11 September 2015

Ticking Boxes

As has been highlighted extensively in RAIL over recent months, the plight of both stations in Gainsborough is not good. If you thought that the three-trips-in-either-direction-on-Saturdays Gainsborough Central has problems, those at Lea Road are proportionately worse considering the number of additional journeys every week.

While facilities at both stations extend barely beyond a bus shelter a piece, Gainsborough rail users have asked Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) to consider making their empty coaching stock (ECS) working from Neville Hill to Lincoln Central most mornings to call at Gainsborough Lea Road, which would effectively be the starting point of the London King's Cross-bound journey. The mirror image would occur in the evening.

The additional call at Lea Road would add up to four minutes on the ECS run, something which wasn't envisaged would cause a problem with the complex pathing that Network Rail undertakes - certainly not before 0700 along the Joint Line. Yet VTEC is unwilling to consider a direct London link for Gainsborough's residents because they can't be bothered. It's too much hassle.

It's not in their franchise specification, so there is no incentive whatsoever for them to spend time and money on it. They claim that there are safety issues surrounding the nine-coach HST calling at Lea Road as the train doesn't have selective door mechanisms, and there are insufficient staff on board. But what is to stop passengers being permitted to board through the 'local door', that the train manager uses?

And this is precisely the attitude that will be taken by franchised bus operators should the Bus Bill permit the 'buy back' of commercial bus routes in counties whose authorities think they can run buses better than the experts. Goodbye flair, entrepreneurship, innovative ideas, promotions and an ability to grow fledgling markets.

Yet travel further north in the LETTR area to Beverley and First Hull Trains, who's free of the shackles of a franchise and its prescriptive tick-box specifications, and what do we see but a private operator introducing a new link north of their traditional terminus in Hull to the minster town. The new link, which commenced in January, not only offers an arrival in Hull from Beverley before 0630, but also operates on Saturdays as well as in the week and is currently being used by a large number of local people making local journeys.

One of FHT's Class 180s seen passing Brough. (Photo: Railway Herald)

The service also collects growing numbers of Leeds commuters at Howden for Selby, who then connect into a First TransPennine Express service from Hull to Leeds (that omits Howden).

So what started out as a gap in the market between the UK's fifteenth largest city and the Capital is rapidly growing to become a very useful local service, appreciated by thousands of locals each week. First Hull Trains is, in addition to offering a direct London service to/from Beverley, also offering new journey opportunities... because they can.

No franchise. No specifications. No government box-ticking. Just a desire to grow the market in any way they can. And with the delay to the electrification of the line from Selby to Hull, First Hull Trains has further safeguarded the Beverley extensions by signalling their intention to purchase bi-mode trains.

1 comment:

Jenna Catlin said...

If there was no government box-ticking, the world would be great.
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