Rail campaigners fight proposed cuts to train services from Morpeth
Rail campaigners fear that more than a decade of work to improve train services from Morpeth is set to be undone.
A proposed new timetable from May 2022 would see cuts to the number of LNER trains calling at the station and the withdrawal of the TransPennine Express service.
LNER says the proposal, developed by Network Rail with all train and freight operators on the East Coast Main Line, has involved balancing long-distance, high-speed, regional and commuter/local services alongside the needs of the rail freight sector and, as a result, involves trade-offs.
An LNER spokesperson explained: “At Morpeth, LNER proposes to focus improvements on the start and end of day services with later last trains from London (departure 20.03), Newcastle (departure 23.08), and Edinburgh (departure 22.00); and removing LNER station calls during the middle of the day.
"While LNER will no longer call at Morpeth between 8am and 8pm (except Sundays), this will facilitate station calls at Morpeth by FirstGroup’s new Open Access Operator, which will provide five trains per day per direction calling at London King’s Cross, Newcastle, Morpeth and Edinburgh.
"These additional calls during the middle of the day will continue to provide direct connectivity to London, and, in addition to Northern’s hourly service between Morpeth and Newcastle, will provide connections to LNER faster and more frequent services between Newcastle and London.”
However, the proposal has been labelled ‘a disaster for Northumberland’ by SENRUG (South East Northumberland Rail User Group).
“Morpeth and Berwick will be particularly hard hit,” said chairman Dennis Fancett.
"Morpeth will see the complete withdrawal of its new TransPennine Express trains, introduced just before the start of the Covid pandemic, giving the town hourly links to both Edinburgh and Leeds and Manchester.
"It will also see the withdrawal of all daytime LNER services, and LNER services to London on Sundays.”
Although a new open access operator will start a service at Morpeth later this year, SENRUG is concerned these can be withdrawn or modified at any time without consultation as they are not under any contract or obligation to government.
“These changes are all for the sake of cutting 15 minutes off the journey time between London and Edinburgh,” said Dennis. “But journey time is now less critical with in train wifi and superior on-board comfort and catering. Time on the train is no longer time lost to business.
"Whilst we have no objection to journey time to Edinburgh being improved, it should not be at the expense of loss of service in Northumberland and connectivity between northern towns and cities.
"Overall, this proposal is London-centric and does not level up, or build back better, and fails to address the needs of the north. If implemented, it would undo all the improvements SENRUG has campaigned for and seen achieved incrementally over the last 15 years in a single stroke.”
SENRUG is seeking key changes to the proposals, including the continuation of LNER daytime services at Morpeth at roughly the same times as present, especially the morning Aberdeen train.
It is also calling for the hourly TransPennine Express service from Liverpool to Newcastle to be extended to Edinburgh and call at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick, plus an hourly service from each to Edinburgh, York, Leeds and Manchester.
Cllr Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: "I am really horrified with the proposals around the East Coast Main Line which will see services taken away from Berwick and Morpeth in particular.
"It is absolutely vital that we do all we can to keep these stations with the right amount of services so people will use them. That will take cars off the road and will be much better environmentally.
"It is the wrong thing to do at the wrong time when we are trying to get more people onto public transport. I will be making my position very clear to LNER."
The timetable consultation closes on August 5. Visit https://lner.citizenspace.com/user_uploads/lner-may-2022-timetable-change-consultation-document-final-version-1.pdf