Rail campaigners have called on the Government to give Northern train services a once in a decade chance of investment.
Transport groups have said it is time services such as Northern Rail benefited from the same approach which has handed cash to rail in London and the south east in recent decades.
The Campaign for Better Transport has warned that a Government consultation on the future of Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express looks set to do little to improve east-west links to and from the North East.
They say the plans as they stand give “only a vague indications of when the outdated 30-year old train diesel Pacer train will finally be replaced,” raising the possibility rail operators will not be forced to make much needed improvements.
In its consultation document on the new franchise the Government makes clear that it will accept limited rolling stick improvements if the cost would mean money diverted from other services.
The Department for Transport document says: “We firmly believe the rolling stock on Northern services needs to be improved so that passengers recognise a step change. But the more expensive the trains (and brand-new trains are likely to be the most expensive option of all), the harder it will be to justify current service levels where demand is low, and to afford to improve services where demand is increasing.”
The Department for Transport also makes clear that new operators would be allowed to cut back on off peak services, including reducing the number of trains calling at less popular stations.
There is some good news for Northumberland, with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line looking set for a return thanks to Northumberland County Council cash.
But while Ashington-Blyth and Tyne is mentioned, schemes like the Leamside reopening though the south of the region are not and potential operators wouldn’t need to consider them in their bids.
Also causing concern is a clear expectation that the northern services will not attract significant investment.
Campaigners say that the consultation is missing an sign that a new operator will be forced to invest in trains, track and stations. “This is a counterpoint to the investment-heavy approach to growing the railways used in the South East,” the campaign group said.
Stephen Joseph, chief executive at the Campaign for Better Transport, said: “The North East’s railways are at a junction. The Government is talking about trade-offs with the winners potentially getting newer trains and better stations while the losers could end up with higher fares and reduced services. Getting real investment into rail is essential to the region’s economy and we’ll be working with others to campaign for railways in the north to get the kind of support other parts of the country have seen.”
The Government consultation runs until August 18.