The next East Coast trains operator must be stopped from cutting Northumberland rail services, county council bosses have said.
Northumberland County Council has joined a growing number of groups to express concern that the new East Coast franchise could see operators allowed to axe stopping services in the county.
In the council’s formal response to the rail consultation, Northumberland councillor Ian Swithenbank warns of service cuts to and from London which would hit the county if a new big-money operator is not forced to match current standards.
He points out that the new franchise would let operators choose to drop the early morning service from Berwick, Alnmouth and Morpeth, which then calls at Newcastle and straight on to London, bringing a business market to the capital.
The return journey faces similar peril. Mr Swithenbank said the consultation document had: “no mention of any requirement to maintain the existing Friday-only 7.30pm from Kings Cross calling, among other stations, at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick, thus removing an important link from London for weekend visitors and county residents returning late on Friday from the capital.”
There is also no mention of any requirement to provide an evening Monday-Friday departure to Morpeth significantly later than 4pm.
Further service cuts could come on Sunday services to capital. The Government has no requirement for a direct train from Morpeth to London and the number of trains from London to Morpeth is reduced from five to four, a 20% reduction in provision in train service to the county town, which the council says will reduce journey opportunities both for visitors to the county and residents returning from the South.
Backing the council is Berwick Labour candidate Scott Dickinson. He said: “I welcome the intervention of councillor Swithenbank on this vitally important issue for North Northumberland in particular.
“The reprivatisation of East Coast and the decisions taken on the tender specification by the coalition government effectively relegate this important transport link for Northumberland. This will seriously damage our economic prospects.
“The minister needs to answer the questions. My real worry is that the decision to re-privatise East Coast after two private sector failures will end up costing the tax payer more and will lead to a second class service in Northumberland.”
The Department for Transport is set to decide on who should take over the state owned railway this autumn. Bidders include west coast operator Virgin Trains with Stagecoach and a joint bid from Eurostar and French state-backed firm Keolis.
Labour has called for the profitable route to remain in public hands.