Rail users from across North Northamptonshire say they are worried the new operator of the Midland Mainline is ‘downgrading’ services from our area to London and the north.
Wellingborough passengers are furious that, from December next year, direct services travelling north to places like Market Harborough, Leicester and Nottingham will be scrapped.
And Corby commuters say that ‘new’ carriages planned to travel between Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough and London will actually be 20-year-old ‘cast-offs’ from Clacton.
Dutch-owned Abellio took over the contract to run services along the Midland Mainline from Stagecoach yesterday (Sunday, August 18) with the promise of new trains across the fleet, upgraded stations, more seats and better timetabling.
Their new company is branded East Midlands Rail.
But today local people have said that they have real concerns about what the future might hold for their rail services.
While Kettering will greatly benefit from becoming an interchange and gaining more services per hour, the other stations on the line look could lose out.
The good news for Corby is that it will get a second service every hour. But passengers are concerned the Corby - Kettering - Wellingborough line is no longer going to be branded as an intercity line. Instead it will become EMR Electrics. This move, say passengers, is a departure from the marketing of our county as a viable London commuter area.
Wellingborough will lose its direct northbound services to and from Harborough, Leicester, Loughborough and Nottingham. Passengers will only be able to go as far north as Corby unless they change at Kettering.
Faster direct services from our area to London St Pancras will also be cancelled - with both trains per hour now stopping at all stations from Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton and a new stop at Luton Airport Parkway with whom Abellio have a ‘partnership agreement’.
Although timetabling has not yet been announced, passengers are worried that journey times from Corby and Wellingborough to London could be longer because of this extra stop.
The current Class 222 Meridian carriages manufactured from 2004 onwards will be replaced with older, refurbished Class 360 Desiros that are believed to have been passed on by Greater Anglia trains who are replacing all their own stock with more modern trains.
An £400m order for 33 new Hitachi trains placed by Abellio last month may not benefit Corby and Wellingborough as the trains are not expected stop at these stations.
One passenger, Paul, who travels from Corby to St Pancras, said: “These carriages were built between 2002 and 2004 and they are more like trains that are used for short commutes.
“If they’re refurbished then there’s the worry they’re just going to put in some new seats and paint them purple.
“They’re rattly and they don’t have the same comfort levels of the Meridians which are fantastic trains.
“It will be interesting to see the new timetables and to see if the new fares reflect the slower service.
“Over the past ten years the economic benefits of the trainline to Corby have been great and I’d hate to see those benefits being lost.
“The declassification of the trains from an Intercity is a blow.
“The first service from Corby to St Pancras is at 6.38am and we’ve been asking for an earlier service for years. “Kettering station is full of people from Corby between 5.30 and 6am but there’s been no mention of an earlier service being introduced.”
Wellingborough Labour Councillor Andrea Watts, who is also the borough’s prospective parliamentary candidate, said she is concerned about the plans.
She said: “This is a downgraded service for Wellingborough.
“There are all these new builds around the town and there are many people who commute north who are now not going to be able to do so.
“We are calling for one direct service an hour to call at Wellingborough so that people who need to can get to the north and to London without having to call at every station on the line.”
As part of its invitation to tender document for the Midland Mainline franchise, the Department for Transport said train companies must: “Support the Government agenda to make the Midlands region an engine for growth, working particularly to develop connectivity within and outside the region; to focus on supporting the region’s industry and leisure economy.
“To improve the quality, frequency and timings of journeys on the east of the franchise network and to seek to develop new services and connections.”
Passengers travelling from Wellingborough also say that two of the platforms at Wellingborough will become unused.
Last year Bovis, the developer behind the 3,650-home Stanton Cross development said that they were opposed to the changes and urged people to write to the transport minister to voice their objections. Their campaign was backed by MP Peter Bone.
Cllr Mark Pengelly, who was a linchpin in the campaign to get rail services back to Corby ten years ago said: “I was involved with the campaign to get the station reopened in Corby and part of the reason there was a delay was because we held out for the top class carriages.
“I love going on the train at Wicksteed Park but I don’t want to go on that train all the way to London.
“The carriages are not going to be what we expect or what we have been promised as part of the franchise.
“They are supposed to be intercity standard and these are not intercity standard.”
Corby is that fastest-growing borough outside of London and its fast train link to London is seen as key to its future expansion.
Rail campaigner David Fursdon who has been to Abellio’s stakeholder events during the takeover, and was at St Pancras station this morning for the official EMR launch said that he is hopeful that the new provider will be able to deliver a decent service.
He said: “Kettering will become an important interchange hub from December 2020 and the London trains’ first stop will be Kettering.
“Trains from the north will have Kettering as their last stop before London.”
He said that the changes were designed to speed-up rail travel from the north and that staions including Wellingborough and Bedford will be negatively-impacted.
He added: “The class 360 EMR Electrics trains on the London - Corby service will be totally refurbished.
“They will comprise of three trains joined together giving a total of 12 carriages on each service.
“It’s good to see two trains an hour going north from Kettering and two trains per hour going from Corby to London from December 2020. Currently there is only one train per hour on these routes.”
Abellio have been approached for comment.