Next Public Meeting

Thursday 12th March 2020        @ 19:30

Morpeth Town Hall

Speaker Anna-Jane Hunter, Director, North of England Rail

Network Rail




Chairman's Blog

Mon 20th Jan 2020 New Year News Round-Up: I'm back home from a New Year holiday and am disappointed to note TransPennine Express are still in difficulties with their new service at Morpeth supposed to have been launched in full on 15th December 2019 and then promised everything would be working as scheduled by 5th January 2020. The ongoing delay surely means the problems TPE have are much bigger than they first made out and it is difficult to believe no-one in TPE foresaw this before the 2 or 3 days notice SENRUG were given immediately prior to the anticipated 15th December launch. This seems like a case of back to the School of Basic Project Management for TPE Managers. Meanwhile, Northern have been red-carded by the DfT who are now discussing early termination of their contract or transfer to a service contract. I have mixed views on this because I do feel their problems with both the May 2017 timetable fiasco and the long and damaging RMT dispute were due to circumstances beyond their control. However, more recently; there has been a woeful lack of focus on getting the CIS and light faults at Morpeth fixed. Someone has clearly put the CIS problem in the too hard box and this is just not good enough. Furthermore, Northern have been cancelling alternate trains on the Morpeth line - a point quoted in The Independent in their write-ups of what's been going wrong (and they didn't get this from me) and such cancellations have denied Cramlington - the largest town in Northumberland with a rail service - of its solitary hourly train. More positively, Transport Minister Grant Shapps has, I hear, visited Northumberland and other locations in the North East whilst I've been away so we are hoping we're still on track for a positive decision on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening funding bid - decision expected in March. Congratulations to SENRUG Deputy Chair Andrew Carmichael for his brief TV News appearance talking on the need to just crack on with the re-opening quickly, in response to Mr Shapps' visit. It's more nerve-racking than it looks to go on TV - even if the finished piece is cut down to a few seconds, so the fact Andrew was able and willing to step in whilst I was abroad demonstrates we have a good committee team here at SENRUG.

Sat 21st Dec 2019 TPE Bus Replacement: SENRUG Committee volunteers reported that TPE had busses replacing trains today, with coaches travelling up and down Coopies Lane. What we're not clear about is how any TPE passengers waiting on the platform (particularly if bound for Edinburgh) would have known, given the station CIS never works, and there seemed to be no staff on the platform. If any reader was travelling on a TPE train from Morpeth today, please contact us and let us know how things worked out.

Fri 20th Dec 2019 NOVAs and AZUMAs: Today I got my first ride on a new TransPennine Express (TPE) Nova train - the 09.29 from Morpeth to Newcastle. I was very impressed, as were the other passengers, with audible gasps of astonishment as we all boarded. But many passengers thought they were getting on the 09.24 CrossCountry (XC) which was delayed and running behind the TPE, although with faulty CIS at Morpeth, no one understood they were in fact on the TPE. The CrossCountry train is normally pretty packed so some of the delight, I’m sure, was not just at the impressive brand-new train, but also that it was virtually empty, making it seem even more spacious. But neither the onboard CIS or wifi were working. The conductor told me it was a train fault. I queried this as it was clearly a brand-new train. He then further elaborated that someone had not typed in the head code.  So, it sounds more like staff carelessness. Thus, XC passengers still had no indication they were on the wrong train, despite us waiting at Morpeth for 5 mins (due to early arrival - we departed on time). I discussed this with the conductor too and he said he would accept XC tickets for anyone that had boarded the wrong train, which was good,  but with the XC just 1 min behind us according to the National Rail website, I was concerned that wrongly boarded XC customers would not make the platform change at Newcastle, though I’m happy to say in fact they did. 

There was an extremely long time to open the doors from train coming to a halt at both Morpeth and Newcastle.  I hope this was just conductor over conscientiousness in checking the platform was clear rather than an inherent train fault. At Newcastle, 2 passengers in my coach were connecting with the onward TPE to Manchester Airport. We arrived on platform 5. They could see the train on the opposite platform (4) and with a 4 minute connection they got quite agitated at the long delay to open the doors, but in fact the connection was made ok, as was the connection to the late running XC which had to wait for the TPE to Manchester Airport to leave before following it in to platform 4. During this time, platform 3 was occupied by an out of service TPE Nova. What a pity the 3 TPE trains on platforms 3, 4 and 5 could not be moved round allowing a same platform interchange on platforms 3 and 4 between the arrival from Edinburgh and departure to Manchester. 

From Newcastle, I then boarded the 09:58 LNER Azuma to London. Again, a very impressive ride with notably fast acceleration, though I was disappointed to note both toilets in my coach were blocked and out of service. The other problem I had was with the power sockets. Finding them (underneath and between the seats) was quite difficult, not something to be attempted once someone’s sitting next to you. And then, to my dismay, I discovered my laptop plug wouldn’t fit in, as the wire comes out the top of the transformer, and the seat cover thus blocks the plug from fitting in the socket. However, my battery lasted to London, and on my return journey to Morpeth (the 18:30 from Kings Cross), being on an older train, I was able to charge my laptop without problem.

Mon 16th Dec 2019 Morpeth Station Event: I was due to meet our volunteer team at the station at 06:15 to help set up for an 06:30 start. But my alarm failed to go off (or I simply slept through it) so I didn’t get to the station until a very disrespectful 06:45. My apologies to the other SENRUG volunteers who were extremely gracious with me with no angry glances or side comments, despite them all having stood around in the rain for 30 minutes since it was me that had all the mince pies and information packs. We had a great time for the next 2 and a half hours, giving out our information, talking about the SENRUG campaigns and getting feedback on the new TPE service and the failure to be able to fully launch on the advertised day. Sadly, however no TPE trains actually ran during our 3-hour presence on the station. Even more of TPE’s services were cancelled than they had pre-advised. This leads us to conclude the problems they are facing are much bigger, and of potentially longer duration, than they are admitting to. But, despite the cancellations, there was no hostility towards SENRUG so Northern’s fears were unfounded and Northern themselves should be congratulated for having a strong presence on the station, doing what they could to advise customers whose trains were not running as expected. 

Fri 13th Dec 2019 TransPennine Express Launch: I’m at the end of a very busy week, and feel exhausted. Our excitement about the TPE launch in Morpeth this coming Sunday is now somewhat abated following their announcement that they can’t launch the full service initially. We’ll get about half the TPE trains, but the full service must wait until the new year. Nevertheless, an excellent public meeting at Morpeth Town Hall with TPE last Wednesday; and whilst the delayed launch is disappointing, it will be good when we finally get it, doubling train services at Morpeth station. So why so busy this week? Well, we’ve received the SENRUG Newsletters, new “Join-Us” leaflets, Timetable leaflets, complimentary pens and SENRUG over-printed envelopes which I’m now combining in to 200 information packs ready for our committee volunteers to give out on Monday morning. And my study is awash with mince pies. Also slotted in a quick interview on the new TPE service with Radio Newcastle, to be broadcast Sunday and Monday. Confusion re which TPE trains are running and which are not has brought the long-running fault with the Morpeth CIS into sharp focus, and emails are being exchanged on that. Finally, Northern are leaning on us heavily to cancel our planned presence at Morpeth station on Monday 16th December. As a result, I’ve been obliged to contact our committee and taking soundings. A range of opinions were expressed, but at the end of the day, the front-page article of last week’s Morpeth Herald said that we’d be present at the station on Monday, so we are sticking to that. Train companies have an unfortunate habit of their staff disappearing and failing to face the music when things go wrong, and SENRUG has no desire to be tarred with the same brush. 

Fri 6th Dec 2019 Morpeth CIS: SENRUG Committee Member Ronal Hunt, who runs his own power management company, has been told by Northern’s Customer Contact Centre that the problem with Morpeth’s CIS is due to a loss of power supply. Unfortunately, this excuse simply doesn’t wash, since we all know that the machines clearly have power as they display the time and an error message saying “this display is faulty”. So, we can put that line very firmly in the “fake news” camp. My own business background is telecommunications. It’s obvious to me this is a comms error. All I can say, as the former Head of International Business Customer Services in a well-known telecoms company, is that if I had a customer who was experiencing a fault for 9 months or so, by now I’d be giving daily reports to my Managing Director by 09:00 each morning as to whether it is working today, and what my plan is to fix the problem permanently. If the issue is to do with the station redevelopment work then the contractors should be mandated to fix it. Someone at Northern has put this problem in the “too hard” box. And that’s not good enough. So, who is Northern’s contractor and how effectively are they being managed? Surely it’s time for Lord Sugar to come along and say to someone “you’re fired”?

Thu 31st Oct 2019 Northern: Another trip to Prudhoe today and all trains were on time. But there was no heating on the train and Northern, it seems, have removed the opportunity to report carriage faults by text. Only logging on to their website and twitter were offered, interesting (and disappointing) for a train with no wifi. Returning to Morpeth I noticed the station CIS was still not working. It's been faulty now for about 6 weeks. Will it, I wonder, be working for the 15th December timetable change? Morpeth will see a massive uplift in service, with a number of occasions when two operators will have trains departing to the same destination within 10 minutes. What happens if a passenger gets on the wrong train by mistake at a station which is unstaffed and with no working CIS? This is an issue SENRUG will raise with Transport Focus.

Fri 25th Oct 2019 CrossCountry: Today I travelled to Birmingham for a meeting of Railfuture's Branches and Group's Day (the following day) on which I had been invited to talk briefly on SENRUG's Community Engagement. My journey to Birmingham was difficult. CrossCountry seemed to be having what I could only call a "bad hair" day. Alternate trains south from Newcastle were cancelled - I never found out why. Some northbound trains were cancelled too - one being because the Conductor had been taken ill on the train. That's just rotten bad luck, and outside CrossCountry's control. But the train was very crowded, passengers standing all the way and little squabbles breaking out about people sitting in other's people's seats. Astonishingly, our own Conductor didn't make any appearance whatsoever on the entire journey between Newcastle and Birmingham. The old argument about the train being too crowded to pass through doesn't wash since the trolley attendant (no doubt on commission) made it. So, whilst the prime cause of the cancellations and resultant overcrowdings may be beyond their control, little things such as staff being around when needed most is definitely within their control and CrossCountry must do better. Our own train was terminated prematurely at Birmingham - reason given was failures of both engines - hard to understand since we had not slowed at all en route and had arrived on time. The announcement was clear; passengers being advised to alert fellow travellers who were wearing ear-phones etc, so that was good, but no announcement re onward connections and validity of advance "booked train only" tickets on other services. Just the usual cop-out of "consult station staff". Personally I didn't see any until I got to the final barrier gate on the concourse level.

Incidentally, travelling with an "open" ticket, and not on the train first selected when my ticket was booked, gave me my first experience of my seat, unreserved when I joined at Newcastle, becoming reserved en route - thanks to CrossCountry's "Advance on the Day" initiative which in principle I support . But the system does need tweaking. Once seated, it's impossible to see the reservation display window. Perhaps a little "ping" or something is needed if it changes so passengers become aware. Even better, change the system so that a seat can only become reserved from a station say an hour away. If the display had read "this seat is free at present but may become reserved after Sheffield" at least I would have known when to get up and look at the display again.

My return journey on Saturday 26th October was without incident, despite the atrocious weather outside and dangerous driving conditions. I was pleased I was on the train and I thought this journey showed the railways at their best.

Thu 17th Oct 2019 Northern On Board CIS - and a Beautiful Day Out! Today, armed with the last page of SENRUG Newsletter 32, my good wife and I headed off to Wylam to explore the vicinity. Our train arrived at Cramlington on time, and I was pleased to note it was one of the hand-me-down rolling stock units now being deployed on our line. This meant we had on-board CIS and announcements, helpfully telling us we were at Cramlington, then announcing both Manors and Newcastle a few minutes before we arrived at each station. But after Newcastle, the CIS became distinctly less helpful, reducing to a constant repetition of “this is a Northern service” and “See it, say it, sort it” - but no station specific announcements. “Perhaps Northern haven’t yet programmed in the Tyne Valley line stations” wondered my wife, proud of her knowledge of the IT that must drive these systems. But I was doubtful. I just couldn’t believe Northern would roll out any upgrade features on our Cinderella Morpeth line before our more favoured cousins at Tyne Valley, and journeys later in the day were to prove me right.

We went direct to Prudhoe as the Morpeth trains don’t stop at Wylam. Finding the riverside path on exit from Prudhoe station was a little tricky - it isn’t signposted. However, after going over the level crossing, turn left into the Country Park towards Hexham then immediately right to go under the road and head east on the south side of the river. There followed a really pleasant riverside walk on a surprisingly warm autumn day, noting the features referenced in Dave Shaw’s excellent article in the SENRUG Newsletter, eventually coming to the old railway bridge at Hagg Bank then across that into Wylam. The path overshoots the village centre, so for those wanting a coffee stop, ascend up to the Main Road when the path goes underneath it, and the coffee shop is a few yards to your left. We were tempted to linger for lunch, but instead continued along the same footpath to George Stephenson’s House - alas closed - with local residents telling me that, like income tax, they suspect the temporary closure announced by the National Trust some years ago has quietly become permanent. There were certainly no signs of any renovation or repair work taking place. 

As we were enjoying our Wagon Way walk so much, we decided to continue on to Blaydon, eventually crossing the Newburn bridge, then turning left through a housing estate to find a further riverside all the way to the station. However the station here is adjacent to a busy main road, and whilst a footbridge leads hopefully into the town, there’s no indication as to whether a coffee shop would be found, so rather than wait for 50 minutes at Blaydon for the Newcastle train, then another 20 minutes there for the Cramlington train, we decided to catch the earlier westbound train back to Prudhoe, grab another coffee there from the café just inside the Country Park, and return to Cramlington from the opposite platform on a direct train. Which is how we know that on-board CIS is indeed alive and well on Tyne Valley stations as it worked perfectly on these last two journeys. Could it be that on our outward journey to Prudhoe, the new crew that took over the train at Newcastle simply didn’t bother to press a button, which is why the CIS stopped saying anything useful?

Mon 14th Oct 2019 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line and SENRUG Newsletter: After a bit of discussion within the committee, today we submitted our final response to Northumberland County Council on the Northumberland Line Consultation. As you would expect, SENRUG is 100% supportive, and pragmatically accepts the phased approach the Council is adopting. We do however have a few concerns over the potential designs for some of the stations and you can see our response here. Last week, we issued a Press Release which you can see here, and I'm pleased to note this was covered in at least one of our local papers. Also today, we distributed hot off the press SENRUG Newsletter 33, though those without email will need to wait a few more days to get a printed copy through the post.

Tue 8th Oct 2019  Asington Blyth & Tyne Line (and Manors): Well, the Council are now calling it "The Northumberland Line" and so eventually must we. For the moment though I stick with the name SENRUG members have used these last 15 years. Things are looking really positive: The Council is preparing its "Transforming Cities Fund" bid, and are currently consulting on the plans. SENRUG has one or two points to make about the potential station designs, mainly to ensure the selected designs are "future-proofed" as far as possible. To this end, and prior to submitting our response to the consultation, this morning Committee Member Dave Shaw and myself went to Northumberland Park to examine what the Council propose (which seem reasonable in the circumstances), then walked along the line (well - the adjacent footpath) as far as the Backworth Level Crossing, to understand the scope for and any obstacles which might preclude eventual double-tracking. None were found. Prior to that, I took some friends to Manors Station, in order to drop them off at the Megabus stop in John Dobson Street. That gave me the opportunity to examine the possibilities for 4 tracking and a 2nd platform through the station along with the need to integrate with the Metro station below and to provide a level access exit which would have been useful as we dragged the 2 heavy suitcases over the bridge.
Sun 6th Oct 2019 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: SENRUG is in "The Guardian"! At least, a link to the SENRUG website is. See The Guardian article at and click on the link where it talks about the campaign to re-open the railway line to Ashington.

Thu 3rd Oct 2019  Delay Repay: I’ve submitted two claims for our Arran holiday travel (see below blog posts). For my outward journey, since I bought my ticket from LNER, I submitted the claim to them on 20th September, including a photo of the tickets. But today, after an elapse of 13 days, they replied and asked for a photo, with no reference to the fact they already had one. I re-sent it, they then replied again immediately saying the claim had been forwarded on to Scotrail. For my return journey, my ticket was bought from Scotrail, but following the LNER logic, the claim has been submitted to Virgin Trains as it was there train that was delayed. I’ve asked Virgin to refund the full cost of the replacement tickets I had to buy, rather than the refund of the much cheaper “advance” tickets for the train that was delayed. Let’s see who pays out first, what they pay, and how long each claim takes.

Fri 27th Sep 2019  Virgin Trains (West Coast): Time to return from Brodick, Isle of Arran, to Morpeth. We had chosen a different route noting that at 13:20, it is both cheaper and quicker to go from Glasgow Central to Carlisle then via Northern direct to Morpeth. Fate however was against us, because shortly after Motherwell, our Virgin train ground to a halt. This time, it seemed, it was a freight train that had failed in front of us. After an hour or so waiting, the train was slowly reversed back to Glasgow, returning us there some 2 hours after we had first left. Virgin said the train would go eventually, they just didn’t know when, and advised us to stay on the train. But I was getting worried about becoming stranded at Carlisle so asked if our tickets be valid on LNER services, or even Scotrail to Edinburgh. “No” came back the reply, which given the length of the delay and the inability to offer an updated expected arrival time at Carlisle, I thought was most unhelpful. Furthermore, no-one seemed able to tell us which of the Scotrail routes to Edinburgh were similarly affected by the delay. In the end, we were obliged to purchase new tickets via Edinburgh then completed the remainder of our journey without incident, but still arrived back at Morpeth 3 hours later than intended.
Fri 20th Sep 2019  LNER and Scotrail: Today was the start of our holiday on the Isle of Arran, travelling by train. We had “split ticket” our journey from Morpeth to Brodick as we wanted to travel first class to Glasgow, but saw no point paying for first class from Glasgow to Brodick as in fact no first class is available on this section. So, we started off on the 08:56 from Morpeth, in first class seats. I’m pleased to report coffee arrived promptly, and our breakfast order was similarly taken quickly and indeed delivered shortly after Alnmouth. But we were to be disappointed when it came to toast and marmalade, and perhaps a 2nd cup of coffee, because apparently the kitchen closes at Berwick in readiness for the crew change at Edinburgh. LNER really do need to work out how not to make a meal (pardon the pun) out of crew changes which currently result in the withdrawal of first class service for a good 40 minutes before and after the crew change.

Alas we had problems on our 2nd leg of the journey; the 10:30 Scotrail from Edinburgh to Glasgow Queen Street, as a failed train in front halted us for 2 hours just outside Edinburgh Park. This is quite long time to be stranded on a train, and whilst there were regular announcements as to the lack of progress, the Conductor did not pass through the train checking on passenger welfare, and I would also have expected some sort of reception team at Glasgow perhaps offering complimentary water and helping with missed connections. Sadly there was nothing.

So, we made our way to the bus stop for the shuttle service to Glasgow Central, only to find ourselves in the middle of a climate change protest march. The police told us there would be no vehicles for at least an hour, forcing us to drag our suitcases through the streets, crossing through the middle of the march, to get to Central Station, but at least there were Police Officers on every corner to help us find the way, which in the end was not as far as we feared. Nevertheless, the impact of the march and our unintended walk with heavy suitcases did make us wonder if we would have been better off taking the car after all - perhaps an unintended consequence of the climate change march. From Glasgow Central on to Brodick, knowing we had already missed one ferry, we had no further delays but got the Ferry 2 hours later than the one booked.

Wed 18th Sep 2019  CrossCountry: I’m attending the Railfuture Branches & Groups Day in Birmingham on 26th October, and with the date less than 6 weeks ago, I thought it was time to buy my tickets. But the LNER website, hitherto my ticket buying website of choice, stated the date was too far in to the future and that tickets were not yet released for sale. Very strange since I thought there was a 12-week booking window across the whole network. So, over to the CrossCountry website, where, sure enough my tickets could be bought with ease. But CrossCountry charge a fee for passengers to collect their tickets from the machine at Morpeth, so I elected for “print at home”. A confirmation email duly arrived, telling me the tickets themselves would arrive in a 2nd email within the next 15 mins. But the 2nd email didn’t come. Impossible for me to have entered my email address incorrectly since the first email had arrived ok. I left it another hour. Still no email. I checked my spam folder. Nothing from CrossCountry. So I went to bed, having a somewhat anxious night, and checked again in the morning. Still no email. But this time I’m getting worried. I’m off on holiday tomorrow, not able to do anything whilst I’m away, and concerned that I’ll forget I haven’t actually got my tickets, think I’m collecting them from the station, and disaster will occur on the day of travel. So I phoned up CrossCountry. After a few minutes of being switched around (time I could ill afford the day before my holiday) I got through to the techie guys who asked me to confirm my email address. “Do you have an alternative email address” he asked. I gave him one, wondering why that was relevant, then back came the astonishing reply: “Our system doesn’t work with BT email addresses” he said”. “They reject our emails, but we don’t know why”. And sure enough, by the time he had finished speaking, there was the all-important email in my alternative address inbox. But hold on a moment, CrossCountry. I’ve just had a very anxious 24 hours worrying about this. Shouldn’t you at least put some sort of warning on your website? Or shouldn’t the Chief Exec of Arriva be phoning up the Chief Exec of BT to sort it out? Or are we happy to just leave our customers to puzzle and panic? How come the first email, with the transaction confirmation arrived ok, but not the second one with the tickets themselves? This is not good customer service, by any stretch of the imagination. 

Is it always cheaper to book ahead? Apparently not, since on 2nd October, I got a promotional email from CrossCountry offering me 20% off my next purchase, and covering 25th and 26th October, my dates of travel. If only I had waited before booking my tickets. Grrrrhhhhh!

Fri 13th Sep 2019

LNER: Excellent Public Meeting last night with Chris Cunningham and Mike Ross from LNER. A good turn-out with many attendees reporting positive experiences of the new Azuma trains. Great presentation; good to hear about the different emphasis of LNER to their predecessor Virgin East Coast. Excellent range of questions, and LNER really do seem to have taken on board a number of comments from SENRUG. We appreciate Chris and Mike giving up their evenings to come and talk to us. SENRUG's AGM followed the meeting; the committee remains as per last year and I am grateful to have been elected as Chair once again.

Thu 12th Sep 2019 TVMs and Azuma CIS: Last night I travelled to Durham for a Railfuture North East committee meeting. I arrived at Morpeth at 17:15, just leaving myself enough time to buy a ticket from the machine for the 17:19 train. But the process was way more complicated than I envisaged. Durham is not a pre-selectable station so I had to type it in. Then the software asked me what train I was travelling on, but didn’t list the 17:19. It then offered me a ticket “valid for trains after 17:20”. I was astonished. An off-peak return is an off-peak return. Surely I could get any train? The station CIS wasn’t working (yet again). Perhaps the TVM knew something I didn’t - that the 17:19 was cancelled? If that were the case, I wouldn’t make the meeting and wouldn’t travel at all so didn’t need a ticket. I quickly tried to check on my phone. Another passenger came along and started to fume behind me so I explained what I was doing. But he told me he had already checked; the train was running - just a few minutes late. So why, at 17:15, is the TVM only providing a ticket for services after 17:20? I quickly selected the next train (different operator) and lo and behold my off-peak return came out - valid on any train. Come on Northern, this TVM software is way too complicated. If even I can’t figure it out, what hope for other passengers? 

Returning to Durham for the 20.22 CrossCountry back to Morpeth (with 3 Railfuture committee colleagues), we found that the train before, the 20:16 LNER, was an Azuma service. We couldn’t resist the temptation, and all climbed excitedly on board, even though it would mean another change at Newcastle for those going to Morpeth or Berwick. Although we only had 15 minutes on the Azuma, it did look and feel very pleasant and I hope to get a longer ride soon. However, we were baffled by the onboard CIS. On arrival at Newcastle, it invited us to change for Bishop Auckland. Had the train overshot Darlington? Better advice might have been to find a hotel. But worse was to come. The exterior CIS, visible from the platform, advised us the train was going forward to Edinburgh stopping at Alnmouth, Dunbar and Abbeyhill Junction! Colleague Alison Cosgrove, Director of Railfuture Scotland, was most impressed. That’s another re-opening to clock up, as apparently the station closed in the 1960s, (re-opening briefly for the 1986 Commonwealth Games). No time to photo the strange announcement as we had to hurry over to platform 4 for the following CrossCountry service we had intended to board at Durham. But pity any tourist, perhaps a Hitachi employee visiting from Japan, who expects CIS information to be correct, and relies on it, finding it easier to understand than the spoken announcements. 

The other comment to make about my journey to Durham is not once was I asked to show my tickets. Not on the outgoing CrossCountry train to Durham, nor at Durham station in either the outward or return directions (barrier gates here have recently been removed), nor on the short Azuma or CrossCountry trains home. Perhaps I didn’t need to fumble about with the ticket machine after all? No. seriously, it’s annoying, but SENRUG’s position is that passengers should always buy the correct ticket before travel if it is possible to do so. We don’t support ticketless travel, even though the operators, through their casual attitude, sometimes seem to.

Sat 31st Aug 2019 Fault Reporting and Help During Delays:  I travelled back from London on the 16:00, sadly this time only standard class. I had carefully chosen my seat at a table, enabling me to work on the train. But the air-conditioning in my coach wasn’t working so (given it was a very hot day) I had to drag my suitcase through the train to coach B though I was unable to find another free table. So much for the usefulness advance seat reservation system! I tried to report the faulty air conditioning but unlike other operators, no phone number or website is displayed in the coach - LNER seem to believe the entire population has twitter - as this was the only fault reporting option provided. However I was able to report it to the Conductor who, credit to him, immediately issued an apology over the public address system, advising other passengers to move seat too, and told me he had reported the fault himself. 

Sadly the train was delayed by 16 minutes, not reaching Newcastle until 19:05 which made my connection on to the 19:09 Northern to Cramlington rather tight. This meant dragging my suitcase back through the train to coach F ready to jump off right by the footbridge. No helpful announcements as to departure platforms for connecting trains, just the derisory “consult station staff”. I made my Northern train with seconds to spare, the Travel Safe Officer helpfully alerting the Conductor to the fact someone was running up the platform with a suitcase, and we pulled out on time, only to wait 5 minutes at Manors whilst the delayed LNER overtook us. “Why couldn’t we have waited at Newcastle” I thought to myself. It would have given me a few more minutes to get across the bridge, and we would not not have left the other interconnecting passengers behind. 

Thu 29th Aug 2019 Field Flat Mushrooms (or “How the Mighty Have Fallen”): Today I travelled down to London on LNER, taking the 07:11 from Morpeth. I decided to treat myself to a first-class ticket, taking advantage of the on-board breakfast. The menu, as always, looked promising, offering a tempting Full English Breakfast complete with field flat mushrooms. When the breakfast finally arrived, on the approaches to York, a good 90 minutes after boarding the train, there were in fact no mushrooms of any variety - let alone field flat ones. And the portion sizes are getting smaller - stretching the definition of “full” in “Full English Breakfast” to its limits. “Never mind”, I thought, looking at my egg, sausage and handful of baked beans. I can always ask for some toast afterwards. Alas no. “No more toast until after Newark” I was told curtly.

Indeed I was offered more toast after Newark, but by this time, my breakfast plate had been cleaned away, I’d washed my hands and got my laptop out, wanting to squeeze in 90 minutes of work before I arrived in London, so I politely declined.  Staff are of course busy - though the train wasn’t that crowded, and it’s difficult to understand why such a simple request could not be accommodated. Perhaps commenting on the absence of mushrooms had blackmarked me!

As a former Head of Customer Services in a large multi-national, I know the name of the game is to under promise but over deliver, ensuring you exceed customer expectation every single time. Most people travelling first-class know that too. LNER appear to have reversed the formula, promising a premium product which they then do not live up to, having fallen quite a long way from the first-class offer first introduced by the former government-owned franchisee East Coast Trains. Even Travelodge offer unlimited toast at their breakfasts. With a low-cost open access operator starting on the route in 2021 this is something which LNER are going to need to watch. Premium needs to mean premium else customers will go elsewhere

Tue 27th Aug 2019 HS2 or Ashington Re-opening: Today I was asked to give a short interview for BBC TV Look North News at our favourite haunt of Bedlington Station. The theme was whether HS2 should be cancelled in favour of funding smaller schemes like Ashington. I was careful not to express a view on HS2 (there is by the way no guarantee that if it is cancelled, the money would be released for other rail projects) but I did say the Ashington scheme is cost justified and should go ahead either way. Although my own interview was quite short, in the pre-interview discussion I stressed the need to compare the cost of rail schemes with road schemes - and I was pleased to note that before I came on air, the cost of dualling the A69 was mentioned - significantly more than the Newcastle - Ashington and Penrith - Keswick re-openings.

Sat 24th Aug 2019 Hot Weather Disruption: It's almost a month now since the chaos on our railway caused by lines buckling in the hot weather (see blog entry for 24th July) - and since then, I've been trying to find out why this was a peculiarly British problem, with railways in many European countries which were even hotter than ours continuing to operate ok. And indeed, a railway is being built across the desert in the Middle East, from Dubai to Oman, where the temperatures frankly make our heatwave just look like a cool summer's day. Is it a case of "the wrong sort of sun?" Not quite, but I am grateful to a colleague who has referred me to the answer published by Network Rail - see Apparently it is the wrong kind of lines. Our it seems, are not stress-tested to cope with the soaring heat whereas those in Europe and the Middle East are - hot weather happens so rarely in the UK that it would not justify the extra cost. I'm grateful for the answer though perhaps Network Rail should consider the impact of global warming a little bit more.

Mon 19th Aug 2019 Cramlington: Very useful meeting this morning with Gerry Sothcott from the Cramlington Development Trust about how to secure improved rail services for Cramlington. It’s Northumberland’s largest town with a station, yet only gets an hourly service, with the first weekday train to Newcastle not until 08:05, Useless for anyone who needs to start work before 08:30. Cramlington continues to be one of SENRUG’s top 3 campaign objectives, along with the Ashington re-opening and the local service to Berwick.

Wed 14th Aug 2019 Fares Increases: Today I had a pleasant day out with my daughter in Carlisle, sampling the delights of the direct service to and from Morpeth. But on the way I got a call from ITV Tyne Tees News who wanted to interview me about next January’s fares increases based on the recently published inflation figures. So I did the interview outside Carlisle station, commenting that rail fares increases had a disproportionate affect in the North, where salaries are on average significantly lower, and for those on the minimum wage or the dreaded zero-hour contracts, the high cost of getting to work was pulling against the objective of the government’s benefit reforms designed to “make work pay” in all cases. Finally I pointed out that Morpeth and Cramlington passengers must also factor in the recently introduced car parking charges. The interview was broadcast that evening at 6 pm and repeated at 10:30.

Tue 13th Aug 2019 Northern: Excellent meeting with Anna Weeks today. Main areas for discussion are SENRUG’s aspiration to see the Ticket Office at Morpeth open all afternoon, and the need for a better train frequency at Cramlington - the current hourly service is not good enough. In particular, and as a quick fix, we need an earlier morning train - before the 08:05, though it looks unlikely this will happen for this December’s timetable. We’ve been banging the Cramlington drum for some time now, but I do detect Northern are at last starting to understand the problem.

Mon 12th Aug 2019 Northern and CrossCountry: Today I travelled up to Alnmouth on the 18:15 Northern service from Morpeth, where my daughter was due to pick me up from the station for a dinner with friends in Lesbury. I thought I’d use the opportunity, whilst travelling on the evening Chathill train, to give out some of the SENRUG leaflets campaigning for a regular, hourly local service north of Morpeth. 

I arrived at Morpeth station at 18:00, to find the CIS (now thankfully working) was showing the train was delayed by 7 minutes, leaving at 18:23. But a minute later the revised departure time changed to 18:24. And a minute after that it changed again, to 18:25. And so on, for the next 20 minutes. This made me think the train was stuck somewhere and hadn’t actually left Newcastle. So, I looked at the Northern Information Poster and phoned their “Customer Experience” line to see if they could tell me what was going on - though the call was answered by National Rail Enquiries.

The guy at National Rail Enquiries Rail simply told me what the CIS said, giving me the currently expected departure time, which was still going back minute by minute. But I wanted to know if the train had actually left Newcastle. My gut instinct was that it was stuck somewhere, and not moving at all. 

To be fair he went off line to check, and by the time he came back on the line and told me the train was now heading towards Cramlington, the tannoy announcements had sprung into life saying the train was delayed awaiting further units to be attached! Were we going to get a 4-coach train? Impressive though this would be - did it justify a 20 minute delay? But the CIS was clearly showing the train would be formed of just our usual 2 cars only. Which made me wonder what it had been before the extra units were attached - just 1 car? When the train finally arrived - standard 2 car formation - 20 minutes late at 18:35, I asked the Conductor about this. He told me the extra units had been attached at Carlisle, but then detached again at Newcastle (no doubt adding yet further to the delay). 

No other passengers for the Chathill train joined at Morpeth - but by this time passengers had started to arrive for the 18:49 CrossCountry service to Dundee, which the CIS was showing as cancelled, but not warning them they would then have a 75 minute wait for the next LNER train, or over 2 hours to wait for the next CrossCountry service. However, if either the CIS or a more useful tannoy announcements had told passengers to join the late running Northern service with me and change at Alnmouth, they could have taken the 19:12 LNER service from Alnmouth and arrived at Edinburgh at 20:13, just 4 minutes after the scheduled time. Train cancellations really do need better management, especially at stations which are unstaffed, and particular when a late running alternative service can be used to rectify the situation - at least for some passengers. Information as to whether LNER would accept CrossCountry tickets would also have been useful - 2 hours would be a long time to wait for those hapless passengers with “booked train only” tickets for the cancelled CrossCountry service. 

On board the Northern train, I gave out the SENRUG leaflets for our “North Sea Coast Local Rail Service” campaign, encouraging those passengers who want Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington and Chathill to have an hourly service to support our campaign and join SENRUG. Our campaign was well received by many of the people I spoke to. I eventually arrived into Alnmouth at 18:59, just in time for our 19:00 table reservation at the Coach Inn at Lesbury.

Thu 8th Aug 2019 LNER and Northern: Excellent and constructive meeting this afternoon with Mike Ross of LNER. I was pleased to note that action is already in hand on some of the issues we wanted to raise as LNER had already received the same feedback from other sources. In the other cases, LNER received our feedback positively and promised to look into the issues we have been raising and give a full response. I think we can now say our mutually constructive relationship with LNER is back on track; the temporary blip being due to some staff changes and the separation of the former Virgin's communication team for West and East Coast, prior to Virgin East Coast's transition to LNER. We're now looking forward to the public meeting with LNER on 12th September which will include a question and answer session, and of course the arrival of the new Azuma trains.

Returning from Newcastle, arriving at Morpeth at 18:15, I was astonished but pleased to see Revenue Protection staff on the platform at Morpeth, checking tickets of arriving passengers. I've been living in the area and using Morpeth station regularly for 15 years now but have never seen this before, and am pleased that Northern are now instigating ticket checks at unexpected times which will prevent complacency from setting in. Just to confirm, SENRUG supports reasonable revenue protection initiatives as ticket evasion ultimately puts the price up for fare paying passengers, and hopefully we will all agree it is worth the extra minute or so's delay in leaving the station. Don't forget, Morpeth is now in a Penalty Fare zone, so don't be tempted to chance your arm in the hope you won't be challenged.
Wed 24th Jly 2019  LNER Disruption Management: My daughter is travelling to Nottingham tomorrow, via Newark on LNER, where she is giving a paper at a conference at the university. This evening we received an email from LNER advising of severe weather-related disruption and that an emergency timetable would be in force, and telling her not to travel. In her case, travel was essential, so we clicked on the link for more information hoping to see if the train she was booked on (07:11 from Morpeth) was running as planned or cancelled. But LNER’s emergency timetable was not shown on their website, all that was given was a repeat of the same generalised information as per the email. That’s unacceptable. After much searching, we eventually found a page saying “LNER expected to run a good service”! LNER are not to blame for the weather-related disruption, but I do think they should take steps to publish their emergency timetable, rather than simply give the “don’t travel” statement. Failure to do that is just poor customer service.

I’m pleased to report the train did in fact run, and on time, and my daughter got to Nottingham safely and delivered her paper. We then received an email from LNER apologising for the delay, and offering her 30% off her next journey. For which we are most appreciative. But more targeted information avoiding the stress of the evening before would have been much better, and since it was an “Advance” ticket with LNER knowing exactly what train she was taking, surely not that difficult to achieve? PS: Can anyone tell me why railway lines buckle in hot weather in Britain, but apparently not in any other countries? Railways are now being built across the Middle East where my daughter works as a University Lecturer. How will the railway lines there be able to cope with the blistering desert sun? 

Tue 23rd Jly 2019  North of Morpeth Feasibility Study: I spent a lot of time today trying to arrange the kick-off meeting to get this study launched, though I think holidays will mean this will now have to be first week in September.

Sat 20th Jly 2019 LNER: My proposed meeting with LNER next Thursday has just been postponed. This really is not good enough. It's 6 months now since I first emailed David Horne, and 2 months since, after repeated chasing, pointing out I was getting "read-receipts" so I knew the emails were being safely received, I was finally offerred a meeting - a meeting which has not yet taken place. The strange thing is the points we wish to raise with LNER are constructive, pointing out opportunities to grow passenger numbers and revenue within existing service patterns, and also alerting them to the frustration of first class passengers travelling on early southbound trains from Morpeth. Let's hope the meeting is quickly re-scheduled. If not, LNER need to watch out: we have an open access operator starting in 2 years time, and much as LNER might like to cry "foul", they can't blame stakeholder groups for welcoming rival operators with open arms if LNER themselves won't engage with us.

Thu 18th Jly 2019  Cramlington Station: Today I went down to Cramlington Station to meet the pupils from Cragside C of E Primary School, who have created some fantastic artwork for their local station. Be sure to look out for it next time you take a train from Cramlington. Or for a preview, including the children working on the art at school, click here

Wed 17th Jly 2019  Morpeth CIS: Tonight, at 22:25 (yet another pick-up from the Aberdeen train), the CIS was actually working - but only on 1 platform. Let’s hope however we’re finally turning the corner after the past 6 weeks when it has been faulty.

Wed 10th Jly 2019  SENRUG Funding: I attended West Bedlington Town Council’s meeting to support our application for a contribution towards the funding for our new website. I’m very pleased to report they agreed to make a contribution - and also to join SENRUG. Thanks so much to the Council and for your warm words of encouragement.

Thu 27th Jun 2019 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Lots of Press coverage on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening. The Transforming Cities Outline Funding Bid has now been submitted. This is a joint bid from the North East Combined Authority covering all the schemes in the area. It should be followed by a final bid around November. Let’s hope the DfT looks favourably on the application, especially the Ashington re-opening element, and that a positive announcement that the re-opening is definitely going ahead can soon be made. However, final decision may not be until Spring next year.

Tue 25th Jun 2019 Morpeth - Berwick Local Service: Today I took the train to Chathill, and was joined at Alnmouth by a journalist from Radio Newcastle who interviewed me about the Morpeth - Berwick Feasibility study, for which funding has just been awarded. At Chathill, we were joined by Northumberland Cllr Guy Renner-Thompson who also participated in the interview, which was pre-recorded and should be broadcast in a week or so’s time.

Tue 18th Jun 2019 Morpeth CIS: The CIS at Morpeth is still faulty and has been for about 5 weeks. Northern say it is something to do with the building work renovation, and the station only having “one feed”. We’re not quite sure what this means, and there is no indication it might be sorted any time soon. Absolutely not good enough for an inter-city station unstaffed for the afternoons and evenings

Wed 29th May 2019 Morpeth Station Car Parking: Really useful meeting today with NCC to discuss various options for car park extensions. I am convinced The Council are now taking this seriously. Although SENRUG has dropped its objection to charges, there are a number of "soft" issues around charging we discussed, such as free weekend and evening parking, Season Ticket reciprocity between the Northern and NCC car parks, and - only once extra capacity is provided - some free short stay bays allowing customers to purchase advance tickets. We won't get these initiatives from Day 1 but the Council has promised to come back and review these points. Let's hope they keep that promise!

Wed 22nd May 2019 Bus Integration and Station Adoption Funding: Two meetings today. The first was easy. Following the ongoing inability to display the correct bus times at Morpeth Station Turning Circle Bus Stop, SENRUG is now displaying these itself, thanks to an arrangement with the County Council who have given SENRUG access to the bus stop timetable display frame. However, we do need the busses from PCL Travel to now actually run as scheduled (whilst we were at the bus stop one did not turn up) else this initiative will backfire and SENRUG will withdraw. The Second meeting was with Northern and GMDT to discuss the Town Council's application for funding for planters at the station. We hope to hear a decision on this shortly.

Fri 17th May 2019 Northern CIS: On holiday at Whitby, today I reported the station CIS was not working. Alas, still not fixed by 20th May, the first weekday of the new timetable operation. Hopefully, there were no significant timetable changes for services at Whitby, but I wonder if there is a target repair time to get CIS faults fixed, particularly at unstaffed or partly-staffed stations?

Wed 15th May 2019 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: I was surprised by a report in today’s Chronicle saying that The Secretary of State for Transport wants to give the Ashington Line to Nexus and is waiting for a proposal from them to take over the track and start running services. SENRUG doesn’t mind who owns the tracks or runs the trains but the key point is the route between Northumberland Park and Central station must, in our opinion, be via the direct Network Rail route via Benton Junction, and not via the much longer Metro route with its additional 10 stops. Otherwise the train journey time won’t beat the bus, and the business case will collapse. And what’s more, just the week before, I and other SENRUG committee members attended an Institute of Mechanical Engineers presentation at which Nexus speaker Neil Blagburn confirmed the new Metro rolling stock will not have diesel capability and their battery power will not be sufficient to reach Ashington. So something somewhere doesn’t add up. Let’s hope this issue doesn’t cause yet more delay to our 14-year campaign, just as it finally appears to be coming to fruition.

Tue 14th May 2019 TaxPayers Alliance: Great British Transport Competition: I’m pleased to note the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening came 4th place in The TaxPayers Alliance “Great British Transport Competition” - a national competition to determine what other transport projects money could be spent on if HS2 is cancelled. I have absolutely no recollection of nominating the scheme, and fear that the costs quoted in the Report (£50m) are a little out of date. The Report is an interesting read for the North East as dualling the A1 between Durham and Edinburgh came 1st (surely Durham to Morpeth is already dualled?). I was invited to the Presentation of the Report on 14th May but despite the invitation giving the street name and name of building, there was absolutely no reference to which city it was taking place, nor postcode to give a clue.  It seemed the assumption was that everyone would realise it was in London - itself an interesting reflection on the pro-London bias since the first 10 entries are most definitely in the north. Just to clarify, SENRUG is neutral on the HS2 issue and is not convinced that, even if it were cancelled, the money would be diverted to other transport projects. But we simply insist that money should be invested in the north, specifically our schemes such as the Ashington Re-opening and Berwick service, regardless of what happens in the south. 

Wed 8th May 2019 Public Meeting: Excellent meeting this evening with guest speaker Cllr Richard Wearmouth who updated uson progress with the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening Campaign (which the Council now call "The Northumberland Line" and other public transport initiatives across the County, with lively but informative question and answer time afterwards. I was delighted with how well attended the meeting was, despite the awful weather.

Fri 19th Apr 2019 Days Out By Train: Today we had a pleasant day out in Haltwhistle, following the walk on the Northern website here. On the way, we had to change at Newcastle and wait for 59 minutes for the Carlisle train (so looking forward to the May timetable change when the Newcastle “missed connection” will be rectified). But on the way back it was a direct train with no change required. All 3 trains were Class 158s though the return train had not been renovated and had no wifi or on-board CIS. Except that the on-board CIS suddenly sprang in to life at Newcastle! Perhaps it was a crew change and the new team were happy to switch the button on, or perhaps the CIS is not yet pre-programmed for every route. Nevertheless, a great day out, enjoying the rare Easter bank holiday sunshine, with the walk highly recommended.

Fri 29th Mar 2019 Northern Railway: Really useful meeting today with Anna Weeks, the interim Regional Director at Northern. We discussed several issues including the May timetable, which will see several through services from Morpeth to and from Carlisle throughout the day. We are still pressing for, but have not as yet received, an earlier morning train from Cramlington. After the meeting, there was time for a quick catch up with Marie Addison about the Station Adoption Funding Programme for Community Groups. 2 schools have been successful in winning funding so far, Newminster School at Morpeth and Cragside CofE Primary School at Cramlington. We look forward to seeing their finished artwork at the stations soon. And would welcome any further applications - either from schools or other community groups for Pegswood, Widdrington or Acklington stations.

Tue 26th Mar 2019  North of Morpeth Local service: Over the last few weeks I have spent considerable time preparing a Funding Application to Northern’s Seed Corn Fund for half the cost of a Feasibility Study looking at the possibility of establish a local, hourly each way train service between Morpeth and Berwick, calling at all stations and also re-opening Belford, Beal and possibly Warkworth stations. Today that application was finally submitted. The County Council have promised to match the other 50% of the funding if the Northern application is successful, with SENRUG also making a token contribution. I am grateful to the following who have also provided SENRUG with letters of support: Ann-Marie Trevelyan MP, Morpeth Town Council, Pegswood Parish Council, Widdrington Station and Stobswood Parish Council, Adderstone & Lucker Parish Council, Belford Parish Council, Berwick Town Council, Berwick Regeneration Committee, Alnmouth Station Adopter Group, Chathill Station Adopter. Let’s hope we’ll be successful and we can get this study underway soon.

Mon 18th Mar 2019  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: Today I attended IPRR North’s Lunchtime Briefing in Leeds, at which they announced their 6 quick wins” for transport projects in the north. First on the list (admittedly, only because they were listed alphabetically) is the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening. Getting included in the list is most welcome, and represents considerable earlier work from SENRUG in helping shape IPRR North’s priorities.

Fri 15th Mar 2019  European Meetings: I travelled down to London today in my capacity as a member of Railfuture’s European Passenger Group. First off was a meeting with Eurostar, at which I sought to explain the problems of people trying to interchange on to their services from the north, no through tickets from Morpeth being just one problem. The afternoon tour of Victoria Station with Network Rail’s station manager Darren Williams was most illuminating, with Darren signalling a new approach that most definitely puts passengers first, over and above retail and commercial advertising opportunities, which we can only hope gets rolled out to other Network Rail managed stations. And then, on the Saturday, a European Passenger Federation meeting, for which I am Railfuture’s delegate.

Mon 11th Mar 2019 Transpennine Express: Excellent meeting today with the Stakeholder Manager for TransPennine Express, whose services will start calling at Morpeth from this December, bringing about a transformational change in the number of trains serving Morpeth Station. We discussed a number of issues relating to the launch and operation of the new service.

Sun 10th Mar 2019 Rail Franchising Review: I was pleased to note today that my article on the “Failure of Rail Franchising” has now been published on Railfuture’s website at The article points out the current franchising regime does not attempt to co-ordinate two or more operators running over the same route as happens between Newcastle and Edinburgh; thus neither operator offers a coherent timetable that allows travel between the intermediate stations of Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick. It is hoped Railfuture will use this and other examples from elsewhere in the country as part of its evidence submitted to the Williams Review

Sun 3rd Mar 2019  Consultation Responses: Today I submitted SENRUG’s response to the Northumberland County Council Local Plan consultation, and also to the Blyth Relief Road consultation. In both cases, SENRUG wants the former rail alignment between Newsham and the old Blyth station protected from development, so that once the core Ashington Blyth & Tyne line is re-opened, there can be a future addition of trains direct into Blyth Town Centre. In the local plan, SENRUG also requested protection from development for a station at Beal on the East Coast Main Line, and revised wording to clarify other protections. See SENRUG’s responses for the Local Plan here, and for Blyth Relief Road here.

Mon 25th Feb 2019  Council Liaison: Busy day today with two meetings, both at County Hall. The first was to discuss how the bus services at Morpeth Station Bus Turning Circle can be better promoted. SENRUG is particularly keen to highlight the almost hourly weekday service from the bus station to the railway station, and the through journeys from the railway station to Lancaster Park. The second meeting was to receive an update report on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening, which the Council are now calling the Northumberland Line. Work is now going ahead with further design and costing studies from Network Rail, associated scoping work from external consultants, and preparation of a bid to the DfT “Transforming Cities” Fund. The Council expect all this work to be completed by the end of 2019 and believe that if the funding application is successful, trains could be running by 2022. Let’s hope so.

Wed 13th Feb 2019 Morpeth Station Car Parking: Really constructive meeting with Cllr Sanderson and Paul Jones from Northumberland County Council today. Yes, charges are coming, but the key point is the Council are being proactive at looking at ways to increase the parking provision at Morpeth station, considering the various ideas previously put forward by SENRUG. Some of the simpler schemes should be in place before the massive boost in train services in 10 months time.

Fri 8th Feb 2019 Ashington Re-Opening: SENRUG Chair Meets The Minister: Today was an exceptional day. I was invited by Northumberland County Council to join them on a special train they had organised with Northern to run round the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line between Morpeth and Newsham. On board the train, in addition to Councillors and Senior Managers from Northern, were representatives from Network Rail, Transport for the North, Nexus, AECOM (Consultants working for the Council), a crew from ITV Tyne Tees News and … Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling. 

The train left Newcastle at 08:20 coupled to Northern’s scheduled service to Morpeth. At Morpeth we uncoupled and proceeded on to Bedlington where a 5-minute stop allowed selected guests including the Secretary of State, Council Leader Peter Jackson and the ITV Crew (but sadly not myself) to alight on to the platform for a few minutes, still in tact despite the station closure 50 years ago under Beeching. 

On the train itself, I was able to brief senior managers from Network Rail on the re-opening and renew my acquaintance with David Hoggarth of Transport for the North, who I had taken on a road tour of the scheme several years before. I was also asked to do a short interview for ITV Tyne Tees News.There was a bit of a scrum as everyone wanted to talk to the Minister but I am grateful to Cllr Wearmouth, Northumberland Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration who was very much in charge of the day, for ensuring that I, as a passenger campaign representative, got my 5-minute slot. We discussed my 14 years campaigning for this re-opening to date, and my frustrations with the Network Rail GRIP process and how this is now changing to a more market-led approach. I felt the Minister understood my concerns and appeared determined to make the process simpler, and listed a whole range of schemes across the country he wants to see go ahead. And of course, being on a train running along the line, with the Minister hoping off on to the platform at Bedlington for a photo-call, demonstrated how deliverable the scheme is. 

Conversations with senior Network Rail managers also allowed me to stress the strategic importance of the Ashington - Butterwell corridor, added to the Newcastle - Ashington line, as a relief and diversionary route for the East Coast Main Line, and on the return journey into Newcastle I was pleased to note Cllr Wearmouth briefing the Minister on the possibility of re-instating the 4th track between Benton Junction and Newcastle to maximise the potential of using the Ashington and Butterwell lines to create a 4 track railway from Newcastle to Widdrington, a plan that SENRUG submitted to Network Rail’s Route Utilisation study. 

Special thanks are also due to Mike Paterson, Northern’s Regional Director and his team, for making the event happen from a technical point of view - not as easy as it might appear - and for their hospitality of coffee and croissants on board the train, and to Stuart McNaughton from the County Council for all his hard work in organising the event and progressing the re-opening. 

Moving forward with the Ashington re-opening was not the only positive thing that came out of the day. Whilst everyone was there together, I also discussed our aspiration for the local service to Berwick and SENRUG’s proposal for a feasibility study and it looks like we now have informal agreement for this to go ahead. 

And finally, I got a cab ride! 20 years of pro-rail campaigning and that’s a first for me. Thanks, Northern. Overall, I was delighted to have been invited to be part of the event which represents a major boost in our campaign to get passenger services back to Ashington and indicates an appreciation of the hard work of campaign groups like SENRUG.

Wed 6th Feb 2019  SENRUG Committee: Lots to discuss at the SENRUG Committee meeting tonight, including a progress review of our key campaigns, membership trends, our social media presence and our Newsletters. I very much appreciate all our committee Members for giving up their time to assist in the running of SENRUG. 

Wed 6th Feb 2019 Northern Railway: Useful meeting today with Mike Paterson, Regional Director for Northern Railway, covering a range of issues including the forthcoming May 2019 and December 2019 timetable changes, the need for an earlier morning train from Cramlington, Morpeth ticket office opening hours and how to best progress SENRUG’s aspiration for a Berwick service. 

Tue 5th Feb 2019 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: A busy day today. I had a call scheduled with RDG (Rail Delivery Group - formerly the Association of Train Operators) - to discuss how best to persuade train companies to sell London CIV tickets (for onward Eurostar connections) through their online sales channels. This work is part of my responsibilities for Railfuture, where I serve as a member of their European Passenger Group. However, earlier in the day our local newspaper the News Post Leader posted an item on their website about Northumberland County Council seeking £3.5m to progress the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line re-opening on to its next phase, and saying they want to see trains running on the line by 2022. Very welcome news, though it’s not as yet clear to me what this “next phase” is and the Council are planning to brief me later this week. However, I presume it to be a package of work which includes the long-awaited GRIP 3 study - or something that replaces the need for that. Nevertheless, BBC Radio Newcastle were on the phone asking me for a comment and I did a brief telephone interview with them, which was broadcast around 16:25 that afternoon.

Thu 31st Jan 2019 North of Morpeth Local Service: Excellent and well attended meeting at Berwick Town Hall tonight, a follow-on to the one a year ago organised by Berwick County Councillor Georgina Hill. The subject was how to improve rail services to Berwick. SENRUG believes the best way to do this is for the local Northern service from Newcastle to Morpeth to be extended to Berwick, calling at all stations with Beal and Belford eventually re-opened. Our sister group RAGES (Rail Action East of Scotland) similarly campaign for a local service from Berwick to Newcastle. In addition to myself, there were also speakers from Northumberland and Scottish Borders Councils, Northern and RAGES, with Cllr Hill opening the meeting and final comments from The Mayor. My journey from Morpeth to Berwick took 1 hour 35 minutes including a chilly hour's wait at Alnmouth as no direct services are available, given me time to ponder the fact that Morpeth has 2 services to Alnmouth within 9 minutes (16:48 and 16:57), but a 9 hour gap between 11:51 and 20:53 for a direct service to Berwick.

Fri 23rd Nov 2018  New TransPennine Express Northumberland Service: Most of today was spent compiling a document for TransPennine Express about the extension of their Liverpool to Newcastle service to Edinburgh from December 2019. The new hourly service will create a transformational increase in the number of trains serving Morpeth, but SENRUG wants their trains to serve Cramlington too. Whilst TPE already know SENRUG’s view, it is important to take the opportunity of participating in their formal process to re-state it.

Tue 20th Nov 2018 Newcastle Station: In the evening I attended Railfuture’s branch Committee Meeting at Durham. I returned to Durham station for the 20:22 CrossCountry train back to Morpeth only to find it was running over 90 minutes late. So, I took a delayed TPE service to Newcastle, in case the 20:20 local service from Newcastle was running late and I could still get that. But credit to Northern, it had departed on schedule before I arrived. At Newcastle, the barrier gates were wide open and there were no staff visible station except for a group of people in LNER uniform who were in fact the crew ready to take over the next northbound train. LNER’s services were all running late too, and both the LNER and CrossCountry services due an hour or more previously were all starting to arrive. I noticed this meant there would be around 5 Edinburgh trains in the next 15 minutes, all stopping at Alnmouth, though none would stop at Morpeth. So, I made my way to the secret LNER Station Management Office and asked if they had considered letting any of these trains make an additional stop at Morpeth. After all, 90 minutes would be a long time to wait for any CrossCountry passengers at Morpeth station. It was perhaps a forlorn hope, and in my heart of hearts I already knew the answer: “No, we don’t do that.” “Why not”, I persisted. “Because” came the reply, it would cost us £1,500 and we’re not paying that for CrossCountry passengers”. “But have you approached CrossCountry?” I asked - “They might be willing to pay. Can’t you contact their control and ask them what arrangements they are putting in place for their passengers?” And then came the killer blow: “We are not here to look after CrossCountry passengers. They are a different company, and not our responsibility”. My understanding is that LNER, as Station Facility Operator at Newcastle, are technically responsible for looking after the passengers of all train companies that serve the station. To be fair, during my hour wait, I did notice that LNER staff appeared briefly for train despatch duties before retreating back to the warmth of their office, but I do find it unacceptable there are no platform staff on duty during times of significant disruption of several train operators. Northern's services were also disrupted - their late running Carlisle service was re-scheduled to run non-stop cutting out all intermediate stations. During my hour long wait on the platform I was approached by several other passengers who needed assistance but could not find any staff.

Tue 20th Nov 2018  Car Parking at Morpeth Station: Today I met Cllr Glen Sanderson at County Hall to discuss car parking at Morpeth station. We are agreed that extra provision is necessary and it seems the Council are planning to create 30 or so extra spaces. I explained that I believe a much more ambitious scheme is needed given the number of trains at Morpeth will double from next year. I am hopeful the Council will now seriously look at this. However, the thorny issue of charges also needed to be discussed. In short, the Council will introduce these. I outlined my concerns, namely the cost of getting to work for regular commuters (the Council have an annual pass which sounded good value for money) and the fact that now the precedent for charges is established, Northern can increase the charges in their car park at any time and this aspect of their business is neither regulated nor subject to democratic scrutiny.

Wed 14th Nov 2018  North of Tyne Authority and Ashington Re-opening: I arrived back from Penzance today to see the News report that the new North of Tyne Authority had legally come into being. Apparently, the inaugural speech of the Interim Leader had made reference to a Feasibility Study on the Ashington Railway re-opening. So, I had lots of telephone and email messages asking me what this means. I don’t know, and have asked the Council for clarification, as surely, we are well past the feasibility stage. They tell me they are hoping to make an announcement in around3 weeks’ time. So, watch this space. Call it after Christmas to be safe.

Tue 6th Nov 2018  Suffolk, Cornwall and the new Hitachi Train: Today we started a 3-point trip to Ipswich then Penzance then back to Northumberland which included GWR’s new Hitachi train. These are exactly the same trains that will soon be appearing on our own line using LNER’s brand name Azuma. To find out what I thought, both of the Hitachi trains and other things that went well and badly with the 6 different rail companies I travelled with, read my full journey blog here

Thu 1st Nov 2018 Public Meeting: Excellent public meeting tonight with Ian Brown CBE FCLIT, Policy Director for Railfuture. Very interesting talk looking at what he had been able to achieve as well as an honest appraisal of what he had sometimes failed to achieve in terms of expanding the rail network whilst working inside the railway and the lessons for us campaigners now working from outside the industry. Good range of questions and I was pleased to note an above average turn-out. Earlier in the day Ian and I had met Cllr Richard Wearmouth from Northumberland County Council, and then, assisted by SENRUG Committee Member Gordon Summers, taken a road tour round the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line.

Wed 24th Oct 2018 First Open Access: Excellent meeting today with Mark Wilkins from First Group, to discuss the new Open Access service their company will launch from 2021, running between Edinburgh, Morpeth, Newcastle and London. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue with First as their plans for this new service of 5 trains each way per day firm up. Prior to that, sister company TransPennine Express will of course start their Edinburgh - Morpeth - Leeds - Manchester - Liverpool service in 2019

Fri 12th Oct 2018 Simpler Fares: Today I attended the Transport Focus / RDG Consultation event in Leeds. This was a useful afternoon, and does appear to be a genuine consultation with no pre-conceived conclusions. SENRUG’s formal response to the consultation (1 of 20,000 received) is available here, and our longstanding Simpler Fares campaign is here.

Fri 21st Sep 2018 Disruption Management: Today I travelled from Morpeth to Leeds, but with the violent storm the day before and overhead lines down between Newcastle and Edinburgh, some disruption could be expected. Well done to LNER who sent me an email the night before telling me my booked train, the 11:29 from Newcastle to York, was cancelled. The email said I could travel on alternative LNER trains but failed to mention that all their trains from Scotland were cancelled, only those that started at Newcastle were still running. Neither did it clarify whether my advance ticket endorsed “booked train only” would be honoured by TPE, with whom I was scheduled to travel from York on to Leeds. In the end I joined the 11:22 CrossCountry service from Morpeth, showed my ticket to the conductor and asked “will you let me stay on this train all the way to Leeds?” “Of course,”, he answered. “There is disruption, so we are accepting LNER tickets”. Which meant I left Morpeth later, arrived at Leeds earlier, and had a direct train instead of having to change at Newcastle and York. Now, why couldn’t the email from LNER had told me I could do that? Verdict: LNER = 7/10. CrossCountry = 10/10.

Thu 6th Sep 2018 Simpler Fares: Today SENRUG issued its response to the Transport Focus / RDG “Easier Fares” consultation. The response was in the form of a multiple-choice survey completed online, with only a few questions allowing free format text input. However, SENRUG’s response, along with our reasons for the multiple-choice options selected, can be seen here. SENRUG’s response follows our own “Simpler Fares” campaign, which is detailed here.

Fri 31st Aug 2018 Northern Railway: 2 meetings with Northern today. The first, with Mike Paterson, Regional Director, was to express SENRUG’s concern that Northern has not been able to run any services at all on recent strike days. Worse than that, the information Northern has published has been completely misleading - the absence of any “emergency” timetable has led customers into thinking that a full service was running when the reverse has been true. Neither has there been any information on the availability of rail tickets on Arriva busses. This has prompted SENRUG to complain to Northern MD David Brown. “Must try harder” is SENRUG’s verdict. The second meeting was with Northern’s Station Adoption team, who are keen for SENRUG to find groups willing to undertake art or gardening projects at the stations in SENRUG’s area, for which Northern have funding available. So please, any group interested in getting funding for work at Northern’s stations at Morpeth, Cramlington, Pegswood, Widdrington or Acklington please contact SENRUG in the first instance. At this meeting, we also had a robust discussion on why Morpeth’s CIS sometimes “misses” trains completely (see entry for 29th July 2018).

Tue 21st Aug 2018 CrossCountry: It seems the SENRUG Press Release issued last Friday (see below) is getting noticed. Yesterday, whilst walking the Coast Path at Howick, I did an interview for BBC Radio Newcastle “drivetime” that was broadcast at 16:15 and 17:15. Today, I briefly spoke to the Journal then BBC TV Look North interviewed me at Morpeth Station for tonight's programme. Their feature also included conversations with people getting on and off Cross Country trains. I hope I put our case across well. But perhaps not as well as the passenger (sorry I don’t know who she is) who simply said: “Trains too crowded? Well, surely they need more of them, not less!” And with that simple logic we rest our case. Let’s hope someone at the DfT was listening.

Fri 17th Aug 2018 CrossCountry: Today SENRUG finally issued its response to the DfT Cross Country Re-Franchise proposals. This is a long, complex document which took several attempts of drafting and re-drafting. Key issue is that SENRUG strongly opposes the suggestion of cutting Cross Country trains at smaller stations such as Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick. Click here for the full response, or here for our Press Release.

Tue 14th Aug 2018 MetroCentre Connections: Today I travelled to Hexham on the 09:52 from Morpeth. Following the May 2018 timetable changes there is no longer a through service to MetroCentre; passengers must change at Newcastle. There was considerable grumbling about this as passengers (including a young lady in a wheelchair) got off the train at Newcastle, consulted the CIS for the MetroCentre train, only to find it was the very same train they had just got off. "But," said the staff, "You must get off the train, let us close the doors, wait on the platform and then in 10 minutes time a different crew will re-open the doors". Northern are losing Customer goodwill on this one; let's hope they can re-instate the through trains soon, even if there is a crew change at Newcastle. Incidentally, passing through MetroCentre, I noticed the CIS on the westbound platform is still faulty, as it has been every time I have passed through in the last 12 months. Is there a target for getting CIS faults repaired? Whilst on the subject of CIS, we travelled on 4 of the newer trains today, each with on-board CIS, but none of which were programmed to advise us of the next station - surely the whole point of having an on-board CIS?

Mon 13th Aug 2018  Northumberland County Council: This morning I had an informal catch-up meeting with Cllr Wearmouth, Cabinet Member for Economic Development which includes rail policy. We reviewed progress on a number of items including the Ashington Blyth and Tyne re-opening (which NCC are now calling "the Northumberland Line"), car parking at Morpeth Station, the Cross Country Re-Franchising Consultation, and the Council's Core Strategy (which protects lines and alignments that SENRUG wants to re-open from building development). I found the meeting excellent and constructive and am hopeful the Council will be able to make a series of positive announcements soon

Sun 7th Aug 2018  Delay Repay: This time it was LNER's 22:28 from Aberdeen that was over an hour late, and my daughter, who I was meeting at the station, did get an email from LNER prompting her to make the claim. Perhaps we are indeed moving towards the automated process suggested in my 2nd August entry? Let's see how long LNER actually take to pay.
Thur 2nd Aug 2018 Delay Repay: Today, it was CrossCountry's 09:24 to Plymouth that was over an hour late, due to trespassers on the line north of the border. CrossCountry aren't to blame for that, but despite submitting the Delay Repay claim promptly, after 10 working days, still to response for either this or the 29th July journey. These were advance tickets that could not be used for any other train. As CrossCountry know the trains are late, Delay Repay should be automatic (ie without having to claim) and refunded to the credit card with whick the ticket was bought within 24 hours, leaving CrossCountry's no doubt overworked admin staff to deal only with open tickets where the train a passenger actually took needs to be verified, or other complex cases.
Sun 29th Jly 2018 Morpeth CIS: The 16:21 CrossCountry Morpeth to Plymouth service arrived over 30 minutes late, but worse than that, the train simply wasn't shown in the station CIS system at all! That's inexcusable. Here's a photo, taken at 16:16 - with no reference to the timetabled 16:22. I knew the train was running as I was meeting my daughter who was on it, and who phoned to say it was stuck somewhere between Berwick and Alnmouth. So I tried to prevent other waiting passengers from presuming it was cancelled completely and leaving the station. Next day I raised the issue with both Northern (station operator) and CrossCountry, but no response from either so far.

Fri 27th Jly 2018 Member Communication: If you haven’t heard from us recently, it may be because you’ve changed your email address but not given your new one to our Membership Secretary. This means things such as news updates, notification of our public meetings and subscription renewal reminders will not be reaching you. To advise a new email address please contact remembering to give your full name, address and postcode. You can also join SENRUG or renew online by card here.

Fri 13th Jly 2018 Northern Railway: Great Public Meeting last night with Mike Paterson of Northern Railway. An interesting presentation from Mike, particularly the cost and revenue breakdown of how much it costs, and how much profit is made, per train. Honest response to questions and answers too, with debate covering the urgent need to re-instate through off-peak service to MetroCentre, the need for an earlier morning train from Morpeth - predominantly for Cramlington passengers, a plea to extend the opening hours of Morpeth Ticket office now, rather than waiting for building redevelopment to be complete, an agreement to  investigate the cleaning frequency of Morpeth station subway, the need to re-examine of the commercial case for parking charges at Cramlington and Morpeth, and likelihood of seeing a regular Northern service between Morpeth and Berwick.

Tue 3rd Jly 2018 CrossCountry: Two trips to York in 3 days. The first, on 6th July, was to participate in the DfT consultation on the new CrossCountry franchise. DfT has some rather worrying ideas about wanting to cut out the stops on CrossCountry trains at smaller stations such as Morpeth. SENRUG will make a formal response to the consultation, our point being that before doing that, DfT would have to significantly boost local services, and neither DfT nor the train operators have the ability to do that at present. On the way home, I bumped in to Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery at Newcastle station, and discussed the issue with him. We set up a meeting for later this month, which will be an opportunity to give Ian a general update on SENRUG’s work.

Then back to York again today for CrossCountry’s own Community Rail Partnership Day, this time with a focus on rail safety. SENRUG is not a CRP, our focus mainly being on campaigning and lobbying. But we do constantly review whether we should become one. This would mean setting up a formal legal organisation and our volunteer committee members becoming Directors, which is more than some people are willing to do as their voluntary commitments with SENRUG must fit around other work and business responsibilities. However, it seems that all the train companies (not just CrossCountry) have considerable funding to make available to CRPs, and it is a pity that SENRUG, despite all the good work it does, cannot avail itself of that money under the present arrangements. That said, the day was nevertheless interesting, lots of good initiatives across the CrossCountry network, and an opportunity to chat informally to CrossCountry MD Andy Cooper during the break.

Mon 11th Jun 2018 CrossCountry: I did a short telephone interview with BBC Radio Newcastle today about the DfT Consultation suggesting that under the new CrossCountry franchise, trains should not call at the smaller, intermediate stations such as Morpeth, Alnmouth & Berwick. The DfT suggests this as a possible way of reducing overcrowding on CrossCountry trains (which are mostly just 4 coaches long). My point is that such a policy can not be achieved without a massive boost in local services to replace the 50% loss of trains at Alnmouth & Berwick, and that Morpeth needs significantly more than an hourly local service. And neither the local operator nor the DfT has the available rolling stock to do this. Even if more local trains could be procured, it is unlikely there is sufficient spare capacity on the rail network for them to run. A much simpler alternative is to keep the CrossCountry stopping pattern much as it is, but buy more rolling stock for this operator so that all its services can be 8, 9 or 10 coaches long. SENRUG will also be responded formally to the DfT consultation.

Wed 23rd May 2018 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: Excellent article in Rail Magazine published today, featuring SENRUG's campaign, and focussing on whether the new devolved powers for a North of Tyne Mayor will make things easier. Meanwhile, Northumberland County Council should by now have had the GRIP 2B Report back from Network Rail (it was due in March), As yet they haven't told SENRUG what it says, and I guess it is only right that Councillors should be briefed first. But we have requested a meeting to find out what the next steps are, and am hopeful this can take place in the next few weeks.

Wed 16th May 2018 Virgin Trains East Coast Financial Failure: The financial failure and early termination of the UK government’s East Coast Main Line rail franchisee, Virgin Trains East Coast, announced today, has been widely predicted for some time.

Despite operating under the Virgin brand name, the company is actually owned 90% by Stagecoach and 10% by Virgin. It is a legally separate entity from the other rail franchises operated by Stagecoach and Virgin (such as Virgin West Coast) who are not affected by today’s announcement.

The general consensus is that Stagecoach / Virgin got their sums wrong and over-bid for the franchise and reached the point where they could no longer afford the agreed franchise repayments to the government. However, the position is by no means clear: Stagecoach / Virgin argue that the government owned track operator, Network Rail, failed to deliver on significant track upgrade work, meaning they as operator could not achieve the operational efficiencies they had predicted, thus leading to their financial failure. Over the coming weeks we can expect to see analysists and politicians argue both sides of this debate according to their own political position on privatisation versus nationalisation. 

Predicting both the impending financial failure and the ensuing argument about failure to deliver network upgrades, the government announced last November that the current franchise arrangements on the East Coast Main Line would be terminated early in 2020 and replaced by a joint train operator and track infrastructure company, thus placing responsibility for track infrastructure in the hands of the private operator and eliminating such arguments in future. As it turned out however, Stagecoach / Virgin could not even stumble through until 2020, hence today’s announcement. 

Intriguingly, this scenario has happened twice before. The first operator of the East Coast Main Line, GNER, also failed though this was clearly due to problems with their parent company, Sea Containers, thus considered to be outside of issues surrounding how the UK rail industry is managed. But the second operator, National Express, also failed due to over-bidding, so today’s failure of Virgin Trains East Coast will be the 3rd financial failure on the same route. When a franchise fails, the government steps in and continues to manage the route via a directly owned company, acting as “operator of last resort”, until such times as the franchise can be re-let to another company. Thus, passengers are not immediately affected, trains continue to run, and tickets purchased from the failed company are honoured. In the longer term there may be some minor changes with regard to levels of innovation, customer service and prices and availability of the cheaper advance tickets, as would always be the case with a change of senior management. 

After the second failure, the government owned “East Coast Trains” who stepped in as operator of last resort were perceived to have performed extremely well in terms of maintaining levels of innovation and customer service. Many commentators, even those agnostic on the privatisation / renationalisation debate, believed that the franchise should have remained under government control as a bench-mark to the rest of the UK rail network operated by private companies. The government however cited EU articles 85 / 86 (anti-competition clauses) as its reasons for being legally obliged to re-franchise the route as quickly as possible after the 2nd failure. After Brexit of course, such arguments against keeping one route under government control will no longer apply. However, the UK government has already announced the new arrangements it intends to put in place from 2020, so the government owned operator of last resort will keep the railway running until then. 

SENRUG tries to avoid taking sides in the privatisation / renationalisation debate, preferring to focus on the outcomes passengers require and to hold the operator – be it private or public – to account on delivery of those outcomes.

Thu 10th May 2018  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: Yesterday I did a brief interview with Channel 4 News on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening. The feature was broadcast today. If you missed it you can see at You’ll have to wait almost until the end of the 5-minute clip for my brief contribution. Locals will also observe those shots actually including a train or a signal are at Bedlington, rather than Ashington, but the interview with me was definitely on the southbound platform at Ashington station, and it is good for Ashington as a whole to be featured by Channel 4 news in this way. Our thanks to SENRUG member Sally Millner who kicked the whole thing off by raising the case for the re-opening during the Chief Economist to the Bank of England’s visit to Ashington last month. It was the subsequent entry on his blog (see that came to the attention of Channel 4. When the Chief Economist of the Bank of England says that his hunch is that the economic benefits of re-opening the railway line would be “whopper” we can perhaps conclude our campaign is getting somewhere. This evening’s feature on Ashington was part of a wider piece including an interview with the Governor of the Bank of England on economic policy.

Tue 8th May 2018 Northern Delay Repay: Today I finally received my Delay Repay compensation voucher from Northern for a journey on 9th March 2018, claim submitted online and acknowledged 0n 15th March. That’s 7 and a half against a target response of 4 weeks. In my view … not good enough.

Sun 6th May 2018 Bus - Rail Integration: We’re having a short break in Yorkshire, and today we took the train into Whitby. It was absolutely jammed packed with people from Middlesbrough wanting to enjoy a day by the sea. On arrival, huge posters on the station concourse advertised the onward Arriva bus links from right outside the station, with details of through rail / bus fares. What a pity our local Arriva bus managers for Morpeth are not so enlightened – they won’t even run the busses into the station turning circle, let alone advertise them there. And yet, Newcastle – Morpeth is not so different to Middlesbrough – Whitby. Both routes served by Arriva bus and Arriva Northern train. But at Whitby there is no sense of the two being in competition with each other, and integration between both appears well developed. My final thought: how would Newbiggen’s fortunes be restored if, once the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line is re-opened, it is then extended further to Newbiggen? Would Newcastle – Newbiggen get as many passengers as Middlesbrough – Whitby? I don’t see why not.

Wed 2nd May 2018 Newcastle - Morpeth Local Service: The Cinderella line (aka Newcastle – Morpeth), must once again live up to its name as always getting the worst of any hoped-for improvements. In a far-away land over on the West Coast, Network Rail failed to deliver an electrification project on time, and this means that the extra diesel units needed to meet the innovative draft timetable for South East Northumberland must stay where they are and cannot be handed down to the North East region. With franchise commitments to fulfil elsewhere in the North East, it is once again Northumberland that must suffer, thus meriting the route’s Cinderella title. Off peak through services from Morpeth to MetroCentre are lost, with passengers now being obliged to change at Newcastle. Additionally, Morpeth to west of Hexham and Carlisle passengers will now find a full hour added to their journey, as the re-timed trains from Morpeth will arrive in to Newcastle one minute after the Carlisle services depart. The ensuing 59-minute wait will give Northumberland passengers plenty of time to wonder why Northern could not have run Morpeth – Carlisle as a through service, or even take some of those spare electric units now sitting idle on the West Coast and use them for Morpeth – Newcastle, particularly with the non-electrified Newcastle – MetroCentre now removed from the off-peak diagram. Clock-face departures on the route are also lost, a depressing reversal of one of SENRUG’s earlier campaign successes. But the evening service will be introduced as promised, and we are grateful to Northern for responding to the SENRUG feedback and plugging the gap in northbound trains from Newcastle at 19:20 that appeared in the earlier draft, now providing an hourly service throughout both daytime and evening.

Tue 17th Apr 2018 SENRUG Public Meeting: Excellent meeting tonight with Graham Jellet, who is remarkably well informed on French Light Rail systems, leaving us to lament the slow rate of progress here in the UK. Before Graham's talk, I briefly updated those present on Northern's May 2018 timetable, sadly not delivering everything we had originally been promised due to delays in a far away Network Rail electrification project, meaning Northern's North East area has not been given the hand-me-down diesels it expected to have for its extra services. Our evening services will however start as promised, but through journeys to MetroCentre during off-peaks are lost, and passengers for stations beyond Hexham will now face a 59 minute wait at Newcastle as the Morpeth service arrives a minute after the Carlisle one leaves (oh - why couldn't they have joined it up and made it a through train?). On a more positive note, the meeting was pleased to note 22 months after busses once again started serving Morpeth's station bus turning circle, a bus stop has now appeared.

Fri 16th Mar 2018  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Long conversation today with a journalist from Channel 4 News. They’ve seen the Bank of England blog (see my entry for 17th February 2018) and want to come and do a feature on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening. That’s great news. It will be a few weeks before they come, and of course, with a story like this, we won’t know what day it will be aired, but it is pleasing to be attracting so much media attention.
Thu 15th Mar 2018  Virgin East Coast – First Class Offer: Today I travelled to Leeds, for the 3rd time in the month travelling first class via Virgin East Coast on an early morning train from Morpeth to York. I figure that if I have to leave my home at 06:15 for the 06:38 train, or 06:50 for the 07:11 train, it’s worth paying the extra money and getting a decent breakfast on the train. Virgin’s staff however think differently. Food service doesn’t start until after Durham. When I politely drew to the steward’s attention to the fact I was getting off at York, she curtly told me that food was only guaranteed for journeys of 70 minutes or more (which I know). So, I replied that I had already been on the train for 40 minutes and had nothing. Yes, my breakfast did arrive just after Darlington, and just time to eat it before York, but I do think Virgin need to do better. Problems seem to centre around a crew change at Newcastle, which seems totally unnecessary for a train that only starts in Berwick or Edinburgh. And long gone are the days when staff walk down the train finding out customers’ final destination, and prioritising those not travelling all the way to London. Come on Virgin. It won’t cost you that much more money to do better. First class passengers deserve it.

Fri 9th Mar 2018  Northern On-Train CIS: A disastrous journey to Bradford today. My Northern train from York got diverted at Leeds and simply never made it to Bradford. It’s all very well the Conductor announcing “This train will no longer stop at stations between Leeds and Hebden Bridge” but my geography of the Yorkshire rail network is not that good. Is Bradford before or after Hebden Bridge? Should I continue to Hebden Bridge and get a train back?  10 seconds to make a lightening decision … so I jumped off – thankfully the right thing to do. But passengers deserve better information than that in a time of disruption. On-train CIS doesn't list the intermediate stations to the final destination, so no help there.

Wed 7th Mar 2018  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: I spent the day with a journalist from Rail Magazine touring round the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line, talking about my aspirations for the re-opened route, and frustrations with the current Network Rail process. Look out for the article in Rail coming out we believe on 9th May.

Sun 25th Feb 2018  Network Rail: Today, I submitted SENRUG’s final response to Network Rail’s East Coast Route Study, which you can see here.

Mon 19th Feb 2018  Bus Integration: Hurray. 20 months after busses first started to serve Morpeth station’s bus turning circle, a bus stop has finally been constructed, albeit carefully located away from the station canopy so no protection from the elements. No official timetables as yet, just SENRUG’s unofficial one on the station fence, but we are assured the official one in the bus stop display frame will follow soon.

Sat 17th Feb 2018  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: It seems the Chief Economist from the Bank of England has been to Ashington … and whilst there, SENRUG Member Sally Milner asked him about the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line. Well done Sally. Read the Chief Economist’s blog at

Wed 31st Jan 2018 Cramlington: Last night I attended a very constructive meeting with Cramlington Development Corporation, some Cramlington Town Council Councillors and a Cramlington County Councillor, discussion how to improve train service frequency at Cramlington. SENRUG wants to see the existing hourly service doubled to half-hourly, as do the other stakeholders at the meeting, so it is a question of pulling together and putting a convincing case to the train operators.

Mon 29th Jan 2018  Morpeth Station Parking: Also today, I submitted SENRUG’s response to Northumberland County Council’s Parking Strategy consultation, our comments being limited to parking issues at Morpeth Station. See our response here.

Mon 29th Jan 2018 Northern On-Train CIS: A routine train trip to Newcastle with my daughter today, and I was pleased to note we were on one of the newer trains with on-board CIS. I thought it was great, but my daughter, not used to travelling by train, pointed out an obvious problem I had overlooked. The display simply reads "MetroCentre" which is the final destination of the train. "But", protested my daughter as we got off "this isn't MetroCentre - it's Newcastle!". Similarly on the return journey the display simply read "Morpeth". Had she been on her own, my daughter reckoned she would have got off at Manors or Cramlington, believing the CIS to be announcing the current station, not the final destination of the train. That's a good point. More clarity is needed. Something like: "This train is for Morpeth. The next station is Cramlington". Can't think how I didn't realise how misleading it is before. On returning to Cramlington, I was pleased to note a Carillion van in the car park with some station maintenance work going on. Despite what we are hearing in the press, Northern's business, it seems, is still getting service as usual.

Fri 26th Jan 2018 Stephenson Locomotive Society: This evening I was invited to give a talk to the SLS on the work of SENRUG. The talk, with questions afterwards, was at The Mining Institute. I understand our meeting room is the former Board Room of the old Blyth & Tyne Railway; an apt place to talk about our work. Thanks to the SLS Newcastle Branch for inviting me - I enjoyed the evening and hopefully the SLS Members did as well.

Wed 24th Jan 2018 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: The February 2018 edition of Modern Railways is now available in the shops with an excellent feature on the re-opening campaign. They are calling it the Northumberland Line. But the article gets all the key SENRUG points across and demonstrates a full commitment from the County Council to moving forward.

Tue 23rd Jan 2018 Railfuture Europe and Northern: Into Newcastle today, firstly to meet Ian Brown CBE FCILT in connection with a new responsibility I have taken for Railfuture, the national pro-rail campaign group to which SENRUG is affiliated, as a Member of their European Passenger Committee. Then an excellent time catching up with Mike Paterson, Regional Director for Northern, and finally off to the university to meet Dan Nesbitt, SENRUG Deputy Chair, to review the new facility to join or renew your SENRUG membership online via Paypal.

Tue 16th Jan 2018 Radio Interview and North of Morpeth Local Service Campaign: Today, my interview with Radio Newcastle, which was pre-recorded last week, was broadcast, both in the morning programme and again in the evening Drive Time. By co-incidence there was also a major announcement from Transport for the North, so the interview with me was pitched as a response, though I had no idea the announcement would be made when I recorded it. I spoke about our Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening campaign, and our North of Morpeth Local Service campaign. Then in the evening, I travelled to Berwick with SENRUG Committee colleague Andrew Carmichael to talk about the North of Morpeth Local Service campaign, at the invitation of Cllr Hill. Along with myself, there were speakers from our sister group RAGES (campaigning for an Edinburgh – Berwick service), Scottish Borders and Northumberland County Councils, and Network Rail. Many thanks to the Mayor of Berwick for the provision of refreshments after the meeting. Because the intercity trains that sop at Morpeth don’t stop at Berwick, my 30-minute train journey actually took 1 hour 20 minutes, as you have to change at Alnmouth and wait there for 50 minutes for the next train. In sub-zero temperatures with snow on the ground (Andrew had difficulty getting his car out of Alnmouth station car park afterwards as it had not been gritted) I was particular pleased the ticket office at Alnmouth, and thus the waiting room, remains open until 18:15. Waiting on the platform exposed to the elements, as you would be obliged to do at Morpeth, would not have been very pleasant.

Fri 5th Jan 2018 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: I spent a long time this morning speaking to a journalist from Modern Railway who are planning an article on the re-opening for their February issue. The article will include the Council's current position as to where we are up to and hopefully quite a bit of input from SENRUG too. It will be in their February issue - available in the shops from last week of January so do look out for it. By the way, did you know that Northumberland County Council have decided to re-christen the line "The Northumberland Line"? Perhaps they had a premonition that the DfT think it's in County Durham and were seeking to make a pre-emptive strike. What about following London's Crossrail example of naming the line after a Royal, thus giving would be passengers absolutely no idea as to where it goes? On this basis, perhaps The Megan Line would be a good idea. No, for the moment we'll stick with Ashington Blyth & Tyne, though seriously, we don't care what it's called provided we get trains running on it soon.

Thur 28th Dec 2017  Northern Ticket Machine: A SENRUG Member has pointed out Northern’s Ticket Machine at Morpeth still offers as a default the peak hour return fare to Newcastle, even when a customer is entitled to an off-peak fare (after 09:30 or at any time on weekends), thereby routinely overcharging customers £1.10 per passenger journey. Following complaints from SENRUG members, we first raised this with Northern back in December 2016. For it not to be fixed over a year later is not acceptable. If a passenger is caught attempting to underpay the full fare for their journey they will be subject to a penalty fare – and rightly so. But if Northern are caught overcharging customers, what consequences do they face? None whatsoever. Time for the ORR or Transport Focus to step in with a penalty fare regime of their own – against operators.

Fri 8th Dec 2017 CrossCountry: Excellent Public Meeting with Guest Speaker Alex Bray from CrossCountry last night. And thanks to everyone who braved the cold to come and support us. We are looking forward to the extra CrossCountry services starting on Monday (was supposed to be Sunday but there is industrial action that day). And today I recorded a couple of sentences for BBC Radio Newcastle on the extra trains which should be aired hourly on Sunday Morning. Tune in and let me know if you hear it.

Sun 3rd Dec 2017  Ashington Re-Opening: On Thursday 30th November “The Journal” published a big article titled “Back on Track” suggesting the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line can now move forward, following the previous day’s government announcement. The re-introduction of passenger services to Ashington is indeed progressing, but whether the latest announcement from DfT will help or hinder things remains to be seen. Here’s a transcript of my letter to “The Journal” explaining why I’m not so sure (and if any of you Journal readers notice it gets published – please let me know). 

Dear Sir or Madam: 

It’s pleasing to see the Government Paper “Connecting People: A Strategic Vision for Rail” mentions the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line, as reported in last Thursday’s “Journal” (30th Nov 2017), although slightly less encouraging that the accompanying DfT Press Release places Ashington in County Durham! 

However, whether this latest government policy announcement is itself responsible for putting this re-opening “Back on Track” as your headline suggests, is more dubious. 

SENRUG has been campaigning to get passenger trains running to Ashington since 2005. During this time, we have won support from all the 3 main political parties, each of whom prioritised and progressed the scheme whilst leading the administration at Northumberland County Council, and as a result we are now working through Network Rail’s tortuous and highly expensive re-opening process. 

So far, we’ve reached stage 2, but must get to stage 4 before Network Rail can give the County Council a definitive price against which they and other stakeholders can finally sign on the dotted line to get work started and trains running. Nevertheless, I’m hopeful we can reach that stage within the next year or so and see trains running by 2021. This is the easiest rail re-opening in the country to achieve as it is a fully working freight line capable of carrying passenger trains today. It just needs the stations to be re-built, a bit of double-tracking near Newsham, and some signalling upgrades – this last being something Network Rail will need to do anyway. 

The government paper talks about merging responsibilities for trains and tracks as each franchise is renewed, in order to make enhancements such as this cheaper and easier to achieve. We certainly welcome a simplification of the current process which we believe to be far too costly and too time consuming. But Northern’s franchise does not expire until 2025. We most certainly expect and demand to see passenger trains running to Ashington by then. We need to be careful that these new simpler arrangements don’t result in holding things up if work under the old process is halted and then needed to start all over again under the new.

Dennis Fancett, Chair of SENRUG.

Wed 29th Nov 2017  Ashington Re-opening: Much excitement today as the government’s major new rail strategy was announced. Our very own Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening campaign gets a mention in para 2.4.3 (page 25). You can see the full document by clicking here.

I wound up doing 2 interviews for the BBC (different departments) at different times of the day, the 2nd going out on Radio Newcastle’s “North East Today” programme this afternoon.

The government statement contains a number of different and discrete announcements, but the essence (and I have not yet had a chance to read it through completely) seems to be take Network Rail out of the loop and give operators and stakeholders more control for upgrades, extensions and yes … re-openings. That does fit with our view that Network Rail’s costs are extortionately high and their process way too complex for something as simple as bringing trains back to a working, fully maintained line.

But the government’s paper says “evolution, not revolution”. Like Network Rail itself, nothing will happen quickly. What we don’t want is the Ashington re-opening slowed down or put on hold whilst these new arrangements come in to play. Please will all stakeholders keep focussed on a target re-opening date of 2021.

Tue 28th Nov 2017 Northern: Excellent meeting with Mike Paterson, Regional Director for Northern, at Morpeth Station. We discussed progress on a number of projects including Ashington Re-opening and Berwick service, and what (if anything) can be done to pursuade colleagues on the bus side to divert services into Morpeth Station Turning Circle.

Wed 22nd Nov 2017 New Metro Rolling Stock: Excellent news to hear in today’s Budget that £337m funding for the new Metro fleet has been approved, and as someone who previously worked in the Private Finance (PFI) industry, I’m particularly pleased the funding is through direct grant and not via PFI. Well done to Tobyn Hughes and his team at Nexus for putting their case forward to government, and thanks to our politicians and those who have been lobbying behind the scenes to support their case.

The new Metro trains will be bi-mode and be able to run on both the existing Metro lines and Network Rail’s tracks, which means the distinction as to whether any new service is “Metro” or “Heavy Rail” becomes more blurred. Which doesn’t really matter. Passengers just want to get from A to B and don’t really care who runs the trains, or what colour they are painted. With regard to SENRUG’s own campaign to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line, the key thing to note is that both Northumberland County Council and Nexus agree that the route it must take is the current freight route which runs directly from Newcastle to Northumberland Park via Benton Junction, not via the existing Metro line and its 13 intermediate stops. Network Rail cannot be excluded from the process as the section as far as Benton Junction is the East Coast Main Line, and the remainder a working freight route. But they do need to get a grip on their costs and bring them down to sensible levels so that the scheme can move ahead. And then we might just see passenger trains to Ashington running around the same time as Metro introduces its new stock, in 2021.

Fri 10th Nov 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: There is increasing momentum for our north of Morpeth local service campaign. Following correspondence with a Berwick Councillor; a public meeting with SENRUG and RAGES is being planned for Berwick in January 2018.

Wed 8th Nov 2017 Northern Railway: Today was another Northern strike day; but for the first time; and thanks to SENRUG lobbying; Northern planned to run a limited service (approx 2 hourly) to Cramlington and Morpeth – meaning that Cramlington got a service on a strike day at last. I wasn’t travelling on Wednesday so didn’t get to use the trains. If you used them; or tried to; please drop me a comment and advise know how it went.

Tue 7th Nov 2017 First TransPennine Express: I also met First TransPennine Express to get an update on their plans to extend their services to Edinburgh; calling at Morpeth; from December 2019. First thing was to ask whether the cancellation of Transpennine electrification had a negative impact on their plans. I was assured it made no difference; and trains will still arrive in Northumberland from December 2019. Second question was about Cramlington. We are lobbying hard for this new hourly service to call here; as well as Morpeth (which is already committed). TPE are still waiting for a response from the Scottish Government on Reston and East Linton; as stopping at these stations will reduce their capacity to do other things. They would not be drawn as to the cut-off point and insisted they had not yet considered the relative commercial cases and technical considerations for other potential calls; but admitted firm timetable proposals would need to be submitted to Network Rail by Autumn 2018. I find it somewhat surprising that the commercial case for other stations has not yet been examined; but acknowledge the technical issues (pathing) cannot be explored until they know what time their trains will be departing from Newcastle (if they are just in front of a Virgin train, calling at Cramlington becomes difficult, but if just behind then it will be simpler to find the path). So Cramlington has everything to play for – we need SENRUG; the town itself and the County Council to be speaking with a united voice; though it is a pity the plan to relocate the station so that it is next to Manor Walks is now off the table; as this would have significantly strengthened Cramlington’s case.

Tue 7th Nov 2017 Virgin Trains East Coast: Today I attended the Virgin Train’s Stakeholder Summit in York. There’s a real buzz in the air as the Virgin team get ready for the introduction of their Azuma fleet. Lots of developments across the network; and of course Morpeth will be getting an extra Saturday Virgin service from December. Overall, an excellent and positive day, but I did raise with David Horne; MD of Virgin East Coast; why catering service on Virgin trains collapses for 15 minutes either side of a crew change (30 minutes in total). When my daughter worked in the theatre café in Aberdeen; they seemed to be able to achieve a seamless crew change at different times during the day; without closing down for half an hour; or customers even noticing. The response was that this was something the management team are already painfully aware of; and the issue is being looked at.

Sat 4th Nov 2017 European Travel: In Europe, air and rail travel are much better integrated. Returning from a holiday in Vienna today (and yes I did fly there) I noticed as I walked round Vienna airport that the "gate" for destinations such as Linz was showing as "Bahnhof" - in other words - go down to the station underneath the departures lounge. On my connecting flight to Amsterdam Schipol, I sat next to a guy who was flying from Vienna to Antwerp, except that on arrival at Schipol, his onward connection to Antwerp was via a direct train from Schipol station - all on a through ticket from Austrian Air. And book via Air France from Newcastle to Strasbourg and your Paris - Strasbourg leg will be by direct train from Charles de Gaulle Airport. I don't see UK airlines offering tickets to York via train from Manchester Airport or Cambridge via train from Stansted or Sheffield via train from Luton Airport Parkway. In the UK, it seems, the god of competition wins over integrated transport. But is that really what UK customers want?

Sat 21st Oct 2017  Railfuture: Today I represented Railfuture North East branch at a Branches day in Birmingham. Railfuture is the national pro-rail campaign group and SENRUG is affiliated to it. Lots of interesting discussion, and I was also able to negotiate a discounted Railfuture membership rate for members of SENRUG. Watch this space for details.
Mon 16th Oct 2017 New Timetables From December 17: After years of painstaking negotiation, we are advising customers to get ready for a massive boost in services from start of new timetable on 10th December. CrossCountry are stopping 2 extra trains each way per day at Morpeth. Virgin are stopping some extra trains on Saturdays. And Northern commence a Sunday Service which means that not just Morpeth but Cramlington too will get a Sunday Service. We are encouraging everyone to use these new trains. We want them to be a commercial success for the operators. The combined intercity service timetable for Morpeth is here, and the new local Sunday service timetable for Morpeth and Cramlington is here.

Fri 13th Oct 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: It's been a busy couple of days writing letters and answering emails on this campaign. We are delighted to have received letters of support from Belford and Wooler Parish Councils. Northern do seem to be pretty committed to doing something which is appreciated, though so far have not agreed to fund the Consultants' study.

Thur 12th Oct 2017 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: This morning I met Stuart McNaughton from NCC with Pete Myers from Northern to discuss progress. We are still waiting for the County Council to commission the GRIP 3 study from Network Rail. I was delighted to hear once again that the new administration at County Hall is fully committed to this scheme and it remains a high priority. Stuart gave me an update as to what has been going on and what is expected to happen soon. Although progress is frustratingly slow I do recognise that Stuart has a difficult job to do in challenging some of the costs Network Rail are coming up with, and how to keep the scheme simple. Hopefully there will be some more news in a month or so's time

Mon 9th Oct 2017 Morpeth Ticket Office: Today I met Anna Weeks from Northern along with Cllr Wearmouth from Morpeth Town Council and the County Council to discuss the situation with Morpeth Ticket Office. The situation is slowly returning to normal. Anna is taking over a number of Stakeholder Liaison responsibilities from Pete Myers so I also had a run through with her on just about everything we are in negotiations with Northern for. Very useful afternoon.

Tue 19th Sep 2017 CrossCountry: Attended DfT consultation on new CrossCountry franchise at York today. SENRUG's input was that a) the franchise specification for smaller stations such as Morpeth needs to be co-ordinated with that of the East Coast franchise to ensure that services are evenly spaced throughout the day, b) the new franchisee must be given a means to procure more rolling stock, and c) DfT must instruct Network Rail to lift its blockade that prevents CrossCountry and other operators running Saturday southbound services from Edinburgh after 20:00.

Tue 12th Sep 2017 SENRUG Committee: Looking forward to the committee meeting tonight, we have a lot to discuss following a relatively quiet summer.

Tue 12th Sep 2017 Morpeth Ticket Office: Over the last few months I have repeatedly taken up with Northern the difficulties of the Morpeth Station Ticket Office being closed more often than not - sometimes with no notice as to when it might next be open. Northern have now provided SENRUG with a statement on the issue which you can read here. I do encourage those inconvenienced by the ongoing closures to contact Northern directly and let them know, in addition to advising SENRUG. SENRUG is pleased to note Northern are still planning to extend the opening hours at Morpeth eventually.

Sat 9th Sep 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: I responded to 2 Northumberland County Councillors who both asked me where we are up to on SENRUG's Feasibility Study. The answer is that Northern have a key internal meeting coming up (postponed from 4th September due to the strike) to review how they want to proceed. However, the interest and commitment from the County Council is most welcome.

Thur 7th Sep 2017 Prudhoe and Hexham: A day out to Hexham today. Morpeth Ticket Office was closed again (as usual) due to staff sickness and shortages, though I was intrigued to note 7 Northern staff deployed at Hexham, which does in my view raise difficult questions for Northern to answer. Passing through Prudhoe, I noticed a bus pulling in to the station turning circle, in what Northumberland Council rather extravagantly call their "Transport Interchange" (it's just a bus stop in the station turning circle). But why can't Morpeth have that, I mused? The only explanation I can think of is that Prudhoe, unlike Morpeth, is fortunate enough to have its bus services provided by someone other than Arriva.

Wed 6th Sep 2017 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening: The Chronicle phoned this morning asking for a comment on a story they were about to run saying the GRIP 3 Study with Network Rail had been signed off. This apparently came from an interview The Chronicle had with the Leader of the Council. But I wasn't so sure. In the past there has been misunderstanding between Council officers being given authority to negotiate and the contract with Network Rail actually being signed. Alas, this proved to be a further example of such confusion. Council Officers confirmed the GRIP 3 is still not signed. There followed a ping-pong of emails between me and the journalist at the Chronicle, me saying "Oh no it hasn't" and him saying "Oh yes it has". As far as I know, my word was eventually accepted and the story never published. But it is pleasing to note the new administration's commitment to progressing the scheme.

Fri 1st Sep 2017 Northern Strike: Today and Monday are sadly further strike days, and no Northern trains are running on the Morpeth and Chathill lines. Morpeth passengers have Virgin and CrossCountry services, and in fact Arriva have arranged for additional CrossCountry services to stop at Morpeth too. But unlike previous strikes, this time, and despite strong representation from SENRUG, Northern have not advised the times of these extra services on their website. The only place you can find them is on SENRUG's own website. No way to keep customers on side during an industrial dispute.

Sat 19th Aug 2017 Newcastle Station Parking: I collected my daughter from Newcastle late this evening, there being no connecting service on to Cramlington or Newcastle at this time. I struggled to find the new road access to the station car park and had to drive round the one-way system a few times before I got it. But more positively, the first 15 minutes parking is now free - an excellent initiative helping those just dropping off and picking up. The signage doesn't work though. Bold notices saying a) 15 minutes parking free and b) you must buy a ticket. I was so confused I asked the Supervisor whether it was free or not. He told me you must buy a ticket for nothing. Go up to the machine, press the button, but don't put any money it, and out comes 15 minutes of parking. Am I stupid? He thought not. Apparently not a single passenger has been able to decipher these notices, most either putting a £1 coin in for their "free" parking, or getting a penalty notice for thinking they didn't need to display a ticket.

Tue 15th Aug 2017 North of Morpeth Service: Meeting with Northern today to discuss the proposed SENRUG feasibility study into this service. It's difficult to say how the meeting went. It would seem everything depends on the outcome of a further Northern internal meeting on 4th September. 

Thur 3rd Aug 2017  CrossCountry: Very positive meeting today with the CrossCountry timetable planning manager in Birmingham. We discussed the plans for the 2 additional services each way at Morpeth from December 2017, along with the constraints that prevent yet more improvements. But we very much look forward to welcoming the extra CrossCountry services later this year.

Mon 17th Jly 2017 Public Meeting and AGM: Excellent turnout for our public meeting with speaker Walt Cartwright from DB Cargo, who gave us a very informative overview of the UK rail freight industry. I was also pleased that a good number of our members stayed on for the AGM. This year, we had a good and diverse range of constructive comments on our policies and challenges, and the existing committee and officers were re-elected unopposed. I am therefore privileged to continue to serve as your Chair for a further year.

Wed 5th Jly 2017 Campaign For Better Transport Seminar: Expanding The Railway: Today I attended this very useful seminar in York, with speakers from Department For Transport, Network Rail, Transport for the North, and Nexus. Most speakers were very positive and my own contribution during the Q&A session was to say that the Network Rail GRIP process is too long, too expensive, and needs to change. It is interesting to note our campaign to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line is taking approximately 2 years to progress through each GRIP stage. That means 10 years to get to GRIP 5, the point at which final costs are presented and the local authority proceeds. It's all very well for the DfT to talk about needing to get contributions from developers, but what developer can wait 10 years before he knows whether a re-opening will go ahead? Since we started campaigning for the AB&T re-opening, the former goods yard at Seaton Delaval station has been sold to a developer, the houses built, and people now living in them. And we're only at GRIP 2. Further, the GRIP process was started under a Lib-Dem lead Council, which then changed to Labour lead, and has now changed yet again to Conservative led. We're fortunate that all 3 parties have been committed to the scheme. But the process must be quicker, so that any political administration can see they would have a sporting chance of delivering it within the lifetime of their authority.

Fri 30th Jun 2017 Northumberland County Council: Following the change from Labour to Conservative led administration at the elections last May, and my letter to the new Leader of the Council dated 29th May (see here), today myself and Committee Member Ronald Hunt met Cllr Richard Wearmouth today, who is the new Cabinet Member at the Council with responsibility for rail transport. Additionally, Richard is a SENRUG Member (declared on his Register of Interests) so he was very warm about our work and achievements to date. He confirmed the new Council is committed to proceeding with the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening, is very interested in our North of Morpeth local service campaign, but less certain the Council will want to proceed with the move of Cramlington station. But all in all a very positive meeting at which we presented our "Rail Vision For Northumberland"

Mon 26th Jun 2017 London Bridge and Thameslink: Back from Paris today, and staying overnight in London so no need for that CIV ticket. A chance to spy out the works at London Bridge Station as it prepares for the full implementation of Thameslink. Dinner with my sister who told me of her concerns as to how she'll get to work when the London Bridge to Charing Cross line closes this summer. Best advice from SouthEastern is to work from home. They are saying extra trains will run to Blackfriars but we can't find any more information as to how many, and where from. The key question is whether SouthEastern will be running extra services on the Lewisham - Peckham Rye - Blackfriars route (that avoids London Bridge) for passengers on the Dartford lines that normally go to Charing Cross? If you know the answer please email and share your knowledge.

Thu 22nd Jun 2017 SNCF: From Paris Gare St Lazare to Treuville on the Normandy coast. A pleasant trip on a regular (non TGV) train. However problems on the way back. Firstly, we couldn't find our coach. The train formation started at coach 8, then skipped from coach 12 to coach 14, leaving those with reserved seats in coach 13 standing bewildered on the platform - and with no staff on hand to ask. I eventually found coach 13 hiding between coaches 19 and 20 and advised my fellow travellers (yes -in French)! But once on the coach - no seat 6. Seat numbers started around 14. And then, having found some spare seats in a 4 abreast side compartment, I noticed the seats were numbered in a confusing formation too: 19 - 20 - 22 then 21. On the plus side I did find a fully functional integrated bus - rail station at Treuville. None of this walking up the hill, round the corner then across the road that residents of Morpeth must endure.

Wed 21st Jun 2017 Eurostar: Off to Paris today from Cramlington. Frustratingly, I couldn't find a website to sell me a through ticket, not even from Newcastle. I had to buy the Eurostar ticket separately and then buy a ticket from Morpeth to London CIV. ("CIV" is the really important bit which allows you to get the next Eurostar without extra charge if you arrive in London late). None of the TOC's websites that I normally use will let you buy a ticket to London CIV. However, I did find a company called RailEasy that will sell you this, though you'll pay a booking fee and a credit card charge. As for the journey, all went well. The Eurostar was 20 minutes late due to a technical fault. The worst bit is the underground holding pen at St Pancras where Eurostar make you wait until 5 minutes before the train leaves, resulting in a mad dash to get up to the platform.

Fri 9th Jun 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: Extremely useful meeting today with Northern, and Northumberland County Council also present, to discuss the 4 feasibility study proposals. We have agreed to go forward with one of the proposals, and Northern are now applying internally for the funding. We should know by the end of August. SENRUG will not announce which Company will carry out the work until it is confirmed that funding is available and we know for sure the work will proceed. But, so far, so good.

Mon 29th May 2017 Northumberland County Council: Following the local elections, the authority has a new political leadership so today I wrote to the new Leader of the Council asking for an opportunity to appraise him of SENRUG's various campaigns, and in particular, for an assurance that the Council's commitment to re-opening the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening remains in place (see our letter here). SENRUG started this campaign in 2004 and this is now the 3rd local authority we are dealing with. We started with a Labour-led Council who did not support, then changed to a Lib-Dem led Council who did support and did much of the early feasibility work, then back to a Labour led Council who have fully supported the scheme and got as far as Network Rail's GRIP 2 Stage. So let's hope the current Conservative-led authority will continue with that commitment, take us through to GRIP 4, and be the administration that finally signs the order with Network Rail.

Thu 25th May 2017 Northern: Attended the Northern consultation today on the DRAFT May 2018 timetable consultation. Our formal response to the draft timetable is here. Generally, Northern listened to our concerns and will make adjustments where possible, though it doesn't look as if we'll be getting the earlier morning or later evening trains SENRUG has requested.

Mon 15th May 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: All the responses to SENRUG's request for a feasibility study into a regular service into a regular, hourly, local service between Morpeth and Berwick have been received, and forwarded to Northern, who will request internal funding for the winning bid. SENRUG's specification for the study is here.

Mon 8th May 2017 Bus / Rail Integration: Today I attended a meeting set up by our colleagues at Northern Railway (an Arriva company) with managers from the Bus side, looking specifically at the issue of getting busses into the station turning circles at Morpeth and Cramlington (at Morpeth, a separate bus company now has a limited service into the turning circle). SENRUG presented 2 specific proposals for Morpeth which if taken together would give a twice hourly service. No promises, but hopefully the bus side of Arriva will now renew their focus on how this could be done. 

Wed 26th Apr 2017 Eurostar: Today I tried to book my journey from Morpeth to Paris for this coming June. The Eurostar website does not let you book through from Morpeth, only from Newcastle. But I wanted to use one of the direct Virgin trains from Morpeth to London. I couldn't find any website that lets you book from Morpeth to Paris, so had to book my tickets separately. But it's really important the Morpeth - London ticket is endorsed "London CIV". This means, should the train be late or cancelled for any reason, you are entitled to get the next available Eurostar train. But the Virgin East Coast website, which I normally recommend, does not allow you to book to London CIV. Why not, I wonder? Eventually I found a firm that does - RailEasy - but this means booking charges, credit card fees and no wifi for the Virgin leg of my journey. As if anticipating my frustration and complaint, a surprise email from Virgin told me I was being given 3 months complimentary 1st Class Lounge access - sadly only from the date of my return journey, not from the outward one. Nevertheless, thanks very much Virgin, though improvements to your rail booking engine would be welcome too. I really do want to use your site - it's just you don't let me do what I want to do.

Mon 24th Apr 2017 SENRUG Committee: Committee meeting tonight discussed all our usual business and campaign updates along with a specific suggestion that had been put to us for improving service at Chathill, though the Committee agreed that our North of Morpeth Local Service Campaign should proceed unchanged. We also agreed to press on with accepting online membership renewals (and donations) via our website.

Tue 4th Apr 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: Interesting meeting at Morpeth Station today with one of the companies thinking of bidding for the feasibility study. We have now set a deadline for all proposals to be received by 12th May and are looking forward to receiving them. As is always the case when I meet people at Morpeth, the meeting adjourned to Costa down in the town centre. What a pity there is no cafe or meeting area for SENRUG at the station itself!

Thu 30th Mar 2017 North of Morpeth Local Service: Following confirmation from Northern Railway that funding is indeed potentially available, I today sent out our spec for a feasibility study as to whether train paths would be available for the local trains on the Metrocentre to Morpeth line to be extended north to Berwick. We have in mind an hourly service each way calling at all stations, with Belford and Beal re-opened, and potentially linking in to a similar service from Berwick to Edinburgh, with Reston and East Linton re-opened, as pursued by our sister campaign group RAGES. Should any additional companies with the necessary expertise wish to provide a quote, the spec is available here.

Tue 28th Mar 2017 SENRUG Public Meeting: Excellent time tonight with guest speaker Vic Branfoot from Coastliners, a most enjoyable and entertaining speaker talking to us not just about the group itself but the slightly different roles of the Station Adopters and station Ambassadors. Good turn-out, I counted just under 30 in attendance.

Sat 25th Mar 2017 Railfuture: At the North East branch AGM this afternoon I was asked to give a 20 minute talk on SENRUG - and yes I kept to time - mainly by cutting out a lot of detail of our campaigns that Railfuture members would (or should) already be aware of. SENRUG Committee member Trevor Watson was re-elected unopposed as Railfuture North East branch chair.

Thu 23rd March 2017 North East Rail Re-openings: Railfuture asked me to take part in a short BBC TV interview on rail re-openings in the North East, to be broadcast on the Sunday Politics show. Filming was at Bedlington Station, my location of choice for such events, and yes, a freight train obligingly passed whilst we were filming. Speaking on behalf of Railfuture (rather than SENRUG) my brief was to cover other schemes such as the Leamside Line in Durham, a new station at Team Valley and so on, and not just the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line, so I gemmed up on all this too. But those who saw the very short clip (which as yet I have not seen myself) have told me that everything other than what I said on the AB&T was edited out. So apologies to all those Railfuture guys who sent me briefing material - I did use it - but have no control over where the editor's chop might fall.

Tue 21st Mar 2017 AB&T Butterwell Branch: Tonight myself, Andrew Carmichael and Trevor Watson met with the committee of ABTRA - The Ashington Blyth & Tyne Railway Association. This new group want to run heritage services on the AB&T Butterwell branch. However they fully support SENRUG's vision of seeing this line eventually brought back into the national rail infrastructure providing a diversionary route between Benton Junction and Butterwell Junction and local services between Ashington and Alnmouth. They agreed their constitution would include a clause saying they would abandon heritage rail operations and aspirations on the line when there is a requirement for this to happen. Overall a very productive evening and both groups came away feeling we can work well together and respecting each other's activities.

Sat 18th Mar 2017 Bound For Craigy: An excellent day out today on The Branch Line Society and 125 Group's special Virgin HST Charter Train that went round the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line en route to Edinburgh. All the Virgin crew on board the train were working voluntarily and over £50,000 was raised for The Railway Children, a Charity supporting street children worldwide. We also particularly appreciated Virgin East Coast MD David Horne's positive words about SENRUG's campaigning efforts in the official charter programme and route guide.

Below left: The train running alongside Barrington Lane, between Bedlington and Choppington (Geoff Stainthorpe); below right: The train crosses the River Blyth north of Bebside (John Brierley)







Tue 14th Mar 2017  Virgin East Coast Wifi: After a conference in Glasgow, today I returned from Bishopbrigs station, changing at Croy and Edinburgh Waverley. No wifi though on the 18:30 from Edinburgh back to Morpeth. Why not? Because on this occasion I had to book my ticket via a different website, as Virgin's own website will not route you on the Virgin train but sends you CrossCountry to Alnmouth and then via Northern to Morpeth, for the dubious privilege of arriving 5 minutes earlier. So my message is a) please sort out your booking engine and allow your customers to book your own trains, and b) please stop this ridiculous nonsense of only giving free wifi to customers who book with you, and sign up to receive dozens of junk mails per week. At least I got free wifi, with no strings attached, on the Scotrail train, and even on the bus! I wonder what Sir Richard would think if he knew his brand was associated with such outdated digital technology ideas.

Fri 3rd Mar 2017 Northern: Attended an excellent Stakeholder event in Newcastle today. Timetable improvements for December 17 and May 18 were discussed. We had a representative from the bus side of Arriva too, so perhaps we may at last see progress on bus / rail integration.

Wed 25th Jan 2017  Northern and ACORP: Two meetings today, both at Morpeth Station. The first with Northern Railway to discuss their Adoption Scheme, and secondly with ACORP (The Association of Community Rail Partnerships) to discuss whether this approach would be right for SENRUG with our current service levels (we're pretty sure forming a CRP would be right if and when we get local services running north of Morpeth to Berwick, but is it the right approach for the existing Morpeth only service?)

Sat 22nd Jan 2017 National Infrastructure Commission: Today I sent off SENRUG's final input to NECTAR's (the North East Transport Activists Round Table) submission to the NIC's call for Evidence on infrastructure projects required in this region. SENRUG's response included re-opening the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line plus a small paragraph saying the early phases of Network Rail's GRIP process for appraising new rail schemes is too lengthy, complex and expensive and is a hindrance to the development of rail projects. Whether NECTAR includes SENRUG's response remains to be seen.

Tue 17th Jan 2017 Morpeth Station: Useful meeting today with the Northern team, Morpeth Town Council and SENRUG Committee Member Trevor Watson about plans for changing ticket selling arrangements at the station, alongside increasing the hours the station is staffed. A lot of mis-information has been going around, and this was a good opportunity for Northern to explain what they are intending to do once the station building renovation project is completed. SENRUG is generally supportive, provided the new arrangements are accompanied by a significant improvement in station opening hours, which also gives access to the waiting room and toilet. The meeting also touched on plans to improve parking provision, bus interconnection with the station, and new waiting shelters at the north end of the platforms.

Sun 1st Jan 2017 CrossCountry: I sent off SENRUG’s response to CrossCountry’s consultation on the December 2017 timetable change. As we understand it, CrossCountry will be increasing the number of their trains that call at Morpeth by 2 each way per day, so SENRUG’s response includes our proposals for which extra trains these should be. SENRUG’s response is here.

Mon 19th Dec 2016  Virgin Trains East Coast: Travelled to Edinburgh today on Virgin Trains. On the outward journey, I got an email from Virgin telling me my return train (the 14:00 from Edinburgh) was cancelled, and advising me I would be permitted to get either the 13:30 or 14:30 instead, neither of which stop at Morpeth. I later discovered Virgin were arranging for the 14:30 to make an extra stop at Morpeth. A pity the email didn’t mention that. Though even this would still get me back to Morpeth over half an hour late, as would the earlier train, which would involve going to Newcastle then travelling back. As it happened, I finished my business in Edinburgh early so asked if I could get a train before the 13:30 but was told “no”. Maybe the problem is that Virgin have no-one with authority to make that decision at Waverley station. So, I got the ultra-crowded 14:30, arriving back 45 minutes late, and claimed the Delay Repay instead. At Waverley station, there were clear announcements saying the 14:30 would also be making additional stops at Doncaster and Peterborough (other stations the 14:00 was due to stop at) so passengers for those stations all got on too. But once on board, the Conductor missed these stations out when he announced where the train would call. However the Virgin on board wifi website landing page, which gives running details of the train you are on, clearly showed the train would in fact stop at Doncaster and Peterborough and many passengers for those stations pointed this out to the Conductor as he passed through the train. The Conductor remained adamant the train would not stop at these places. So, a Christmas pantomime of "Oh yes it is" from passengers waving their phones in the air, followed by "Oh no it isn't" from the Conductor ensued, still unresolved when I left the train at Morpeth, noting the Morpeth CIS was not showing this replacement service at all. Passengers waiting for the new 15:15 southbound had presumably just seen from the CIS the train was cancelled and not been advised a replacement service would be stopping 45 minutes later, and had presumably given up and gone home. Here at SENRUG, we acknowledge that disruption does happen from time to time, but we expect the train companies to be better at managing the communication of information to passengers than this.

Mon 12th Dec 2016  SENRUG Public Meeting: Extremely well attended public meeting with Neal Smith from Virgin, who stressed that from today there are an extra 26 Virgin Trains at Morpeth per week. Good range of questions, comments and suggestions on a wide range of issues concerning the Virgin Trains experience which Neal answered well.

Mon 12th Dec 2016  TransPennine Express: Attended excellent Stakeholder Event in Newcastle today. Can’t wait for the TPE trains to be extended to Morpeth and Edinburgh (we’re still pushing for Cramlington) from December 2019. Apparently, TPE still have to be granted the running rights by ORR, even though it’s a franchise commitment to DfT. Not exactly joined up government, but let’s hope all proceeds without a hitch.

Thur 8th Dec 2016  Virgin Trains East Coast: Following SENRUG’s Press Release, we got excellent coverage in our local press on the additional Virgin Trains at Morpeth starting this weekend. Please note the additional weekend trains are not in the printed timetable but you will see them in online journey planners and booking systems

Thur 8th Dec 2016  Middlesbrough Station: Travelled to Middlesbrough today on Northern. All went well; trains on time. But I had trouble leaving the station. Followed the signs, under the subway to northbound platform, where the sign pointed through a brick wall. Ticket Office staff disappeared as I approached, but there were a couple of Network Rail guys in high viz suits sitting around having a break, so I asked them where the way out is. “It’s closed” was their reply. I had to retrace my steps back to the other platform. And yes, there was a sign saying “closed” but that appeared to refer just to one of the 2 stairways. TPE apparently manage the station, which was a little surprising given its drab appearance – but much better signage during these maintenance works is needed.

Thur 24th Nov 2016
Tyne Valley CRP: Excellent event at Hexham station attended by Neil Pothecary and myself. Interesting to see how a CRP works in practice

Tue 22 Nov 16 

SENRUG Committee: Great Committee Meeting tonight. Really appreciate people giving up their evening to help the work of our committee. But, we’re always keen to attract new faces, so do drop me an email if you are interested.

Wed 12th Oct 2016 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Delighted to hear Northumberland County Council have announced they are proceeding with the GRIP 3 Study from Network Rail. This is a crucial next step and has not come a moment too soon. After this comes the GRIP 4, then someone signs the cheque and construction work begins. The Council's Press Release talks about trains running by early 2021. After 12 years of campaigning we can say "well done" to our local authority. Whilst the project could still fail at the GRIP 3 or 4 stage, it now really does look like this re-opening scheme will happen.

Tue 11th Oct 2016 Virgin Trains East Coast: Today I attended Virgin's Stakeholder meeting at York. Mainly about the exiting new Azuma Train to be introduced over the next couple of years but also I was pleased to hear Virgin are still working hard behind the scenes to get more weekend trains for Morpeth, to augment the already announced extra weekday trains from December 2016. I was also pleased to note that Virgin's senior management team seem very aware of both SENRUG and myself and it does seem we come across to them as a respected campaign group.

Fri 8th Oct 2016 CIS: Customer Information Screens at unstaffed stations are only worth having if they are correct. Returning to Cramlington after a trip to Manchester, the following photo shows what the CIS at Cramlington's southbound station was showing. The 3 further evening trains after the 17:57 have disappeared, as have all tomorrow morning's trains. No engineering works as far as I'm aware. Certainly no posters to that effect on the station or reference to replacement busses. Another case I think of a CIS which is simply wrong.

Fri 8th Oct 2016 North Sea Coast Local Service Campaign: Delighted to see this featured in RAIL Magazine. Good to see the campaign getting some national coverage (it's issue 810, 28 Sep 2016, page 23)

Fri 30th Sep 2016 CrossCountry: Delighted to see the DfT announcement today about the new CrossCountry Direct award. This requires CrossCountry to increase the number of stops at Morpeth from 3 to 5 each way per day from December 2017. This follows SENRUG's meeting with the DfT last December, along with the Mayor of Morpeth in the Mayor's Parlour. We don't yet know which services it will be, but we are expecting it to be the ones proposed in the SENRUG business case submission to DfT which is here. SENRUG's Press Release in response to the announcement is here.

Thur 29th Sep 2016 North Sea Coast Local Service Campaign: I was pleased to be invited onto BBC Radio Newcastle's Breakfast Show to talk about this campaign. Although in the end, it seemed like I only got 30 seconds or so on ait, making the 1 hour round trip to the BBC Studio hard to justify. And it appears Licence Payer's money doesn't run to fixing the BBC's coffee machine in the waiting area outside the studio which has been out of order every time I've visited for the last couple of years, which is not fun after a 6.30 am start. So next time I think I'll go for the telephone interview instead. Nevertheless, it's good Radio Newcastle covered the campaign which also included contributions from residents of Widdrington and RAGES.
Wed 28th Sep 2016 Cramlington: Excellent meeting today, led by Northumberland County Council, with the train operators in attendance, about SENRUG's twin campaigns of doubling train service frequency at Cramlington, and moving the station so that it's right next to Manor Walks Shopping Centre. SENRUG launched the campaign to move the station last September and is pleased the Council have now taken over ownership of the project. Also pleased that the plan featured on the front page of this week's News Post Leader

Tue 13th Sep 2016 Public Meeting: Excellent meeting tonight with guest speaker Mike Paterson from Northern Railway. We had a good turn out and excellent range of questions. It was good to hear Mike being positive about the possibility of increase the opening hours at Morpeth station ticket office. And that he was willing to look at the possibility of extending Morpeth services on to Widdrington. We were very grateful to Mike and Pete Myers for travelling to Morpeth to speak to us.

Mon 12th Sep 2016 RAGES: Today I went to Reston to speak to RAGES, The Rail Action Group East of Scotland. My talk seemed to go down well and RAGES members were keen to hear what is happening south of the border. And I felt we at SENRUG have a lot to learn from RAGES. They get more people at their public meetings than us, and a good half dozen of their attendees were local authority Councillors. What a pity SENRUG doesn't attract that level of support from our own elected representatives.

Thur 8th Sep 2016 More Virgin Trains at Morpeth: Front page coverage in the Morpeth Herald, with further coverage in the Journal and Northumberland Gazette, about the joint SENRUG / Virgin announcement of extra trains at Morpeth from December. SENRUG worked very hard to get these additional services - 2 extra Morpeth - London trains per day each way, which create some off peak journey opportunities, and also re-instatement of the 18:30 from Edinburgh to Morpeth which is a key return commuter service.

Wed 7th Sep 2016 SENRUG Committee: Tonight's meeting mainly discussed progress on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening (Northumberland County Council confirm they have now received the GRIP 2 Report from Network Rail) and our new North Sea Coast local rail service campaign, which is being launched next week

Mon 5th Sep 2016 North Sea Coast Local Rail Service: Whilst we've campaigned for a north of Morpeth local service for some time, today we are re-launching this campaign, jointly with RAGES (Rail Action Group East of Scotland) and calling for a local rail link from Newcastle to Edinburgh, stopping at every local station en route, with Beal and Belford re-opened south of the border and Reston and East Linton re-opened in Scotland. The campaign launch is supported by new colour brochures which have been sent to key stakeholders. See our Press Release here.
Sat 3rd Sep 2016 Aln Valley Railway: A quick visit to the 2nd of their annual model railway exhibitions where SENRUG is exhibiting in an attempt to attract more members. Thanks to those SENRUG members who agreed to man the stand, and thanks to the AVR for giving SENRUG the opportunity and their hospitality to us throughout the weekend.

Tue 16th Aug 2016 Morpeth Station Re-Development: Useful meeting this afternoon with both Northern Railway and Greater Morpeth Development Trust (GMDT - who are leading on this project). Also time to catch up again with the Managers from Northern Railway. We met on the station, and were able to assist some passengers struggling to use the ticket vending machine, which is not intuitive in the way that Railcard discounts are applied.

Wed 10th Aug 2016 Cramlington: Met today with Northumberland County Council and Cramlington Development Trust. The good news is that it does now appear the County Council are willing to lead on the scheme to re-locate the station. the Council need to do some preparatory work and then the next step is a meeting with the train companies involved.

Mon 8th Aug 2016 Thank Yous: My daughter's friend from Lithuania had collected her ticket from Morpeth's ticket vending machine and after a morning's sightseeing, was then travelling from Alnmouth to Peterborough. She hadn't realised she needed to collect 2 coupons from the machine, and only on arrival at Alnmouth did she realise she did not have the ticket itself, only the collection receipt. But someone had handed in the missing ticket at Morpeth, and Betty had faxed it onto Alnmouth with a note saying what had happened. The guard on the VTEC train said that in the circumstances, he would accept the fax copy of the ticket with the note from Northern Railway and allow the passenger to travel without re-paying. Thank you to the person who found the ticket at Morpeth, to Betty who faxed it to Alnmouth, the ticket office clerk at Alnmouth who re-united it with a worried passenger, and the VTEC train guard who accepted the fax copy, all of you went that little bit further and made someone's experience of visiting this country a pleasant one.

Wed 27th July 2016 Northern Railway: Today I met Mike Paterson, the new North East Regional Director for Northern Railway, who took over the franchise from the 1st April 2016. A useful meeting, in which I ran through all our campaigns relating to Northern Railway, in particular what could be done in the short term, and the need for Morpeth Station ticket office opening hours to be extended.

Fri 22nd July 2016 Ashington, Blyth & Tyne Line: My phone's been ringing all week, and several enquiries on the SENRUG website, all querying ongoing press coverage on the "Metro to Ashington" plan. We are delighted that NECA's report to its Members Board was accepted at their meeting last Tuesday, but please journalists and Councillors, this is NOT what the report says. The report makes it clear the route to Ashington will be on the existing heavy rail freight route. I can understand journalists either being lazy and not reading the report in full, or perhaps not understanding what they are reading. But I'm surprised to hear senior Councillors (not from Northumberland I hasten to add) coming on television to say we are extending the Metro to Ashington. Creating confusion in this way will not help us progress the project.

Tue 19th July 2016 Seattle - Carlisle Tour: Today I took a round trip from Morpeth to Carlisle, then over the Seattle-Carlisle line to Leeds, (well replacement bus as far as Armathwaite), Northern train from Leeds to York then back on VTEC to Morpeth. A very worthwhile trip and thoroughly recommended. Special Round Robin Rover tickets can be bought from Newcastle, sadly not valid from Morpeth. I got off at Dent station and tried to walk over the moors to the next station, passing the Ribblehead Viaduct, but sadly, having chosen the hottest day of the year, I got a bit dehydrated and was obliged to return to Dent, grateful to a passing motorist who gave me a lift back along the road section and up the very steep hill to the station. At Leeds, yet another problem with the CIS as I waited for my train to York. It's actually the CrossCountry train to Plymouth waiting by the CIS display saying it is the Northern Rail to York, much to the bewilderment of waiting passengers. And at York, the VTEC was running late meaning I was in danger of missing the bus back to Bedlington and have another hour to wait to get home. But the conductor of the train in front, similarly running late, let me take that train so at least I got to Newcastle ok, and got a bus from there, arriving home not too much later than my scheduled time. 

Fri 15th July 2016  Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: I received a call from ITV local news today wanting to interview me for a piece they are running tonight on “extending the Metro to Ashington”! I carefully quizzed the researcher as to his source documents which seemed heavily dependent on a piece on the Chronicle Live website posted today. This in turn is based on a paper going to the North East Combined Assembly (NECA) board on Tuesday night. I established that neither source says it will be Metro to Ashington, both make it clear that the link to Ashington will be via the heavy rail route via Benton Junction. So I did the interview which was duly aired as the lead piece on the local news, but part of a wider piece on Metro expansion, which those of us at the last but one Railfuture North East branch meeting will have recognised from the NECA “future vision” presentation. Nevertheless, confusion still reigned in the ITV piece since after having interviewed me at Bedlington station they then went out on the street asking people “What do you think about Metro to Bedlington?” Just to be clear, SENRUG has no issue as to how the trains are branded or who runs them, but we believe strongly the shorter heavy rail route from Newcastle to Northumberland Park must be taken. NECA and as far as we know Northumberland County Council are on the same page. But just about everyone else is getting mighty confused.

Thurs 7th July 2016  Northern: Good to hear Pete Myers speak at Railfuture North East branch meeting tonight. Particularly pleased to note he has been re-appointed as Stakeholder Manager for the North East region for Northern. Pete was one of the best Stakeholder Managers we had under the old Northern Rail franchise so excellent that he remains in post here in the North east, and commiserations to those rail user groups in other parts of the former Northern Rail North area who will be losing him.

Tue 5th July 2016  Public Meeting & AGM: Excellent public meeting tonight with Nigel Harris and Christian Wolmar of RAIL Magazine. A bit of a scare the night before when Nigel and Christian suddenly announced they would not be speaking on the subject as had been previously agreed with their office, and apologies to those who travelled a long way in response to our publicity expecting that. But the meeting was nevertheless extremely enjoyable, and yes, we did manage to extract a few off the cuff comments from Nigel and Christian on the thorny subject of rail re-nationalisation, on which, much as I had predicted, they completely disagreed! After the meeting was our AGM, at which the committee were re-elected to their existing positions unopposed, and Geoff Stainthorpe joined our committee as an additional member. 

Sat 2nd July 2016 Ashington - Stobswood Link: Despite the rain, I had a very enjoyable day with SENRUG Committee Member Andrew Carmichael starting in Ashington Community Woods, following the track of the privately owned freight line from Ashington to Butterwell (as far as could be done from public land), which then rejoins the East Coast Main Line at Stobswood. I had to agree with Andrew that this route could easily be brought into service as a double track line creating a second freight and diversionary route for main line services between Benton Junction and Stobswood, maybe even for local trains between Ashington and Alnmouth. Leaving Ashington, the line is pretty much dead straight for long sections and reasonable speeds could easily be obtained. But first, we have to get the main Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line re-opened. Meanwhile, this alignment must be protected. The East Coast Main Line between Newcastle and Berwick is bound to run out of capacity soon. Here is the answer ready and waiting. Ultimately we suspect both the Ashington Blyth and Tyne itself will and this Ashington - Stobswood section will need to be electrified. An east to north facing junction also needs to be constructed at Stobswood. 

Fri 24th June 2016  VTEC: Today myself and Murray Davies of ARUG (Alnmouth Rail User Group) met Virgin Trains East Coast. Top of the list to discuss was the re-instatement of the 18:30 from Edinburgh service which called at Alnmouth and Morpeth prior to May 2016. I was also hopeful that Virgin will be able to deliver some other service improvements for Morpeth from December 2016, and other longer term aspirations were discussed as well. On the way to York, I noticed the CIS at Morpeth station was being rather unhelpful and reported it to Northern. With the EU Referendum result announced just a few hours earlier, perhaps the CIS was trying to tell us that no-one really knows where we are going!

Thurs 23rd June 2016  Morpeth Herald: I was pleased to note today's edition of the Herald, normally a strong supporter of SENRUG, had published my letter in full, strongly refuting the claim made by their columnist last week that campaigns to re-open new railway lines in South East Northumberland were only "half-hearted". 

Tue 14th June 2016  Committee: At tonight's committee meeting we discussed our upcoming public meeting on 5th July, Northern's new station Adoption Scheme, and plans for a new leaflet on our north of Morpeth local service leaflet. 

Thurs 9th June 2016  Northern: To Newcastle this afternoon to meet Northern and hear about their new Station Adoption scheme. There are many things Northern are trying to do with Adoption that we would fully support. But our concern is the new scheme, at first sight, appears not to be able to work well with groups such as SENRUG and favours either single station "Friends of ..." groups or Community Rail Partnerships. SENRUG is neither. However we are very keen to be formally recognised as the Adopters for Cramlington, Morpeth, Pegswood & Widdrington. Possibly Acklington and Chathill too if no other group wants them. We await feedback from Northern.
Wed 8th June 2016  Cramlington. Now I'm back from holiday I'm very keen to get cracking on taking our Cramlington proposals forward. But the Cramlington Development Trust have asked we hold fire, as they understand Northumberland County Council are now willing to own the project to relocate the station. That would indeed be fantastic news ... but the Chief Executive of the Council has already written to me in dismissive tones saying the Council will not lead on the project and SENRUG must make the running. We will try to have a meeting between all 3 parties and sort out who is doing what. Time however is running out if we want to influence the TPE services calling pattern in favour of Cramlington from when their trains start running on to Edinburgh in 2019. If the Council have had a change of heart on the station relocation issue - welcome though that would be - it would be courteous if they could let SENRUG know and perhaps be willing to work a little more collaboratively with us.
Fri 27th May 2016  Ashington Blyth & Tyne: Very useful morning giving a road tour of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line to Tobyn Hughes, Director of Rail at NECA (North East Combined Authority). Accompanied by Committee Member Trevor Watson (also Chair of Railfuture North East), we started at Morpeth and went to Ashington then Woodhorn then back to Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval, Seghill and finishing at Northumberland Park for Tobyn’s return metro home. Tobyn will be an important ally in moving the project forward. 

Fri 13th May 2016


First Morpeth – London Service: Lack of wifi on Amtrak meant I missed the exciting announcement that First Group has been successful in their bid with the ORR to run 5 open access trains a day between Edinburgh and London, stopping at Morpeth and Newcastle. This is on top of the already announced extension of TPE Liverpool – Newcastle services on to Morpeth and Edinburgh. Taken together, Morpeth to Edinburgh will become simple with a frequency of better than hourly, whilst the 5 Morpeth – London services will also give much more choice as to times of travel. Sadly, the new London service won’t start until May 2021. For SENRUG’s reaction, see our Press Release.

Thurs 12th May 2016  Amtrak: On holiday in the USA, today was the start of our epic journey via Amtrak down the West Coast of America from Seattle to San Diego. We had been somewhat alarmed by numerous trip advisor reviews to the effect that “anyone used to train travel in Europe is going to be in for a rude shock”. However, all our trains arrived on time (despite stoppages and delays en route of up to half an hour at times – such is the fat in the timetabling system). But service! Any UK train company beats them. And travelling first class through Silicon Valley without adequate wifi certainly made me think about how much we take for granted here in the UK.

Mon 27th April 2016  Cramlington: Another meeting today with Cramlington Development Trust as we progress our plans to win more services and a relocated station at Cramlington.

Sat 23rd April 2016 VTEC Timetable Change: A few weeks ago we learned that from May 2016, VTEC are withdrawing the key 18:30 Edinburgh to Morpeth service, replacing it with a Morpeth call on an alternative train an hour later. SENRUG has strongly opposed the move believing the replacement train to be too late for commuters, business visitors and leisure day-trippers. Morpeth to London passengers will find their single evening service now arrives at Kings Cross at 01:05, way too late to check in to a hotel or turn up at a friend's house with any decency, instead of the pre May 2016 more respectable 23:37 arrival.  A classic case of not stress-testing the impact on Morpeth of plans to enhance Edinburgh – London services. SENRUG has lobbied furiously on the point and whilst we now have confidence our point has been understood, it is apparently too late for VTEC to reverse the May change, though we are promised this, and other possible improvements for Morpeth, will be looked at again for December 2016.

Meanwhile, passengers wishing to return from Edinburgh to Morpeth after 18:00 will now need to take the earlier 18:05 and change on to the Chathill Chugger at Alnmouth, for which dubious privilege they will find the advanced ticket price some 3 times more expensive as the journey now involves more than one operator. Those needing to travel from Morpeth to London in the evening will need to leave an hour earlier at 18:54 and change at both Newcastle and Doncaster to get into Kings Cross before midnight, instead of the current direct service at 19:57 from Morpeth.

Thurs 21st April 2016  Community Meetings: The last, and best attended of SENRUG's current series of community meetings tonight at Newsham, where 19 people turned up to find out more about who SENRUG are, what we campaign for and why. Thanks to those SENRUG Members who supported the event, one working very hard to get her neighbours and friends to come along  - much appreciated effort by the committee.

Tue 12th Apr 2016 Public Meeting: Another excellent public meeting at Morpeth Town Hall, with guest speakers Barrie Forest and Allison Cosgrove from RAGES - Rail Action Group East of Scotland. Heartening to see the good turn out despite the miserable weather. There seems to be real scope for closer co-operation with RAGES especially on the issue of a Newcastle to Edinburgh local service calling at all stations, with Belford and Beal south of the border and East Linton and Reston north of the border re-opened.

Mon 4th Apr 2016  Community Meetings: Widdrington tonight, for the last but one of our series of meetings explaining who SENRUG are and what we campaign for. Not as many present as we might have hoped for, but an interesting discussion with those that did turn out, and whose support is much appreciated. It goes without saying that everyone present wanted more local services to Widdrington, and I remain convinced there is a window of opportunity, but I fear Widdrington will need to make their voice heard a little louder to ensure it gets its place within the current rail expansion plans. If you've not yet been to one of SENRUG's Community Meetings, or want to hear our presentation again, last chance will be Newsham on Thursday 21st April.

Fri 18th Mar 2016 Virgin Trains East Coast: A useful meeting this morning at Newcastle discussing the possibility of a few extra Morpeth calls on VTEC services from December 16. No promises as yet but we did press our case hard so it is going to be a case of "Watch This Space". Meanwhile a more immediate issue has arisen. It seems the May 2016 change involves removing the Alnmouth and Morpeth calls on the 18:30 south from Edinburgh (19:57 at Morpeth) and replacing it with a different train leaving Edinburgh at 19:35 (20:54 at Morpeth). This is really bad news, as the 18:30 from Edinburgh is a useful return service both for business people and day trippers (the only other choice for Morpeth passengers being the 16:00 XC). For those travelling to London "the night before" for a business meeting or flight the next morning, the replacement service won't arrive in London until 01:05, after the tube has closed, and too late to check-in to a hotel with any decency. So, although the May timetables are apparently already in print, we are asking VTEC to look again at this issue and reverse it, even if the printed timetables are inaccurate. Let's hope they see sense.

Sat 12th Mar 2016 Arriva & First: It’s been a busy week, starting with our well attended Community Meeting at Newbiggin on Monday (see below). Then on Thursday, a quick meeting at Morpeth with old friend and ally Paul Salveson, now working for Arriva Rail. Paul seemed very interested in our campaign for a north of Morpeth local service. Later that evening I gave a presentation on SENRUG to Doxford Place Methodist Church Men’s Group in Cramlington, again well attended. Then on Friday was the Rail North stakeholder briefing at Newcastle. Gerry Sothcott from the Cramlington Development Trust and I sat down with First Group to press the case for their new Edinburgh service (starting December 2019) to call at Cramlington. We then discussed with both First and Arriva the SENRUG plan to relocate Cramlington Station so that it’s right next to Manor Walks and integrated with a new bus station. Next action for these important Cramlington initiatives is to invite the key players to a briefing in Cramlington so we can present the case in more detail. Finally, on Saturday, I attended an excellent Railfuture North East Branch Meeting with guest speaker Tobyn Hughes, Managing Director (Transport Operations) at the North East Combined Authority (NECA). Tobyn gave an excellent talk, giving not only the history of the Metro system but also presenting a clear vision for further rail expansion, both Metro and heavy rail, in the North East. Delighted to note that Tobyn’s “vision slide” included not just the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line but also the Ashington – Stobswood section as well (as well as several schemes south of the Tyne). Finally, a chance meeting on the train home with Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery – a strong supporter of SENRUG – gave us a chance for a quick chat on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening campaign which genuinely does seem to be making progress. 

Mon 7th Mar 2016 Community Meeting: Tonight we were at Newbiggin, for the 6th of our community meetings. Very interesting discussion, inevitably with most interest on the campaign to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line. Strong agreement that the Woodhorn Station should be at the Museum, and of course everyone present wanted the line to eventually be extended across the former track bed to Newbiggin itself

Tues 1st Mar 2016 Northern Bows Out: Today was the final Stakeholder Briefing in Newcastle from Northern Rail prior to the expiry of the contract at the end of this month, at which point Arriva take over. Northern have achieved a great deal during their custodianship and should be congratulated for it. Further, they truly have kept on developing until the very last minute – no taking their eye of the ball in the last few months, which as MD Alex Haynes pointed out is just as well – since a whole series of franchise extensions means that Northern have been in their “final few months” for several years now. A local example is that, en route to Newcastle, I discovered remotely controlled PA announcements have just been introduced at Cramlington. I was impressed with the presentation from Commercial Director Richard Allen about the introduction of advance tickets on certain key routes to optimise yield management (techno speak for “sell more tickets for lightly loaded trains”). But why then, I asked, had Northern withdrawn the off-peak fare on the Morpeth – Newcastle route? Surely that is counter-intuitive? No-one seemed to know the answer to that. Let’s hope incoming franchisee Arriva quickly reverse this nonsense.

Tue 16th Feb 2016  First TransPennine Express: Another briefing, this time in Manchester, giving me an opportunity to try out Manchester’s new tram from Victoria Station to Piccadilly Gardens. Our main interest in the new TPE service is that they will extend an hourly service from Newcastle to Edinburgh from 2019, stopping at Morpeth. But I was disconcerted to hear this plan is technically dependant on TPE getting the track access rights which are not yet “in the bag”. Informal discussion after the meeting suggested this is just a formality and the new service is definitely coming. I certainly hope so. But I’m getting more and more worried there will still be capacity on the 3 miles from Newcastle to Benton Junction that our much campaigned for Ashington Blyth & Tyne line re-opening is going to need.

Thur 11th Feb 2016 SENRUG Committee: Our committee meeting tonight mainly discussed plans for the remainder of our Community Meetings, a public meeting in April, and feedback on the various briefings and meetings I had attended. 

Wed 10th Feb 2016  Customer Information Screens: Whilst at Morpeth station for the meeting with the Bus Manager mentioned below, some passengers asked me for assistance. The 14:50 XC service was showing as “cancelled”. Should they get a taxi direct to Edinburgh, or a train back to Newcastle in the hope of picking up an Edinburgh train from there? Then the CIS changed to show the train simultaneously cancelled and arriving 1 minute late. No further information, clarification or advice. Not being able to rouse Northern Rail’s control room (since Northern control the CIS), I got on to Pete Myers, our helpful Stakeholder Relations Manager, who immediately arranged for a specific announcement to be made. It turned out XC were running a special train, starting at Newcastle, at the same time as the cancelled one which was stuck south of Durham. So I was able to assure the 20 or so waiting passengers (some of whom were starting to leave the platform - partly because the CIS didn't say what platform the train would be on) to stay where they were as a train was definitely arriving. But returning to the station around 16:45, I noticed the 17:16 Bristol train was showing as going to Newcastle only, again with no information as to what passengers should do. Would there be another train waiting at Newcastle, or should passengers abort their journey at Morpeth and go home? 
Wed 10th Feb 2016  Bus Integration: Finally had that meeting with the Commercial Manager from Arriva Bus this afternoon. Whilst the meeting was constructive with us both agreeing on the need for busses to serve stations, I was told there is very little that Arriva can do, since all routes have short turn round times at their destinations so even short diversions or additions are not possible without cutting out another bit of the route, or having additional vehicles and crew.

Tue 9th Feb 2016  Political Meeting: Another political party invited me to their local meeting to give my standard presentation on SENRUG. Again warmly received, and hopefully some of our local political activists will join SENRUG shortly. 

Tue 9th Feb 2016  Virgin Trains East Coast: Today myself and Trevor Watson attended a VTEC Stakeholder Briefing in York. Lots of exciting plans, and VTEC want to extend more trains on to Edinburgh. Which created an opportunity for me to point out to MD David Horne that VTEC had never replied to our request for more of their services to stop at Morpeth, which contrasts sharply with competing open access bids, one of which has clearly communicated plans for Morpeth to SENRUG. Action was promised.

Thurs 4th Feb 2016  Community Meeting:  Tonight it was Ashington’s turn for our local community meeting, at which we explain who SENRUG are and what we do. Many thanks to Ashington Town Council for facilitating the meeting for us. We had a good number there, including some Town and County Councillors, and tried an earlier start time of 6 pm though I’m not sure if that idea was successful. 

Wed 3rd Feb 2016 Bus Integration: My meeting with Arriva Bus, scheduled for today, has been cancelled for a 2nd time which is disappointing. It will hopefully be re-scheduled for next week. I am hoping Arriva will respond positively to SENRUG's requests for busses to serve the Station turning circles at both Morpeth and Cramlington

Tue 26th Jan 2016 Rail North: Today was a busy day. David Hoggarth, Director of Rail North had kindly accepted an invitation to speak at our public meeting in Morpeth this evening. The meeting itself went well with good attendance and a diverse range of questions put to David after his talk. Prior to the meeting, Committee Member Andrew Carmichael and myself took David on a tour of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line, stopping at Bedlington, Ashington, Woodhorn, the trackbed from the A189 Spine Road into Newbiggin, then down to Seaton Delaval and back to Newsham. We saw this opportunity to give such an influential person a heads up on our re-opening campaign invaluable. We understand that earlier in the day David had a private meeting with Northumberland County Council to discuss the scheme. We had invited the County Council to join us on our tour but no-one was available. So it wasn't quite the same as August 2012 when the County Council and SENRUG jointly hosted officers from the DfT and took them on a tour of the line together, but progress is nevertheless being made albeit agonisingly slowly.

Wed 20th Jan 2016 Virgin Trains East Coast: A pleasant trip down to Huntingdon via Peterborough with no mishaps. But what a surprise when, just before arriving at Peterborough, a tannoy announcement invited standard class passengers to come down to the buffet car where a very small selection of the first class food offer was available on a complimentary basis. It sounded too good to be true, but there was no catch. Full marks to Virgin Trains who have obviously decided that rather than through away good food at the end of the journey, it was a chance to tempt standard class passengers to upgrade to first on their next trip.
Mon 4th Jan 2016  Political Meeting: Tonight I gave a talk to a local branch of a political party. Something SENRUG has often wondered if it would ever be asked to do, and my first visit ever to a political meeting. SENRUG of course is not politically aligned and I asked the party in question to confirm they accepted that giving the talk did not imply that either I personally or SENRUG agreed with that particular party's views or policies. SENRUG will ask any political party to agree to this condition before giving a talk. However it was a great evening and 5 attendees joined SENRUG afterwards. Subsequently I have been asked to give a talk to a different party - this will be on 9th Feb. 

Wed 16th Dec 2015 New Franchise Announcements: Finally for today, pleased to see our piece on the new franchises made it into this week's News Post Leader. Although unfortunately, the crucial bit about First's new service not starting until 2019 has got chopped which might cause some false expectations. But if it sends people to the SENRUG website in search of more details then great. SENRUG appreciates the strong support it receives from the local press.

Wed 16th Dec 2015 Bus Integration: Got home from the DfT meeting to find Arriva Bus had called, following my letter to them 2 days ago. It's been a long time coming but they seemed very positive about SENRUG's proposals for their busses serving the stations at Morpeth and Cramlington. A meeting has been set up for the new year.

Wed 16th Dec 2015 CrossCountry: Very constructive meeting this morning with the Department For Transport to discuss SENRUG's response to their consultation on the proposed Direct Award. A copy of our Consultation Response is here. It felt like the DfT understood the arguments we were making and we will await their response with interest. Special thanks to Mayor of Morpeth Cllr Alison Byard for supporting me in the meeting and offering use of the Mayoral Parlour. Having our DfT man come to Morpeth, by train, also gave opportunity to raise issues such as how to get the local operator who runs the station to provide facilities which primarily benefit the inter-city passengers, such as CIS Screens and waiting shelters at the northern end of the platform (used by Virgin Trains East Coast standard class passengers), and getting access to the Waiting Room and Toilet after the Ticket Office closes at 12:40

Mon 14th Dec 2015 Letters: It's been a day of writing letters. Firstly to Steven Mason, Chief Exec of Northumberland County Council, who never replied to my earlier letter of 3rd September about SENRUG's proposal to move Cramlington Station and build an integrated train and bus station next to Manor Walks Shopping Centre. Then to Patrick Meliah, Chief Exec of North Tyneside Council who likewise never replied to my earlier letter also of 3rd September about our proposals for a new station at Killingworth, and finally to Arriva Bus Northumberland asking once again if they could arrange for their bus routes to serve Morpeth and Cramlington stations given the alleged commitment of Arriva's board to integrated public transport, and the fact that Arriva will be running the local train services at Morpeth and Cramlington from April 2016.

Wed 9th Dec 2015 New Franchise Announcements: This morning the DfT announced the winners of the new franchises for Northern and TransPennine Express, which are Arriva and First Group respectively. The First Group bid includes extension of hourly TPE services from Newcastle to Edinburgh, calling at Morpeth (from 2019). SENRUG had lobbied very hard for TPE trains to call at Cramlington and Morpeth, and it was encouraging to receive a call from First Group shortly after the announcement was made thanking me for my input to their winning bid. We still need to lobby for Cramlington however. I spent most of the morning checking details of both companies' proposals on theirs and the DfT website, and placing a few calls to Arriva to clarify some details. Then issued our own Press Release which you can see here. It is interesting to note that Arriva was the only one of the Northern franchise bidders, and First was the only one of the TPE franchise bidders, that came and spoke to SENRUG during the bid process. We look forward to working with both Arriva and First as they take over the franchises from April 2016.

Mon 7th Dec 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Very useful meeting with Bernard Garner this morning who is working with NCC to progress the re-opening. Geoff Paul, Director of Local Services was due to be present but was apparently sick. Bernard discussed current progress of the scheme, now going through Network Rail's GRIP 2 phase. Bernard is fully aware of and shares my concern to ensure the project is not over-engineered and remains at an affordable price level. There are nevertheless some very genuine issues which will need to be overcome. The report from Network Rail is due in February or March 2016 and that will be a crunch point in determining whether the Council will move forward. I look forward to being kept updated by NCC and appreciated today's meeting, and hope to meet Geoff on another occasion shortly.

Fri 4th Dec 2015 Rail Fares: I was invited to talk on BBC Radio Newcastle's Charlie & Alfie programme this morning. Always good to be on the show, and this time in the studio too rather than a phone interview. The government says wages are going up by 2.4% but rail fares are only increasing by 1.1% so we're better off. But I think the 2.4% increase in wages is a national average - probably much higher in London but lower than that here in the North East. So we have to pay the 1.1% increase in fares with salaries remaining level in most cases. Worse, the government hasn't allowed for station parking charges introduced this year. £2 per day at Morpeth on top of a return fare to Newcastle of £6.30 is actually a 31% increase in the cost of getting to work. Nevertheless, unregulated fares such as the advance £17.65 Morpeth to London single are an absolute bargain - though these fares are not regulated at operators can change or remove them as they wish. SENRUG wants a major simplification of the fares structure to make it easier to know what's what.

Thurs 3rd Dec 2015 SENRUG Committee: Tonight's committee meeting mainly discussed our next Public Meeting and the Community Meetings we've been holding in different localities - which will continue after the new year. It was pleasing to note a small rise in our membership numbers which we attribute to more interest in our work from the Community Meetings, plus recent attendance at model rail exhibitions at the Aln Valley railway and at Blyth.

Fri 20th Nov 2015 Northumberland Core Draft Strategy: Today is the deadline for responding to this consultation and I submitted SENRUG's response on time. It involved reading through the entire document (over 300 pages). The good news is that the Council's aspiration to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line (AB&T) for passengers comes through loud and clear (see policy number 44), and in general terms the line is protected from development. But the protection of station sites and access to them is not specifically spelled out. Also, the Morpeth to Bedlington branch is protected but not Woodhorn to Newbiggin or Newsham to Blyth, neither is there protection for the north to east junction between the East Coast Main Line (ECML) and AB&T at Stobswood, or for eventual doubling of the single track section of the AB&T between the County southern boundary and Newsham, nor Ashington to Stobswood. In addition to the AB&T, the policy as currently worded includes no aspiration to develop services on the ECML, just to "maintain" what we already have. So SENRUG's response is to suggest a strengthening to the wording of policy 44 accordingly. See our full response here.

Meanwhile, Deputy Chair Dan Nesbitt is objecting to a Planning Application at New Hartley which would apparently prevent a station from being located there. This application would be in contravention of the former Blyth Valley Core Strategy which is still current until the Northumberland Core Strategy is adopted. New Hartley is not currently proposed as a station on the re-opened AB&T route but the possibility should be protected for future further development of the line particularly in view of the station's proximity to Seaton Delaval Hall. The former Blyth Valley document also mandated the route from Newsham to Blyth Town Centre be protected - but that didn't stop planning permission being granted for a development at Malvin's Road in Cowpen which now makes it impossible to use this former freight route into Blyth for passenger services. So it does seem getting the wording of these Core Strategies right and unambiguous is important.

Sat 31st Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Many thanks to SENRUG Committee Member Trevor Watson for pointing out I have been quoted in the prestigious Rail Magazine (issue 786) not just once, but twice (pages 11 and 17). Though longstanding SENRUG supporters might be a bit bemused by Rail's comment that SENRUG is supporting the Council's plans. It was of course SENRUG that started the campaign and in the early days the Council did not support it at all. Thankfully, things started to change rapidly after SENRUG's 2008 Charter train to Ashington and we are of course delighted the Council is now taking ownership of the plan.
Fri 30th Oct 2015 SENRUG Exhibition: Today and tomorrow we'll be manning a stand at Newsham Model Railway Exhibition, at St Bede's Parish Centre (Newcastle Road, NE24 4AS -Friday 14:00 to 20:00 and Sat 10:00 to 17:00). This is part of our effort to get the SENRUG message across and hopefully pick up new members from areas where we don't currently have great representation.

Mon 26th Oct 2015 Community Meetings: Tonight was meeting no 4 at Seghill. Some interesting discussion, especially about a proposed new housing development at New Hartley which (based on current plans) remove the possibility of ever having a station on the re-opened Ashington Blyth & Tyne line here. Whilst a station at New Hartley is not currently planned, SENRUG agrees that planning developments along the line should not be permitted to rule out future stations or double tracking, either of which might be required as passenger numbers increase.

Fri 16th Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: ITV Tyne Tees phoned and arranged to do a television interview with me at Bedlington Station on Monday Morning. But on the day itself, they phoned back and cancelled it and said more newsworthy items had come up. I had a feeling they had wanted to get other people involved as well and ditched it when they found out the others were not available, but you can never tell. And of course, it is a full week now since the Council's announcement. However, the campaign has had good coverage in the local press during the week with my own comments featuring in the Evening Chronicle.

Wed 14th Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: Steve Broadbent from the prestigious Rail Magazine has been in contact, following SENRUG's Press Release giving our response to the Council's announcement which I have now confirmed is that they have commissioned the GRIP 2 Study from Network Rail. I gave him lots of information and invited him to come up and visit, which hopefully he will do in the new year. I never realised before but Steve said he was the founder of the SELRAP Skipton - Colne Re-opening Campaign so we had a lot in common about the need to establish genuine co-operative partnerships with local authorities.

Tues 13th Oct 2015 Community Meetings: Tonight was meeting number 3, at Bedlington Station. Good turn out and a lot of interest, though mostly of course in the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening.

Tues 13th Oct 2015 SENRUG Rail Strategy: Very useful meeting with Cllr Alan Hepple this afternoon who holds the Transport and Regeneration Portfolio at Northumberland County Council. I was there to share SENRUG's "Rail Strategy For Northumberland" presentation. It went really well and I found Cllr Hepple receptive and keen to work in partnership with SENRUG. The immediate priority of course is to get the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line re-opened but Cllr Hepple seemed to take the point that the Council should be safeguarding options for further rail developments after that, and that all the different ideas put forward by SENRUG gel together to form a cohesive rail strategy.

Mon 12th Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: This time it was BBC Look North who contacted me and wanted to interview me but by the time I got the message it seemed they had packed up and gone home. But they did a feature with the Council and Network Rail but it never made it onto the evening regional news. Though someone told me they saw it at 06.30 in the morning and it said the Council were extending the Metro to Morpeth and Ashington. That is surely a mistake. The plan is for a heavy rail connection to Ashington, and Morpeth of course is already served by rail. There are numerous reasons why Metro won't work. But my friend was adamant that is what the broadcast said. Sadly I have no way of checking. Did my friend mis-hear or were the BBC mis-briefed or jump to a false conclusion?

Sat 10th Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line: I did the interview with Radio Newcastle as requested. I'm guessing the big announcement they are referring to is the commissioning of the long-awaited GRIP 2 Study with Network Rail. Good news indeed (though the 18 month delay since receiving the GRIP 1 is not so good). Radio Newcastle were a bit cagey about saying when the interview would be used. I listened and listened but never heard it myself, but SENRUG members and indeed other members of the public keep contacting me and saying they have heard it.

Fri 9th Oct 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line. This evening I had a call from radio Newcastle telling me Northumberland County Council were making a big announcement about the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening Campaign on Monday, at Bedlington Station. They wanted to know what the announcement would be and interview me about it. They were surprised Northumberland County Council had not invited me to the event. In the end I agreed to a telephone interview on Saturday Morning.

Mon 5th Oct 2015  Community Meetings: Tonight was our public meeting at Cramlington. The attendance was a little disappointing, but then our plan to display our Exhibition Stand at Manor Walks Shopping Centre the previous Saturday had been cancelled due to misunderstandings about Public Liability Insurance. Nevertheless, a couple of very useful conversations with some Town Councillors and support from the Cramlington Development Trust was welcome.

Tues 29th Sep 2015  Community Meetings: Tonight was the first of our local Community Meetings; this one was at Pegswood. It was not as well attended as we might have hoped but we had an excellent discussion with those that were there. Next meeting is Mon 5th Sep at Cramlington

Sat 26th Sep 2015  Borders Rail: An excellent day out with colleagues from Railfuture North East as we travelled to Galashiels for a Railfuture Scotland meeting with an interesting talk on both the campaign for and the building of the Borders Railway. Of course, we all went on to Tweedbank as well and returned to Galashiels, just to have travelled on the entire route. On the return journey, I was optimistic in hoping that the 16:59 arrival at Edinburgh Waverley might allow me to catch the 17:00 VTEC southbound service home via Alnmouth, sadly it was not to be, so I had to wait 2 hours at Waverley station for the 19:00 musing about why Morpeth needs a better service to / from Edinburgh. 

Fri 25th Sep 2015  Northern Rail: I attended an excellent Stakeholder Briefing with Northern Rail at Leeds. Far from “slowing down” during the last 6 months of their management of the franchise, the company convinced us they were pressing ahead with a range of improvements and if whoever wins the new franchise continues with the same momentum then we should start to see tangible improvements soon.

Mon 21st Sep 2015  Virgin Trains East Coast: Tonight I was due to meet my daughter at Morpeth Station from the 22.26 arrival from Aberdeen & Edinburgh. Sadly the train was running over an hour late. A rather peculiar point was that the advertised scheduled arrival time of the train had been moved from 22.26 to 22.41, not just for tonight but for the whole week, which was puzzling because the VTEC website was showing “there are no planned engineering works affecting our services today”. So although the train was over an hour late, for compensation purposes the delay would only show as 45 minutes against the mysteriously moved scheduled time. It was all academic anyway as my daughter was travelling on a free ticket obtained with the last of her East Coast profiles points, so not entitled to any compensation anyway despite her disastrous journey experience.

Tue 15th Sep 2015  SENRUG Public Meeting:  Tonight’s meeting at Morpeth Town Hall was a departure from our usual custom as Neil Pothecary and various other SENRUG members shared slides and experiences of travelling on some of the great railways of Asia, making for a very enjoyable evening.

Mon 14th Sep 2015  Move Cramlington Station Campaign: Tonight I met with Cllr Flux from Cramlington to discuss our campaign to move the station so it is adjacent to Manor Walks. Cllr Flux thought local residents in Beaconhill would be unlikely to support the scheme which is surprising as there would be a number of distinct advantages but no obvious disadvantages to the proposal for Beaconhill. So don’t forget: if you support this or any other of SENRUG’s campaigns, make sure your County Councillor is aware of your support and ask him or her to support it too.

Thur 10th Sep 2015  Cramlington and Killingworth: Pleased to see our 2 new campaigns made it to the front page of The News Post Leader, our local paper.

Tues 8th Sep 2015  SENRUG Committee: Mostly we discussed our plans for the forthcoming Local Community meetings, and of course what might be happening re Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening. We are hopeful that Northumberland County Council will be announcing the next step shortly.

Mon 7th Sep 2015  Cramlington and Killingworth: Today SENRUG launched 2 new campaigns, to move Cramlington station 200 metres south so that it is adjacent to Manor Walks Shopping Area (click here for details), and for a brand new station at Killingworth (click here for details). Considerable work has been undertaken before formally launching the campaigns. Let’s hope Northumberland and North Tyneside Councils respectively see the merit in our proposals and agree to lead these projects through the Network Rail process.

Sun 6th Sep 2015  Aln Valley Railway Exhibition: I was delighted to join other SENRUG members at the Aln Valley Railway Model Railway Exhibition. A good number of people showed interest in our exhibition about SENRUG, and a couple of people joined there and then. The Aln Valley Railway Society’s hospitality in providing free lunches and train rides for exhibitors should also be noted.

Wed 29th July 2015  Eurostar: Arriving at Gare du Nord, my wife and I checked in as normal and not being medically qualified, did not take too much notice of an announcement asking if there was a Doctor amongst the passengers in the boarding lounge. Until both the 14:53 and our own train, the 15:13 departures were listed as delayed until 16:00. Reason being a passenger had fallen between the train and the platform on the incoming service (presumably taking both sides of the double platform out of service though that was never made clear. Now, we had a connection to make at Kings Cross, and because our Kings Cross to Morpeth tickets had been booked with the last of our East Coast Profiles points, they were not booked as through tickets from Paris and I realised that if the delay crept up any further we’d be in serious trouble. So I politely asked several members of staff both for further information and if they could transfer us on to the earlier train. We got a succession of “Non”, to both requests. Until one person happily took our tickets, consulted a chart of seat availability (or so we thought) then returned our tickets with a sticker attached giving seat numbers on the earlier train as requested. “Why couldn’t any of the other staff members do that?” I thought. “It can’t be too difficult”. But perhaps it is, because no sooner had we sat down on our new seats, an Australian couple turned up with tickets for exactly the same seats. Happily, there was still spare capacity on the coach and the Australians readily agreed to move to the next carriage. But I really think Eurostar need to improve both information and assistance to customers during disruption incidents, and their general customer service.

Tues 21st July 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast: I had already sampled the new franchise operator’s first class service going north from Morpeth, and have reported it was excellent. So I expected my southbound journey to London to be of the same high quality, if not better. Alas, a little disappointment today. Waiting for my breakfast to come I politely asked a staff member if complimentary newspapers were still provided. I was told yes, but that I needed to go and find one myself “they should be somewhere on the train”. And indeed they were – in the luggage vestibules. I’m sure that if Christopher Garnett had been a fellow passenger on the train he would not have been amused. Announcements such “Passengers in First Class please note we will do another breakfast run after York” did rather degrade the otherwise excellent catering in to a feeling of sittings at school dinners. Verdict: A serious lapse in standard – must do better.

Mon 13th July 2015 SENRUG Committee: Committee meeting tonight. We reviewed all our campaigns, discussed new proposals for Cramlington and Killingworth, the Local Community meetings which will commence from September, and our forthcoming exhibition at the Aln Valley Railway Society’s exhibition in early September

Tues 30th June 2015 Cramlington: Met Gerry Sothcott today from Cramlington Development Trust, to work discuss how we can work together, and better engage Cramlington Town Council in fighting for train service improvements at Cramlington. Lots of interesting ideas. SENRUG is keen both to represent Cramlington better and to attract more members who use this station (or would use it if it had a better train service.

Tues 23rd June 2015 Public Meeting and AGM: Excellent meeting with guest speaker Andy Sparkes, Commercial Director for Virgin Trains East Coast. Good range of questions including the obvious ones of needing some VTEC off peak trains to stop at Morpeth, and how to improve station facilities for inter-city passengers at stations like Morpeth managed by another operator. We had the genuine conviction that Andy was listening to what we had to say and will take some of the points away for consideration. As for the AGM, pleased to see so many members staying on for that. The committee stays the same except that we say thanks to Jon Pine who has stood down, and welcome Gordon Summers from Cramlington, who joins us.

Mon 22nd June 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne: Returning from holiday I was alarmed to see the front page of the 11th June’s News Post Leader had an article saying the Council’s plans for a new County Hall in Ashington involve either building over or creating an access over the private freight line between Ashington and Stobswood. What’s going on? SENRUG believes the Council should be protecting this route, not wanting to build on it itself. Once the main Ashington Blyth & Tyne line is re-opened, this freight line could (subject to a new north to east junction at Stobswood) create a new rail link between Newcastle & Alnmouth via Ashington, as detailed in the Campaigns section of our website.

Thurs 11th June 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast: First chance to travel 1st class today as I journeyed from Morpeth to Leuchars. It was difficult to think how the excellent service provided by East Coast could be exceeded, but I think Virgin has pulled it off. The food offer on East Coast only really seemed to work once you left a major station. That meant nothing until Newcastle going south, and sometimes nothing until Edinburgh going north if the staff had already passed your seat. But on the 08.56 from Morpeth, my breakfast order was being taken almost as soon as I got into my seat, and coffee quickly followed. So well done to VTEC and keep it up. BUT, back off service is equally important. Let’s see the end of standard template letters from the contact centre often referring to an issue elsewhere on the network which did not affect my journey and give me the conviction my letter or email has actually been read, and constructive points or suggestions raised will be genuinely considered.

Monday 8th June 2015 Car Parking Charges at Morpeth and Cramlington: Today Northern Rail told us that starting next week (from 15th June) regular commuters will be able to buy weekly, monthly or annual parking tickets, which work out significantly cheaper than the £2 per day charge (eg £25 per month). SENRUG had made it clear that we expected Northern Rail to find some way of softening the blow of these new charges and this scheme does appear to do that. Northern say they were planning it all along, but what a pity it could not have been introduced at the same time as the charges themselves. Tickets can be purchased from Morpeth ticket office (when it is open) or by phone from the number displayed at the car parks themselves.

Fri 5th
June 2015
Car Parking Charges at Morpeth and Cramlington: Checked out the Station car park on the way to the GNER event. Now that charges have been introduced. 10:45 in the morning and the Northern Rail bit is almost empty - just 26 cars, whereas it used to be full every day by 08:30. Where have the rail passengers gone? Maybe to neighbouring residential streets, or the free car park in the Town Centre with the frustrating 15 minute steep hill climb up to the station before going to work. But let's hope it's not loss of rail business to Northern and the other operators. And with just 26 cars a day parking it is difficult to see how this initiative will be revenue positive for Northern Rail especially when the cost of collecting the money is considered. Checked out Cramlington on the way home. Only 14 cars parked in what used to be a completely full car park. But here it is less easy to draw conclusions because it was 15:40 and some commuters return home early on Friday, and also we know some of the station car parking was from employees at the Royal Mail depot next door (in contravention of railway byelaws). We will continue to monitor the situation.
Fri 5th
June 2015
GNER: Attended their Stakeholder Event in Newcastle today. GNER is an open access operator (owned by Arriva) who wish to provide a new hourly Edinburgh - Newcastle - London non stop service. Their vision is impressive and they are aiming for very high levels of customer service, building on what is already associated with the GNER brand name. SENRUG's concerns are that the rival bid from First Group, who plan to have their trains stop at Morpeth, would do more for South East Northumberland, also the number of additional services running north of Newcastle might take up all the capacity between Newcastle Station and Benton Junction, making re-opening of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line more difficult. Additionally. SENRUG wants to see a north of Morpeth local service, and the more super-fast non stopping services running up and down the line will make this more problematic, though not an issue that can not be solved by re-instatement of passing loops. But nevertheless, an impressive presentation from GNER. We applaud their vision, and agree with their statement that the overall capacity of the railway must grow in line with the new demands being placed on it. Also saw Richard McClean, MD of Grand Central (an existing Arriva owned Open Access company, and had a useful chat with him not just about Grand Central, but on Arriva's operations generally, including our old chestnut of bus rail integration at Morpeth and Cramlington stations.

Thurs 4th June 2015 Buses to Cramlington Station: I received an interesting letter from Northumbria NHS Trust today. We had asked them to ensure the new bus service they will provide between the new A&E Trauma Hospital and Cramlington is extended beyond Manor Walks to Cramlington Station. And the answer is it will - well almost. The bus will serve Station Road. Well, that is not exactly the station itself, still quite a considerable walk. It wouldn't take much to extend it across the junction and into the station turning circle. Now the approach road has been yellow lined, there can be no operational objection to that. I will write back to the NHS and make the point again. Meanwhile, the bus will be numbered C1 and operated by Arriva. We await details of start date and times.

Sat 16th May 2015 Parking Charges: Following a letter in the News Post Leader from a local Councillor in Cramlington, objecting to the new parking charges at Cramlington station, I forwarded him a copy of SENRUG's response to Northern Rail, plus a general summary of SENRUG's campaigning work for Cramlington. SENRUG is aware that we are not as well known in the Cramlington area as we are in Morpeth and wants to address that. My email was also copied to Transport Focus, who like Northern Rail themselves, have still not responded on the parking charges issue other than saying they are looking in to it.

Thurs 14th May 2015 Northern Rail: Attended their Station Adopters drop-in at Newcastle this afternoon. An opportunity to discuss matters of concern, top of the list the way the introduction of parking charges has been handled and the non response to SENRUG on the issues we raised in a very constructive way. More positively, we were also told work on the Cramlington CIS will start in November 2015. And plans are in place to formally recognise SENRUG as a station adopter - Northern Rail acknowledge we play an invaluable role in telling them what's going on at their stations in our area.

Tue 5th
May 2015
Ashington Blyth & Tyne: Meeting with Northumberland County Council today in which they briefed me on where they are up to with Network Rail; the next steps and how the new North East Combined Authority will add value to the process. Progress is being made but it is agonisingly slow. Hopefully, there will be an announcement from the County Council in a few weeks time.

Fri 1st 
May 2015
Transport Focus: I chased Transport Focus today to see why they hadn’t replied or commented on my 17th April email re parking charges at Morpeth and Cramlington. The person who answered the phone could not articulate which of their managers dealt with Northern Rail. It seems they are geared up to handle complaints from passengers but don’t know how to handle generalised conversations about service provided by Train Operators. In the end, I remembered the name of a contact we had dealt with some years ago and managed to get his email. A quick email to him and the name and email of the correct person were provided within 5 minutes (thanks Guy). But it seems was that my 17th April email to had simply gone astray. (Come on Transport Focus, you need to do better than this – else you’re as bad as the Train Companies themselves!). However, Robert Samson is now on the case and is taking the issue up with Northern Rail.

Wed 29th April 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast: Still trying to get a response from Virgin Trains East Coast as to whether they are willing to have a senior manager speak at a SENRUG Public Meeting in May or June. We first asked them on 8th February. Okay, give the guys a chance because we know March would have been an extremely busy month having only taken over the franchise from the beginning of the month. And even we recognise that Morpeth is hardly the most important station on their route! But we would like to know one way or the other because if the answer is “no” then we need to start making arrangements with someone else. But, whatever the strengths of Virgin, engaging with stakeholders such as us has not got off to a promising start.

Tue 21st April 2015 Ashington Tyne & Blyth Re-Opening: People are asking us what’s happening and that’s a good question. As we understand it, the Northumberland County Council’s full budget was approved in February and included funding for the GRIP 2 & 3 studies from Network Rail, the GRIP 4 Study after that, and a significant contribution towards the actual re-opening costs (£20m in total according to the Council’s press release). And we had understood the Council were poised to sign the GRIP 3 contract as soon as the budget was approved. So why is the contract still unsigned? I sent an email to Stuart McNaughton, the responsible officer at the Council asking the question. In response, I have been invited to a meeting with Stuart and Director of Local Services Barry Rowland at County Hall. The meeting has subsequently been fixed for 5th May.

Fri 17th
April 2015
Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: In the afternoon I met with a railway consultancy company, at their request, who wished to discuss some innovative proposals for re-opening the line. It will be interesting to see how their proposals develop, but of course critically important is how far down the track the local authority are with the Network Rail GRIP process. 

Fri 17th
April 2015
Car Park Extension at Morpeth: Also today, I chased the County Council to find out what has happened to SENRUG’s proposals to create an extra 80 parking spaces, first submitted on 17th April. Did the Council use the opportunity of the planning application for the station building redevelopment to ask the Developer to contribute towards the cost as SENRUG had suggested? The development will itself reduce the number of parking spaces for rail customers as some must be allocated to the new business units. I have a feeling that the transport team, car parking team and planning team simply don’t talk to each other. Let’s hope I’m wrong.

Fri 17th
April 2015
Parking Charges at Morpeth & Cramlington: Whilst on holiday a few days ago I received a phone call from Northern Rail advising they would shortly be introducing charges for parking at Morpeth & Cramlington stations. We appreciate the courtesy of letting us know in advance, we are bitterly disappointed with the news which we believe could undo much of our good work in promoting rail travel at these stations. Following consultation with our committee, we responded to Northern Rail setting out our concerns. See our email here. We also forwarded a copy to Transport Focus, the national statutory watchdog.
Sat 11th April 2015
New TPE Franchise: Today I sent that critical email to all 3 bidders for the new TPE Franchise that will start from 2016. Both the existing franchisees parents (First Group and Keolis) are bidding, and also Stagecoach. The email I sent to all 3 companies is here.
Wed 1st April 2015 First TransPennine Express: Today I attended TPE’s Stakeholder Forum in Leeds, which meant an early start and a long day. You might be asking why, since TPE services do not currently serve our region. But of course we interconnect with them at Newcastle, and more importantly have been campaigning vigorously for their services to be extended to Cramlington and Morpeth. This will now be a decision for the new franchise holder who takes over in 2016. For legal reasons, the Forum could not discuss the new franchise, but it was good to catch up with all the things the current franchisee is doing across their network.

Wed 18th March 2015 First Group Open Access Bid: Following my conversations with First Group yesterday and earlier today re their Open Access Bid to run 5 trains a day from Edinburgh to London calling at Morpeth and Newcastle, I wrote a letter from SENRUG to Network Rail supporting the bid. Network Rail is apparently conducting the consultation on behalf of ORR (Office of Rail regulation). SENRUG supports this bid because First Group are saying each of their trains will call at Morpeth; if the bid is successful it would therefore be a significant step towards achieving SENRUG’s campaign for an inter-city service every 2 hours in each direction at Morpeth. You can see SENRUG’s letter here. 

Tue 17th March 2015
Bedlington High School and First Group: I was invited to Bedlington High School, to be interviewed on video by some students about the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line. The school is making a news report for the BBC Schools Competition. On returning home, I spoke to Mike Catz of First Group about their Open Access bid to run 5 trains a day from Edinburgh to London, calling at Morpeth.
Sat 14th March 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast: First chance to travel on Virgin Trains East Coast today. Apart from not realising the Super Off Peak Single fare from Morpeth to London of £65.65 is a web only fare and can not be sold at the Ticket Office, thus having to pay £123.90 instead, everything went well. I was quite annoyed about the fare because I had double checked the £65.65 ticket is not an Advance Fare and is valid on any train on Saturdays. But I had failed to notice the very small print “web fare only” so paid an extra £58 for my mistake. You might ask why we hadn’t bought via the web anyway. That’s because I was waiting for £75 worth of vouchers to come from a previously seriously delayed journey in the last few weeks of East Coast, which I hoped I would be able to use (but did not arrive until the following Monday). But anyway, the journey with Virgin Trains went well, and the staff seemed very keen to retain their excellent standard of service. 
Thurs 12th March 2015 Blyth Road Congestion Study: Northumberland County Council invited SENRUG to attend the feedback consultation for the Blyth Road congestion study – a topic dear to my heart as I live in Bedlington and often drive into Blyth. It’s really positive evidence of joined-up thinking – how will the re-opened Ashington Blyth & Tyne line impact road congestion? Some attendees were concerned about frequent level crossing closures impacting the roads. I was able to explain that with faster line speeds, each closure will be for a shorter period of time. Plus of course the rail link will ease road congestion, though sadly it won’t serve central Blyth (not in phase 1), only stations at Newsham and Bebside on the outskirts.

Tue 10th March 2015 First Group Morpeth to London Bid: We received news that First Group are submitting an Open Access bid to run 5 trains a day from Edinburgh to London and back, with each train stopping at Morpeth. This could be excellent news for Morpeth. For our response, see our Press Release here.

Wed 4th March 2015 Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: Today Northumberland County Council put out a Press Release saying they are pressing ahead with the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening, and noted the Northern franchise document commits the new operator to liaising with them to achieve this. Excellent that NCC are making progress. The next step is for them to sign off the GRIP 2 & 3 study with Network Rail, which we understand is expected any day now. Also excellent the scheme is mentioned in the DfT franchise specification. Though we should not be over-optimistic. That does not mean it will definitely happen; only that DfT have acknowledged Northumberland are progressing the scheme and it should come on stream during the life of the franchise. So, an excellent boost, but no room for complacency. SENRUG will keep campaigning.

Fri 27th Feb 2015  New Franchise Specifications: The DfT published its specifications for the new Northern & TransPennine Express franchises today. As far as Northern is concerned, the local service to Cramlington and Morpeth will be extended to run during the evenings, and a Sunday service will be added. Excellent news. But no requirement to extend services on to Pegswood and Widdrington, as SENRUG had also requested, which is disappointing. As for TransPennine Express, the DfT Press Release refers to these services being extended from Newcastle up to Edinburgh. Potentially good news if the trains will stop at Northumberland stations, but we can find no reference to the requirement in the franchise documents itself, which leaves me rather confused.

Thurs 26th Feb 2015
Public Meeting: Great Public Meeting tonight with Huw Lewis from Nexus, who also spoke about the new North East Combined Authority. Some really interesting stuff and we appreciate Huw giving up his time to come. Lively questioning especially when we strayed onto the issue of bus service contracts at the end. The Combined Authority looks like it could be good for the North East, though we certainly don’t want them to slow down the AB&T Re-opening but wanting to see yet more business cases, repeating work already done by Northumberland County Council. In a follow-up email (2nd March) Huw assured us this would not be the case; the new Authority will only add value to the process.
Mon 23rd Feb 2015
Cramlington CIS: Good News. Northern Rail confirmed today Cramlington will be getting CIS (Customer Information System). That’s monitor’s showing next train information. SENRUG have been campaigning for this for many years. Cramlington is on the list of 100 stations for the next roll out. Though we still don’t know the exact installation date.
Mon 23rd Feb 2015
Parking at Morpeth: We submitted our outline plans to Northumberland County Council and Northern Rail for the creation of a further 80 car parking spaces at Morpeth station, which we believe should be taken forward in conjunction with plans to redevelop the derelict station buildings. For details click here
Thurs 19th Feb 2015  TransPennine Express: I was invited to meet a representative from First Group who will be bidding to retain the franchise when it is renewed later this year. The main point of discussion was the SENRUG plan to extend the Liverpool to Newcastle services on to Cramlington and Morpeth, which, combined with the existing Northern Rail services, would double service frequency at these stations to 2 trains each way per hour.  

Thurs 19th Feb 2015  Ashington Blyth & Tyne: I did a telephone interview with a journalist from The BBC for an article on re-opening lines closed during the Beeching era, for an article planned for the BBC website. 

Tues 10th Feb 2015
Morpeth Car Parking: Today, myself and SENRUG committee members Andrew Carmichael and Trevor Watson met Ray Green from Green's Agricultural Merchants (opposite the station in Coopies Lane) to discuss parking at the station. Both station car parks are now full every day, and SENRUG receives several posts and complaints from annoyed rail passengers who have got a ticket for parking illegally (eg outside of marked boxes). However, SENRUG believes an additional 20-30 or so spaces can be created from waste ground alongside the existing car parks and will shortly be putting forward proposals to Northern rail and Northumberland County Council. SENRUG continues to oppose parking charges as we believe this will have a negative impact particularly on number of passengers using local services. Worryingly, Northern Rail have confirmed introduction of charges is under consideration at a number of stations, despite previous assurances that nothing would happen until at least the end of the current franchise.
Mon 9th
Feb 2015
Morpeth Station Buildings: Met with Greater Morpeth Development Trust who have created ambitious plans to renovate the derelict station buildings at Morpeth and bring them back into use. This follows a meeting SENRUG initiated a couple of years ago with Northern Rail, ourselves and GMDT in which we jointly viewed the derelict buildings. The plans GMDT have now formulated include an improved entrance and a proper cafe / snack facility at the station which is most welcome. In general, SENRUG strongly supports GMDT's plans though there will be an issue over parking spaces, and SENRUG believes more spaces must be created in conjunction with the proposal.
Tues 20th Jan 2015
Christmas Disruption: Passengers caught up in the disruption debacle at Kings Cross and Finsbury Park over Christmas may be interested in this link: Network Rail Chief Executive Mark Carne and Managing Director of Network Operations Robin Gisby being grilled by the House of Commons Transport Select Committee:
Tues 13th Jan 2015
East Coast Alarm: The Christmas Eve edition of Rail Magazine reported (page 24) that Transport Minister Claire Perry had said in a Commons Written Answer (to David Davis on 4th December) that the introduction of the new East Coast franchise will see a reduction in trains calling at Morpeth (also Doncaster, Alnmouth, Berwick and Dunbar). Ms Perry is reported to have said the reduction would be marginal – typically one train per day or less, in one direction only. This of course fails to recognise that Morpeth only has 2 northbound services per day from London (Mon – Thurs). A reduction of 1 would be a 50% loss; hardly “marginal”.

On behalf of SENRUG I contacted our MP and asked him to seek clarification, liaising closely with the Rail User Groups representing other affected stations who were doing the same. My particular concern was to understand if the service reduction reflected Stagecoach’s interpretation of the franchise specification or if the DfT had granted Stagecoach some kind of post franchise specification concession.

However, today I received an email from Stagecoach saying they do not intend to cut services at any of the mentioned stations. In fact Morpeth will gain one Sunday service from May 2016. (As from March 2015, the franchise will be run by Virgin Trains East Coast, 90% owned by the Stagecoach Group and 10% owned by The Virgin Group).

SENRUG very much welcomes the re-assurance from Stagecoach, and looks forward to developing a strong and constructive relationship with the new company. But the incident leaves me very puzzled as to why the Minister made such a statement in the first place. A quick internet search has revealed the Commons Written Answer was corrected on 7th January, removing references to service cuts at Morpeth and the other stations.

Tues 16th Dec 2014
At Westminster: It was an early start today as I travelled from Morpeth to London with the winning team from Hirst Park Middle School, to meet our MP Ian Lavery and present their winning entry for SENRUG's Schools Competition to make a DVD setting out the business case for re-opening the Ashington, Blyth & Tyne line to passengers. Mr Lavery, who strongly supports our re-opening campaign, was extremely impressed with the DVD describing it as "excellent". Mr Lavery's office had also arranged for the team to be taken on a tour round parts of parliament before meeting him. On the way back, we visited Northern Rail's Operations Centre at York, and got a glimpse as to how complex running the modern rail network of today is. Northern Rail had also arranged for a special message to be displayed on the CIS Screens at Morpeth Station for the day congratulating Hirst Park Middle School on winning the competition.
Organising this competition has been hard work for SENRUG but we believe it has fulfilled our twin objectives of marking the 50th anniversary of the closure of the passenger rail service to Ashington in a way that focuses everyone on thinking about the re-opening; whilst simultaneously engaging a whole new generation of young people with rail campaigning. We estimate around 60 students across 5 schools in the region participated.
Thanks again to the competition sponsors and supporters: The Arch Group, News Post Leader, BBC, East Coast Trains, Northern Rail and CrossCountry Trains. Particular thanks to all the students who participated, and all the teachers and parent volunteers in the different schools for getting on board with us.
Thurs 4th Dec 2014
Back From The Tropics: I have now returned from a 10 week break in Indonesia. Whilst I’ve been away the SENRUG Committee led by Dan Nesbitt have produced another excellent newsletter which SENRUG members should have received. And I was pleased to discover SENRUG have been given 3 awards by national rail campaign group Railfuture. Also the DfT have announced who will take over the running of the East Coast Trains franchise from March 2015. First job on my return was to answer a call from the Morpeth Herald who wanted SENRUG’s response to the award of the East Coast franchise to Virgin Trains. Second job is to finalise the arrangements for the trip to London for the 4 students from Hirst Park Middle School who won our ABT DVD Competition.
Thurs 27th Nov 2014
And The Winner Is: The DfT have announced that Virgin / Stagecoach have won the contract to take over the East Coast Main Line service from March 2015. The new company will trade as Virgin Trains East Coast and is owned 90% by The Stagecoach Group and 10% by The Virgin Group. We shall be sorry to say goodbye to the government owned East Coast Trains with whom SENRUG has enjoyed a close relationship, and look to Virgin to develop and build on this. Although Virgin was not one of the bidders that sought SENRUG’s views as they developed their tender, we have high hopes we can develop a constructive working relationship with them and they will examine the commercial case for more trains calling at Morpeth. It was, after all, when the CrossCountry franchise was operated by Virgin, that Morpeth stops were first introduced on CrossCountry services, so the company already enjoys a strong reputation in this region.
Thurs 20th Nov 2014
Awards For SENRUGWe are delighted to announce that SENRUG have won 3 awards form Railfuture's annual Rail User Group awards.

We have won 2 silver awards in the categories of best website and best newsletter. We have also won a Judges special award for our ABT DVD competition.

We would like to thank the judges and Railfuture for these awards.
Mon 20th Oct 2014
Quick update from Dan: It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Firstly, I attended the First TransPennine Express Autumn Stakeholder Business Update Forum, which was a fantastic opportunity to talk directly with the management and mingle with the other rail user groups in the North. Overall the event was excellent. Secondly I also attended East Coast’s naming ceremony of the loco 91 111 “For the Fallen” on the 14th October at Newcastle. The striking vinyls on the locomotive were fitting as well, providing a poignant reminder of the human cost of war.

We are currently working on our Christmas Newsletter, where I’ll report on both of these events in more detail.
Sat 20th Sep 2014
Dan’s In Charge: This will be my last post for a while as I’ll be away until early December, during which time our Deputy Chair Dan Nesbitt will take charge of SENRUG. First responsibility on my return will be to confirm arrangements for the trip to London for our winning team from Hirst Park Middle School, who will be taking their DVD setting out their reasons for re-opening the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line to their constituency MP Ian Lavery at Westminster. Don’t forget to check out both their DVD and those from the other schools who participated in the competition here – they are of excellent quality and well worth watching.
Sat 13th Sep 2014
New BrochureSENRUG’s new 12 page full colour brochure is now available. This sets out all the different things we are campaigning for, as well as what we’ve achieved so far. We’ll be leaving some copies at Morpeth Station, local libraries and other public places. Make sure you get your copy, and if you know of a good place to make the brochures available, please let us know.


Fri 12th
Sep 2014
And the Winner is: Hirst Park Middle School in Ashington were announced as winners of SENRUG’s Schools Competition. Hirst Park have produced an exceptional DVD setting out their reasons for re-opening the Ashinghton Blyth & Tyne line. They were announced as winners at a packed public meeting at Morpeth Town Hall. For more details, and to see their entry, as well as those from the other schools, click here


The winning team from Hirst Park Middle School, with SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett and Chair of The Arch Group Cllr Dave Ledger - News Post Leader / Morpeth Herald
Sun 7th
Sep 2014
Stations: Went to Morpeth station this afternoon to collect the latest batch of Aberdeen tickets for my daughter. It was about 17:00, 20 minutes or so before the CrossCountry train was due, and there were about 15 people waiting to retrieve tickets from the machine: The process is a little slow, and you could sense the panic building up as the minutes ticked by. But pleased to say everyone did get their ticket – though I do think a staffed ticket office is needed as well. Whilst at the station, I was able to assist someone who couldn’t work out which was the right platform for Leeds. The CIS said platform 1, but there is no indication of which platform is which. Later that afternoon, our Membership Secretary told me he was aware of someone who actually missed a train to Edinburgh because he was waiting on the wrong platform. We do need to get some proper signage sorted out. If the rail companies won’t do it, perhaps SENRUG should make its own signs, just as we have done for the coach boards.
Wed 3rd Sep 2014
Seats are back! I picked up my daughter (the intrepid commuter to / from Aberdeen) from Morpeth at 22.28 tonight. And noticed, finally, the seat on the southbound platform has returned. SENRUG has been lobbying to have the seat re-instated for some months, and were finally promised it last week (see 21st August 2014). Thanks Northern Rail. Though the seat is not inside the new wind shelter. So, sit down, or be warm – but not both!
Mon 1st
Sep 2014
Committee: SENRUG Committee meeting tonight. We spent most of the time discussing arrangements for our next Public Meeting, on Friday 12th September at Morpeth Town Hall, when we’ll be announcing the results of our Schools DVD competition.

All of the schools submitted really good entries. Not even the SENRUG Committee members know who has won as yet, so make sure you’re at Morpeth Town Hall on 12th September (7.30 pm) to find out.
Thurs 21st Aug 2014
Stations: Met with Pete Myers (Northern Rail) and Ian Arkle (News Post Leader) to judge the schools competition. What a tough job. Then afterwards, a short time with Pete to follow on from earlier meeting we had (see 13th June 2014) to discuss facilities at Morpeth Station.

It’s always embarrassing for a senior manager from a railway company to be late for a meeting because the train was let. Let it be known these things happen to the best of us, but much less frequently than snarl-ups on the A1. Pete actually came all the way from Hull for this meeting and his commitment to supporting SENRUG with the Schools competition is appreciated. And at least Pete could say it wasn’t the Northern Rail train that caused the problem.

There were still problems on the ECML later that afternoon when our daughter’s friend arrived from London, so she missed her connection at Newcastle, but was fortunate in being able to get the CrossCountry train arriving in Morpeth at 14:50, so only 15 minutes delay overall. So, no “Delay Repay” claim to East Coast. If only we could have a 30 minute service to Morpeth throughout the day.
Mon 18th Aug 2014
Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: My letter expressing unease re Network Rail’s costs for re-opening the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line has appeared in the prestigious Rail Magazine. They asked me for a photo too, so have made quite a feature of it. Our ABT campaign is getting well known amongst rail industry professionals.
Sat 16th Aug 2014
Local Rail Services: SENRUG submitted its response to the DfT on the Northern Rail / TransPennine Express franchise renewal today. This is a once in a decade opportunity to secure improved rail services for this region. SENRUG has called for a half-hourly service to Cramlington and Morpeth, and a 2-hourly service throughout the day to Pegswood and Widdrington. SENRUG asked the 4 Town / Parish Councils - and of course Northumberland County Council – to make their own response and support our proposals. Ask your Councillor if they did, and if not, why not.
Tue 13th Aug 2014
Funding: It just gets better. Formal letter today saying Ashington Town Council will make up the balance of our funding request, so new website and brochure on the way.

It’s also worth recording here that Morpeth Town Council have given us a grant for the last few years to fund the cost of having our public meetings at Morpeth Town Hall. Several members also make generous donations over and above their subscription fee. We are grateful to everyone who supports SENRUG in this way.
Wed 30th July 2014
Eurostar: My other daughter (not the Aberdeen commuter) returned to Paris today (where she lives). I had persuaded her to go by train. Quel horreur! Just out of Cramlington, her Northern Rail train came to a complete stop. The overhead lines were down (yes I know; the Northern train doesn’t use the overhead wires, but the train in front of it did). She was stranded south of Cramlington for around an hour, missed her connection at Newcastle, and her Eurostar connection at St Pancras.

Full marks to the really helpful Conductor on the East Coast train who accepted our daughter’s “booked train only” ticket without quibble then allowed her to borrow his phone to contact Eurostar’s customer service line centre. Yes, my daughter does have her own phone, but it’s registered to a French network, so using it from England to phone an English 0845 number would soon double the price of the ticket! He also provided his phone number so that Eurostar could call him to verify the delay to East Coast services. That’s excellent customer service, re-assuring and helpful.

My daughter had booked an all important CIV ticket from Newcastle to Paris which means if her incoming train from Newcastle is late, Eurostar have to allow her to travel on the next train without extra charge. Trouble was, the particular East Coast train she had booked on had started from Newcastle and was not late – it was just she had missed it, stranded on a different train outside the station. So, less than full marks to Eurostar, who just gave an unhelpful “don’t know” over the phone, giving my daughter a stressful 3 hour journey to London, before blagging it with the Eurostar barrier staff at St Pancras.

To extend the inclusive “CIV” ticket to / from Cramlington would have cost an extra £100, so we had decided to book from Newcastle and just pay the extra £4.50 for the Cramlington – Newcastle section of the journey.
Tue 27th July 2014
Funding: Great news! I heard today we DID get the funding (see 17th July 2014). Apparently the panel were really impressed with my presentation and my answers to their questions. In case you’re wondering, the funding organisation has asked to remain anonymous, so I can’t name them publicly here, but I do want to say “thank you” for the award. Thanks also to the Sheila McKechnie Foundation (SMK) who administered the scheme and gave me lots of helpful advice along the way.

We got the max grant available under this scheme, but that still leaves us a tiny bit short. So, I rushed home then filled in an application to Ashingtown Town Council, longstanding supporters of SENRUG, for the balance required. They recently asked what else they could do to help SENRUG, so possibly this is the answer.
Thurs 17 July 2014
Funding: Down to London today to pitch for funding for a new brand new website and colour brochure for SENRUG. It was a “Dragons Den” style pitch, except these are nice dragons, committed to giving their Foundation’s money away to support local campaign groups. (I think the real dragons are quite nice people too, though so far I’ve never had to face them). The pitch seemed to go well, but I had been told I would be given an answer there and then, on the day. That didn’t happen, so I had a bit of a thoughtful return journey. Have we missed this one?
Wed 16th July 2014
Eurostar: Today our daughter arrived by train from Paris. An event free journey, though not so easy to book as a through ticket. The Eurostar website allows you book direct from Newcastle to Paris, but if you start your journey in France, it won’t let you book direct from Paris to Newcastle.

I took this up with Eurostar at the time of booking. Their explanation was that they couldn’t handle the currency exchange of buying a ticket in Euros, but the UK add on journey being in pounds. But what if I’m happy to buy the whole ticket in pounds? You can’t. If you have a Eurostar web ID registered to a French address, you are only offered the option to buy in Euros. And you can’t use a UK credit card to pay either! So then I tried logging on with my web ID which is registered to an address in the UK. Sorry, but then you must start your journey in the UK. So then I logged on to the French Eurostar website to start the journey in Paris. This time I get “your Eurostar ID can not be used against this profile”.

Eurostar don’t seem to get there are UK expats living in France, and French expats living in the UK. Neither do they understand you might just want to make a single journey back to the UK. Or that the language you want the website presented in, and the currency you wish to use, are not necessarily dependant on the country where your journey starts.

Eurostar are one of the bidders wanting to take over the East Coast route in the UK. Let’s hope they get to grips with this currency exchange business if they are the winners. What if an independent Scotland starts to use a different currency? Would they have the ability to sell tickets from connecting stations in England to Edinburgh?
Thurs 10th July 2014
Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: An excellent SENRUG public meeting (and AGM) with guest speaker Christian Wolmar, arguably the UK’s leading journalist on rail matters. Christian gave us his thoughts on the UK rail industry today, as well as a historical talk on the Trans Siberian Railway. We had an excellent turn-out, 50 attendees, our best so far.

Afterwards I had a chance to talk to Christian about our unease with the Network Rail costing process for the price of re-opening The Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line. With no competition, how can we be sure the Network Price is as low as it need be and they are not over-engineering the scheme? Christian was good enough to repeat our concerns in his next column in Rail Magazine.

Christian is also seeking the Labour Party nomination for Mayor of London candidate. It’s good that someone inevitably focussed on London’s issues is willing to travel to Northumberland and take an interest in our campaigns. Thank you Christian.
Wed 9th July 2014
Franchise Renewals: Today I attended the DfT and Rail North’s consultation meeting on the Northern and TransPennine Express franchise renewals. This was in York. The RMT were picketing the office building where the meeting was held. I had a good chat with the guys and we swopped leaflets. We don’t agree on everything but we have many shared concerns.

In the meeting itself I asked about extending the Liverpool – Newcastle TPE services on to Morpeth, to augment the existing hourly Newcastle – Morpeth service and provide a combined 30 minute frequency for Cramlington and Morpeth. I thought this proposal got a fair hearing. It is not unreasonable.

Then I asked about setting a minimum list of facilities for all stations which should include some means of communicating with customers – such as CIS. The DfT were not positive saying that technology would move on during the life of the franchise. “Don’t specify the technology, just the result” I countered. In London, live next bus information is even displayed at bus stops; it is a pity that here in the north doing it for trains at unstaffed railway stations defeats us.

Though apparently, Rail North are putting together a list of minimum standards for stations. Let’s hope they at least pick this up. And their list becomes mandatory rather than just recommendations.
Thurs 4th July 2014
ABT Re-Opening Schools Competition: Into King Edward VI School in Morpeth today to meet and be interviewed by the pupils working on the SENRUG Schools competition. I was impressed with the range of questions this team asked, quizzing me about station re-opening costs etc. I found out later they were Economics students. It’s encouraging to see them apply their skills to rail re-opening schemes.
Wed 3rd July 2014
Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: Today I met the Network Rail Commercial sponsor for the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening scheme. I was grateful he made available the time to meet me. Though I’m still not convinced it is essential to replace the entire signalling on the line to get passenger trains running again.
Fri 27th June 2014
Press: Telephone interview with BBC Radio Newcastle today (Alfie and Charlie breakfast show) who wanted my views on the need for investment in local rail services in the area. Sometimes they like me to go into the studio, and sometimes they talk to me by phone, but I’m always happy to do these interviews. The clip in total is only ever about 3 or 4 minutes long.
Fri 20th June 2014
ABT Re-Opening Schools Competition: Over to Ashington today to be interviewed by Hirst Park Middle School, who are filming for their entry for the SENRUG Schools competition, on location in the shopping precinct outside Ashington station. Did I spot the Town Clerk walking past as I was being interviewed? I told the students afterwards he would be a great person to get on air too, but the time my own interview had finished, he had vanished. Again, this looked like a fantastic team and I can’t wait to see their completed entry.
Wed 18th June 2014
ABT Re-Opening Schools Competition: Into Cramlington Learning Village (that’s a school for the uninitiated) to meet their team working on the school’s project, and again be interviewed on camera. This was a very enthusiastic team. I was impressed with the amount of material they were researching. One student said he’d ask his parents to join SENRUG, whilst another said he was joining himself!
Mon 16th June 2014
Committee: Another SENRUG Committee meeting tonight. Andrew Carmichael updated us on the County Council’s Stakeholder Event (see 27th May 2014), and we discussed the Schools Competition, now in full flow.
Fri 13th June 2014
Stations: Today myself and Trevor Watson (representing Railfuture) met Pete Myers who has recently taken over this patch as Northern Rail’s Stakeholder Manager. We discussed a range of issues about Morpeth Station – the lifts (still out of service), state of the subway, the faulty CIS indicator in the subway, new waiting shelters, lack of any seating on southbound platform, lack of signage, and car parking. Cramlington wasn’t forgotten; we also discussed the need for British Transport Police enforcement of car parking at Cramlington station and the need for a CIS system.

ABT Re-Opening Schools Competition: Then across to Collingwood School to be interviewed by their team working on the schools project. This team had a very clever idea about filming and I was most impressed. But it will remain a secret until all the entries are handed in and the winners are announced.
Tues 27th May 2014
Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-Opening: Northumberland County Council held their long-awaited Stakeholder Meeting on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line Re-Opening Scheme today. SENRUG have been pressing them to do this for some time. But I was on holiday, so Committee Member Andrew Carmichael represented SENRUG.
Wed 14th May 2014
ABT Re-Opening Schools Competition: Today I went to Northumberland Church of England Academy to take an assembly to present the SENRUG ABT school’s competition and to encourage students to participate. It’s a long time since I’ve been in a school and I was most impressed with this one. The students seemed very interested. But a bell rung, and they were gone, so didn’t really have a chance to answer any questions. But I hope they will participate.
Wed 23rd April 2014
Franchise Renewals: Today I met David Jones from Arriva Trains, a company who will be bidding for the Northern franchise, so David’s on a mission to meet Rail User Groups such as us and find out what we think. We met at Morpeth Station, went and looked at the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line, then finished up at Cramlington, where I “showed” David the non existent station facilities. Whilst at Cramlington some passengers turned up. David noted their concern at the scary notice saying that boarding the train without a ticket (if there is an opportunity to buy one) is an offence, and watched them hunt round in panic for a ticket machine – which of course doesn’t exist. We both observed these notices are inappropriate for stations which have neither ticket office or ticket machine.

Generally, it is most encouraging that Arriva are putting the time in going round the network, seeing issues first hand, before submitting their bid. But I gave David a hard time on bus / rail integration. He confirmed Arriva UK’s board is committed to this, but the board don’t seem to have communicated their commitment to Arriva Bus Northumberland, whose buses do not serve the station turning circles at either Morpeth or Cramlington, and who didn’t answer my letter to them of 20 Aug 2012 on this subject (see Document’s We’ve Issued).
Wed 26th March 2014
Press: BBC TV Interview today at Bedlington Station, which was screened on the local news (Look North), talking about the campaign to re-open the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line.
Thurs 13th Feb 2014
Franchise Renewals: Met with Paul Oxley of First Group who will be bidding to take over the East Coast franchise. It was a useful opportunity to go through our aspirations for the franchise. First is the only one of the 3 bidders who has asked to meet SENRUG. The other bidders are Keolis/Eurostar and Stagecoach/Virgin.