Drive for more stops at station

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A rail campaign group will be making the case for more East Coast trains stopping at Morpeth station after a joint venture won the franchise to run the route.

The Government has announced that – subject to formal contract completion – Stagecoach and Virgin will take on the network of trains which travel between London and various towns and cities along the east coast of England and Scotland.

The consortium, named Inter City Railways, is set to take over the franchise on March 1, 2015.

There will be more trains from London to Newcastle, direct services to places such as Sunderland and Middlesbrough, 65 state-of-the-art Intercity Express trains will be brought into passenger service from 2018 and there will be improvements to ticket offices at various stations.

However, when it comes to extra train services, Morpeth and other stations in the county are not mentioned.

Dennis Fancett, chair of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG), said: “Although there are more trains going to some stations in the north, the Department for Transport didn’t say that any additional train services were required in Northumberland, which was disappointing.

“It is now up to us to approach Stagecoach and Virgin and try to persuade them that there is a strong commercial argument in favour of introducing more stops at Morpeth.

“There is a reasonably good East Coast service for peak hours at the moment, but we don’t have any off-peak services at the station and that is what we need.

“We believe there is a big enough market to justify these off-peak trains and hopefully the fact that Virgin introduced them at Morpeth for its Cross-Country trains, and they are still in place, will help us to get a similar service for Inter City Railways.”

The franchise has been publicly run since 2009. The Government set up an East Coast Main Line company to take it on after it assumed control from National Express East Coast when it defaulted on its contract.

But the current Government wanted it to return to the private sector as it believes this will be beneficial for passengers in the long-term.

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach Group, said: “A passion for customers, employees and the community is at the heart of our plans for the franchise.

“We have some fantastic ideas to deliver a more personal travel experience for customers.”

Inter City Railways has given a commitment to reduce all long-distance standard anytime fares by ten per cent.

The operator will also develop its own website, smartphone and tablet apps.