Alnmouth, there would be an increase in daily services from 42 to 44.

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