"A Voice for Durham Coast Rail Users"

We were pleased to welcome Mr Graham Meiklejohn, Regional Development Manager of First TransPennine Express to our meeting on 1st November. He provided some background to the TPE franchise and commitments before the meeting was opened to a general discussion. Salient points were as follows:-

  • TPE was the fastest growing TOC in the UK

  • Its aspiration was to become a genuine intercity operator for the North

  • It was investing £500m in 220 new coaches capable of 125/140mph providing an extra 13m seats per year

  • The Class 185 DMUs being retained would be fully refurbished and operated mostly as 6-car trains

  • New loco hauled CAF 5car sets would start to be introduced on Middlesbrough services mid 2018 and all Middlesbrough services would be run by these trains by the December 2018 timetable change.

  • There would be an improved timetable from May 2018

    • Earlier and later trains Monday to Friday

    • Additional trains on Saturdays

    • Double the present frequency on Sundays

    • Half hourly north of York

    • Improved connections with Northern Coastline trains at Thornaby

  • Limited Boxing Day trains possibly in 2018

  • Extension from Newcastle to Edinburgh in December 2019

  • All franchise commitments completed by December 2019

There was then discussion about what further enhancements may be considered in the remaining minimum five years of the franchise. Ideas suggested for the North East included

  • Extending Middlesbrough services to Redcar

  • Diverting some trains up the Coastline

  • Stopping at Eaglescliffe

  • Increasing the speed limit on the Eaglescliffe – Northallerton line to 90, 100 or even 125mph

Graham explained that that while TPE was prepared to consider anything, any improvements or new services would have to be commercially viable or with promised subsidy, must have network paths available and be capable of operation with the existing rolling stock. Diverting any services away from the ECML north of Northallerton would need consideration of how to maintain the seating capacity via Darlington. Since new trains would be 125mph capable they would fit better into the ECML paths. Changes would need the approval of Rail North/Transport for the North, and so the best way of achieving them was through convincing the new Combined Authorities. Rail North don’t want to just manage the network, but also develop it. There was an understanding between TPE and Northern that many passengers used both operators in the course of a journey, so that it was important to understand their needs and to cooperate on timetable & connection development in order to maximise the growth of both businesses.

In respect of electrification of the Transpennine route, proposals were expected from Network Rail in December. Only then would the DfT make a decision (expected mid 2018) as to whether to go ahead. Considerations would include cost and disruptions during the work, in particular Standedge tunnel.