Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
Network Rail have released a time-lapse video of the 2019 line upgrade work at Market Harborough, showing the main stages of the project from installation of the footbridge back in February 2019 to the first train on 3rd June. It can be seen at https://vimeo.com/insideoutgrp/mmluprademarketharboroughjune2019.
The temporary speed restrictions through the station have now been removed, allowing trains not stopping to pass through at speed.
This was the latest in a series of drop-in sessions at the station, where people could find out more about the station rebuild scheme. Representatives from Network Rail, EMT and contractors Amey were on hand to answer questions. Though the planned scheme is now well under way, decisions remain to be made about the additional lift, toilets and platform canopies we seek.
On Wednesday 11th April, three members of the HRU Committee met with Network Rail's Project Sponsor for the Market Harborough upgrade scheme at the station for an update on the project following the collapse earlier in the year of main contractor Carillion. In essence:
A site visit at the station took place on 1st December between three members of the HRU Committee, Harborough MP Neil O’Brien and representatives of the DfT, Network Rail and East Midlands Trains. This arose from a meeting on 14th November between Neil O’Brien and Rail Minister Paul Maynard MP at the Houses of Parliament on 14th November; with the DfT also present along with HRU Chair Steve Jones.
The site visit was convened at the DfT's suggestion to explore two particular concerns we have about the station upgrade and track realignment: the lack of proper access for the disabled from the booking office to the platforms and the lack of toilets on the new southbound platform. We looked around the station site and considered the implications including the best location for a lift, the requirements for mains electrical, water and drainage services and the other improvements that are included in the plans for the station. The various parties listened to what we said and, while not disagreeing, it was clear that limited finance is the main constraint here. There are many competing demands for limited funds! We are grateful that the various parties took time out to visit Market Harborough and discuss the issues openly with us. However, we will continue to press for these enhancements to what is otherwise a significant improvement to the station.
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.