Harborough rail users
Improving the quality of Market Harborough's rail service
The subway and the south end of Platform 2 at Market Harborough opened as planned on Monday 17th February 2020. When the new platforms opened on 3rd June 2019, only the northern half of southbound Platform 2 was complete. The southern end was then built across the land occupied by the old track layout. This also meant that the subway between the two platforms remained closed. It had been intended to open these along with the car park extension on 15th December, but the necessary approvals had not been signed off.
However, they are now open and, for the first time in its history, Market Harborough has full-length platforms on both main line tracks. Gone are the days when people alighting from a southbound train had to walk forward to be sure of being next to a door by the platform.
Some finishing off is still needed. For example, the short projecting canopy at the top of the subway steps awaits its roof glazing; installation of this was prevented by Storm Dennis over the preceding weekend. However, credit is due to the contractors, who continued with the main work despite the storm and ensured that the platform and subway were open for use with the first train on Monday.
Opening day, Monday 17th February 2020. The 10:26 HST to St Pancras comes to a stand at the south end of Platform 2 at Market Harborough, luxuriating in the knowledge that the entire train is accommodated at the full-length platform. Other work is still planned at Market Harborough, including new toilets to replace those in the architecturally challenged 1970s building at the left of the picture.
HRU Chair Steve Jones met Network Rail’s Communications Manager Celia Davis at Market Harborough station on 10th February, to discuss current topics for the station and the line. These included the subway and full length of platform 2, which have remained closed since the new platforms opened in June 2019.
We discussed the extended car park, which is a major improvement, though HRU feel that better provision is needed for short-stay parking, especially for those dropping off or picking up passengers from that side of the station. We await further information on the planned further improvements including permanent toilets, plus provision for landscaping around the station.
We also discussed the Station Road bridge in Great Bowden, where local residents have expressed concern about the narrow footway since the bridge was modified to improve its protection from damage by road vehicles. The local authorities are also looking into this.
HRU were later notified that the subway and platform 2 have now been approved for opening on Monday 17th February 2020.
Changes in accessibility and other regulations came into effect on 1st January, but our ex-EMT high speed trains (HSTs) do not fully meet them. Old trains, built when standards were less exacting than they are now, are a problem for several operators across the country; EMR inherited a non-compliant fleet of HSTs. As a new fleet is on order, it is not worth EMR spending major amounts to bring them up to standard.
There will be some interim changes in rolling stock while we await the new fleet. The main one for us is the transfer of some other HSTs from East Coast Main Line operator LNER. Though of similar vintage to our existing ones, these were heavily refurbished in 2016 and, though still not fully compliant, they better meet modern standards. The Department for Transport has given a temporary derogation to allow these fleets to continue in service for the next few months.
As they are not intended for long-term use, the ex-LNER (ex-Virgin) trains will retain their present red livery, though they will be branded for EMR. They feature better wheelchair space and accessible toilets (in coach E), as well as plug sockets in both first and standard class, better seats, plus audio and visual passenger information displays. The first one of the nine we are due to get was due to enter service with EMR on 10th February 2020.
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:
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.
HRU Chair Steve Jones met EMR’s Stakeholder Manager Laura Etheridge at the station on 3rd February. We covered a number of topics, including: management changes at EMR; the December 2020 timetable plans; train punctuality; the planned cycle hub at the station; Smartcards; station announcements; rolling stock changes; and the car park. As always, it was a very open discussion and numerous points were noted for referral to the relevant people in EMR. It is pleasing that the regular communication we had with East Midlands Trains has continued under the new EMR franchise.