RAIL campaigners have voiced their anger after the North-East train company which has won the new Cross Country franchise immediately announced service cuts at a Northumberland station.
Arriva – which won the right to operate the 1,500-mile route from rival Virgin in July – plans to reduce the number of trains stopping at Morpeth from four each way per weekday to three.
The cutback, which is due to come into force in December 2008, also involves the re-timing of the remaining trains so that some of them will run only a few minutes behind the existing Northern Rail services at Morpeth.
Now the South-East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG) has sent off a formal letter of objection to Arriva, backed by Castle Morpeth Borough Council and Northumberland County Council, calling on the Sunderland-based company to reverse the decision.
Arriva started operating the Aberdeen to Penzance Cross Country franchise last month, and hopes it will bring in additional revenue of £600m.
Yesterday SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett said the reduction in Monday to Friday trains stopping at Morpeth was bad news, and the re-timing of the remaining trains would further reduce choice for passengers using the station. He said: “We think this is madness. It’s happening just as the market for rail at Morpeth is starting to establish itself again.”
Last night an Arriva spokesman said their proposals provide a service level over and above that of the Department for Transport’s specification for Morpeth, with three trains a day rather than two. He added: “We will work with other train operators and Network Rail to examine how we can increase calls at Morpeth in future timetables, provided that operating and commercial criteria can be met.”