No quick fix from renationalised Northern Rail. North East must get its fair share of investment and increase ridership - the challenge for region's leaders.
January 31, 2020 7:58 AM
News that Northern Rail is to follow the East Coast Main Line in being "renationalised" is not unexpected or unwelcome, but there are underlying issues that will need to be addressed before the region sees a rail renaissance, and rail users should not expect a quick fix, says Liberal Democrats' Greg Stone. Recent experience on the Metro network suggests ditching a struggling private sector provider does not automatically lead to better performance under a public sector operator if underlying problems aren't addressed.
Northern's issues stem from long-term underinvestment in the rail network on the North's local lines. Newer units are being introduced, and the outmoded and unpopular Pacers have been withdrawn in the region, but local services in the North East will still be operated by class 150 Sprinter units which are equally elderly though slightly more comfortable. It's unlikely that there will be a great change to service levels on routes like the Tyne Valley line, but I hope that better quality class 158 Express Sprinters or class 170 Turbostars might be deployed on these services in the future.
There is a risk that the North East will remain a backwater of the rail network as areas with greater population and more passengers around the Greater Manchester and Yorkshire conurbations will be ahead of us in the queue for improvements. However, a "Northeastern" set up would be a small and basic operation which would struggle to be cost effective if not run as part of a wider Northern operation.
The challenge for the region's leaders will be in ensuring that the North East gets a fair share of rail investment and is able to increase ridership. The planned Ashington-Blyth rail service, whilst clearly beneficial to South East Northumberland, will still need to add up in terms of passenger numbers if the service is to be viable in the long term.
A further priority for our region should be improving Tees-Tyne services and linking Washington to the rail network by restoring local passenger services to the Leamside and Stillington lines - with the additional benefit of freeing up capacity on the East Coast main line between Newcastle and Darlington.
Cllr Greg Stone if the Opposition Liberal Democrats spokesperson on transport on Newcastle City Council