Gateshead MP Ian Mearns slams rail firm on service in north

EAST Coast trains have been accused of abandoning the North East as one MP hits out at cheaper Scottish tickets.

EAST Coast trains have been accused of abandoning the North East as one MP hits out at cheaper Scottish tickets.

Gateshead’s Ian Mearns has said the nationalised rail company has failed to invest in either the region or its stock.

The Labour MP pointed to discounted Scottish tickets which, he claimed, make it cheaper to travel from Edinburgh to London than it is from Newcastle.

And in a targeted attack on the firm, Mr Mearns, who sits on the All Parliamentary Rail in the North group, questioned why a firm which makes a pre-tax profit of close to £200m was not doing more to improve its service.

Hitting out at Network Rail, he questioned why a £37bn infrastructure project will see just £240m invested in the region.

“This snubbing, yet again, of the North East is particularly galling given the range of fare deals being offered to North East customers, compared with our Scottish counterparts, by the East Coast Main Line,” Mr Mearns said.

“We sometimes have to pay £100 more for a journey that is an hour and a half and 100 miles less. I have no quarrel with my Scottish colleagues and their constituents getting good deals from East Coast Main Line, but on behalf of my constituents, I have a duty to demand the same kind of deals and discounts for the travelling public in the North East as those from which colleagues north of the border benefit.”

He added that the Government-backed firm saw its operating profit increase by 7% last year. Turnover for the year amounted to £665.8m, an increase of £20m Mr Mearns said, leaving a profit before tax and service payments to the Department for Transport of £195.7m.

The MP said: “That was an increase of £13mn. Putting that against the £240m proposed investment in the East Coast Main Line makes the amount look extremely modest indeed.

“I have a great deal of respect for East Coast Main Line as a franchise. I sympathise with its staff, who often work in difficult circumstances, dealing with the failures of creaking infrastructure and worn out rolling stock and equipment, yet an awful lot of what the travelling public have to put up with on the East Coast Main Line could be avoided through some relatively modest investment, which would be entirely affordable given its profits.”

East Coast spokesman John Gelson said: “We note Mr Mearns’ comments. East Coast offers a range of good value fares from North East stations, especially our popular advance purchase fares for those who book ahead of travel.

“We are working very hard to improve the performance of our train services across the year. Severe flooding in the second half of 2012 produced challenging conditions for all travel, including rail: however, we continue to work hard with infrastructure provider Network Rail to achieve sustained improvements.

“Four fifths of all delays to our services are caused by external factors outside our direct control, including the weather, track, signals and overhead power lines.

“We are working hard to deliver the best service possible with our current rolling stock. East Coast’s diesel trains will be replaced by a new InterCity Express fleet, built in the North East, from 2018. All options for refurbishment or replacement of our electric train fleet are under consideration.”

Network Rail last week said investment in lines through to London and towards Manchester would bring improvements to services from Newcastle.

 

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