Rail fares may have to rise

Plans to deal with increased passenger growth on the region's trains have been announced - with a warning rail fares may have to rise.

Plans to deal with increased passenger growth on the region's trains have been announced - with a warning rail fares may have to rise.

Improvements to the East Coast Main Line were demanded by North-East businesses and political leaders who recognise the essential contribution the rail service makes to the local economy.

Network Rail have since published their plans for coping with increased train use on the line, as the Government looks for a new operator after GNER admitted it would not be able to keep up with the £1.3bn payments promised.

The Rail Utilisation Strategy suggested a range of improvements, including increasing the number of long distance trains serving Kings Cross to six trains per hour off-peak and eight trains per hour during peak periods. The report also calls for longer trains, but adds the increased capacity may lead to yet more overcrowding. Passenger use on the ECML is expected to grow by up to 40%, and on local services in the North-East by up to 45% by 2016.

The report highlights that the cost of a train ticket may have to rise to "restrict growth to levels that can be accommodated within the capacity available".

Hilary Knox, deputy director of the Association of North-East Councils, said: "Improving transport and connectivity are key priorities for the region in terms of its economic development and its social and environmental well-being. We will need to ensure that the capacity on the rail network and levels of service can successfully accommodate the predicted growth in passenger usage."

The report recognises the improvements needed on the Newcastle to York section of the ECML and the increasingly important Newcastle to Edinburgh service. But it effectively ruled out an improved Tyne-Tees rail link, labelling it as "poor value for money".

Network Rail's Route Director for the ECML, Dyan Crowther, said: "Rising passenger demand on the vital East Coast route is excellent news for the industry, but it also presents us with a challenge as we seek to accommodate growing demand on what is already a busy route. It is imperative that we have a robust plan in place to meet these challenges." GNER's chief executive Jonathan Metcalfe said: "The challenge for the industry is to transform this strategic blueprint into an actionable working timetable that delivers extra services to satisfy growing demand for rail travel."

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Strategy to improve rail services on the East Coast Main Line

The Rail Utilisation Strategy report includes options to improve the rail service and reasons for turning down several suggestions.

Inserting carriages to lengthen the current long distance train fleet. The report recommended not following up this suggestion because "it would not provide sufficient additional capacity to accommodate growth."

A broadly repeating pattern of train service, including station calls, operating every hour or two hourly. The report recommended not to follow this "since it would provide insufficient capacity to cater for predicted peak growth and is likely to lead to removal of some established direct links."

A reduction in end-to-end journey times between London, the North and Scotland by reducing calls at intermediate stations. The report recommended that "this option is not progressed since it would require a significant reduction in services at the smaller stations."

Increasing line speeds on the ECML to reduce journey times. The report recommends further work on this option, but warns it could stimulate demand and increase crowding.

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