"A Voice for Durham Coast Rail Users"

Monthly Archives: December 2020

A brief update on Coastliners’ Rail User Group activities during the later months of 2020:

  1. Unable to hold open meetings we managed a “live” Committee Meeting in August, at the Athenaeum, to work out our response to the House of Commons Transport Committee’s Inquiry on how to get people back on to trains and buses once the Covid crisis was over. Our main points are these:

[i] Government’s discouragement of public transport use has already lowered train loadings dangerously. Even if “safety” was the main reason for it, we think an immediate reversal of this bias is essential.

[ii] Too many initial difficulties confront passengers in getting details about catching trains and buses, and paying the cheapest legitimate fares for them. Simplification here will be key to regaining traffic generally.

[iii] Too many journeys turn out to be complicated by en-route change of train. Far more places need direct services to far more destinations than are offered now. In other words, rail routes and services must be spread more evenly across all routes – the exact opposite of current belief that one line (plus local connections) can best serve all.

[iv]  As an example of what we mean, we have cited Tees Valley Combined Authority’s stated desire for hourly high-quality express trains along our Coast line – notably Cross-Country – to add to Grand Central’s well-established, but Covid-19-interrupted, London – Sunderland services. We fully support TVCA’s wishes.


  1. Given current restrictions, our campaigning has to be at arms’ length. In practice, this means asking around for comments to add to a Coastliners’ response to as many of a bewildering array of requests as we can, whenever we hear about them. In particular, we shall be formulating our reply to the North-East Joint Transport Committee’s draft Transport Planinvolving many proposals on improvements in the next 15 years or more, with public consultation open until mid-January. We need to make sure that the Coast line’s train services better match the needs of the half million people who live along it.  If anyone should wish to make comments to us please send them to info@necoastliners.co.uk to arrive no later than 9th January please




 Representing Coastliners Mike Anderson and Vic Branfoot ‘attended’ this on-line virtual meeting on Tuesday 8 December 2020 which was led by Ms Carolyn Watson, Director of Stakeholder and Community Engagement, Northern Rail. Their notes have been merged into this report.

Session One   Introduction

Nick Donovan —Nick spent time reflecting on the problems which had had to be faced and overcome in the course of the year and the sterling efforts made in conforming with the various Covid restrictions whilst maintaining services.

He acknowledged people as being Northern’s greatest asset and referred to the ’Be Northern, Be you’ campaign for roles on offer at Northern.  The campaign embraced 160 roles across the business and there had been 80 applications for each of these roles.  Nick acknowledged the importance of customers being at the heart of Northern so the priority was re-engagement with them and he went on to make the following points:

  • £2.5 million had been spent on renovation, extra CCTV and flexible commuting.
  • Core values are operational excellence with a key focus on ‘building better’.
  • Driver Training had been badly interrupted by Covid.
  • Aims are to rebuild the lower than usual timetable services to be a more reliable service.
  • Passenger numbers are only 20% of the norm and volumes must be rebuilt. Northern has a Flexi Season Ticket ready to roll-out.
  • They must drive investment to a high level as they get back to normal.
  • Northern intends to continue with Community Rail schemes as well as Station Adoption Schemes.
  • They must get the volume of traffic back and put Northern on a sustainable footing. As workplace travel diminishes, the Leisure Agenda will become even more important so tickets ought to be geared to this with flexi products to attract people back.
  • Collaboration? … essential with industry partners and actively undertaken with such as Network Rail and Stakeholder feedback, as well as Transport for the North economic team to understand financial drivers.

Rebecca Styles … Colleagues are still working from home and there is limited capacity on trains due to Social Distancing.  Thus, Northern is unable to renew travel passes at the moment.  This will be reviewed in due course but we are probably looking to Easter and beyond before travel passes may be renewed.  Northern had arranged services to cater for emergency workers and NHS staff.

Richard Isaac (East) … what Richard said and the slides which he showed seemed to indicate that volunteers have continued to work on site during recent times, e.g. station gardens.  50% of Station Adopters are back in stations.  This seems to differ from some of the instructions / guidance which the Hartlepool Station Group had received from Northern.

Richard also observed that young people had suffered from social isolation, mental health issues and a loss of routine.

Marie Addison (North-East) … Station Adoption groups have come together, adopting lots of ways for volunteers to continue to work even if off-site, e.g. making masks, making up food parcels, providing quizzes and holding virtual meetings.

Martin Keating (West) … spoke from the West Indies whilst on leave!  He reminded us that numbers of volunteers allowed on the station at any one time was now six.  Covid had reduced personal contact because of the lack of scope to attend meetings.

Session Two :: Rebuilding Rail Confidence

:: Vicky Cropper Clarke, Head of Stakeholder and Community, London North Western

This issue is close to the hearts of the Coastliners Committee.

Vicky informed us that the top Community management all met as an opportunity to come together, share challenges and successes during the lockdown period.  They agreed on collective national guidance to ensure a consistent approach.  There was a collective wish to collaborate and work together to restore confidence in rail and encourage people back.  They agreed on an aligned KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for a consistent method of reporting by CRPs and to maximise community engagement.

Next steps:

Continue National Collaboration

Collective National Guidance

Influential reporting – share best practice from industry

Addressing industry challenges

Session Three :: Youth Engagement :: Richard Isaac

Matt Conway (English Football League) revealed that there are currently 500,000 involved in NCS (National Citizen Service) which is a government funded opportunity for young people aged 16-17 years old who are required to deliver a 30-hour programme in their own community.

Karen Bennett (Community Rail Lancashire) provided examples and case studies of youth involvement, e.g. on the Bishop Line and on the Tyne Valley Line.  Karen had created animations to encourage children to keep active and to help youngsters to use Tik-Tok to produce videos promoting rail safety. 

Session Four :: Supporting Communities ::

 Marie Addison … Malcolm Chainey, Chair, Tyne Valley CRP … Gareth Davies-Jones, Singer / Songwriter

Malcolm spoke about the unfriendliness of ticket machines, the ability or otherwise to take bicycles on trains and the size of the task of encouraging people back on trains following a period of customers being told not to travel by rail.

Gareth spoke about his work with the Tyne Valley CRP and other groups and as a singer / songwriter he illustrated this with his own videos of how he could use that medium to help people on recovery pathways.

Session Five :: Supporting Access to Travel ::

Rebecca Styles … Craig Alexander, Travel Integration and Accessibility Manager … Maxine Myers, Accessibility Improvement Manager

Accessibility at both Billingham and Newcastle Central is an issue of great interest to Coastliners.

Craig Alexander

Aims to promote easier access to stations, make railways easier to understand with particular emphasis on the older person, on people needing more time and luggage problems.  Encouraging a collaborative approach.  Northern have adopted a ‘Mystery shopper’ investment for Northern reps to set about determining where and why problems arise.

Mention was made of the Northern Accessibility User Group

Bids can be made by stations to access the Accessibility Fund.

Maxine Myers

From October, the Mobility Scheme has encompassed 21 routes and 140 stations.

The Mobility Scooter Policy has come into operation.  This requires a Mobility Scooter Permit, pre-approved for travel in advance of any scooter journey in order to assist staff in identifying them.  The scooter must be a Class 2 vehicle (not a road-going vehicle) with a 4m.p.h. maximum speed.  Scooter friendly stations with ramp access are identified in timetables by the use of green.  Relevant platforms must have sufficient depth to accommodate ramps

Northern is presently in talks with TPE to apply the same common principles across all networks.  Ideally, a national scheme should be introduced.

Session Six :: Getting the Best from Your Station Garden :: David Domoney, television gardener

David gave a professional, detailed and interesting talk on station gardens with a wealth of information in relation to the best type of plants suitable for station gardens, tubs and boxes.  He covered all aspects from watering, feeding, mulching and fertilising.

Closing Remarks (Carolyn Watson)

 and film Celebrating Community Rail

Carolyn closed by showing a most effective film Celebrating Community Rail of approximately twenty minutes which provided a succession of examples of impressive projects undertaken by a number of groups and volunteers under the umbrella of the CRP movement embraced by Northern.  A couple of examples were the Bishop Line (which featured Bob Whitehouse’s successor, Felicity Machnicki, whom we have discussed as being a potential Visiting Guest Speaker at a Coastliners Open Meeting) and the Incredible Edible project at Todmorden which produces vegetables, etc., for sale.