MP column: Hartlepool gets a rough ride with trains

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DO you use the trains from Hartlepool?

I use the Grand Central service nearly every week to get to and from Westminster.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright.

The Northern Rail service also enables commuters, whether for work, shopping or just for a day out, to travel to and from Hartlepool.

Passengers want good value-for-money, reliable train services. They also want modern trains that are comfortable as well as information about services.

There was a debate in Parliament last week on the issue of rolling stock in the north of England. I made a speech on the matter, focusing, of course, on Hartlepool, and was very pleased that the Hartlepool Mail covered the issue in the paper.

The issue under discussion and the reason for the debate was the decision by First TransPennine Trains to move trains servicing the north – about 13 per cent of all trains covering their area – to provide coverage in Oxfordshire for Chiltern Trains.

I wanted to mention specifically the age of the trains covering Hartlepool and the experiences that constituents have told me about using the service.

Hartlepool is actually a busy train station – it’s the sixth busiest in the North-East, with about 580,000 passengers every year.

I think passengers want, and deserve, comfortable, accessible and modern trains for their journey, but this is not the experience for those passengers using Northern Rail.

I mentioned in Parliament that Northern Rail has the oldest fleet of rolling stock in the entire franchised railway network, with an average age of their trains of almost quarter of a century.

The company still uses Pacer trains, which were actually built during the 1980s as a stop-gap, but which are still being used rather than more modern stock.

I’ve used these trains when I’ve travelled to Newcastle and mentioned in Parliament how one constituent contacted me to say that they were “dilapidated”.

They also take too long. Ian Mearns, the MP for Gateshead, intervened on me in the debate to say that although we are only 35 miles from his area as the crow flies, a train from Middlesbrough to Newcastle is time-tabled to take an hour and 35 minutes. A comparable journey in the South-East takes about 40 minutes.

This brings me onto the gross imbalance between levels of spending on transport infrastructure in the North-East as opposed to in the South.

Expenditure per head in London is £2,595, but in the North-East it is only £5 per person.

If the Government is serious about re-balancing the economy and helping the North-East achieve its economic potential – and that’s a big if, given this Government’s record to date – it must do something to address that imbalance.

I also mentioned procurement of trains and having a proper industrial strategy that provides co-ordination.

The new Hitachi train factory is a marvellous asset for the North-East, and Hartlepool people will be employed at that factory.

But the Government needs to ensure that the franchised operations have a clause in contracts which ensure that rolling stock is improved and that crucially, British-based firms are given the opportunity to win that work and assist British manufacturing.

Travelling by train, especially up the North-East coast, can be a great experience, and can help the economy by providing routes to work.

However, I don’t think Hartlepool and the North-East are getting a good enough ride from the Government.