Rail revolution is 'historic moment' for Harrogate
It’s the day many thought would never come for Harrogate.
In just over a week’s time, rail operator LNER will launch five new daily direct trains from Harrogate to London, to add to the existing solitary service.
The increase, using the new Azuma trains, has been hailed as a “historic moment” for Harrogate passengers and for the the town and wider district economy.
Speaking at a celebration launch on Tuesday held by LNER in Harrogate, the man most closely associated with the campaign for better services to London, Brian Dunsby of Harrogate Line Supporters Group, said it amounted to a “tremendous improvement in the quantity and quality of direct services.”
Leading figures in Harrogate’s business community also said the greatly extended London service on the modern new Azuma trains will be a game changer.
Simon Cotton, managing director of the HRH Group, which includes The Yorkshire Hotel and the White Hart Hotel, said the rail operator’s show of support for Harrogate was extraordinary.
Mr Cotton said at the rail station on Tuesday: “You can feel the buzz of excitement that this historic moment truly means to Harrogate. The commitment that LNER has shown Harrogate is nothing short of amazing.
"The opportunity this provides to Harrogate to compete with the larger regional conference cities such Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Glasgow cannot be underestimated.”
The revolution in Harrogate’s transport links has been a long-time coming and has been eagerly awaited by the town’s conference trade, in particular.
A previous attempt to introduce direct rail links from Harrogate to London in 2008 with National Express faltered and a more recent one with East Coast in 2011 proved only partly successful.
The final breakthrough with the current rail operator LNER comes after nearly four years of talk involving rail operators, local MPs, Network Rail and local authorities in the region.
Steve Scarre, president of Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce also welcomed the new greener, hi-tech rail services which will begin on Sunday, December 15.
Mr Scarre said: “Think this is fantastic news. The increased services will bring people into Harrogate from all over the country helping to improve our economy in all sorts of ways.
"The hospitality trade will certainly benefit and also our fantastic independent retailers and larger outlets will be able to take advantage of the increased footfall.”
Harrogate Convention Centre director Paula Lorimer said: “This is an absolute game-changer for us. We know that one of the big attractions to event organisers, when choosing a venue, is transport links.
“This new service completely opens Harrogate up to visitors from London and the South, who can now easily get direct to our venue and back, with return trains six times a day.”
New Azuma services will officially begin operating from Harrogate on Sunday 15 December.
The following day, five new weekday departures to and from London King’s Cross will begin.
The current 07:34 Harrogate to London and return service from London at 17:33 will continue to operate.
Trains will call at Leeds, Wakefield Westgate, Doncaster, Grantham, Stevenage and London King’s Cross, with two in each direction serving Horsforth.
From the best ever WiFi, plug sockets at every seat and more legroom in Standard to extra space for bags, ergonomically designed seats and an excellent range of refreshments served at seat or from the Cafe Bar, the new Azuma fleet will transform the journey experience.
The Azuma fleet offers significant environmental benefits. Azuma trains will run using overhead electric wires between London and Leeds. The bimode Azuma fleet will then operate under diesel power for the 18 miles between Leeds and Harrogate.
LNER is replacing all 45 of its existing trains in its fleet with 65 Azuma trains, which will be completed by June 2020.