Rail group sets out demands for services

More rail services and better station facilities have been demanded by a Northumberland passenger pressure group.

The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) has set out a number of proposals in its response to consultation about the future of the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.

The group’s long-running campaign for the full re-opening of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, which is now being progressed by Northumberland County Council, is its top priority.

But it is also seeking a range of extra services.

The group argues that there should be services to Morpeth and Cramlington at least every 30 minutes during the day and hourly in the evenings and on Sundays, which could be achieved by extending the TransPennine Expresses services from Newcastle, instead of trains sitting in the station for 55 minutes before their return journey south.

And it says that the MetroCentre to Morpeth services operated by Northern Rail should go on to Pegswood and Widdrington Station, particularly given the regeneration plans for the area.

Other proposals include extending Morpeth services to Choppington and Bedlington, and investigating the potential for a Northumberland Coast service, with regular trains between Newcastle and Berwick, which could be delivered in conjunction with Transport Scotland.

SENRUG has also called for customer information systems and level access to platforms to be provided at all stations, with a staffed ticket office, waiting room and toilets available all day at stations such as Morpeth, which serve inter-city trains.

Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to secure improvements to our local rail service. Once the franchise specification is set, there will be very little chance of getting anything else done.”

The group has rejected the Department for Transport’s suggestion that improvements should be funded by higher than average fare increases and it has refuted its claim that train fares in the North East are lower than in other regions.

The Government has now announced the shortlisted bidders for the two franchises, with Abellio Northern, Arriva Rail North and Govia Northern going for the Northern franchise, and First Trans Pennine Express, Keolis Go-Ahead and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express in the running for the TransPennine franchise.

The companies will now be asked to develop their plans before an invitation to tender in December. The franchises are due to be awarded by October 2015.