I know that a number of people have been quite rightly concerned about the disappointing proposed May 2022 rail timetable. There is a lot to be disappointed about as quite simply we are not getting the local, regional and national services we were promised.
Just take the long requested and much heralded direct service between Middlesbrough and London. I’ve been campaigning since 2012 to get this service and I wanted to meet with LNER who are to run the service before commenting. I have met with them, and I am still disappointed and no less concerned.
Of course, it’s good that we are getting the service at all, but we were told there would be a daily service of seven outbound trains to London and six trains back to Middlesbrough, offering a decent choice for both business and leisure travellers. We’re still the largest conurbation in the UK without a direct service to London.
But we are now told there will only be one train a day from December of this year, with little chance of that increasing until 2023 – that is not good enough and Middlesbrough deserves better.
I have repeatedly stressed the economic benefits that will come to Middlesbrough through improved public transport within the Tees Valley and with improved local, regional and national rail connectivity and this service is an important part of that as would be an affordable reliable decent re regulated bus service across the Tees Valley. Just look at what Andy Burnham is doing in Greater Manchester.
But one train a day to the capital is not a service that anyone can plan around and undoubtedly people will choose to use Darlington, (albeit that the Darlington to London service is itself to be reduced) or by using Eaglescliffe to travel to London, if indeed those Grand Central services from Eaglescliffe are to be maintained.
We run the very real risk that we will lose that one Middlesbrough LNER train a day if, in the post December 2021 months, it is decided that there was so little take up it is therefore economically unviable to expand to the full service.
We’ve had lots of warm words, broken promises and deadlines missed over improved services from this Tory Government over the last 11 years. They are brilliant at hard hats and promises and endless press releases and photo opportunities. Shame it never matches the reality.
But, despite them pinching the title in my White Paper “GB Rail- Labour’s plan for a nationally integrated publicly owned railway” and coming up with a pale imitation in the still privately operated railway, under the title of “Great British Railways”, rail is still too fragmented and Middlesbrough is losing out because of that piece meal fragmented approach.
Increased services are continually promised without any effective coordination taking place to make sure that the stations and the track can cope with those promised services.
At my recent meeting with senior representatives at LNER they relied on the need for further improvements at Middlesbrough station when planning the timetable.
We’ve known about the need for these improvements for years and years yet Network Rail have yet to finalise their scheme of works for a third platform, let alone get the Treasury funding signed off.
The bottom line is the expansion of Platform 2 at Middlesbrough Station is simply not enough to accommodate a full service and this is pleaded as the reason for pushing the start of the full service.
Repeated photo opportunities and announcements ring hollow when the reality is that Middlesbrough remains without an effective link to the capital. I will continue to press for the works to be completed sooner rather than later to ensure we do not have to wait another two years before we see a full daily rail service between Middlesbrough and London.