NEXT EVENT

Next Public Meeting

Thursday 7th December 2017

19:30 at Morpeth Town Hall

Speaker: Richard Gibson, CrossCountry Trains

(additional CrossCountry services are being introduced at Morpeth from Sunday 11th December) 

 


 

Chairman's Blog


 

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 chair@senrug.co.uk 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 usergroups@transportfocus.org.uk 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: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/transport-committee/news/railway-disruption-ev-session/
 
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.