A few weeks ago, we read that the new government owned Northern was to set up an advisory panel. Great news we thought until we saw the list of the members of the panel. In themselves they are, we are certain , all proper people to be on such a panel but there was a glaring omission. County Durham, Tyne and Wear, and Northumberland were not represented. After some discussion amongst the branch committee we issued the following press release:
Rail campaigners in the North East are not happy that County Durham, Tyneside and Northumberland have been left out of the advisory panel set up by the government to help lead the Northern Trains franchise, which is now directly managed by the government as an Operator of Last Resort.
The North East Branch of Railfuture, the independent voluntary group that campaigns for a bigger and better railway, says that it is not right that virtually every area across the Northern railway network is represented, apart from the areas that are managed by the North East Joint Transport Committee.
Railfuture North East Branch Chair Keith Simpson said: “There is already a tendency of Northern’s management to over-focus on the Leeds – Manchester corridor, and not consider the requirements of key commuter routes into Newcastle. The absence of a strong voice round the table representing this region is a worrying further development of that, leaving us with little confidence that this region will, even under government ownership, receive the rail service it deserves which is so necessary to re-invigorating the local economy.”
“Who for instance will be considering the requirements of Cramlington, Northumberland’s largest town with a rail station with population of 35,000, but without a train arriving into Newcastle before 08:15, and then only an hourly service after that? And what about delivering on the objective to cut 20 minutes off the rail journey time between Teesside and Tyneside, by running passenger services over the Stillington freight line, or delivering new stations at Team Valley, Ferryhill and Gilsland?”
“We urgently call on the Department For Transport to appoint a local authority representative from the North East Joint Transport Committee, to augment the expert panel and confirm there is a level playing field across all the regions in the north.”
A number of local papers took up the story and it came to the notice of Richard George - Chair of DfT OLRHoldings Limited (DOHL). DOHL is the government owned company that is, for the foreseeable future, responsible for managing the former Northern Franchise. Richard George then wrote to the branch to say that he was aware of the disquiet about the make-up of the panel and that he has indicated, at the Transport for the North Board, that the issue would be revisited at an appropriate point in the future. He made reference to the present Covid-19 crisis and pointed out that meetings of the stakeholder panel had, in the circumstances, been cancelled. He also pointed out that the context of the stakeholder panel had always been “purely advisory’ with the “governance and powers” remaining within the Rail North Partnership of the Dft and TfN. The make-up of the panel was not designed to be a representative body but was “a simple attempt the reach out for advice from a small diverse group”. Richard George finished the letter by assuring us that he has noted our concerns and that they will be revisited at an appropriate point in the future.We’ve made some progress but now we will have to start to think about the detail of what we want. Would the simple addition of one more member from County Durham, Tyne and Wear, or Northumberland be the answer? What about the other areas of the North who also don’t appear to have member on the panel from their particular area? What will be the remit of the panel? Is there space for Rail User Groups of RailFuture? How will we find out what happens at meetings of the panel and how will we be able to influence their deliberations?
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