In many ways, it’s a bit late posting this, but it took me until almost the deadline to get it finished – below are my responses to some of the Department for Transport (DfT) consultation questions for the next East Midlands rail franchise, focusing on the bits relevant to the Humber region, primarily the Barton to Cleethorpes route. (I’ve reordered the questions to provide a better narrative to this post). Would you like to see any other routes transferred to or from the East Midlands franchise? If so, which routes? (Q18)
The Barton Line should not be remapped into the East Midlands franchise. Whilst the current arrangements are not ideal, I feel they are the best, or at least, the least worst option (considering the split between the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises), and it is disappointing that retaining the status quo was never an option when the Northern and Transpennine Express (TPE) franchises were consulted on. There are various reasons why I feel the status quo is the most appropriate way forward for the Barton Line.
As much as the current operational arrangements limit the ability to swap trains between the Barton Line and other services, especially on weekdays and Summer Sundays, and the nearest maintenance depot for the Northern franchise is located at Neville Hill in Leeds, I fail to see how the East Midlands franchise will offer an improvement. The current East Midlands service from North East Lincolnshire to Lincoln runs predominately to/from Grimsby Town whereas the Barton Line service runs predominantly to/from Cleethorpes. Changes to these arrangements would be required to reduce the “operational isolation” from the rest of the East Midlands franchise that would allow for trains to be swapped between services during the day. If these involved more Barton Line services terminating at Grimsby Town this would be a retrograde step, reducing services at Grimsby Docks and New Clee, and reducing connectivity from other stations to Cleethorpes. Even if on the other hand more Lincoln services are extended from Grimsby Town to Cleethorpes, allowing integration with the Barton Line service at Cleethorpes, the nearest maintenance depot is in Nottingham, which is not much of an improvement on Northern’s Neville Hill depot. Unless the small TransPennine Express facility is used to maintain Barton Line trains, no franchise is going to be able to offer a quick response to train maintenance issues that occur during the day.
Another important aspect to operational issues are staffing arrangements for the Barton Line. While the use of TPE staff for a Northern service is not ideal, it does at least mean Cleethorpes based crew are used on the service. On one hand there appears to be no requirement for this arrangement to end under the East Midlands franchise, which would make no difference in handling service disruption compared to the current arrangements, and if it does end there is no requirement for the East Midlands franchise to set up a Cleethorpes (or Grimsby) crew depot. Should a new North East Lincolnshire crew depot be established it will mean two franchises each having their own small depot in the area, potentially increasing rail industry costs, especially if both depots are to be well enough staffed to deal with short notice staff sickness and service disruption. Your Northern/TransPennine consultation response document noted that with regards to the Barton Line “Several respondents stated that the service should be run by whoever is operating the adjacent services, taking a ‘no fragmentation’ approach. This would improve reliability, due to operators being more able to replace … unavailable staff”. Separate TPE and East Midlands crew depot at Cleethorpes would be the exact opposite of this. If a new crew depot is not established, and the TPE arrangement ends, the Barton Line would have to be operated from Lincoln crew depot, around one hour’s drive from Cleethorpes. This would be a very retrograde step in dealing with service disruption, and based on current service patterns would require a late night taxi back from Cleethorpes to Lincoln as the last Barton Line service arrives into Cleethorpes after the last North East Lincolnshire to Lincoln service departs. Current service patterns must not be eroded just to avoid crew taxis. There are no good options, and this can be traced back to the split between the Northern and TPE franchises. I do not see how operation of the Barton Line by the East Midlands franchise will deliver a better solution.
It is also hard to see how the current early morning service on the Barton Line can be provided by the East Midlands franchise as efficiently as is done by the Northern franchise. The current Barton Line timetable requires a second train first thing in the morning, and Northern currently provide this by then using the same unit on a Scunthorpe to Doncaster peak time service. There are no current East Midlands morning peak services into North East Lincolnshire which the early morning Barton Line service could be combined with, raising the prospect of service cuts, an additional train being required over and above the one Class 153 earmarked for transfer from Northern to East Midlands, or a return to using a TPE Class 185 on the Barton Line – an arrangement I understood ended on costs grounds. The proposed Barton Line franchise transfer also throws into doubt the future of the current early morning Northern Scunthorpe to Cleethorpes service.
The remapping proposal also takes no account of political/administrative geography. Both North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire Councils, which are the two local authorities served by the Barton Line, are both going to be full members of Transport for the North and already participate in Rail North – however neither are in the East Midlands region and therefore neither participate in East Midlands Councils which appears to be taking the lead in working with the Department for Transport on the East Midlands franchise. The remapping takes a service wholly within the North of England (and Yorkshire and the Humber), and that can benefit from Rail North’s local involvement in the Northern franchise and places it in a franchise from a different region with nothing like as advanced local involvement as that in the Northern franchise. It is also interesting to note your Northern/TransPennine franchises consultation response document reported “comments were received from some LAs that supported the proposals to retain the route from Cleethorpes and Grimsby to Barton-on-Humber within the Northern franchise”.
Your Northern/TransPennine franchises consultation response document notes “the franchise [East Midlands] operates other local and regional services in Lincolnshire, and the route appears to fit better in its portfolio” as justification for the remapping. Neither North or North East Lincolnshire fall under the jurisdiction of Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) so any existing relationships between the East Midlands franchise and LCC are irrelevant, and as explained above significant changes, potentially negative changes, will be required to obtain operational integration with East Midlands franchise services in Lincolnshire.
It is also important to note that the Barton Cleethorpes Community Rail Partnership has close links with the Yorkshire Coast Community Rail Patnership, whose service remains operated by Northern Rail. These links include a shared community rail officer and plans for a DfT funded Cleethorpes to Scarborough Experience marketing project. Remapping The Barton Line to East Midlands franchise risks adding additional complexity and cost for the Community Rail Partnership and it’s projects with the involvement of an additional Train Operating Company it it’s work.
Regardless of the future operator of the Barton Line, Habrough station should be transferred to TPE management, with an increased number of TPE services calling at it. The station can serve as a parkway for the town and port of Immingham, and surrounding villages, and should be marketed as such. It should not be seen just as a local village station.
I am aware of a proposal from the North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Community Rail Partnership NNLCRP for a Nottingham to Cleethorpes via Worksop service which would replace the Saturday Northern Sheffield to Cleethorpes via Worksop service. Unfortunately I do not see envisage much demand from Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Habrough, Barnetby, Brigg, Kirton Lindsey or Gainsborough to the Robin Hood Line and Nottingham, and any demand from Cleethorpes, Grimsby, Habrough and Barnetby could be better met via Lincoln (see my response to question 9). The Brigg Line would be best served by an enhanced Sheffield service as part of the Northern franchise – a fourth Saturday service would be a good first step in building the case for restoring a 6 or 7 day a week service to this route. Service improvements could ‘piggyback’ on the new Sheffield to Retford Northern local service being introduced.
I also do not support NNLCRP’s proposal for the Doncaster to Scunthorpe service to transfer to the East Midlands franchise – the long term intention should be for this service to form a second hourly Cleethorpes to Doncaster service as part of the Northern or Transpennine Express franchises. [NNLCRP may not be the only organisation to suggest this, but they published their formal response including this suggestion online
[Not strictly speaking related to the Humber Region but maybe off interest] I would also like to suggest transferring the Doncaster to Lincoln service to the Northern franchise, removing TOC overlap between Lincoln and Gainsborough Lea Road.How could your local train services be changed to better meet your current and future needs? (Q9)
With regards to the Barton Line, whilst an hourly Monday to Saturday frequency should be the long term goal, current passenger numbers are unlikely to support this within the next few years so the focus should primarily be on marketing the existing service rather than significantly changing the service. This should be done with the aim of increasing passenger numbers to justify a frequency increase in the future. Provision of a reliable service is also paramount.
The times of current first services – 0559 from Cleethorpes, 0656/0658 from Barton – should not be moved later by more than a couple of minutes, nor the times of the current last services – 2104 from Cleethorpes, 2200 from Barton – be brought forward by more than a couple of minutes. I would recommend a requirement of first Monday to Saturday services from Cleethorpes no later than 0600 and from Barton no later than 0700, and a last service requirement from Cleethorpes of no earlier than 2100 and from Barton of no earlier than 2200. The current service pattern of approximately every two hours for the majority of the day Monday to Saturday should be retained, along with the current additional early morning service. There should be no further cutting back of services from Barton to Grimsby Town as opposed to Cleethorpes.
There are opportunities to ‘tweak’ the current service however:
- Potentially operate the evening peak service from Cleethorpes/Grimsby Town slightly later to make it a better option for commuters, on weekdays this currently leaves Cleethorpes at 1655, serving Grimsby Town at 1704, which is early even for commuters who finish work in Grimsby Town Centre at 1700. Operating the 1655 anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes later would make the service more useful for workers, though this would leave a greater than two hour gap in the timetable before it and impact the later evening services. Such issues could be addressed by a future consultation but I do believe this idea is worth seeking stakeholder and public opinion on.
- The current Summer Sunday service could be improved by an extended operating season and/or extra services. The current service runs from Mid May to early September, but this could be extended to start earlier, say at Easter and run to the end of September or October, or restored to an all year round service. The operation dates of the Cleethorpes to Lincoln Summer Sunday service must not be allowed to constrain the Barton Line Sunday service. The current Sunday service comprises four return services, but this could be increased to five or six providing extra flexibility for Sunday travellers.
I would also advocate these points being considered when considering any potential service changes:
- Bus Links at Barton for Hull have become patchy in recent years, partly due to extra padding adding to the timetable between Barrow Haven and Barton to improve punctuality. Any opportunities to tweak the rail timetable to improve bus connections should be taken, recognising that the bus timetable has other requirements to fit around as well, such as the need to provide a reliable pre 0730 arrival into Hull which has seen the bus connection from 0559 Cleethorpes to Barton service lost.
- Connections to TransPennine Express, Brigg Line and East Midlands Lincoln services could be improved at Habrough, although I would hesitate to place too much emphasis on this. While connecting flows could provide additional passengers for the Barton Line service, connections would be competing with users using cars to alternative railheads such as Barnetby, Brough and Doncaster, and from Barton with the excellent bus connections to Hull Station. Given this range of alternatives, while connections should be considered, the likely low volume of passengers they will generate means they should be a secondary consideration after the provision of a timetable to meet local demand between Barton and Cleethorpes.
- Journey times are uncompetitive with the car, taking 53 minutes from Cleethorpes to Barton as compared to 34 minutes by car (taken from Google). In so far as the infrastructure allows, the Barton Line timetable needs to be as quick as possible without omitting stops, and longer term Network Rail needs to be funded to deliver infrastructure improvements to support quicker journey times.
New Years Day services should be retained, apart from early morning services. They provide a very useful public transport service on a day when no local bus services run. This is particularly important for the Barton Line which functions as a local rather than regional service. Boxing Day daytime services would also be welcome.
Another service I wish to briefly comment on is the Grimsby to Lincoln service. This service needs more capacity and the long term aim should be an hourly Cleethorpes to Lincoln and beyond service. If London connections could be provided at Lincoln then the service could run to Nottingham, and potentially Birmingham (dependent on any future franchise remapping), rather than Newark Northgate. Cleethorpes, Grimsby Town, Habrough and Barnetby also have London connections via Doncaster, so the London connection requirement is primarily for Market Rasen passengers.
What additional services would you wish to see provided in the next franchise? (Q10)
Please see my response to question 9.
I am very disappointed to see that the North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Community Rail Partnership (NNLCRP) have used their response to the consultation to call for the closure of New Clee station. This station is located close to part of Grimsby Docks and better promotion of the station should be attempted before closure should be considered.
Unfortunately I also feel necessary to disagree with the NNLCRP’s call for a Doncaster to Barton service. I do not feel that such a service would be competitive with the option of driving to Doncaster, Barnetby or Brough to catch longer distance services, or with the excellent bus links from Barton to Hull station. Such a service would have an uncompetitive journey time with road and bus alternatives and risks damaging the long term service provision on the Barton Line as if it was introduced and failed, the Barton Line risks being seen as an unviable route. As explained in question 9 the focus for the Barton Line needs to be on marketing the existing local service – it’s best future is as a high quality reliable local route between Barton and Cleethorpes.
What are the particular services, routes and times of day when you think additional seats for passengers are most needed? (Q6)
I only have experience of the Barton Line, which only needs additional seats during local events such as the Armed Forces Event in Cleethorpes, Cleethorpes Carnival and Barton Bike Night. Services on the Barton Line should be operated by two vehicle trains at these times. I am however also aware that the Grimsby to Lincoln service is in need off more capacity through increased frequency and/or longer trains.