Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
The Government’s ‘roadmap’ for easing Covid restrictions originally intended to see the country return to near normal in late June. However, this was postponed by four weeks to Monday 19th July, which was heralded for a time as ‘Freedom Day’. The railway industry was hoping this might also mean that their marketing campaign to encourage people back would also be permitted. However, the four-week postponement has coincided with a massive increase in infections. Hospitalisations and deaths have also risen, though by a much lower rate than in previous 'waves', because of the protection given by the vaccination programme.
The legal requirement for face coverings on most public transport and elsewhere is revoked. (Some operators, such as TfL, have made face coverings a requirement in their conditions of carriage.) However, the current ‘third wave’ means that the national mood is not one of celebration; there is a great deal of fear, and many people were still required to self-isolate because of contact with infected people. This is leading to train operators often struggling to run the complete timetable because of staff shortages.
EMR have advised that there would be no change to Covid-safe requirements for staff, nor would there be any reduction in the cleaning and sanitisation regime for trains and stations. Though the legal requirement had gone, EMR and other train operators have adopted an advisory policy of ‘In crowded spaces, wear a face covering out of respect for others’.
More details are on EMR's website at: https://www.eastmidlandsrailway.co.uk/covid-19#
Revisions have been made to the station forecourt area. The area previously occupied by a temporary toilet block has been marked out with six disabled parking bays, and the taxis have been moved to a small area on the opposite side, next to the railway embankment; this area remains constrained by the new temporary toilets.
Harborough Rail Users have asked about plans for the forecourt once the temporary toilets have been replaced by a new permanent facility at platform level. One serious limitation at the station is the almost complete absence of short-stay parking; that at the entrance to the main car park only has four bays and is clearly marked 'Drop off only - no waiting'. That makes it unavailable for anyone arriving by car to meet someone off a train. The forecourt currently only has two general-use parking bays (complete with the ludicrous Pay & Display machine!). Given the sheer scale of the main car park, it is extraordinary that a station serving a large car-dependent rural catchment area has such inadequate short-stay parking! We shall continue to pursue this with EMR.
We would also like to see a barrier installed on the edge of the pavement immediately outside the main building entrance doors. This would channel people leaving the station onto the pavements to left and right, and thereby, for example, stop children running out into the vehicle area.
Revised parking arrangements: new disabled parking bays outside the main building at Market Harborough station.
We await details of further revisions to the layout of the station forecourt once the temporary toilet block has been replaced by a new facility at platform level.
Picture: Steve Jones
England's Economic Heartland (EEH), the sub-national transport body covering a broad sweep of the south Midlands, including Northamptonshire, are consulting on connectivity across the region, between Oxford, Northampton and Peterborough. They have rightly identified that rail provision is very much dominated by the main lines radiating out of London, with precious little linking between them. The consultation takes the form of a 'call for evidence', and, of course, it is not just about railways. Indeed, post-Covid, the need to travel at all may be permanently somewhat reduced. Further information can be found here:
Though Market Harborough is outside EEH, it is only so by a few hundred yards and many of its users live in the EEH area or (pre-Covid) commuted to towns etc well within EEH (e.g. Kettering, Bedford and Luton). We therefore submitted a response, welcoming the forthcoming improvements that East West Rail (Oxford - Cambridge) will bring via interchange at Bedford, but noting other gaps. We support in principle other proposed developments, such as the Welland Valley Rail Partnership proposal for a Kettering - Peterborough service mostly using existing lines, as well as the tentative proposal for reopening between Market Harborough and Northampton as part of a longer inter-regional link. All of this is in the context of changed travel patterns post-Covid and the need for more environmentally friendly and low-carbon alternatives to the present almost complete dependence on private cars.
The consultation closes on 30th June and we await both the outcome and further forthcoming studies relevant to our area.
Making connections. The Marston Vale Line train to Bletchley awaits departure from Bedford on 26th May 2021. These trains are converted from former London Underground cars and provide a useful local service. However, this route is now being upgraded as part of East West Rail, a main-line link reinstating a direct connection between Oxford and Cambridge, with numerous interchanges along the way. It will make rail journeys between Market Harborough and both Oxford and Cambridge very much easier than they are now.
Picture: Steve Jones
Sunday 16th May saw the commencement of the new timetable, with the standard weekday pattern of services starting on Monday 17th. The biggest change is on the Corby services, which become a largely self-contained service of electric trains branded 'EMR Connect'. It runs twice an hour in each direction between Corby and London St Pancras, calling at Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton and Luton Airport Parkway. In doing so, it also serves as the ‘Luton Airport Express’, complementing similar shuttles for the other London airports. It also relieves the Intercity services, which serve Market Harborough, of their intermediate calls south of Kettering. With a few peak-time exceptions, our trains therefore nearly all call at Kettering only on their way to and from London. This gives a half-hourly connection to all the main intermediate stations, addressing concerns we have expressed about gaps in the timetable from Kettering in particular. It also means the bus link between Wellingborough and Bedford can be withdrawn.
Blue sparks: A Class 360 electric EMR Connect train at Corby, on the official ‘launch’ day, Monday 17th May, though they had been running on Sunday 16th. EMR Connect serves the intermediate stations south of Kettering, enabling Market Harborough’s EMR Intercity services to run non-stop between Kettering and London.
Photo: Steve Jones
The basic daytime pattern is now from Market Harborough to London at xx:26 and xx57 each hour (with minor variations), and roughly xx:03 and xx:32 to Leicester and Nottingham.
There are other improvements, including an earlier first train into London, a more even spread of services out of London in the evening peak, and a later last train south from Derby and Leicester in the evenings.
However, with few exceptions, we lose our non-stop trains to and from London, and direct services to Luton Airport Parkway. We also would like to see an earlier first train north on a Sunday morning than the present 10:29.
We also lose our HSTs; replaced by Meridians released by the electric trains on the Corby route, plus the small fleet of Class 180 units transferred a few months ago from Hull Trains.
Sadly, the Saturday through train to York no longer runs. However, if you fancy a slightly different mini-excursion, you can take a weekday lunchtime round trip from Kettering via Corby and Oakham to Melton Mowbray and back. This gives the opportunity to travel over the iconic Welland Viaduct at Harringworth. However, it does not run on Wednesdays!
The full timetable is available here on EMR’s website.
EMR were clearly not going to let the demise of the HSTs pass unnoticed. Not only had they repainted HST power-car 43102 in BR InterCity 'Swallow' livery (see post for 24/02/2021 below), on 14th April they revealed 43274 repainted very smartly in their deep purple house-style. Considering the design of the HST dates back to 1975, it carried the livery remarkably well. The pictures below show it at the head of the 16:29 from Market Harborough to Nottingham (15:34 from St Pancras) on 16th April 2021.
Speed King: HST power-car 43274 in the EMR deep purple livery awaits departure from Market Harborough with 16:29 to Nottingham on 16th April 2021.
(Photos: Steve Jones)