Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has called on the Government to step in and stop LNER from introducing a new timetable for the East Coast Main Line, saying the proposals are “not fit for purpose” and will risk a repeat of the “catastrophe” seen in 2018 when a new timetable caused widespread chaos on the rail network.
Following the publication of the draft timetable in June, Mayor Houchen wrote to the boss of LNER raising major concerns about the proposed new timetable. The timetable includes a significant cut in the number of direct trains between Darlington and London and Darlington and Edinburgh, increasing journey times to London and postpones the planned increase in services to Sunderland.
Another major impact of these changes for the Tees Valley is a proposed 50% reduction in TransPennine Express services at Darlington.
In coming up with the new timetable it is clear that LNER has used out of date passenger data to inform their decisions and have not taken into account the huge transformational investments that are being made across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. They also fail to take into consideration the relocation of a large number of civil servants to Treasury and Trade North in Darlington.
Following multiple attempts to get the train operator to commit to reversing their decisions to drastically cut services for Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool, Mayor Houchen has asked the Transport Secretary to intervene.
Writing to Grant Shapps, the metro mayor praised the Transport Secretary for supporting his “vision for improving transport infrastructure for Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool” and that “under the present government, and your leadership of the department there has been hugely positive developments for rail strategy” which has led to new trains, more investment in rail infrastructure and increased capacity.
Urging the transport boss to halt the implementation of the new timetable for 12-months, Mayor Houchen asked Mr Shapps to “urgently bring the rail operators together and look to arrange a twelve month delay in concluding the new timetable, so that solutions can be explored and better proposals can be brought forward.”
The proposed delay would not affect the introduction of the new direct Middlesbrough to London service, which will start late this year.
Commenting Mayor Houchen said: “The timetable put forward by LNER is not fit for purpose and is wholly unacceptable. We know what happens when rail companies rush the introduction of a new timetable, and if this timetable is introduced I fear we well have a repeat of the catastrophe we saw in 2018 when large parts of the rail network ground to a standstill – meaning local workers stranded on platform as services are cancelled left, right and centre.
“Across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool we’ve taken a joined-up approach where transport investments support job creation, I’m making sure that we secure our economic foundations, but if this timetable is introduced it will slam the progress we are making to improve our rail services into reverse, undoing years of hard work and investment and make Teesside less attractive to global investment.
“The Transport Secretary has been a huge supporter of my plans for Teesside and has already delivered a lot for our region, I know he is aware of the huge impact this poorly thought-out timetable will have on my region and that’s why I have urged him to take this necessary step to pause the rollout of LNER’s new timetable.”