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With another meeting behind us, the pantomime of trans-Pennine rail travel is on track to continue through 2024!

With another meeting behind us, the pantomime of trans-Pennine rail travel is on track to continue through 2024!

Pictured at Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce are (from left) Ian Kelly, Chris Jackson, Emma Hardy MP, Lord McLoughlin, Diana Johnson and Albert Weatherill.

A HIGH-LEVEL meeting with Transport for the North, TransPennine Express, Humber MPs, stakeholders, councillors and business leaders focusing on rail services to the Hull and Humber region ended with no commitments to improved services, but a warning that things would get worse in 2024 before they got better.

The only firm promises came from TransPennine’s Managing Director, Chris Jackson, who said after pressure from MPs Diana Johnson and Emma Hardy that they could hold him to account for refurbishing the toilets, repairing the multi-faced clock and improving the ticket machines and barriers at Hull’s Paragon Station, which he heralded as TPE’s flagship.

The meeting, hosted by the Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce, got off to a light-hearted start as Chamber President Albert Weatherill opened proceedings, warning that the pantomime season would soon be upon us, which Hull MP Diana Johnson said caused her slight concern as the only Dame around the table!

Diana highlighted that transport had been a key feature during her 18 years of being an MP. “We have finally got a Devolution deal announced for Hull and East Yorkshire in the Autumn Statement, but we still need to get the infrastructure sorted out so this area can punch above its weight. It’s two years since Lord McLoughlin’s last visit to the Chamber and I want to hear about the progress that has been made.”

It soon became clear there hadn’t been much progress as rail consultant David Walford highlighted numerous issues including the lack of electrified lines with no confirmed schemes and the loss of our direct airport services on both banks of the Humber.

“The route from Hull to Leeds is seeing more stops being added, the Hull to Liverpool route, or the Hullapool line, will terminate in December and TPE will be adding seven further stops beyond Leeds on the route across the Pennines and there will be no express service on the trans-Pennine routes from Hull at all.

“All the slowing down of routes has been inflicted on the Hull services,” he added.

David then highlighted the cost of rail travel in the Humber compared to other areas. “We are paying twice as much per mile to travel on trains across the region. A journey of less than four miles costs £6.10 off peak from Paragon Station to Cottingham.”

The Chamber’s President raised issues around freight and moving goods on rail, highlighting biomass coming in at Immingham and Liverpool and the disproportionate time it takes to transfer it to Drax. Castle Street, now HS2 has been cancelled, is the most expensive infrastructure project in the UK for a mile of road, and the inland waterways are underused and that needs to be addressed in places like Goole.

Lord McLoughlin confirmed he felt the cancellation of HS2 was a big mistake, but that was a decision that had been taken. “However, that has released some money for other schemes and hopefully some progress will be made on electrification and other pinch-points on the line,” he said. He accepted the points made about Drax but reminded the meeting that TfN was working with a 100 year old railway. He felt smart ticketing would make a fundamental difference, adding that the rail industry is a £9-billion fare box and when you start to alter it, the Treasury gets very nervous, as he knows from his time as Secretary of State.

Darren Oldham, the Deputy Chief Executive at TfN, insisted the organisation was really committed to doing its best for people in the North, but the problem that they have is the transport networks are aged, very expensive to upgrade and there is only so much funding available. “The reality is we can never give everyone what we would like to because the funding isn’t there. We want to treble the amount of freight on rail over the next plan period. Regarding connectivity between Hull and Leeds, we have no commitment on electrification but are strongly making the case for enhancements to line speeds and connectivity which we see as really important.

“Not everyone can have connectivity to Manchester Airport as the capacity doesn’t exist. Some schemes could be taken underground but they cost in excess of £10-billion to dig tunnels.”

He also noted that Northern’s performance was now the best it had been for a long time and that the Department for Transport was now more receptive to TfN. Train operating companies were doing well, but he highlighted there will be problems next year onwards with the trans-Pennine upgrade but that work will eventually improve services.

“We have to deal with what is in front of us today and we are doing our genuine very best for everyone,” he said.

Chris Jackson, the managing director of TransPennine Express, said he would never sign off on things that wouldn’t work, and journey times would increase, but he stressed that these step backs were temporary step backs, they have to clear driver training days and he had given a commitment to reinstate all the services which are affected by December 2024.

“I have been doing a deep dive to find out what is wrong with the business and how to fix it, and we now have tangible, funded improvements which will deliver benefits across the North for customers. Hull will benefit from new trains by the end of the decade.”

The President asked about Hull’s Paragon Station. Chris Jackson said it is TPE’s flagship station and he is very proud of it. There are investments in the pipeline, refurbishing the toilets, a safeguarding hub is a trailblazing national scheme and there are exciting announcements to come in the coming months.

Chamber Chief Executive Ian Kelly highlighted that he appreciated Lord McLoughlin’s strategic knowledge as a former Secretary of State and he hoped he would take on the strategic importance of Hull and the Humber. “We have huge opportunities for inward investment, Llandudno has a direct link to Manchester Airport, and now even Cleethorpes has lost its direct link to the airport.

Louise Mendham, representing Hull Trains, highlighted how the open access operator was supporting the Humber economy and how they hoped to be able to continue the high levels of service that they strive to provide and meet their customers’ demands into the future.

Ruth Stephenson from Hull City Council highlighted the announcements from Network North on line speed improvements noting it would be helpful to have some commitment from TfN that would be prioritised and that work would be pushed through more quickly. The line between Leeds and Hull was not a difficult location to improve and would benefit the whole network.

Darren Oldham noted they were more receptive to that over recent weeks and connectivity between Leeds and Hull is a quick win for the DfT and Network Rail, they get that, and it would be a quick win for the Secretary of State to point to as a success.

Cllr Leo Hammond from East Riding of Yorkshire Council highlighted Goole issues, noting that commuters can’t get good train services from Goole to Leeds, yet they are seeing a multi-million investment with the Siemens train plant and TfN needs to include Goole in its discussions as well.

Emma Hardy said: “All you’ve told us is that there will be fewer trains next year and no new trains until the end of the decade! It is very disappointing and why does it always seem that the pain lands on Hull.”

Darren Oldham noted the Prime Minister’s announcement of an indicative scheme to electrify the line from Selby to Hull. He said they want reliable services and since Chris Jackson came in that has improved and Darren Oldham had given TPE a very hard time over their services and they would improve by the end of next year. The travelling public would have better services next year because they are running to time and to the right length.

Responding to the claims that the Selby to Hull line announcement was “indicative”, Diana Johnson, said: “The Prime Minister at the Tory Party Conference specifically referenced the Selby to Hull electrification which he said he was going to do. I don’t think that was indicative, I think that is what he was saying and as citizens of the United Kingdom, if the Prime Minister says that, we expect it to happen!

“It still feels as if we’re an afterthought – we need to be at the front of the queue, not the back. Without improving this area, Transport for the North won’t work.”

Darren Oldham said he apologised if that was the impression we got, but TfN tries to be agnostic across the whole of the North.”

Chris Jackson noted that Hull would have the same number of trains, but a few would no longer go through to Liverpool.

Lord McLoughlin added: “I have moved things around to be able to attend this meeting before Christmas. I understand the issues around the station which I hope Chris and his team will work on.

“We have almost forgotten what it was like pre-Covid, we had three years when people weren’t travelling as much, now we are seeing more leisure travel and business travel recovering, and we are looking at a range of issues, including shipping, roads and aviation.

“I promise to come back in another 12 months and do this again,” he pledged.

Former Chamber President Mike Whitehead gave the vote of thanks, noting that Hull station has the longest platform in the United Kingdom, and thanked Lord McLoughlin and Chris Jackson for joining us in Hull to hear our concerns first hand.

Pattesons Glass Ltd
Aa Global
Gold patron
Hatfields Hull
East Riding of Yorkshire Council
Alan Boswell Insurance Brokers
Connexin Live, Hull
Andrew Jackson Solicitors LLP
Gold patron
Streets Chartered Accountants
We are My
SPS Group
University of Hull
Wilkin Chapman LLP