Archive for Transport

Tom slams “unacceptable chaos for Teesside rail travellers” in Commons debate over Kings Cross holiday closure

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has attacked Government Transport Ministers over what he called “chaotic delays” for his constituent caught in the holiday chaos caused by the closure of all services from Teesside and the North East into Kings Cross Station.

Tom said:
“I was contacted over the holiday period by Guisborough resident Mr Guy Coulthard, a 70 year old man who, along with his wife, was caught up in the scrum at Finsbury Part station, a small suburban halt, which was pressed into service at the last moment to take on the Kings Cross traffic – an ordeal which they are now recovering from.

“His tale – a tale shared by thousands of commuters – was a grim one, and by good fortune we had an urgent debate on this issue in the House of Commons on the first day back. Mr Coulthard’s account raised big questions in my mind.

“I do have to say that the cause of the problem did not lie with East Coast Trains but with Network Rail who manage the tracks and signalling.

“That being said, the response from East Coast Trains does, on the face of it, look to be poor.   Funnelling everything into a small suburban station at Finsbury Park was clearly inadequate and I cannot understand why the operator did not also look to diverting trans onto the electrified lines on what is called the “Hertford Loop” to Palmers Green station or also on to the North London Line at, possibly, Camden Road, so there could be a choice of station stops and pick-ups which could have been advertised in advance.

“The crucial phrase here is “in advance”. I think we need to know when Network Rail first knew there would be a repairs overrun and when they first told East Coast Trains and the other rail operators using Kings Cross.

“A third question is why the DFT could not order East Coast Trains tickets to be become valid on services from the neighbouring St Pancras Station on services that run to and from there to Sheffield and Leeds and from where connecting Cross Country and Trans-Pennine trains could be got to take people to and from Teesside, Darlington and Newcastle.

“I put these questions to the Transport Secretary directly on the floor of the house, but all I got was a bemused look and a view that these matters need to be examined.  I have to say that his off hand reply seemed to come from someone caught in the headlights of an approaching train, and was – in railway terms – a signal failure on the part of the minister supposed to be responsible for the nation’s railway network.  In simple tems, we need to get a grip on these problems, as it obvious the Coalition Government is incapable of doing this.

“Danger of outdated London Underground trains being used to replace hated pace trains on Teesside rail links”

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, today (December 15th 2014) issued a warning that the government’s Transport Ministry may be looking at replacing the aged and detested fleet of “pacer” trains operated by Northern Rail with equally aging trains formerly used on London’s underground network.

Tom said:
“The influential railway industry source, the Rail Business intelligence Bulletin has become aware of a proposal to convert London Underground District Line D78 units – that were already 30-years-old and being de-commissioned by London Underground – into diesel engine carriage sets for use on North of England commuter lines like the ones in my constituency from Nunthorpe and Saltburn to Middlesbrough and Darlington.

“This worries me as a local rail service user, we don’t want to see veteran trains replaced by equally aging old London Underground trains which will be nothing more that vintage carriages with a diesel engine bolted on to them.  If this happens, the only winner will be London Mayor Boris Johnson who will get a Christmas present of some cash for trains he was going to scrap anyway.

“I have a simple message to coalition transport ministers – just get rid of the Pacers. They are an embarrassment to our rail system, the regular commuters who have to be sardined in them on a daily basis, and give people on Teesside the longer trains and comfortable carriages enjoyed in the South. Only then will you see passenger numbers really increase on local routes instead of today’s steady decay.”

Tom backs plans for increased local public transport powers

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (31st October 2014) gave his backing to proposals by Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, to grant cities and regions greater powers to improve bus services across England.

Labour’s election manifesto will commit the next Labour government to giving city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so they are able to set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed in their areas. This will give regions similar powers to regulate their bus services as those in London.

Tom said:
“Since being elected in 2010 I have constantly campaigned for improvements to the public transport system across my constituency – particularly on issues surrounding Arriva who operate effectively as a monopoly with fare rises and route cuts happening seemingly at a whim.

“Labour’s plan would allow combined authorities to use a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services – setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.

“This will mean that rather than different private companies, such as Arriva, or Whitehall taking decisions about public transport, local areas would be put in the driving seat. Similar models exist successfully in many other countries, including Denmark, and local areas already franchise for some other services in a similar way, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro.

“These decisions are best taken at a local level so I am pleased to see that a Labour Government will commit to given the reins of power to the local area; and I intend to hold talks with Labour’s Transport Team about what this could mean for Teesside.”

‘Money wasted on Tory vanity project could’ve improved North East public transport infrastructure’ claims local MP Tom Blenkinsop

Following the release of the report by the Airports Commission announcing they will not be proceeding with the Isle of Grain airport, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (2nd September 2014) claimed that the millions of pounds of taxpayers money that has been spent on the project to date would have been better spent investing in transport infrastructure in the North East.

Last month London Mayor Boris Johnson signed off an extra £2 million worth of expenditure on lobbying for his fantasy plans, bringing the total bill to over £5 million.

Tom Blenkinsop MP said:
“It’s a travesty that such a large amount of public money has been wasted on Boris Johnson’s fantasy island. The back of a fag packet idea was never going to work and has been rejected in one form or another for the past 40 years. The report released today will hopefully be the final nail in the coffin for Boris’ plans.

“It is maddening to think that the vanity project has cost taxpayers a fortune whilst North East transport infrastructure crumbles and we have an airport that stands almost idle. Investing that money here would’ve gone a long way to improving and developing what little we have in our area.”

Short-listed bidders for Northern Rail are “total wipe-out for any UK management of local railway services”

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, made these comments today (19th August 2014) after the names of the short-listed bidders for the Northern Rail franchises were announced by the Department for Transport.

Tom said:
“It is a huge blow for local services that the selected bidders are almost 100% foreign owned. We have Arriva which is German owned; Govia where the largest shareholder is French; and Abelio based in the Netherlands.

“This means that every pound handed over to the conductor on the train from Saltburn to Middlesbrough and Darlington will be going to boost the profits of companies not domiciled in the UK.

“It’s not right that the future of our rail network in the North is being decided by Coalition Ministers and civil servants in London. I urge the Government to review this decision with the aim that the North East – where the railway world was born – gets an operating system fit for purpose and kick-starts a transformation in our local rail services, not more of the same.”

Tom expresses disappointment as Arriva announces new East Cleveland timetables

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (8th July 2014) expressed disappointment at what he called a “curate’s egg” of a new set of timetable and minor route changes for services in East Cleveland.

Tom said:
“Whilst there are some signs that the company have responded positively to complaints from local bus users channelled through me, there are still big areas where we could have had improvements to the major changes seen at the beginning of the year, but where Arriva have taken no action.”

“Above all, and despite a packed and angry public meeting in Guisborough at which they were present, they have failed to bring back services to the Hunters Hill area of Guisborough, a large residential estate now bereft of bus services to the town centre and Middlesbrough. This, as with the loss of over half of the old 81 service to  Farndale Drive, has seriously inconvenienced many residents. This could have been righted in this new set of timetables, but again Arriva have not listened.

“There are some improvements, most notably a promise of new buses; a return of the 5a route to New Skelton; the resumption of direct through early morning buses from East Cleveland to Middlesbrough on the X3 route and a new peak hour X5 service of two buses non-stop from Loftus, Brotton and Skelton to central Middlesbrough. But these improvements, welcome as they are, have been cancelled out by the lack of any action to bring back buses to Hunters Hill. This is something I will continue to press for.”

‘I’ll believe it when I see it’ argues Tom Blenkinsop over Chancellor’s comments about future investment in the North

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland commenting on Tory Chancellor George Osborne’s speech regarding investment in the North has claimed that ‘nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the North of England’.

Tom said:
“You will be hard pressed to find many people in the North of England, and in particular in the North East, anybody who would give the Chancellor’s comments more than a short shrift. We’re always the area at the sharp end of disastrous Tory policies be that disproportionate cuts to funding for local councils, the way above-average long-term unemployment or serious underinvestment in local transport infrastructure.

“The North-South divide has certainly widened again under this Tory-led government. The Tories scrapped Labour’s successful regional development agencies, failed to implement Lord Heseltine’s growth report and are planning to cut infrastructure investment next year

“Ever since I entered Parliament I have been campaigning for the electrification of the railway lines across Teesside – something I believe would be a huge boost to the local economy that would allow better links to our neighbouring cities.

“And with these plans – and I use that term loosely – there is little detail about how they would be funded, there is no timescale and all he really wanted was, and I quote, “to start a conversation”. This simply isn’t good enough.

“Nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the jobs, growth and investment we need for the North of England. If the Chancellor is serious about tackling the uneven economy that leaves the North at a disadvantage then I would certainly welcome the investment. However, I will believe it when I see it.”

Middlesbrough to Manchester rail link ‘could be under threat’ as Government force transfer of train rolling stock to the South East of England

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (March 5th 2014) warned that there could be a threat of ‘imminent cuts’ to the Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport Trans-Pennine rail service as a result of a bungle by the Department for Transport which will see a large number of train sets used on Trans-Pennine services taken out of use and sent down to add extra passenger capacity to a rail line in the South of England.

The trains will move from April 2015 in a lease agreement.   First Trans-Pennine Express (TPE) leases nine of 70 trains that will be transferred as Chiltern Railways required additional trains for its services.   However, First Trans-Pennine Express said it has rights to the trains from 1 April 2015 as its current franchise ends.

Tom said:

“It is absolutely outrageous that carriages that are in use in the North on our railways are now apparently to be transferred to Chiltern Railways – a line that by sheer chance happens to serve the Prime Minister’s own constituency area.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable.   There is clearly a threat here to Middlesbrough services.  If  the managers of Trans-Pennine Express lose these train sets, they will clearly move to protect their core and heavily used services between Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool.   This could mean that outlying branches of the Trans-Pennine network, such as the current service from Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport could be early losers.  This will mean Teesside being effectively taken off the mainline rail map of England.”

“It seems that the Transport Department are saying that First Trans-Pennine Express has “no contractual rights” for these nine trains from 1 April 2015, when its current franchise ends – but that TPE disagree on this.   It also seems that the Government are saying they will look to lease replacement train sets for the TPE services, but they give no timetable for this.    More worryingly still, is the prospect that these might well turn out to be 30 year old time expired ‘pacers’ such as are used on local services here on Teesside. These are uncomfortable enough when someone is making a short trip from Saltburn to Middlesbrough, and the thought of having to use them for a long trip to the other side of the country is a nightmare.”

“Luckily I and my colleagues have secured a debate on this in the House of Commons which will be held next week, and we will be making sure a Government Transport Minister is dragged along to answer the criticisms that will be made then.”

“Devil is in the detail” as new timetable reveals true extent of Arrivas cuts to East Cleveland buses

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has delivered another blistering charge that bus giant Arriva ‘is ignoring East Cleveland’ after the timetables detailing massive changes to the local network became public.

Tom said:
“I met with senior managers of Arriva North East just a fortnight ago and told them of my fears based on the broad proposals for change that they outlined to me. As the saying goes, the devil is in the detail and now we have seen the timetables it is clear that there are a lot of little horned creatures out there, and who will make daily travelling more difficult for local people who have to rely on Arriva as a local monopoly bus operator.

“The timetables show, for example, that passenger’s from Guisborough and Skelton who wish to get to Whitby will not, as was originally promised, get a quick change from the 5 bus – which now will only go as far as Easington – on to a connecting 4 bus. Instead they face of wait of about a quarter of an hour. Guisborough passengers can, in theory, get the X93 bus which travels via the A171 Moor Road, but as everybody knows, in the summer period, this is normally full by the times it gets to Guisborough.

“Commuting to work from parts of East Cleveland will be harder. For Skelton, Lingdale and Boosbeck passengers, there will be no fast bus on the X3 route through to Middlesbrough until well after the rush hour has gone at past 9.00 a.m.  All the buses before will be terminating at Redcar and that gives problems for commuters from Marske too. There will still be difficulties too, for passengers from the Hunters Hill area of Guisborough who – although Arriva have not yet got round to displaying the timetable on their website – will find that they will only have two buses in the morning to get them to work.

“Guisborough will be hard hit with the effective loss of the 28 service from Hunters Hill, problems in getting to and from Whitby and a loss of buses from the Hutton Lane area, people will be justifiably angry. I did ask Arriva to hold a public meeting in Guisborough so they could both justify their position and also listen to local objections and they said that they would consider this. Now we have seen the detail of the service cuts, such a meeting is needed more than ever.”

Tom fears a looming ‘mobility crisis for young people’

Tom Blenkinsop, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, has today (14th January 2014) warned of a mobility crisis for young people on Teesside as research reveals a decline in driving licence applications combined with cuts to and fare hikes on public transport.

In a Parliamentary Question submitted by Tom he found that, since the Banking Crisis in 2008, the amount of licences issued in Great Britain to those aged under 22 has fallen from 684,908 to 639,797 in 2013.

Tom said:
“This new information has raised several issues that I believe could have a big impact on young people – particularly in the Teesside area. This decline in licences being issued to under 22 year olds is very significant and is a continuous one, until 2008 the figure had tended to fluctuate.

“So that raises several questions but mainly, what is the reason behind the trend? My guess would be it is more to do with finances than suddenly young people aren’t interested in cars. My concern is that young people are being priced out of securing their own mobility. Fuel prices and insurance combined with low-paid part time work makes it harder for young people to get about the area – particularly to places of education.

“In our area the squeeze is compounded by a bus company that effectively runs a monopoly in the area and is able to charge high prices for limited and, very recently, decreasing services.

“Transport is a big issue in our area so I will continue to monitor these figures as well as put any pressure I can on Arriva to offer a fair deal for local passengers.”