RMT hits out at possibility of Northumberland losing train services

Rail union backs concerns raised by the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group.

Rail union bosses say not enough assurances have been given by the Government over services from Morpeth
Rail union bosses say not enough assurances have been given by the Government over services from Morpeth

RMT union boss Mick Cash has hit out at the possibility of Northumberland losing key rail links if East Coast services are re-privatised.

Last week the South East Northumberland Rail User Group warned that the new franchise agreement being offered to bidders does not have enough guarantees written into it for services from Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick.

It also said early connections to Newcastle and London could go as the minimum service levels are re-written.

And the union agreed, saying it was a “scandal” that communities could be cut off from March 2015 – just weeks before the next general election.

“It is scandalous that the Government are prepared to give the private sector vultures hovering over the East Coast route a green light to rip up the timetable and to leave passengers and communities cut off and stranded in the name of private greed and private profit,” RMT Acting General Secretary Mick Cash said.

“The campaign to stop Ministers from wrecking the highly-successful, publicly-operated East Coast services in order to suit their own ideology, and to line the pockets of their mates in big business, will be stepped up.

“After two previous private sector failures we have no intention of allowing a third reckless gamble on the East Coast that would not only destroy the best-performing rail operation anywhere in Britain but also leave whole communities without proper transport links.”

It is feared that, as the new franchise agreement is currently written, the all-important early-morning Monday to Friday southbound connection from Morpeth to the Flying Scotsman service, which arrives in London by 9.40am, could be lost, with the earliest train from the town only arriving at 10.05am – making 10am business meetings impossible.

Other changes could mean the later northbound Friday-only service from London to Morpeth and Alnmouth at 7.30pm would go, while from May 2020 the new operator would not be required to offer an evening departure from London to Morpeth on weekdays.

Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith said he will meet the rail minister Stephen Hammond to raise his concerns over the new deal, and try to ensure local services do not lose out.

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.”

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