London-Harrogate service returns

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A HIGH-SPEED rail link direct to Harrogate from London is being reintroduced after 20 years.

Train operator East Coast has announced a new service leaving King’s Cross at 5.33pm on weekdays and Saturdays, reaching Harrogate at 8.35pm.

Tying in with the existing direct service to the capital in the morning, it will mean commuters and tourists can get to and from London in one day, using just one train in each direction.

East Coast chairman Elaine Holt, who was in Harrogate yesterday to announce the news, said: “We made it our priority to engage with stakeholders and customers as we developed the biggest timetable change to the East Coast route for 20 years.

“We have listened to some very persuasive arguments for the economic and social benefits that an inter-city daily return service between Harrogate and London could bring to the town.”

Among those making the case for the service was Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce, led by chief executive Brian Dunsby. He said there was still a demand for more direct services between Harrogate and London, and the chamber would continue to press for more improvements, aiming to achieve a service each way every two hours by 2014-16.

The changes will be implemented with a new timetable in May, subject to final industry approval, following successful tests with electric trains on the Skipton to London route.

Mike Gardner, leader of Harrogate Borough Council and chairman of the Harrogate International Centre, said: “Research quite clearly shows that the district has the economic demand for direct travel to London as well as the appropriate demographics for long term use with people wanting to travel to the capital for both business and leisure, including shopping and culture.

“For Harrogate International Centre, this is a most welcome development and an improved selling point to its client base, for whom easy destination access is critical to the smooth running of events. I would like to thank everyone who has worked and lobbied hard to get this direct service.”

The news of the new services was also welcomed by Coun Don Mackenzie, who said: “Having worked closely with Brian Dunsby and Harrogate Chamber members on this bid, I am delighted with East Coast’s decision. We received great support from officers of both Harrogate Borough and North Yorkshire County councils, and from Andrew Jones MP; but, without question, it was above all the determination and perseverance of Brian and his chamber colleagues, which drove this bid forward and which have delivered this excellent result.”

Andrew Jones, MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, said: “I warmly welcome this new evening direct service from London to Harrogate and was pleased to be able to play a part in making it a reality. One of my top priorities is the campaign for improved rail services between London and Harrogate and, more locally, between Leeds, Harrogate and York.

“Good commuter links with London – particularly for business tourism – are vital to Harrogate’s economy. It is estimated that the conference trade alone underpins 6,000 jobs in the district and pumps many millions of pounds into the local economy.”