Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
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
At the 2019 AGM on 11th November, Harborough Rail Users reviewed the past year’s activities and set the scene for campaign topics for the next year.
A busy year
The past year has particularly busy, dominated by the major reconstruction of the station and the franchise changeover from Stagecoach East Midlands Trains (EMT) to Abellio East Midlands Railway (EMR). Debate has continued about electrification, though we now have greater clarity about future rolling stock for the line. HRU has also dealt both with day-to-day matters concerning the train service, and much longer-term matters such as the recent proposal to reopen the line to Northampton.
Again, HRU has played a full part in consultations and has maintained contact with relevant organisations including the rail industry, local authorities, local elected representatives, and transport user representative groups. The willingness of EMT, EMR, Network Rail and others to meet and discuss various matters was noted, as was the continued support of the local MP and councillors in pressing for further improvements. The HRU Committee were thanked for all their help and support throughout the year.
Campaign priorities for the year ahead
The reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire means that the County and all the District Councils will be replaced by two new unitary councils from 1st April 2021: West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire. In preparation for this, there has been consultation on the West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan, looking at planning and infrastructure for the area. It includes a proposal to reopen the line between Market Harborough and Northampton as part of ‘North–South Rail’. As well as providing a useful local connection, it would be part of a valuable inter-regional route linking Nottingham, Derby and Leicester with Northampton, Milton Keynes and, potentially, Heathrow Airport via the planned Crossrail and HS2 interchange at Old Oak Common in west London. It would also complement 'East-West Rail', which is planned to reinstate the rail link between Oxford, Bedford and Cambridge.
As the section of the line within Market Harborough has been lost to redevelopment, a short new section would need to be built around the outskirts of the town. Provision would also need to be made to replace the popular Brampton Valley Way footpath and cycle track along the route. Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps MP, has stated that he is 'very supportive' of the idea. Harborough Rail Users will consider the proposal at its forthcoming AGM on 11th November. However, in response to requests for interviews by local press and radio, HRU Chair Steve Jones gave his personal support for a line that would fill a major gap in the region's rail services. Though the consultation is now closed, further information can be found at:
The commemorative last train stands at the platform at Market Harborough before departing for the final run back to Northampton, stopping at the sites of some of the intermediate stations, 15th August 1981.