The meeting was addressed by two guest speakers from Northern Rail
Bob Warnes, Planning & Programme Director whose role was to develop the network with Network Rail and other stakeholders and to look after Northern's track access regimes.
Simon Cox, Service Development & Planning Manager. His role was the planning and diagramming of Northern's services including future developments.
There was to be a£2m investment in the North's railways including the North West electrification projects and 'Northern Hub' improvements. The latter included more services and shorter travel times for Yorkshire - Manchester inter-city journeys. Every £1 of subsidy spent on the North's railways was estimated to result in growth of £2 in the North's economy. Bob described how they collected together all ideas from stakeholders and tested them to see if they were both possible and affordable. In recent years major changes had been forced upon Northern's services due to
- Virgin's West Coast timetable in 2009
- East Coast (ECML) 'Eureka' changes in 2011
- Trans Pennine's(TPE) 5 trains per hour' timetable coming into force in May 2014
Of major concern to those present was the loss from the start of the summer timetable of reasonable connections from Durham Coast Line trains into TPE services at Thornaby. Simon said that they had tried numerous combinations, but, apart from the need to fit in with Grand Central, Nexus and freight services Coast Line services were also constrained, by Saltburn line services in the south which themselves were constrained by limited paths available at Darlington.
Tyne Valley services in the north. These were largely fixed by paths for Morpeth -Metrocentre trains on the East Coast main line and paths at Carlisle and even Glasgow for through trains to Scotland.
Even small changes were constrained by the short turn round times at Hexham (7 minutes) and with the new hourly timetable, 12 minutes at Nunthorpe. This latter would serve the new James Cook station which was expected to come into use in the summer. Network Rail planning rules also required drivers to be able to always see green signals if all trains run to time. Any changes which involved an extra unit were rejected as no extra trains were available. However our guests agreed to have another look at Sunday connections at Thornaby.
Currently detailed proposals for further TPE and ECML service changes in 2016 were awaited. It was hoped that these would provide opportunities to recast all these north-east interlocking services. In the meantime there were to be some infrastructure improvements to increase speed limits on the Durham coast and there was to be an ARUP study into the possible new Peterlee station. From May a late TPE train from Newcastle to York will make a stop at Chester-le-Street. This will release a Northern unit to run later down the coast on Saturdays to give departures from Newcastle at 2030 & 2130.
Some concerns were expressed about Rail North being only interested in services south and west of York. Nexus were now to lead a consortium of politicians and stakeholders in the north-east. It was felt essential that they come up with a rail strategy for the region.