Rail group concern

morpeth train station. Southbound platform, East Coast train.
morpeth train station. Southbound platform, East Coast train.

CONCERNS have been raised about a new regional rail group, but Northumberland campaigners say they will continue to work for service improvements.

The Rail North partnership has been formed by 33 local authorities in the region to manage the renewal of the Northern and TransPennine franchises.

The Government says the partnership will give local people more say in running rail services, but the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) fears the North East could lose out in the deal.

Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “We at SENRUG didn’t express a view on whether this was the right or wrong way to do it, we said that would depend on what it will do for Northumberland.

“We would have concerns about the authority being very focused on the Manchester and Leeds areas and not really thinking about anything north of York. We were also concerned about whether Northumberland would have a big enough say in that authority, but we looked at some of the other ideas and we would have equal concerns about those.

“There is still a question about whether the authority will be sufficiently focused on Northumberland and what the democratic role is.

“If we look at East Coast and its 2011 timetable, in the end it was an improvement, but the first draft was woeful. There was a clear route for us to campaign and a significant improvement was delivered. My concern would be how does that work with Rail North?”

The partnership will work with the Government to design the franchise requirements, manage them and set up decision-making structures.

The process of replacing the Northern and TransPennine franchises will start later this year and include public consultation, with operators expected to be confirmed late next year and the new franchises beginning in February 2016.

SENRUG will continue to press for the re-introduction of passenger services on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, as well as seek a half-hourly service between Morpeth and Cramlington, alternate services to Morpeth extended to Pegswood and Widdrington, and Choppington and Bedlington, and a commitment to carry out a full feasibility study for a Northumberland Coast service.

The group will also seek station and stock improvements.

Mr Fancett said: “The key thing is to get Rail North to deliver more services for Northumberland. From a local franchise point of view, we have a whole set of aspirations we want to see fulfilled.”