Rail timetable shake-up delayed until at least 2023
Controversial plans to overhaul LNER’s timetable on the East Coast Main Line have been delayed for at least a year.
The new schedule was due to come into force in May 2022, but had faced a barrage of criticism from North East leaders and passenger campaign groups.
Berwick and Morpeth were expected to be two of the biggest losers in the North East, in the hope of speeding up journeys between London, Newcastle and Edinburgh. It was proposed that trains from Berwick to London, York, Darlington, Newcastle and Edinburgh should be cut from one per hour, to one every two hours. And LNER had suggested removing all services stopping at Morpeth between 8am and 8pm, Monday to Saturday.
A new £20m station being built at Reston would also be served by just four trains a day.
However, a statement issued to LNER stakeholders on Tuesday and seen by the Berwick Advertiser states: “To ensure a new timetable can be introduced successfully and after careful consideration, the industry has agreed it will not be introduced in May 2022.
"This is a result of a combination of issues that need to be rectified before a significant timetable change can be introduced to operate reliably for customers.”
Georgina Hill, Northumberland County Councillor for Berwick East and rail campaigner, said: “I am absolutely delighted that LNER have responded to the considerable pressure and opposition and suspended their timetable plans.
“We have to keep highlighting the rail connectivity needs of Berwick and elsewhere in the North East and hold the Government to it’s “levelling up” pledges.”
MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan had a similar reaction. She said: “I am delighted these changes will not be brought in as planned, and that LNER cited the huge public response as one of the main reasons for that.
"I want to thank everyone who joined me in taking part in this consultation, and ensuring our voices were heard loud and clear. I was clear to both LNER and my colleagues at the department for Transport, how much decent transport infrastructure is vital to the future of our economy in Northumberland and the wider north east. I am pleased our arguments have won through and these damaging changes will not now be implemented.”
The reasons for the delay include the public’s reaction to the proposed changes, and the need for time to rewrite the timetable. The operational feasibility of the timetable itself also requires further examination, and Hitatchi needs to repair cracks in a small number of Azuma trains.
A spokesman for the Department for Transport told the Advertiser: “We have agreed that the planned introduction of the May 2022 East Coast Main Line timetable change will not go ahead. It is vital that the views of passengers and local leaders are heard and reflected in the timetable.
“This decision ensures the lessons of May 2018 are learned, enabling the industry to conduct a full review of its readiness and resolve outstanding issues identified by the industry assurance group.
“The industry will also focus on delivering an improved, achievable new timetable, which fully considers the consultation responses by passengers and local stakeholders and delivers reliable services on the East Coast.”
The new timetable is now not expected to be introduced until at least May 2023.