Harrogate MP joins business leaders in condemning Northern Rail service cuts on Harrogate line between York and Leeds.

Harrogate MP Andrew Jones has written to the chairman of Northern Rail urging him to reconsider further cuts to services on the Harrogate line between York and Leeds.

By Gemma Jimmison
Thursday, 24th March 2022, 3:37 pm

The Government-controlled rail provider has announced a reduction in services due to the lower-than-usual number of passengers and various operational difficulties.

The 06:07 service to Kings Cross, via Leeds, will now stop running in May, while a large gap has also been created in the evening timetable.

Cuts had already been made in December 2021 as Northern reacted to the Omicron outbreak.

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Northern Rail has announced further cuts to services on the Harrogate line between York and Leeds.

Mr Jones said: “I have written to the Chairman of Northern Rail asking him to pause any proposed service reductions between Harrogate and Leeds and consider reversing the earlier reductions in stages so that we get back to the level of service we had pre-pandemic.”

Mr Jones joins other business leaders and community groups in condemning the cuts, which will see the earliest train to Leeds at 6.07am axed alongside the 6.59am Leeds to York and 8.47am York to Leeds services, both of which call at Harrogate. Some evening services will also be dropped, including the 22.39 Leeds to Harrogate service.

All cuts, announced by Northern will come into force in May, and will mean some passengers could be forced to wait up to two hours for a service. They come on top of cuts to services introduced due to Covid in December 2021.

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Mr Jones has written to Robin Gisby, Chairman of Northern Rail, asking him to rethink the service reductions.

Mr Jones said: “Over the last 12 years we have seen steady improvements to our local rail services. The hated pacer trains have gone, we have more direct services to London with the Azumas and we had seen welcome increases in services to Leeds and York.

“Many groups and individuals lobbied hard to get those changes and we worked with regional and national rail companies in a positive and constructive way. None of us want to see these hard-won improvements lost.

“Everybody understands that train use was much lower during lockdown and that some long-term changes to business use of public transport due to increased working from home is likely.

“However, these changes won’t be forever and there are other pressures in the local and national economy - such as the increase in fuel prices, the strength of the jobs market, the re-opening of the conference and exhibition business and the emphasis on greener methods of travel - which seem likely to lead to an increase in public transport use.

“It is simply, therefore, too early to judge whether it is right to consolidate the cuts made during the Covid lockdowns into the timetable and add new reductions on top of that.

“I have written to the Chairman of Northern Rail asking him to pause any proposed service reductions between Harrogate and Leeds and consider reversing the earlier reductions in stages so that we get back to the level of service we had pre-pandemic.”

Mr Jones was backed by many other district representatives, who said the cancellations would affect commuters as well as tourism in Harrogate and the surrounding areas.

David Simister, Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive, said: “This move by Northern is a real kick in the teeth to early morning commuters, ones who need to be in Leeds before 7am.

“I hope the combined voices of our elected leaders, together with passengers and those who have worked tirelessly to bring the district’s rail service into the 21st century, will be heeded by Northern, who in turn will reverse their disastrous decision.”

Coun Richard Cooper, leader of Harrogate Borough Council, added: “I am very disappointed at these proposals from Northern. Our area is a tourist destination for both business and leisure purposes.

“We are also increasingly somewhere people come to for daybreaks too. Our economy and the interests of companies like Northern are not isolated things.

“That is why I believe these measures are a false economy. A successful and thriving Harrogate will see more people coming here and more people using public transport to get here.

“That successful economy is underpinned by great transport links and a successful rail service is underpinned by a thriving and successful economy.

“We need Northern to play their part in that equation to the full for the benefit of both so I want to see them planning a return to our pre-Covid services - not a continued reduction.”

The Harrogate Line Supporters Group has also objected to the ‘inappropriate and disruptive’ changes and called for Northern to provide an improved service as soon as possible.

The group wants to see earlier starts restored, the two hour evening gap eliminated, peak hour services reinstated and eventually the reintroduction of the Harrogate-Leeds semifast services, which were withdrawn in the first Covid lockdown back in March 2020.

Earlier this year, Transport for the North warned train operators are being asked to make substantial savings by the Government, after it found the two key operators in the region, Northern and TransPennine Express, are only running 85% of pre-pandemic services.

It comes just weeks after steep increases in fares saw commuters faced with hikes of up to £100 on season tickets.

A spokesperson for Northern said: “We’ve made decisions about our timetables based on the levels of resource we have available and prioritising the routes with the highest customer demand, and which support the region’s economic growth.

“The timetables currently in place will broadly continue with some amendments from May 2022 and into the summer.”