THE next firm to run the East Coast rail service must ensure improvements to Newcastle’s Central Station, ministers have been told.
Transport groups and councils leaders have told the Department for Transport the station is in need a wide range of changes, including better passenger facilities, improved security, easier access to the Metro station and a new approach to bus and taxi services.
The department is set to formally kick-off the invitation to tender for the nationalised East Coast route early next year, with consultation responses flooding in ahead of this.
Many have stressed the economic importance of the link to London, with the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority the latest to insist upon a strong commitment to retaining the two trains an hour peak service level currently available, with further calls made for more services to Berwick, Alnmouth and Morpeth.
But in a sign of behind-the-scenes tensions a call has been made to ensure Nexus, the executive arm of the transport authority, has a better relationship with whoever takes over the franchise.
At present, the authority said, relations with nationalised East Coast have not been good enough on “in terms of the every day operation of Newcastle station.”
One apparent issue the transport authority is keen to raise is the disruption caused by the ticket barriers placed in the station.
“Passengers arriving on trains at Newcastle without a ticket through no fault of their own,” the consultation response says, “currently experience an inconsistent level of service.” One of the many changes called for is the creation of an excess fares booth behind the barriers or a dedicated officer to help passengers caught out as well as a greater staff presence into the evening and more CCTV.
The group said: “Platforms 7 and 8 at Newcastle station can feel particularly remote and unsupervised and here a more visible staff presence and higher level of camera surveillance would provide a greater reassurance to passengers.”
The transport board worked with the Association of North East Councils on the response, with the local authority group adding concerns over the quality of trains.
Officers said in their submission that ministers must ensure the region does not go another decade without improved rail carriages.
They said: “The quality of current rolling stock is reducing quickly and it is not clear if trains currently operating on the route will be refurbished again before being replaced in 2019.
“Given the levels of patronage, it is critical that the new rolling stock due to come into service in 2019 come onto the Newcastle – Kings Cross leg of the line at the earliest opportunity.”
There is also a warning that not enough consideration is currently given to ticket prices, with transport officers saying that the lower-than-average wages in the North East make the region particularly sensitive to excessive fare hikes.