Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
Harborough Rail Users held an open Committee meeting at The Oat Hill bar on Kettering Road on Tuesday evening, 24th September 2019.
Topics covered included the new Abellio EMR franchise; the rebuilding of Market Harborough station and related work on the line; future rolling-stock plans for both the main line and the Corby electric services; forthcoming weekend engineering work including the planned replacement bus services; and the HRU AGM in November, date to be arranged.
Though HRU has an elected Committee, our meetings are open to all with an interest in the station and train service at Market Harborough.
HRU Chair Steve Jones met EMR's Stakeholder Manager Laura Etheridge at the station on 12th September to discuss various topical matters. They were joined by Celia Davis of Network Rail. Among matters discussed were:
HS2 remains controversial but it is planned to construct an 'eastern leg' from an interchange station near Birmingham to Leeds via an East Midlands Hub station at Toton, half-way between Nottingham and Derby. None of these is anywhere near Market Harborough!
However, sub-national transport body Midlands Connect, which brings together local authority, business and transport interests across the Midlands, has published proposals to make more effective use of HS2 by means of direct links into the cities. This would mean, for example, trains running between the city centre stations in Nottingham and Birmingham via existing tracks as far as new junctions with HS2, which would then allow much faster journeys and encourage significant transfer from the roads for such journeys.
One such proposal is for an hourly service between Bedford and Leeds, using an upgraded and electrified Midland Main Line as far as the Toton Hub, then HS2 northwards. Market Harborough is mentioned as one of the stations that would be served, along with Wellingborough, Kettering, Leicester and Loughborough. Further information is available at https://www.railbusinessdaily.com/hs2-to-serve-nottingham-and-leicester-city-centres-under-plans-submitted-to-government-and-hs2-review-by-midlands-connect/?.
Such a service would greatly improve Market Harborough's connections to the north. As such, and leaving aside all the other arguments about HS2, it would be welcome. However, it must not be at the expense of our two-trains-per-hour service to London.
Abellio EMR – East Midlands Railway – was officially launched on Monday 19th August at an all-day launch event starting with a media reception at Leicester station. This was followed by presentations from numerous speakers at the Roundhouse conference centre in Derby, after which a newly re-liveried Meridian train was unveiled at Derby station. Invited guests, including Harborough Rail Users Chair Steve Jones (in his capacity as Railfuture East Midlands Branch Secretary) travelled on the train to Nottingham and then to St Pancras, at each of which were further media events and presentations. At St Pancras, partnership agreements were signed between Abellio and HS1 (whose London terminus is at St Pancras) and Luton Airport.
Many organisations from the East Midlands, including rail industry bodies, rail user representative groups, local authorities and other interested parties were present. The event gave a good opportunity to meet people from these organisations as well as senior Abellio and EMR management. It was all very well organised and sets the scene for the next stage in the development of our railway and the services on it.
In a press release, EMR promise 'More services with faster journey times on intercity routes and better regional and local services, especially including at peak times and weekends from St Pancras to Leicester and Market Harborough'. Harborough Rail Users will be seeking to meet EMR before too long, now they are in place as our train operator. We want to explore their plans for our station and train services, especially from 2020 as the HSTs are withdrawn and the Corby electrification comes into service.
EMR Interim Managing Director Julian Edwards with the newly branded EMR Meridian train at Derby shortly before its inaugural run to Nottingham and St Pancras.
Senior representatives of Abellio, HS1 Ltd and Luton Airport proclaim the partnerships signed at St Pancras during the EMR launch event on 19th August.
An unwelcome annual event is the announcement of next year's increase in regulated fares. These cover about 45% of all tickets, including Anytime day tickets, seasons and off-peak fares. They are based on the Retail Prices Index (RPI) for the previous July, even though this is no longer an official 'national statistic', and the figure this time is 2.8%. It acts as a cap on the average of a 'basket' of fares. Many fares are unregulated, including advance and first class tickets; these are left to the train companies to determine.
Along with other rail user groups and representatives, Harborough Rail Users have expressed dismay at the increase. We feel the more widely recognised Consumer Prices Index (CPI), which tends to be slightly lower, should be used instead. Better still, as the rail industry seeks to re-establish public trust after a turbulent couple of years, would be no increase at all!
Despite that, the increase in fares is intended to contribute towards investment in the railway and we are seeing a lot of that on our line, not least at our own station in Market Harborough.