Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
Earlier this year, the Mayor of London announced a proposal to withdraw from the Day Travelcard arrangement with train operators, including EMR. Harborough Rail Users submitted a response to the public ‘engagement’ on this, identifying that the Day Travelcard is a popular and useful ticket, both for day-trippers and for part-time commuters. We urged retention of the Day Travelcard, especially given that the whole question was in the context of the Government’s funding settlement for Transport for London (TfL).
On 21st July 2023, however, TfL announced that the Mayor had “…reluctantly instructed us to give the required minimum six months’ notice to withdraw from the relevant provisions of the Travelcard agreement”.
TfL’s statement goes on to say:
“While this six-month process is now underway, it is important that we are clear this remains reversible and does not therefore mean that Day Travelcards will be withdrawn. We and the Mayor remain open to discussing all options with both the Department for Transport, the Rail Delivery Group and the train operating companies, but in a way which would allow us to continue to meet the requirements of the government funding agreement. The existing daily pay as you go caps on contactless or Oyster, which are used by the overwhelming majority of those travelling, will not be affected by this.
We would like to reassure you that while these discussions take place Day Travelcards will remain available.”
Harborough Rail Users see this as very bad news. We hope the decision will be reversed. If the Day Travelcard actually is withdrawn, we will press for an equivalent day return ticket to London. We would want to ensure that the many people who use Day Travelcards can continue to enjoy a day in London, using Oyster or Contactless payment, at an equivalent cost and level of flexibility as they can now.
The train operating companies, both individually such as EMR, and collectively through the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), launched a consultation on a proposal to close most station ticket offices throughout the country. They state that only 12% of ticket sales are now made at ticket offices; EMR say that only 5% of their tickets are sold this way. The majority of tickets are now sold online or via mobile phone apps, or at self-service ticket machines. The instigator of this proposal is the Government, which wants to reduce costs and ‘modernise customer service’. The stated aim is not to de-staff the stations; rather, it is to bring ticket office staff out from behind the glass and into more wide-ranging ‘customer help’ roles around the station. There is a parallel here with the changes recently seen in the banks and supermarkets. More on the RDG’s position can be found here: https://media.raildeliverygroup.com/news/proposals-to-update-the-railway-for-how-passengers-use-it-today
However, the proposals are proving controversial.
We in Harborough Rail Users accept modernisation on the railways just as much as anywhere else. For Market Harborough, the proposal is to close the ticket office and to reduce staffing hours at the beginning and end of the operating day. Staff will still be available to assist passengers, but we also wonder about the implications for them if the ticket office is closed. Will they be expected to be on their feet all day in the booking hall as well as their duties on the platforms? In any case, our station team are already multi-skilled, undertaking various customer-facing duties around the station.
We therefore have serious concerns about the implications of what is proposed, both for station users and the staff. Among these are:
Window of opportunity: the ticket office staff provides much advice and assistance to passengers as well as simple selling tickets, plus other services such as longer-term season tickets and the accompanying photocards; refunds, and cycle-hub fob keys; none of which are available through the ticket machines. Will the full range of services still be available at the station if the ticket office closes?
Photo: Steve Jones
Have your say. Please respond to the consultation,
DEADLINE EXTENDED TO FRIDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER:
You can also write to your MP.
Contact email addresses for our local MPs are:
The two self-service ticket machines in the booking hall at Market Harborough. These are quite versatile, selling a wide range of tickets. The one on the right accepts cash as well as card payments. There are two more, card-only, machines in the car park kiosk. They all sell most tickets, but not everything that is available through the ticket office. They can also be temperamental; for example, they have been known not to accept railcards, or issue pre-purchased tickets.
Photo: Steve Jones
We are not opposed to modernisation, but it must be done in a way that does not disadvantage anyone. The railway is a public service that must be accessible and available to all.
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
On 29th January, Harborough Rail Users we invited consulting engineers JNP Group to take part in a public consultation on proposals to demolish the now-closed 1970s building at the south end of Platform 1 and construct a new building with toilets and a waiting room further along the platform. The short connecting ramp between the original Victorian ramp up from the booking office and the platform is to be reconstructed with a shallower angle of slope. A small canopy is proposed for the top of the ramp in place of the 1970s building.
The timescale for the work is between July 2021 and March 2022 and it is long overdue. HRU responded on 12th February, welcoming the project overall. We feel the optimum location for the new building is immediately south of the footbridge. We set out our views on the amenity and accessibility implications, especially as the new platforms are surprisingly narrow given the availability of land. We asked whether the disabled-accessible toilet will be of the ‘changing places’ kind, and commented on the furnishing and finish of the waiting room; plus the weather-protection at the top of the ramp once the 1970s building has gone. We also called for the new structures to have some ‘warmth’ in their design, including sympathetic architectural treatment of the area around the top of the Victorian ramp.
We now await further information about the project. Once built, the temporary toilet cabin in the station forecourt can be removed, which allow the forecourt to be tidied up and the layout reviewed in terms of pedestrian and vehicle safety.
Following discussions and comments from local rail users, Harborough Rail Users have submitted a response to the EMR consultation on the timetable from December 2020. This is when the electrification from Bedford to Kettering and Corby opens, with two trains per hour (2tph) between Corby and London, calling at all EMR intermediate stations. Because of this, EMR propose that the Intercity trains that serve Market Harborough will stop only at Kettering on their way to or from St Pancras. We will still have two trains per hour, at roughly half-hourly intervals, with Nottingham via Leicester being the other destination. London to Sheffield will also have 2tph but these will run non-stop between St Pancras and Leicester.
We have submitted our comments:
EMR posted details of their proposals for the Midland Main Line on their website: https://www.eastmidlandsrailway.co.uk/december2020.
The consultation closes on 14th February and responses will then be analysed. Between March and September, EMR, Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road (the Government's regulatory body), and other train operators such as Thameslink, will determine how best to accommodate the various demands on the line. Agreed timetables must be published by mid-September 2020, 12 weeks before they come into effect in mid-December.