Rail overhaul delay ‘just pushing problems back'

Rail bosses have been accused of ‘just pushing problems back’ after agreeing to hit the brakes on a controversial overhaul of timetables.

By James Harrison
Tuesday, 31st August 2021, 10:30 am
Morpeth and Berwick railway stations, the two stops in Northumberland that would have been most affected by the proposed timetable changes.

Several North East stations on the East Coast Mainline (ECML) faced cuts to services under the proposals, which were put out to public consultation earlier this year.

And while news that any changes will now be delayed to 2023 at the earliest has been welcomed, concerns remain over other issues facing the region’s infrastructure.

Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “While we welcome the announcement that any new timetable changes will not be introduced for another year, I am very concerned it is just pushing problems back for another 12 months.

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“Clearly there is a great deal of public concern both from residents and businesses about these plans and I still believe these proposed changes are a huge and unwelcome backwards step – particularly for Berwick and Morpeth.

“At a time when we’re recovering from a global pandemic and doing everything we can to revitalise our towns and our economy, any reductions to rail services in our county would send completely the wrong message.

“It is positive to hear LNER and others are acting on feedback and reinforces the need for them to keep talking and listening to our residents.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work with them to press the case for Northumberland.”

Under the proposals, Northumberland faced the prospect of losing 24 services a day from timetables run by LNER and other operators on the ECML.

Morpeth was in line for the biggest hit, with a reduction of 21 trains a day, followed by Berwick, which would have been down six if the changes were brought in.

Other stations in the county, including Alnmouth which has a similar number of London-bound passengers as Berwick, would have seen slight increases.

Elsewhere in the North East, Durham and Darlington also faced the prospect of cuts, although operator LNER had also proposed to increase the number of its trains stopping in Durham on the way to and from London.

Trade magazine Modern Railways revealed earlier this week the decision to hold off on the plans had been based on concerns over the new Azuma fleet working the ECML and power supply issues at key points, as well as public criticism.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “We have agreed that the planned introduction of the May 2022 East Coast Main Line timetable change will not go ahead.

“It is vital that the views of passengers and local leaders are heard and reflected in the timetable.

“This decision ensures the lessons of May 2018 are learned, enabling the industry to conduct a full review of its readiness and resolve outstanding issues identified by the industry assurance group.

“The industry will also focus on delivering an improved, achievable new timetable, which fully considers the consultation responses by passengers and local stakeholders and delivers reliable services on the East Coast.”

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service