A train operator has responded to claims that a new rail timetable will be “almost like a disaster scenario” for North East passengers.
Plans to put on an extra train per hour between Newcastle and London have been met with anger from local leaders because the shift means that the region will see its connections to Manchester halved, as a result of capacity constraints on the East Coast Main Line.
LNER, which runs the services between King’s Cross and Edinburgh, admitted that the proposed timetable due to come into force in May 2022 “does involve a series of trade-offs” but claimed that the decision to cut trains to the North West “aligns well to customer demand”.
Under the proposals put out to public consultation last week, the North East will lose a TransPennine Express service to Manchester each hour – leaving only one hourly train to the North West.
LNER, which is owned by the Department for Transport, said: “There will continue to be good connectivity between Manchester, York and Newcastle, with one direct service an hour. There will be more seats overall between York and Newcastle, due to LNER’s longer trains – although with a change in York.
“This compromise aligns well to customer demand on the route, which sees over 70% of journeys to and from destinations between York and Newcastle being to and from destination on the East Coast Main Line served by LNER and others, and 12% of journeys to and from destinations off the East Coast Main Line run by TransPennine Express.”
The changes were met with derision from leaders at the North East Joint Transport Committee on Tuesday, where Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said the situation was “almost like a disaster scenario for the North East” and “significantly hampers the economic prospects of major centres of population”.
Councillors were told that the number of trains between London and Berwick and Darlington will be cut by a third, while plans to increase the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland, and Newcastle have been postponed.
And while Grand Central will increase its Sunderland to London trains from five to six each day, LNER’s early morning and late night trains between Sunderland and London will be scrapped entirely.
An LNER spokesman said the company was increasing the frequency of services at Durham in favour of Darlington, and also said its Sunderland service had “never been as popular as originally hoped, with low patronage levels”.
They added: “This results from there being very good local train services between Sunderland and Newcastle, where customers can connect onto our frequent services.
“In addition, Grand Central also runs a direct Sunderland-London service, which is increasing by a further train service per day from May 2022, meaning that there will, overall, be the same number of Sunderland-London service as under the current base timetable.
“By removing the LNER service we will be reducing this inefficient duplication while also ensuring a high level of seats on London-York-Newcastle-Edinburgh route services, which will be of benefit to Sunderland customers too.”
They said: “We propose reducing the frequency of our services at Berwick and increasing them at neighbouring Alnmouth to better match frequency with demand, while also protecting fast journey times. Under the new timetable, Berwick will have one LNER train every other hour which is a better service than other stations with similar passenger numbers.
“Alnmouth which has a similar number of London-bound passengers as Berwick will have a small service increase, resulting in the same London-bound service frequency as Berwick.
“Overall, both stations will have a train each hour to and from Edinburgh and Newcastle, alternating between LNER and Cross Country.”