Passengers get their say on railway services

MORPETH Railway Station users will have the chance to have their say on a national train service in a new publication.

The first edition of East Coast’s Northumberland News covering the Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick stations will be available later this month, according to the company’s Head of Communications Neal Smith.

As well as the announcement, he discussed a range of other issues such as timetable changes, performance figures and improvements to the service in First Class and took questions at a public meeting in Morpeth Town Hall organised by the South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG).

The news publication has been introduced in other parts of the country and Mr Smith said that while discussions were on-going about how to distribute the new one for Northumberland, others have already been handed out at stations.

“It will keep passengers up-to-date about what we are doing and we will be encouraging rail users to contribute by writing to the publication – perhaps SENRUG can have a regular column?” he added.

East Coast operates the service from London to Edinburgh and Aberdeen and has recently announced timetable changes to take effect on May 22.

They include more trains stopping at Morpeth, the ability to travel from Morpeth and arrive in London by 9.40am each week and to return later on a direct train.

Mr Smith praised SENRUG for its role in helping the company shape its new schedule.

“The feedback from your members was very clear in that the draft proposals were not good enough for Morpeth and south east Northumberland,” he said.

“As a result of listening to you and the others who responded, we have made improvements and there has been a positive reaction to them.”

Some members of the audience said they were pleased with the new timetable, but there was a complaint from a female rail user about the “dirty” conditions on the 5.30 northbound service from London. She also claimed there is often no hot water to wash her hands on this train.

Mr Smith said he would look into what she had raised and added that 60 per cent of its trains have cleaners on board.

Trevor Watson, a SENRUG member, asked if East Coast could allow more of its trains to stop at both Morpeth and Berwick, and vice versa, during the day to give people the opportunity to travel by train within north Northumberland.

Mr Smith responded: “First and foremost we are a long distance operator and if we put stops in everywhere people wanted it would take eight hours to get from Edinburgh to London, so I don’t think it’s an easy fix.”

He said the company is working hard to improve its performance in terms of punctuality – the current annual average amount of planned train services that were early, on time or less than 10 minutes late at their destination is 83.3 per cent.

The target for next year is 90.7 per cent, although Mr Smith said there are factors out of its control that it has to deal with such as signalling problems and extreme weather.

Mr Smith admitted that its new complimentary at-seat food and drinks service for First Class, also to be introduced on May 22, is risky but he is confident it will be a success.

SENRUG Chairman Dennis Fancett thanked the guest speaker for his presentation and answering questions.

He was pleased that the company did a “genuine consultation” with the new timetable and took on board the views of the organisation’s members.

However, during the meeting he said he was disappointed with its ticket pricing structure for less busy trains – where a certain amount of tickets can be bought for a cheaper amount if booked well in advance but people who end up buying them on the day have to pay the full fare.

“This penalises people who have to travel at the last minute because of an emergency, for example if a relative is taken ill,” he added.