We were privileged to have Steve Payne from Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU) to address the meeting.
Steve outlined TVU's role as the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and whilst strategic transport is still a priority there are now significantly less transport staff at TVU than at the JSU previously. As a result he explained that most matters involving buses had been devolved to Connect Tees Valley, this being as administered by Stockton Council on behalf of the Tees Valley authorities. Strategic rail planning remained with TVU.
The main current thrust of TVU in this respect concerned the refranchising of both Northern Rail and the Trans Pennine networks, both now delayed until February 2016. Whether these would be combined or indeed whether the Northern franchise might be split into two ('South' and 'North-East/Cumbria' or 'East' and 'West'?) franchises was to be determined and a matter of ongoing discussion. The government had indicated a preference for more devolution of decisions to the regions, and the Leeds/Manchester/South Yorkshire local authorities (LA's) had set up a Rail in the North Executive (RiNE) to represent northern interests. North East LA's (Tees Valley, Tyne & Wear, Durham, Northumberland, North Yorkshire & Cumbria) were concerned that RiNE would not adequately represent North East interests and so are now exploring the possibility of creating a North-East business unit (NEBU) presently having discussions with the Department for Transport and RiNE. The ultimate intention is to lobby government to enable NEBU to have a major input into the new franchise specification and subsequently a controlling interest in the operation of the new franchise(s). In this respect TVU is feeding the aspirations of Rail User Groups and Community Rail Partnerships into the process, timetable enhancements, connectivity, speed of trains and condition of rolling stock being important issues. NEBU will also look into the possibility of directing funds to rail projects, possibly including new rolling stock.
Local news included
- James Cook station was ahead of schedule and it was hoped it could open in
December this year with an hourly Northern service calling.
- The installation of Harrington Humps at Seaton Carew station was a Network
Rail project and completion date was unknown.
- Both Billingham and Stockton stations had received a facelift.
- Connect Tees Valley were responsible for feeding 'onward travel' information
to the train operators, but had no control over the resultant station
- The May timetable would see the Grand Central train that currently
terminates at Hartlepool extended to Sunderland.
- Northern has started refurbishing its fleet of 'Pacers' leased from Angel
Trains. The latter has indicated that it is not planning to make these
'disability' compliant by the 2020 deadline but expects them to be replaced
by cascaded stock resulting from the electrification programme.