An “irrational” rail shakeup which could see a number of North East services axed should be put on hold, the North of Tyne mayor has urged.
Jamie Driscoll has called for a pause in plans to change the East Coast Main Line (ECML) timetable from May next year, amid a backlash from leaders across the region.
While the controversial revisions would mean a new third LNER service an hour between London and Newcastle, capacity restrictions mean that other routes have to be cut as a result.
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The frequency of Transpennine trains between Newcastle and Manchester, via Durham and Darlington, will be halved from two an hour to just one.
The number of trains to London from Berwick and Darlington will be cut by a third, plans to increase the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland, and Newcastle have been postponed, and LNER will also scrap its early morning and late night trains between Sunderland and London.
At a meeting of Transport for the North’s Rail North Committee on Wednesday, Mr Driscoll spoke out against the proposals.
He said: “I like LNER and I like more trains to London, but not at the expense of what is going to happen as a result of these proposals.”
The Labour mayor said that the “irrational” changes were based on outdated assumptions that the region’s rail infrastructure would have been upgraded by now to improve capacity, when it has not.
He added: “Yet again this comes down to running the economy in a London-centric way, for connectivity for London when we already have good connectivity, to destroy connectivity across the North and between the Northern cities.”
The committee, which includes other Northern leaders such as Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, backed a proposal from Mr Driscoll to advocate that the timetable changes be put on hold and that the government should set up an independent taskforce to come up with a solution that will allow them to be implemented “slowly, aligned to growth in capacity”.
The mayor tweeted that the Department for Transport should now step in and that he had “already raised this with Secretary of State Grant Shapps and Rail Minister Chris Heaton Harris”.
After rail operators put the timetable changes out to a public consultation earlier this month, the proposals were described as “almost like a disaster scenario for the North East” by Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon.
LNER has said that the timetable “does involve a series of trade-offs” but that the decision to cut trains to the North West “aligns well to customer demand”, and added that Grand Central would also be upping its Sunderland to London trains from five to six each day.
The company, which is owned by the Department for Transport, claimed it was increasing the frequency of services at Durham as the city has “fewer services and more customers” than Darlington, which will see its numbers cut.
LNER said last week: “There will continue to be good connectivity between Manchester, York and Newcastle, with one direct service an hour. There will be more seats overall between York and Newcastle, due to LNER’s longer trains – although with a change in York.
“This compromise aligns well to customer demand on the route, which sees over 70% of journeys to and from destinations between York and Newcastle being to and from destination on the East Coast Main Line served by LNER and others, and 12 per cent of journeys to and from destinations off the East Coast Main Line run by TransPennine Express.”