Timetable update from the Chairman!
No doubt about it, the Northern rail timetable from May 15 is a big disappointment. The earlier morning service, at 06.30 from Whitby for which we fought for so long, is withdrawn completely, while the later evening services at 20.42 from Middlesbrough and 22.23 from Whitby are each replaced by two bus services – one serving the same stations along the Valley as the train, the other non-stop between Middlesbrough and Whitby. The remaining four services each way will run at the same times as now.
We pressed hard for a replacement bus service for the morning train too, but Northern say that it has been little used. That’s hardly surprising, as it was only introduced a few weeks before Covid struck, and the 06.30 departure from Whitby along the Valley is almost an hour earlier than originally envisaged. Many of you have told us not only that it is too early, but that it provides no meaningful onward connections from Middlesbrough.
The existing services had become increasingly unreliable in recent months and
Northern have assured us that these service reductions are a response in order to improve reliability and are only temporary. There is an ongoing shortage of train crews both as a result of a large backlog in training and the continuing high level of Covid-related absences. Northern say the intention is to reinstate the full six-train a day service in December 2022, and possibly even earlier if circumstances allow. We will certainly be pressing them to do so.
The early morning train for which we campaigned is a Northern franchise commitment and we have made clear to Northern that, given the low usage because of the clearly unsuitable timing, we see little purpose in simply reinstating the service at its previous 06.30 timing from Whitby, and that a replacement bus service along the Valley about an hour later would be preferable until a train at this more convenient time can be provided.
More trains in the future?
The major problem in operating the early morning train at a more convenient time has been the need to pass the school train travelling in the opposite direction at either Battersby or Glaisdale. However Northern have now developed an outline new timetable which would provide up to eight trains a day between Whitby and Middlesbrough at approximately two-hourly intervals, including a first departure from Whitby and along the Esk Valley almost an hour later than now, providing an arrival in Middlesbrough before 09.00.
Get on with it!
It is now seven years since the Partnership and others persuaded the then York Potash to provide nearly £7 million in funds to improve the infrastructure from Whitby along the Esk Valley line to enable an eight train a day service, with an approved, shovel-ready plan ready for a quick start on work. But instead, the proposals have become mired in the bureaucracy of Network Rail and North Yorkshire Council, with still no agreement on how the funds – which are ring-fenced and outwith both Network Rail and NYC budgets – should be spent.
While a return to a six trains a day service would be possible fairly quickly, the full eight trains a day service that Northern have outlined could not be achieved without improvements to the infrastructure of the line. Ridership on the Esk Valley line has already recovered much more quickly than the national average. With the growing and likely continuing environmental pressures, including on fuel costs for motorists, coupled with the need to provide adequate accommodation on the sometimes already overcrowded existing services, improvements are now needed urgently. The Partnership would be grateful for your support in now pressing the case for a decision on the best use of what is, after all, £7 million of private sector funding specifically earmarked for rail improvements for the benefit of the Whitby and Esk Valley communities, not for the ongoing deliberationsat their pleasure of Network Rail or NYC.
Esk Valley Community Rail Partnership