Select Committee on Transport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Northumberland County Council (REN 47)

RAIL SERVICES IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND

  The County Council welcomes the invitation to present information to the Transport Sub-Committee.

    (a)  The County Council's policies support the improvement of local rail services and are reflected in the Local Transport Plan, the Structure Plan, ECML policy statement and the A1 Multi Modal study.

    (b)  The Council is working with partners to reopen the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail line. Investment is taking place in transport interchanges at Hexham and Berwick upon Tweed. A new station is being investigated at Belford. Franchisees are involved in these proposals but are not taking the leading role that might be expected.

    (c)  The greatest capacity constraint for trains serving Northumberland is between Benton Junction and Heaton Carriage sidings which is within Tyne and Wear, north of Newcastle. The Ashington, Blyth and Tyne proposals and proposals for heavy rail trains to the airport will increase the number of services on this twin track section. Although it may be possible to accommodate these extra services, reliability may suffer if extra capacity is not provided.

    (d)  Studies completed on Tyne Valley and commissioned on Chathill-Newcastle lines give the County Council a better understanding of potential for local rail. We work closely with Nexus. Conclusions on the Tyne Valley line show that it is reasonable for the County Council to aspire to a doubled frequency over 20 years. In the short term it is recommended that there are additional stops at Haydon Bridge and Prudhoe. These would more than cover the loss of through traffic caused by the additional stopping time.

    (e)  There are frequent fast trains between Berwick upon Tweed and Newcastle but there is not an effective local rail service including the intermediate towns of Alnwick and Morpeth and the only alternative is the A1 which is perceived as being slow and dangerous. The A1 Multi Modal study proposes that the rail line should play a more prominent role and this is supported by the County Council. We recognise that track capacity must be used effectively and that end to end journey times must be kept low for longer distance passengers. However we believe that there is scope for longer distance services to stop, at least one each hour, at Berwick, Alnwick, Morpeth and Newcastle. This will generate longer distance travel from Alnwick and Morpeth as well as provide a service between these stations. GNER are more willing to discuss this than are Virgin.

    (f)  The Post Hatfield disruption, Arriva staffing problems, substitution of certain trains by buses and continuing strikes are all undermining the confidence people can have in their local rail service. Although passenger numbers are believed to be keeping up, the situation cannot be attracting people out of their cars.

    (g)  The quality of the Arriva rail fleet in the North East has deteriorated. More local services are being provided by Pacers and there are believed to be more of them in the NE region than formerly. The refurbishment has improved the Pacers but they are still very inferior to 156s or 158s particularly for longer distance journeys. Arriva train cleaning is poor, particularly of the toilets, and does not meet the standards found on trains of other companies.

    (h)  In Northumberland Arriva is the main bus operator. There was concern that the buses and trains would be operated by the same company leading to a loss of competition. This concern was offset by hope that there would be better ticket interavailability and through fares from connecting bus services.

  There have been some fare reductions between Hexham and Newcastle in the afternoons and evenings but fares from stations west of Hexham and on local services north of Newcastle remain high and uncompetitive with buses. The day, weekly, and family tickets that Arriva have introduced on their bus services have not been matched by similar initiatives on the trains.

    (i)  There remains no interavailability of tickets or through fares between bus and rail in Northumberland. This disadvantages those who do not live near a rail station who have to start their journey by bus, or who live at a rail station with an infrequent service who might like to use the bus for the return journey.

    (j)  Saturday evening services are poor as timetables allow for track possessions each week for engineering works. This seems excessive and means that last trains are too early:

      —  19.00 from Edinburgh is too early for people returning from sporting, cultural or tourist events.

      —  21.10 from Newcastle to Hexham is too early to return from an evening in Newcastle or connections from other transport services.

CONCLUSIONS:

  Rail services in Northumberland have been unreliable due to strikes and driver shortages and the trains are less comfortable due to the increasing use of Pacer trains. Potential passenger demand at several stations warrants more frequent services or later evening ones than are currently being operated.

  The greatest concern about capacity is between Benton Junction and Heaton Carriage sidings and it is not clear whether there are proposals to improve this.

  The lack of fares integration with the bus network prevents rail from contributing to its potential towards the economic and social development of the region.

Peter J Stoner

Public Transport Team

Northumberland County Council

June 2002



 
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