Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
The Department for Transport has announced that the Midland Main Line is to be electrified to Market Harborough. This is an extension of the scheme currently under way to electrify from Bedford to Kettering and Corby. The decision had been anticipated, as the power supply for that electrification will be from the National Grid high-voltage power line that crosses the railway near Braybrooke, just south of Market Harborough. It makes sense to feed that power back to Kettering using overhead wires rather than an underground conduit, and then to extend it for 'the last mile' into Market Harborough. The decision means that our trains will run electrically all the way between Market Harborough and London. This will make them quieter, cleaner and faster. Until electrification is extended further, however, they will switch to diesel for the section north to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield.
The Market Harborough electrification is due to be completed in December 2023.
The decision is warmly welcome, but we need to ensure that Market Harborough retains an inter-city service rather than becoming the terminus for outer-suburban trains.
At the 2018 AGM on 29th November, Harborough Rail Users reviewed the past year’s activities and set the scene for campaign topics for the next year.
Important decisions will be made over the next few months that will have a major effect on our station and train services for many years to come.
The main issues for Harborough Rail Users are:
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:
Questions remain about the government's exact plans for electrification of the Midland Main Line (MML) through Market Harborough. Though the section from Bedford to Kettering and Corby is confirmed for completion in 2019, there are worries that Phase 2, from Kettering via Market Harborough to Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sheffield, due in 2023, may not go ahead. Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough, is so concerned that she is using an adjournment debate in the Commons on 7th November to seek an assurance from the Transport Minister that the scheme will still go ahead. Decisions need to be made quickly as the InterCity 125 High Speed Trains, wonderful though they are, need to be replaced or expensively modernised by the end of 2019. Nicky Morgan made the very valid point that if the MML is not electrified, it will be the last inter-city line to London not to be electrified. 'What does that say about the importance that we in the country attach to the Midlands?', she asked. BBC Radio Leicester's Breakfast programme covered the story with a reporter at Market Harborough station interviewing HRU and passengers about it. The Department for Transport stated that the national rail enhancement programme remains in place.
In March 2016, Leicestershire County Council published a draft Rail Strategy for the county. It was prepared in the context of the major growth in rail traffic and a recognition of the importance of the railways to the economy and prosperity of the area. A significant factor is the government’s commitment to building HS2, the eastern leg of which passes through north-west Leicestershire but without any local stations. The draft Strategy seeks to ensure the best advantage to the area from HS2 despite this. Overall, the draft Strategy is positive towards rail and sets out numerous ways in which rail services in the county could be developed.
Key Priority 1 in the draft Strategy is Maximising the benefits from increased investment in the Midland Main Line railway infrastructure and services and this is clearly of great importance to HRU. In our response, we supported this aim, with particular reference to ensuring that we retain suitably high-quality rolling stock after electrification so that we are not downgraded to an outer-suburban service. Though the Strategy understandably focuses on Leicester and its aim to get within 60 minutes of St Pancras, we stressed that the other stations on the line, particularly Market Harborough, should not be overlooked. With that in mind, we reiterated the need for our station to be brought up to proper modern standards, including accessibility, under the linespeed improvement project. We also supported the various potential improvements to inter-regional services to the West Midlands, via HS2 to the North and via East-West Rail to the Thames Valley and East Anglia.
In all of this, however, we noted that the role of the local authorities and LEP is chiefly one of facilitating and lobbying for improvements rather than directly providing them.
We therefore support the draft Strategy and hope it will be formally adopted by both the County and City Councils.