Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
DfT launches East Midlands franchise consultation and scraps electrification of main line north of Kettering
Thursday 20th July saw two major announcements by the Department for Transport with significant implications for Market Harborough's train service. The public consultation for the next franchise was launched and, with it, the planned electrification of the main line north of Kettering was formally abandoned.
What is now proposed for delivery by the next train operator is a split of services between 'London Commuter' and 'Intercity'. There would be an electric commuter service between St Pancras and main stations to Kettering and on to Corby and an intercity service using 'bi-mode' trains for the main line via Market Harborough to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield. 'Bi-mode' means trains that can run on either electric or diesel power, so these would be electric from St Pancras to Kettering and diesel thereafter. The DfT is selling this as a major improvement based on new technology as well as saving the major cost and disruption that electrification would have caused. The effect for us in Market Harborough is that our trains will continue to be diesel-operated through our station for the foreseeable future, though they will be electric between Kettering and London. No details of the actual rolling stock are yet given; this will be for the new operator to sort out with the DfT, though we are told that they will be 'modern, fast, efficient and comfortable'. Bi-mode trains are currently being built for the Great Western main line, where planned electrification has been similarly curtailed.
The franchise consultation proposals make much of the split between electric commuter services to Corby and the bi-mode (diesel for us!) intercity trains on the non-electrified main line. Nothing is said about Market Harborough itself, though the consultation document seeks a speeding-up of intercity journey times from Nottingham and Sheffield to London 'by up to 20 minutes, by reducing the number of calls to pick up commuters, alongside the line speed improvements' (page 22 of the document). It would appear from the proposals that this means stations south of Kettering, as these will be served by the new electric service to Corby. The implication is that our trains would call at Kettering only, then run non-stop to London. Anyone travelling to, say, Bedford or Luton Airport, would change at Kettering. However, whether this would apply to all trains or only some of them is not yet known. The consultation makes clear that there are numerous and varied aspirations for the next franchise, such as a sufficient level of service for Luton Airport.
The overall tone of the document is positive, seeking growth in business and improvements to services. The questions are about how best to achieve this and do so affordably.
We in Harborough Rail Users will be preparing our full response to the consultation, which closes on 11th October. We will seek to ensure that we retain at least a level of frequency, quality and speed comparable with the service we have now. We also seek improvements to the timetable to give us later southbound weekday last trains and earlier first trains on Sundays.
See the DfT website for:
Major engineering work usually takes place on a Sunday, with train services replaced where necessary by buses. The improvements to the line including preparations for electrification have meant Sunday closures through Market Harborough and this is likely to continue from time to time over the next few years. However, on recent occasions, the first northbound bus from Market Harborough did not arrive in Leicester until 12:24, missing the first five northbound train departures!
This is both a poor service and a missed business opportunity. Following representations made to East Midlands Trains, they have undertaken to look into improving rail-replacement services between Bedford and stations to Leicester on Sundays in future so as to connect into the first northbound train at 10:20*. We are grateful to EMT for this.
* The 1020 from Leicester goes to York, arriving at 12:15 and returning at 17:50 to arrive in Leicester at 19:55. A good opportunity for a day out!
Electrification of part of the Midland Main Line has moved a tentative step closer with the plans being prepared by National Grid for a feeder substation at Braybrooke, just outside Market Harborough. The location is where a high-voltage National Grid power-line crosses over the railway and the plan is for a substation and associated equipment plus an access road from the A6. A drop-in session was held at Braybrooke Village Hall on 4th July, with representatives from National Grid and Network Rail plus advisers and consultants on hand to answer people's questions. The substation is due to be completed by October 2020 and is intended to feed the power supply for the Corby line pending electrification of the main line through Market Harborough*.
(*See update 24th July 2017: electrification of the main line north of Kettering has been abandoned by the DfT.
The Braybrooke substation is still planned, however, and the DfT has advised that the bi-mode trains will be able to switch power mode at speed. They would therefore be able to continue running electrically north from Kettering as far as Braybrooke before 'pan down'.)