Harrogate rail delays - what election candidates say about future

There was little in the way of public sympathy for Northern Rail as Harrogate Advertiser readers reacted to our recent special report on the tale of delays and cancellations on our railway lines.

Monday, 2nd December 2019, 11:37 am
Updated Monday, 2nd December 2019, 12:51 pm
One of the new Azuma trains set to take Harrogate passengers to and from London in new direct services.

Even local rail campaigner Trevor Dale, while acknowledging that a lack of capacity on the Harrogate line could be traced back to Network Rail, said this did not get the rail operator off the hook for its poor performance and the retention of the little-loved, old Pacer trains.

Some readers even harked back to the early Noughties when the then-Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Phil Willis spoke re the poor Harrogate to Leeds railway service at a public meeting at the White Hart Hotel organised by the Harrogate Advertiser

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One of the little-loved Pacers trains on the Harrogate-Leeds line.

Times may have changed but the same issues remain 15 years later.

Official statistics for the period between October 13 to November 9 supplied by Northern Rain, or Northern as it has been known since 2016, reveal less than half of services ran to time in the North.

And, according to the mytrainjourney.co.uk website, none of the 7.34am or 7.46am trains at Harrogate rail station arrived on time between October 13 to November 9.

The four candidates hoping to become the next MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough recognise the scale of the problems affecting passengers and weary commuters.

With a climate change-themed election hustings open to the public coming up this Wednesday at the Wesley Chapel in Harrogate (the only open to the general public with all four candidates appearing), the following comments on railways will give a good indication of what to expect in this week's debate...

Andrew Jones (Conservative)

Andrew Jones said: "“I have been using the Harrogate line since I moved to the town in the 1990s. The current issues with performance are very frustrating - frustrating for line users, especially those who rely on it to get to work, and frustrating for those who have been campaigning to see improvements.

“When we are seeing huge changes for the better, with vastly upgraded trains, more services, better services and the new London services, to be having these operational issues is disappointing.

“Northern Rail need to be upfront about why they are experiencing such severe problems. Is the fleet change, with all the training and operational issues that flow from it, impacting on service?

“Is the current timetable sustainable? What will be the impact of the works at Leeds whilst the investment to build a new platform takes place? I want to see every effort made to run the timetable on time every time, and in the last few days have raised the problems with Northern, and the Rail Minister, and will be keeping up the pressure.

“Part of the frustration for the public when things go wrong is being kept in the dark about the causes and not knowing what the company is doing about them. That communication is something Northern can do quickly and I am sure customers would appreciate it.”

Judith Rogerson (Lib Dem)

Judith Rogerson said: "Last Friday I received an email sent to me by a frustrated commuter as she waited at Hornbeam Park station. The train she wanted to catch that morning had never arrived. The next one passed without stopping.

"On journeys earlier in the week she had to stand all the way to Leeds because of short carriages. I sympathise greatly with what she was describing. In my work as a barrister I have relied on the trains to get to court and important meetings.

"I've regularly found myself having to apologise profusely to judges or clients for being late. It’s professionally damaging and personally infuriating. I know that others have it much worse than me as they suffer day after day with this poor service.

"So what should we do to tackle this? We need to radically overhaul the way that railways are run to make it easier to strip failing train operators of franchises. We must spend money on infrastructure and improve links between our great northern towns.

"A more simple and fairer ticketing system should be put in place so passengers get better value for money. Locally we need to finally get rid of the outdated Pacer trains. We have to keep pressing for electrification and a double track all the way between Leeds and York.

"If we are to tackle congestion and pollution we need to give people a reliable and affordable alternative to cars. At the moment we do not have that here on the Harrogate line."

Mark Sewards (Labour)

Mark Sewards said: "Despite promised improvements, passengers on the Harrogate Line have repeatedly been let down by poor service and unreliability. A Labour Government will end passengers’ misery by terminating Northern Rail’s contract and bringing our railways into public ownership.

"It’s totally unacceptable that fewer than half of Northern Rail’s trains turn up on time with some trains failing to arrive at all.

"Labour has committed to renationalising the railways to ensure that passengers get a service that they can rely on. This will enable us to make fares simpler and more affordable, improve accessibility for disabled people, ensure safe staffing levels and end driver-only operation. Our publicly owned rail company will steer network planning and investments.

"It will co-ordinate mainline upgrades, resignalling, rolling stock replacement and major projects. We will implement a full, rolling programme of electrification.

"As MP for Harrogate & Knaresborough, I will lobby for money to be invested in the Harrogate Line and other train lines in the north of England which have been woefully neglected."

Kieron George (Yorkshire Party)

Kieron George said: "As a Harrogate resident, and a regular user of our rail system, I have front row seats to its issues. Yorkshire's poor infrastructure is one of its most pressing problems and ties into many of its other ones.

"Northern Rail's poor performance on the Harrogate-Leeds-York line all comes down to funding. Yorkshire pays its fair share of taxes, yet London gets SEVEN times as much transport funding per head as Yorkshire does. It's simply impossible to match London's standard when they are keeping £733 per head for transport, while we're only getting back £137 per head.

"But the solution is equally simple: Give back Yorkshire the power, pounds, and purpose it deserves with a regional government.

"Yorkshire's funding has gotten worse under every other party, and only the Yorkshire Party cares enough about Yorkshire to do better.

"Over the last five years, London received £25bn in rail investment compared to our mere £3.3bn.

"We will fully fund Northern Powerhouse Rail spending £39bn to build new railway lines linking Hull, York, Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield with Newcastle, Liverpool and Manchester.

"We will address the shameful fact that Yorkshire's Largest city - Leeds - is the biggest city in Europe with no mass-transit system.

"We will give Yorkshire the green, efficient, & fair transport infrastructure it deserves because Yorkshire deserves better."