North East transport chiefs set to drop extra rail service to London in favour of wider links

The prospect of more rail services between the North East and London could be rejected in favour of maintaining links with the rest of the country.

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 2:12 pm
Updated Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 5:08 pm
Picture issued by LNER

At the moment, just six passenger trains an hour can run on the East Coast Mainline (ECM) between Northallerton and Berwick, only two of which are reserved for services to the capital.

The other four carry travellers to and from the Midlands and Manchester, meaning at least one of these would have to be sacrificed to boost routes to the South East.

“We believe [the current arrangement] is the right combination of train services to link our region [with the rest of the country],” said Philip Meikle, transport strategy director at public transport operator Nexus.

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“It is likely we will receive representations from the government asking for comment on a change to that and the government may wish to make a change which would see three trains to London each hour.

“But that would reduce the frequency of services to the Midlands and Manchester.”

Mr Meikle was speaking at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC).

Plans for the new Azuma trains, built at County Durham’s Hitachi plant and which entered service on the ECM last year, included proposals for extra services to London from 2021.

A scheme to improve track capacity was supposed to allow this without affecting other routes, but was ‘dropped by Government on cost grounds’.

Gateshead Council leader and JTC chairman Martin Gannon said the ECM had been ‘grossly under invested in for years’ and branded the lack of track capacity north of York ‘unacceptable’.

He added: “I have no doubt there is demand for three express services to London, but I also think there is more demand for trains to Manchester and Birmingham than is currently there.

“The issue is not about lack of demand, it’s about lack of capacity.

“What we need is substantial investment and a coherent unified plan of investment for the ECM, but compared to the amount invested in Crossrail and HS2 we’re actually talking about a relatively small amount of money.”