May 2018 timetable - Meeting with East Midlands Trains17th Feb 2018

Four members of the HRU committee met with EMT at the company’s Derby headquarters on 15th February, at EMT’s invitation.  The purpose of the meeting was to review the timetable due to come into effect on 20th May alongside the next phase of the Thameslink upgrade programme.  The increased Thameslink service puts pressure on track capacity and that means modifications to EMT services, including removal of Bedford and Luton (Town) calls from their peak-direction trains.  For more detail, see 16th December 2017 entry below.

We had a very open and useful discussion with EMT’s Duncan Cale, Stakeholder Manager, and Michael Webb, Head of Train Planning & Access.  We reviewed the planned timetable alongside the present one, including:

  • Noting some improvements, such as a new non-stop peak train from St Pancras (1734) to Market Harborough;
  • The evening peak from London will also see some improvements in seating capacity for Market Harborough passengers;
  • Raising concerns about the loss of direct services for people travelling to and from Bedford and Luton at peak times, plus the difficulties faced by those commuting to Thameslink destinations north of London, such as Harpenden and Elstree, given the lack of Luton Airport Parkway calls between 0810 (0712 ex-MH, change at Kettering) and 0931 (0846 ex-MH);
  • The replacement bus connections between Wellingborough and Bedford, including assurance on their accessibility for disabled users (this will be in the specification for the bus service), the robustness of the timetable given road congestion in Bedford (will be reviewed in the light of experience), and possible reductions in non-season-ticket fares to Bedford (being considered). EMT will have a dedicated member of staff at Wellingborough to assist train-bus passengers.  They said they are unlikely to hold a train for a delayed bus unless it was the last train of the evening, but would guarantee to get the last passenger home, even if it meant via a taxi.  They have even considered the issue of accommodating bicycles on the bus;
  • Calling for the option for passengers to travel to Bedford throughout by train via Luton Airport Parkway at a reasonable fare;
  • Raising concerns about gaps in the evening peak timetable to Market Harborough from London, Bedford, Wellingborough and Kettering, plus train capacity on some popular services;
  • Similar concerns about a wider gap in the northbound morning peak timetable to Leicester and Nottingham;
  • Pressing for a later southbound last train from Leicester, noting that this is constrained by the need to get trains back north to the depots for overnight servicing.

We also discussed rolling stock, with the lack of any decision so far on either replacement or modification of the HSTs to meet accessibility regulations by the end of 2019.  This is caught up in the re-franchising process, as the next train operating company is expected to be responsible for ordering any new trains. The timing does not make this easy!

EMT noted our concerns and aspirations and, though their room for manoeuvre in the May 2018 timetable is limited, they undertook to consider the matters discussed.  This plus operating experience will be considered in developing the December 2018 and May 2019 timetables.

We are grateful to EMT for the opportunity to discuss these matters so openly with them.


Fares Increase02nd Jan 2018

Today, 2nd January, saw the annual fares increase and the largest increase for five years.  The average nationally was reported as 3.4%; East Midlands Trains fares rose by an average of 3.3%.  Though within a headline measure of inflation, rail fares continue to rise more steeply than average earnings.  The rise is based on last July's Retail Price Index figure, 3.6%.  However, the Consumer Price Index, which excludes some housing costs and amounted to 2.6% last July, is used by government for some other adjustments such as increases in pensions and benefits.  Rail campaigners have long held the view that this would be a more equitable measure for fares.  It seems doubly unjust that rail fares continue to rise in this way when fuel duty on petrol has again been frozen.  The average increase masks some significant variations in individual fares, with some rising by higher amounts and others by less - or not at all.  

It is true that much investment is going into the railways at present and it has to be paid for.  However, with strong growth in rail usage over recent years, it would be good to see fares stabilised and increased revenue coming instead from the increased numbers of passengers.


MAY 2018 TIMETABLE Introduction of new Thameslink timetable results in changes to East Midlands Trains services16th Dec 2017

East Midlands Trains (EMT) have announced some significant changes to train services from 20 May 2018.  This is because of the introduction of a new Thameslink timetable, which will see 18 trains per hour (tph) through the central London Thameslink tunnel.  As most of these will run onto the Midland Main Line towards Luton and Bedford, there will be pressure on track capacity until upgrade work is completed in 2020.

Full details remain unknown until the new timetable is made available in February 2018. 

However, EMT have stated that:

"From the timetable change on 20 May 2018 until the completion of the Midland Main Line Upgrade in 2020, East Midlands Trains peak-time services to and from London will no longer call at Bedford or Luton.   Direct East Midlands Trains rail services will continue to run from Leicestershire and Northamptonshire to London, and will continue to call at Luton Airport Parkway throughout the day. Off-peak and weekend services will continue to call at Bedford and Luton. During the morning peak, northbound services from Bedford and Luton will continue, and during the evening peak, southbound services to London will still call at Bedford and Luton. 

Customers using East Midlands Trains services to commute from the north to Bedford during peak hours will be provided with an alternative, fully accessible coach service that will connect with rail services at Wellingborough. This will run every 30 minutes between Wellingborough and Bedford and any monthly or annual season ticket holders using the replacement coach service will be eligible for a 50% discount on their season ticket."

 

The main effects for Market Harborough are:

  • Southbound morning peak trains (those arriving in London from 07:00 to 10:00) will not stop at either Bedford or Luton.
  • Northbound evening peak trains (those leaving London from 16:00 to 19:00) will not call at Luton or Bedford.
  • (Note that both Bedford and Luton will still be served by northbound morning peak and southbound evening peak trains, as well as off-peak and weekend services.)
  • Peak-time morning passengers to Bedford will have to change at Wellingborough for a connecting coach service to Bedford.  This will run half-hourly.  There will be a similar arrangement in the evening peak, with a half-hourly coach from Bedford to Wellingborough.
  • Peak-time passengers for Luton will be able to travel to Luton Airport Parkway and double-back on the frequent Thameslink trains to Luton at no additional fare.  The same arrangement will apply in the evening peak; passengers from Luton changing at Luton Airport Parkway to travel to Market Harborough.
  • This will be a nuisance for people travelling to and from Bedford in particular.  EMT have stated that season ticket rates to Bedford will therefore be reduced by 50% for the duration of this arrangement (May 2018 to December 2020).
  • One train we are concerned about is the 07:57 (or its equivalent in the new timetable), which calls at Bedford at 08:29 and is therefore a useful commuter service. This train does not call at Wellingborough and therefore will not have a coach connection.  Subject to the overall changes in the timetable, passengers who use this train would have to catch the 07:33 and change onto the coach at Wellingborough.  We have raised this with EMT.
  • On the other hand, as they will not be stopping at Bedford or Luton, our morning peak trains to London and evening peak trains back from London will be faster than they would be with these stops, and less crowded.  Peak-time Bedford and Luton passengers commuting to London will have twice-hourly fast limited-stop Thameslink trains instead.

This is a temporary arrangement until the upgrade work on the line is completed in December 2020.


Station upgrade - Meeting with Network Rail: 5th December 201706th Dec 2017

A second site visit took place at the station on 5th December, this time only with Network Rail.  It covered a wider range of topics associated with the realignment and upgrade scheme.  We explored further our aspirations for a lift from the booking office to the platforms; toilets on the southbound platform and better facilities generally at the new entrance from the new car park; platform shelter; provision for service buses and rail-replacement buses; short-stay parking and cycle facilities. 

We are grateful to Network Rail for their willingness to meet with us again on this important scheme. 


Site visit at Harborough station01st Dec 2017

A site visit at the station took place on 1st December between three members of the HRU Committee, Harborough MP Neil O’Brien and representatives of the DfT, Network Rail and East Midlands Trains. This arose from a meeting on 14th November between Neil O’Brien and Rail Minister Paul Maynard MP at the Houses of Parliament on 14th November; with the DfT also present along with HRU Chair Steve Jones.

The site visit was convened at the DfT's suggestion to explore two particular concerns we have about the station upgrade and track realignment: the lack of proper access for the disabled from the booking office to the platforms and the lack of toilets on the new southbound platform.  We looked around the station site and considered the implications including the best location for a lift, the requirements for mains electrical, water and drainage services and the other improvements that are included in the plans for the station.  The various parties listened to what we said and, while not disagreeing, it was clear that limited finance is the main constraint here.  There are many competing demands for limited funds!  We are grateful that the various parties took time out to visit Market Harborough and discuss the issues openly with us.  However, we will continue to press for these enhancements to what is otherwise a significant improvement to the station.  


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