Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
HRU was invited by Network Rail to comment on the draft East Midlands Route Study (EMRS), their long-term planning strategy for the rail network in the East Midlands. Details are available on Network Rail's website http://www.networkrail.co.uk/long-term-planning-process/east-midlands-route-study/?cd=1
We submitted our response on 19th April, welcoming the positive tone of the draft EMRS, the aspirations set out within it and the emphasis on development of the network and expansion of capacity. The recognition of the railway's role in enabling economic growth and improving the quality of life is of particular relevance to Market Harborough. A recent Sunday Times survey placing Market Harborough among the top 50 places to live in pointed to the rail service 'within the magic hour by fast train from St Pancras' as a significant factor.
We support the extensive coverage in the EMRS of the need to increase capacity on the Midland Main Line (MML) and the proposals to provide for more and longer trains on the line. The additional capacity planned between Bedford and Corby will be of benefit by means of increasing capacity on that route and thereby releasing some capacity on trains serving Market Harborough. This is evident in the EMRS prediction that the Market Harborough to Kettering section will have very high morning peak usage by 2023 though relieved after Kettering by the additional services feeding in from the Corby route.
The hourly non-stop trains between Market Harborough and St Pancras have proven very popular and have shown strong growth in usage. We strongly support retention of a long-distance high-speed (LDHS) inter-city quality service both upon completion of electrification and under any other changes resulting from the EMRS. We are therefore pleased that the EMRS recognises that the LDHS services serve commuters from Market Harborough and other stations into London. We reiterated our concern that our present high quality of rolling stock is not downgraded in the pursuit of greater capacity.
Related to this, we note the section in the EMRS headed 'London and South East Connectivity for 2043' and its handsome photograph of Market Harborough station! This is clear recognition of the importance of the Market Harborough commuter market. We welcome the long-term suggestion of potentially four trains an hour in the peaks, though we note that the journey time is described as 'good outer suburban speed (at least semi-fast)' and await further detail on what that means. If this service is additional to the LDHS services, it is to be welcomed. However, we would express our concern at any prospect of losing our LDHS services in favour of 'good outer suburban' with its connotations of lower speed and quality.
We note the proposals for increased infrastructure at Bedford and Leicester in connection largely with freight. We support these and the proposed timing. The two priorities identified for additional capacity through Leicester, including additional platforms for Leicester station plus additional tracks from Syston and grade separation at Wigston for freight on the Felixstowe - Nuneaton corridor, are needed both for capacity and reliability reasons. Similarly, the proposed enhancement at Bedford and additional capacity north from there is supported. For the longer term, we note the suggestion of four tracks between Kettering North Junction and Wigston North Junction. Though long term and not identified as a priority, clearly this would have implications for Market Harborough and it would be interesting to know exactly how this scheme would be implemented. The recently announced realignment of the route through Market Harborough has seen various options put forward for freight loops and we await with interest further detail on the intended scheme.