Lichfield Rail Promotion Group Newsletter – December 2016
We’ve been so busy this year that we’ve not found time for a newsletter for months. Those who attend meetings will know most of what’s going on, but for those unable to do so regularly, here’s an update.
ORR station usage figures
The figures for 2015-6 (April to March), just out, show further increases in passengers travelling. Locally, Lichfield Trent Valley increased by 8% to 1,064,000, into seven figures for the first time, and the two Lichfield stations together reached 1.74 million. Lichfield numbers can be compared with those at Tamworth and Nuneaton on the Trent Valley line, whose totals were 1.15 million and 1.24 million respectively, in all cases excluding interchange. Once again Lichfield totals far outstripped those at other Trent Valley towns. Rugeley Trent Valley usage grew by 6% to 155,000, while Shenstone fell by 1% to 177,000. As always, one doesn’t know how many more used the Cross-City line in particular but, ticketless, were not counted.
A new West Midlands franchise is due to start in October 2017; we will be told in July whether this goes to Abellio or remains with the incumbent Govia, currently serving a one-year term. Virgin’s west coast franchise will end in 2019, when a new West Coast Partnership is due to begin, taking in the early years of HS2 train services as well. We submitted our views to government on both new franchises, and on Network Rail’s West Midland route strategy, a disappointing document.
Since May we have enjoyed 15 extra calls a week by Virgin, an increase of over 30%, mostly at weekends. While no details of usage of these trains have been received so far from Virgin Trains, observation suggests they have been popular. On the Cross-City line we have gained just this month a train into Birmingham half an hour earlier on Sundays, at 901 from Trent Valley, and two later London Midland trains from London on weekdays (at 1946 and 2046), both nonstop between Rugby and Milton Keynes via Weedon. London Midland’s Trent Valley service has become increasingly busy, often overcrowded, and its diversion to run direct between Stafford and Crewe in the new franchise will enable more trains to be strengthened to 8 coaches, as well as speeding some connections. Regrettably, cancellations, never unusual on Cross-City, have become more common on the Trent Valley trains too, with shortage of traincrew the usual reason. Virgin seem better than London Midland at reliable rostering.
We’re now working with our third head of route for Cross-City, and our second for the Trent Valley service. Relations with these individuals whose role has been described as being the “passengers’ friends” have been cordial, but their success in putting right failings we report to them has been disappointing, and the excuse “it’ll have to wait till the new franchise” is being used too often. We have tried to be friends of the railways, critical in private rather than public, but our patience has been tested too often recently.
Trent Valley station
Unsurprisingly, both car parks are now full daily except at weekends; our long-standing calls to the station operator, London Midland that they need to plan for at least 600 spaces, given the growth of Lichfield itself and the easy access from the A38 trunk road, continue to be ignored. Irritating, and more easily soluble, is the absence of any short stay spaces on the “new” car park to drop off people heading south.
The provision of step-free access at Lichfield Trent Valley, belatedly approved by the Department for Transport nearly 3 years ago, then delayed by Network Rail’s “Hendy report”, is now promised by March 2019, over 10 years after the hourly London service was introduced! We shall see; there is no joy in being the busiest main line station in the country where passengers have to struggle up and down steps with heavy luggage, and which some are unable to use at all.
Lichfield to Derby/Nottingham
Another long-standing cause of the group, our case for a new service to Nottingham with a station at Alrewas for the National Memorial Arboretum, needs fresh impetus. We’ve recently met the newish Managing Director of the NMA, Sarah Montgomery, who in principle supports our case. We had great hopes of Midlands Connect, a quango set up to improve transport links between the two parts of the Midlands, powerhouse of the English economy; but so far they seem not to have even realised the relief this could bring to the overstretched A38 running alongside. To resurrect the line on to Walsall and Wolverhampton, to improve their dreadful links by road or rail with the East Midlands, requires more imagination than they have demonstrated so far. We feel like the biblical characters “crying in the wilderness”; like them, we won’t stop trying!
Royal Assent to the hybrid Bill is expected early next year, and construction is expected to start locally in late 2017/early 2018.
For now, still at the King’s Head on Bird St in Lichfield at 20.00 on second Mondays of each month, but with the present landlord about to retire, this could change. On Friday evening, 3rd February we will have Michael Fabricant MP joining us; details to be circulated separately.
Provisionally on Monday 13th March; formal notice will be given later. Ian will be standing down as Secretary; John Adams is willing to succeed him, subject of course to the will of members. Ian is willing to take John’s place as Treasurer, again subject to democratic vote.
What we lack at the time of writing is a candidate for the Chair. David is standing down after 7 years (and several years before that as Vice-Chair). The post needs filling if the Group is to continue its effective work on behalf of rail users in the Lichfield area. Anyone who might be willing to consider standing is invited to contact David on 01543 258512 (or by email) for an informal talk.