Don’t railroad us, say commuters

ANGRY Morpeth commuters have put pen to paper to protest at changes to rail services.

A 143-name petition has been collected by passengers, who are furious at changes to the timetable that removes the well-used 8.32am Morpeth train to Newcastle.

They say the Northern Rail service is ideal for workers as it also stops at Cramlington and Manors and arrives in the city just before 9am.

A new earlier CrossCountry train will only go direct to Newcastle, while a later Northern train that does stop at Cramlington and Manors doesn’t arrive in the city until after 9am — too late for many workers.

Commuter Norman Carless, of Stobhill Villas, was prompted to organise the petition as he has used the 8.32am service for 18 years and is dismayed that it is now being changed.

“There was a group of us who did the petition because we were really annoyed that they were taking this train off,” he said.

“We collected the petition over just two days by going through the carriages on the way to work. We thought we would get the same people on both days, but they were different, which shows how many people use the service.

“A lot of people didn’t even know about the changes.

“Obviously they do change the timetable, but I have been travelling on this service since 1993. It may have been changed by a few minutes over the years, but a few minutes doesn’t make much difference. When you are talking about a train at 8.49am instead of 8.30am it does start making a difference.”

The current 8.32am Northern Rail service, which will end on May 22, stops in Cramlington at 8.40am and Manors at 8.53am, arriving in Newcastle at 8.57am.

But the new CrossCountry train, which leaves Morpeth at 8.13am and arrives in Newcastle at 8.30am, does not stop at the other two stations.

And a later Northern Rail train, leaving Morpeth at 8.49am and calling at Cramlington at 8.57am, doesn’t arrive at Manors until 9.10am and Newcastle until 9.14am.

Mr Carless said: “I retired on Friday so it doesn’t really affect me now, but I worked about five minutes from the station so the 8.32am service was ideal for me.

“We didn’t have flexitime where I worked so if I hadn’t retired I would have had to get the earlier train and go in half an hour early, which would have been annoying, but those people who are going to or from Cramlington or Manors are going to be stuck. They will have to go to Newcastle and then make their way from there.

“The Government is trying to encourage people to use public transport, but with this people are going to be inconvenienced if they continue using the train, or they will find other means of transport.”

The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) is aware of the situation, but Chairman Dennis Fancett said few members had complained as the new timetable will provide more services and spread existing links out better.

“Our view on this is mixed,” he said.

“We asked our members if they had a problem with the new timetable and only two came forward to say it would be awkward for them.

“The difficulty is not so much for people who go to Newcastle because overall there will be a greater range of services to Newcastle. At the moment we have two trains that leave Morpeth and arrive in Newcastle at virtually the same time so the new timetable spreads this out a bit, which is a good thing.

“However, for people who get off at Manors, the 8.13am service doesn’t stop there, and for commuters in Cramlington it will be a problem.

“Overall, there are more trains from Morpeth and more opportunities to get into Newcastle earlier, while we don’t have the scenario where the Northern and CrossCountry trains run at the same time.

“But we do understand that there are some difficulties and we have been seeking a meeting with Northern Rail to ask if they can have a look at this particular issue.”

Northern Rail says it was forced to make the changes due to amendments to the East Coast main line timetable, which takes precedence, and all options were examined to try to find a suitable alternative train that would arrive in Newcastle by 9am.

Commuters from Morpeth are advised that they can use the 7.54am train, calling at Cramlington at 8.02am, Manors at 8.15am and Newcastle at 8.19am.

A spokeswoman for the company said: “Our timetable change comes into effect from May 22 and will see the re-timing of the 8.32am from Morpeth to Newcastle, which will now run at 8.49am, arriving in Newcastle at 9.14am.

“The change is a result of the industry timetable change to the East Coast main line — our services have had to be re-scheduled around longer distance services.

“We have thoroughly investigated the possibility of running a service that would allow arrival into Newcastle before 9am, however due to a freight train scheduled to run on this route, we simply are unable to operate an earlier service.”

She added that for passengers travelling to Manors, there are a number of extra services calling there throughout the day.