Memorandum by Northumberland County Council
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
(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
(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
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.
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