Rail timetable put on hold, but critics say this won’t solve ‘chronic’ problems on network
Campaigners have welcomed news that a controversial rail timetable overhaul has been put off for at least a year, but have warned it will not solve “chronic” underlying problems on the North East network.
The shake-up would have drastically cut the number of trains stopping at places such as Berwick and Morpeth, but has been delayed until at least 2023.
Its aim was to introduce more and faster trains to London, but that would have come at a heavy cost to the North East because of severe capacity constraints on the region’s limited rail infrastructure.
Martin Gannon, chairman of the North East Joint Transport Committee, welcomed the pause but said the rail network in the North East was a victim of “gross, chronic underinvestment”.
He added: “There is massive demand for increased capacity in terms of services to London, but that has a knock-on impact for other services. If the government is serious about levelling up for the North East of England, this has to be the number one priority."
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll said: “Eight years ago decisions were made to run more trains to London on the assumption that rail infrastructure would improve. It hasn’t, so they were going to take off our northern trains to compensate.
“The underlying problem also still needs fixing – we need investment in northern transport infrastructure or else levelling up is a hollow claim.”
Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, also fears that the delay “is just pushing problems back for another 12 months”.
He added: “Clearly there is a great deal of public concern both from residents and businesses about these plans and I still believe these proposed changes are a huge and unwelcome backwards step – particularly for Berwick and Morpeth.
“At a time when we’re recovering from a global pandemic and doing everything we can to revitalise our towns and our economy, any reductions to rail services in our county would send completely the wrong message.”
The delay has been pinned on a series of problems – including concerns over the availability of trains after cracks were found in LNER’s Azuma trains, a need for increased power supply, and public criticism of the plans.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “The news that the proposals to the East Coast Main Line timetable will not be going ahead is a testament to all those who campaigned against these changes that would have been so damaging to our already underfunded transport infrastructure.
"The idea they can cut a third of services in towns like Morpeth and add no improvements to stations like those at Pegswood and then claim they are levelling up is laughable.
"Now we have fought off further cuts, the fight must continue to get the improvements to our rail services that the area so desperately needs.”
Mike Greveson, Labour Town Councillor for Morpeth North, said: “It is fantastic to hear the news that the changes will be delayed. The effect this would have had on Morpeth Station would have been devastating for the town.
“We now must continue to stay vigilant and ensure that these proposed changes aren’t ushered in through the back door in the next couple of years.”