Winners and losers as Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough trains go electric with new timetable
The new timetable has meant Wellingborough commuters have lost their direct weekday intercity service
Anyone travelling by train from Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough have been promised a 'new, improved railway' with quieter, greener trains, more seats and services leaving London later.
East Midlands Railway (EMR) launched its new all-electric Intercity and Connect services on the line between Corby and London St Pancras yesterday (Sunday).
A new timetable has been introduced after the £1.5 billion Midland Main Line Upgrade by Network Rail which includes new overhead electric line equipment between Bedford and Corby, as well as an additional track between Kettering and Corby.
Rail campaigners were joined by EMR and Network Rail managers at Corby station to see the latest stage in the station's long journey to a regular train service.
Campaigner David Fursdon of Corby Rail Users Group was one of the first to use the 360 Connect service to London St Pancras - old trains that have been brought from another line.
He said: "It has been delayed by six months and EMR has said they are committed to refurbishment of the trains. They are no older than the 'Meridians' we have just said goodbye to.
"We are fighting on. There is a bid in on the Beeching reversal project - a bid from the Welland Valley Rail Partnership.
"It is to link Kettering and Corby over the Harringworth Viaduct on to Stamford, Peterborough and Wisbech to open a route to the eastern counties.
"They are also introducing some services north via Melton Mowbray for people who want to travel north. We hope we can build on that. Passengers want, and deserve the best service."
Betty Wade and her late husband Jim, campaigned for a Corby service for 40 years.
She said: "It's a bit emotional. I'm sad that Jim's not here to see it but I'm proud of his achievement."
Official Corby Railway Station Adopter Donald Oliver has been looking forward to the new train service.
He said: "It's a very special day for everybody. I caught the first 360 train going into London yesterday. We had about 100 passengers. We want more passengers to travel on the train - and it stops at Luton Airport Parkway so people can get to the airport directly."
The trains operating on the EMR Connect services are known as Class 360’s, old rolling stock from Greater Anglia that they had hoped to refurbish before they entered service but due to delays caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, some of the fleet of trains have had a lick of paint
EMR Connect comprises eight carriage electric trains serving Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton and Luton Airport Parkway every 30 minutes on weekdays from 6am.
Services on Sunday afternoon include a full weekday timetable running after 2pm.
It has been the biggest adjustment to the timetable since 2014.
Lisa Angus, Transition & Projects Director, East Midlands Railway said: "In our old timetable we had one train leave for London before 9am, now we have six. There are more seats and it is more environmentally friendly.
"This timetable has been a real partnership with EMR, Network Rail, CrossCounty Trains and Siemens - it's the industry joined together."
In response to Wellingborough commuters' concerns that their station would no longer have regular Intercity trains and those travelling north have to change at Kettering, she said: "We have increased capacity and there are more seats, with more frequent trains. It is a fantastic uplift in service."
However passengers from Wellingborough wanting to travel north will have to change at Kettering - having to use the pedestrian lift and bridge to access the northbound platform, with commuters heading to London only having the 360 Connect service available to them.
Wellingborough commuter Brett Gough said: "Despite the objections and very well structured arguments raised at the government consultations to tabled suggestions and surveys a couple of years ago, Wellingborough has now lost a third of its peak time morning trains southbound - dropping from three to two every hour.
"The trains will also take much longer to arrive at their destination with up to ten minute longer travel times on some services going up from 47 to 57 minutes.
"To compound the misery these trains will also be moved from being the current Meridian intercity trains to older electric trains which have not been refurbished and will offer significant reductions in space per passenger, comfort, facilities on board and even basic things like a table to work whilst travelling.
"Many people in the area commute to London from the station at Wellingborough. It has provided a reasonably fast and reliable service for most of my working life.
"There will be no intercity trains at all going south and going north from Wellingborough almost all intercity access is removed at peak times making travel to northbound destinations like Nottingham less viable by rail."
Another problem facing late-night visitors from Corby returning home from London on a Saturday night is the last train north stopping at Corby leaves the capital at 10.46pm. The last train Monday to Friday to Corby is 11.55pm - on Sunday it is 10.12pm.
Lisa Angus said: "The previous last train in the timetable was 7.47pm so the last train to Corby is four and three hours later than before."
EMR have introduced the new Connect service but many of the trains will be in their old livery of blue until they are resprayed purple. A date for the refurbishment of the trains has not yet been set.
Lisa Angus said: "We haven't got a date for the refurbishment. It's been more difficult to do things in the pandemic. We have been doing the things that needed doing like training the drivers and getting the depot ready to maintain the trains. We will move on to the refurbishment programme."
The £1.5 billion upgrade of the track from Bedford to Corby included the rebuilding of 12 road bridges, six 'parapet' schemes to widen access under the bridge and the replacement of four footbridges.
As well as the lengthening of four platforms the canopies at Wellingborough and Kettering Stations had to be adjusted for the new infrastructure as well as the building of a new platform at Wellingborough.
Julie Evans senior sponsor for Network Rail said: "I'm absolutely delighted to see this come together. There's a lot of hard work to come. There will be more trains, longer trains and quieter trains."
Tim Walden, Route Delivery Director, Network Rail, added: "There are tangible benefits for the community. They are noticeably quieter and we are decarbonising the line."
A spokesman for EMR said: "It will provide more seats for passengers across the region – with further late night and early morning services – and will allow the reintroduction of peak services between Wellingborough and Bedford, meaning passengers will not need to use the replacement coach service.
"Passengers wanting to use EMR’s Intercity service north of Kettering will be able to make a northbound connection, twice an hour at the same times, every hour, and with coordinated interchange times, the total journey time to Leicester and Nottingham remain the same as today."