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July blog

Tony Potts writes:

On 14 June I attended the TravelWatch North West meeting at Blackpool’s Solaris Centre. Although no-one from Arriva was there, I took the opportunity to ask the Network Rail (NR) representative about the situation here in west Cumbria. He replied that the Cumbrian coast is very dear to him as he was involved with both Arnside and Harrington viaduct replacements. NR is working with the local enterprise partnership and Direct Rail Services (DRS) and the Energy Coast is doing well. When I asked about the news that DRS are wanting to invest in the line but that NR wasn’t interested, he replied that that is not the case. I didn’t realise until a few days after I returned home that he had been the project manager for Harrington.

On 23 June the Community Rail Fair was held at Carlisle and we had a stall. Unfortunately it was also a strike day, so very few people from west Cumbria were passing through the station. Originally the rail users’ groups’ tables were located on platform 3, which was isolated from the main display and hidden behind a Pendolino, so Dawn McGough arranged for us all to be moved onto the main side, which was far better. Some interest was shown, and all the newsletters went, but that was all.

An article in the News and Star on 22 June giving details of leaked emails from the Department for Transport (DfT) which showed how they had “written off Northern” prompted me to write to them so say that I have held the view for some time that all the current problems are the responsibility of the DfT. I also said that, due to a West Coast Main Line blockage north of Oxenholme on 14 June which caused trains to Carlisle to be cancelled, I was able to return home from the TravelWatch meeting via Barrow, something which would not have been possible under the previous timetable.

According to a News and Star report on 20 June Trudy Harrison MP has written to Northern complaining about the omission of some stations from some trains in the new timetable. However, since then, it has been announced that the timetable changes planned for December will no longer take place.

Due to a signalling cable theft between Carnforth and Lancaster, many passengers, including Trudy, were severely delayed.

The cancelling of all trains on the Lakes Line was mitigated by West Coast Railways at Carnforth who ran their own shuttle train for two weeks to provide a service which supplemented the rail replacement buses. To help with the situation regarding schoolchildren, Northern’s buses took them to the school, rather than just leaving them at the station.

All this has led to calls for Northern to be stripped of its franchise and for the Cumbrian lines to be made into a “microfranchise”. This sort of thing is nothing new, as a similar view was being expressed early this century when the franchisee was First North Western. A former railway employee writing in the Daily Mail on 8 June said that while this might seem an attractive proposition, it wouldn’t solve anything.

There was some controversy last month when it was revealed that while the Class 68 loco-hauled trains were driven by DRS drivers, because of union agreements a Northern driver had to also be on the train. This was thought to compound the problem of driver shortages, although there is no actual shortage of drivers. The route learning necessary for the Blackpool electrification has taken many drivers away, but once this is complete, the drivers will return to normal duties. However, the Manchester to Preston via Bolton electrification is due to be completed by late November, so no doubt there will be more route-learning to be done, as well as driving electric trains.

On 4 July a number of people from the Lakes Line Action Group went to London to a meeting with, inter alia, rail minister Jo Johnson to ask for a solution to the problems throughout Cumbria. Although the meeting was timed to take two hours, Mr Johnson left after 40 or so minutes.

On 26 June I was asked by the BBC Inside out programme for someone commuting to Sellafield who would contribute to a programme. Lynette would ask on Facebook for a volunteer.

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