Selling off the East Coast train service could see Northumberland towns lose out on links to London.
A Northumberland commuter group has warned that the new franchise agreement does not have enough guarantees written into it for services from Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick after a takeover in March 2015.
The South East Northumberland Rail User Group said that early connections to Newcastle and London could go as the minimum service levels are re-written.
Group chairman Dennis Fancett said: “As far as we can see, the all-important early-morning Monday to Friday southbound connection from Morpeth to the Flying Scotsman service with current arrival in London by 09.40 is no longer a specified requirement. The earliest requirement for arrival in London from Morpeth reverts to 10.05, making that 10.00 business meeting impossible once again.”
Other changes mean the later northbound Friday-only service from London to Morpeth and Alnmouth at 7.30pm is not a specified requirement.
The new operator will only be required to offer Morpeth services up to 6.30pm. And, from May 2020, the new operator will not be required to offer an evening departure from London to Morpeth on weekdays.
Mr Fancett added: “When it comes to the new High Speed Line, the DfT is very quick to point out that better, faster rail connections with London will boost economic growth.
“Yet for South East Northumberland, more in need of an economic stimulus than possibly any other region in England, and certainly not yet seeing any signs of the recovery that may be evident elsewhere, either the DfT does not accept the link between improved rail connections and regional growth, or it is content to let this region flounder by permitting the new operator to cut vital connections to and from London much needed by our business community.”
Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said he will be meeting the rail minister to ensure local services do not lose out. He told The Journal: “As well as stops at Morpeth and Alnmouth which are specified in the franchise for the East Coast Main Line, operators both private and public have provided some additional stops which have proved to be really valuable to local people and I am keen to see these retained.”
Three firms are in the running to take over the franchise. They include a consortium of Keolis, a French firm which is majority owned by SNCF, France’s national state-owned railway company, and Eurostar, which is also majority-owned by SNCF.
The other bidders include East Coast Trains Ltd, a business owned by First Group Plc, and Inter City Railways Limited, which is owned by Stagecoach Transport Holdings Limited and Virgin Holdings Limited.
A DfT spokesman said: “Train operators are best placed to design services which best meet the needs of passengers. That is why our new approach to franchising offers them the flexibility to develop a timetable which offers the best service for passengers in the most cost effective way.”