A NEW timetable for East Coast trains has been hailed a capital idea for Northumberland passengers.
The operator has unveiled its schedule to take effect from May 22 that enables Morpeth Railway Station users to reach London at 9.40am — an hour earlier than at present.
There will be more than double the number of direct weekday services between Morpeth and the capital, five up from the two existing services.
The station also benefits from three Sunday trains from London instead of the one at present.
Passengers can use the new Flying Scotsman express service from Edinburgh to London on Monday to Friday that will only stop at Newcastle.
They can get on an East Coast train at Morpeth at 6.35am, get off when it reaches Newcastle at 6.52am, then board the Flying Scotsman which is due to arrive ten minutes later. Rail users at Berwick and Alnmouth can also make the switch.
Those that stay on the 6.35am service will reach London at 10.06am.
The new timetable contains three Monday to Friday Morpeth to London services, the other two are 7.07am and 7.53pm, whereas previously there was just one. Northbound, Morpeth now gets two Monday to Thursday trains from London instead of one, with an additional later train on Friday.
The schedule has been welcomed by the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG).
Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “We are delighted with this timetable and it’s great that passengers can arrive in London a full hour earlier than the current earliest possible arrival.
“From May, passengers won’t need to leave London until 6.30pm (or 7.30pm on Friday), giving business people two extra hours in the capital, perhaps eliminating the need for that overnight stay and making south east Northumberland businesses more competitive.
“Business passengers should also benefit from a significantly improved first class offer, including complimentary food, that we understand East Coast is also introducing from the same date.
“There is also a direct return evening service from Aberdeen, eliminating the precarious 10-minute platform change at Edinburgh Waverley, which will compliment the morning service north at 8.56am.”
The group had previously voiced its concerns at draft proposals for the timetable, which would have meant longer journey times, later arrival in London and an earlier return.
As a result, SENRUG and other rail user groups lobbied East Coast, the Department for Transport and Network Rail.
“What this timetable shows is that our voice has been heard,” said Mr Fancett. “If ever there was evidence that it is worth joining a group like SENRUG then this is it. Our hours of volunteer effort, attending meetings, writing letters and engaging MPs have been effective.
“East Coast has listened and the result is a much-improved inter-city service for Morpeth Railway Station.”
A consultation on the schedule, called Eureka, was launched by East Coast 12 months ago and it substantially influenced the timetable process developed on behalf of the industry by Network Rail.
East Coast Managing Director Karen Boswell said: “This represents the biggest change to the East Coast route in a generation. It will deliver more services, more seats and a much-improved pattern of services for millions of passengers.
“The new non-stop Flying Scotsman service, which connects with Northumberland stations, will also help us to continue to meet our customers’ needs and offer a very attractive alternative to flying.”
One existing East Coast service is withdrawn, the Sunday afternoon direct train to London, which currently departs at 4.43pm. However, it is currently within 20 minutes of a CrossCountry departure.
Mr Fancett said: “We have always said we want the East Coast and CrossCountry departures more evenly spaced out throughout the day.
“If the new timetable retains a CrossCountry train at the same time, then journeys to London will still be possible by changing at Newcastle or York.”
A copy of the schedule is available at www.eastcoast.co.uk/22May