Call to improve services on crucial rail link

Posted on March 16th, 2017

Services on a crucial rail route linking Derby, Stoke-on-Trent and Crewe are failing to keep up with rising demand, prompting a call for Government intervention to improve them.

The three Chambers of Commerce that serve the route, alongside a coalition of private and public sector partners, have today written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP calling for him to help deliver increased capacity, reduced journey times, improved frequency and fully accessible stations on the route.

Household-name firms served by the route include Rolls-Royce, Bombardier, Toyota, Nestle, JCB, Bentley and Steelite, all of which would benefit from improved connections for their staff, customers and suppliers.

The line also represents a key east-to-west strategic route, connecting the Midland Main Line and InterCity West Coast Line, as well as planned Hub stations for HS2, and is one of the 21 priority projects of Midlands Connect, a partnership of councils, local enterprise partnerships and agencies that has been tasked with identifying the Midlands’ transport infrastructure needs.

With the local economies served by the route experiencing strong growth in recent years, the line has seen a corresponding rise in usage. However, with national spending focused elsewhere, investment in the line has not kept pace.

The partners say that this lack of investment has placed a huge pressure on the current service, with low frequency services, crowded carriages at peak times and limited evening and weekend services. The letter warns that if the current trend of spending continues future service development will be stunted, hindering growth in local communities and businesses and exacerbating skills shortages.

Outlining a shared vision for productive and prosperous local communities, the letter called for a “strong, reliable railway connecting the three city hubs and those that live and work in these areas” to enable this, it called for investment plans to deliver increased capacity, reduced journey times, improved frequency and fully accessible stations along the entirety of the route.

Chris Hobson, Director of Policy at East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire), said: “The letter points out that the potential for businesses and communities along the route is massive and a fit-for-purpose line will help realise that opportunity, getting people to and from work, linking businesses with customers and helping residents and visitors alike explore the wider area.

“It will also build resilience in east-west connectivity and improve access to the HS2 station hubs to be built at Toton and Crewe – properly supported the line really does have the potential to be one of the key strategic routes in the country.”

Sara Williams, Chief Executive at the Staffordshire Chambers said: “Businesses rely on good transport links and this initiative will have massive benefits. If we can improve the rail service between Crewe, Stoke and Derby we will help people to access jobs, help businesses find the skills they need, foster trade, encourage tourism and unlock new economic development opportunities.

“The service needs to be faster, more frequent and have more carriages to meet the increasing demand on the route as well as helping to ease congestion on our roads network.”

The letter also stresses that the call for improvements to the line would tie in with broader work being undertaken by initiatives such as Midlands Connect, Transport for the North and the Northern Gateway Partnership.

Maria Machancoses, Programme Director for Midlands Connect, said: “Improved connectivity between the East and West Midlands is at the heart of our Midlands Connect Strategy: Powering the Midlands Engine which we published only last week. Our strategy fully endorses improvements to this particular rail line which we believe can play a key role in unlocking untapped economic growth and new jobs.”