Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Better future to bring Marston Vale Railway into 21st Century (positively!)

25 January 2016
West Midlands Consultation
Department for Transport
4/15 Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Road

To Whom It May Concern,

I write on behalf of our association regarding the West Midlands Consultation. Whilst other colleagues have done direct responses this response focus’ on more strategic and operational aspects.

1. Bedford-Bletchley Rail Link alias Marston Vale Railway: This should be made a Micro-Franchise and a round-table of stakeholders established with some public consultation and input, not meeting of professionals only behind closed doors. It should include operators at both ends of the line and Open Access Operators invited to join them with East-West Rail as an umbrella project and stakeholder. It is felt that being a long way from Birmingham, London Midland is too big and unwieldy and tends to lose sight and hands-on touch with day to day operations, the promotion and enhancement of the railway, which is the best foot for retention of the services the line provides, not status quo operation without reference to practicalities. One example is the marketing of the railway as a ‘leisure line’ but law and rolling stock restricts to a maximum of 2 bikes per train and this on a rail link between two cycle networks of Milton Keynes Red-ways and Bedford’s own cycle network and Sustrans Route 51 to Sandy where it links elsewhere. Moreover stations are a long way from the line in examples like Millbrook and so using a cycle to the train makes a lot of good, healthy sense. So bikes are important and yet this is not reflected in the rolling stock, accommodation and management of bikes as a staple usership market niche which needs optimising beit work, leisure or just getting from a to b and further afield.
2. The London Midland Franchise is unwieldy and should be broken between a Southern Franchise (Northampton-Euston) and a West Midlands focus of Franchise and radial commuter centric routes (Northampton-Birmingham and out to Liverpool et al the other side). This could incorporate more competition and varied types of services akin to the East Coast Main Line, whereby Open Access Operators could target and serve stations with a package of marketing to boost usage and attract more customers. For example, Northampton to plethora of destinations, Northampton-London* and places like Tring with it’s extra slow loop and the on-coming East-West Rail project which needs to be speeded up by a sharing of practicalities of infrastructure, services and growth between infrastructure providers, operators and Open Access.
3. Open Access should be looked at to exploit the end to end commute of the Bedford-Bletchley line on top of the basic all stopper train service. For example a Watford-Corby semi fast niche service am, midday, pm peak and maybe a later evening run to give more radial suburban inter-connective links.
4. Other improvements to Marston Vale local services needed are:
a. Lengthening of halts where required, for standard 3-4 coach electric traction operation preparation.
b. A new station and over-bridge to serve the Kempston Retail Park and Kempston Town itself (population 18, 000 +). It would open the Retail Park up to a wider audience, give a modal choice of access, cut congestion and queues of traffic along Ampthill Road and give easy access by a linked cycle-train network to Elstow (Bunyan Trail), Wixams (new town), Kempston Town (leisure) and Woburn Road Industrial Estate (employment). A feasibility study should be done inclusive of market potential. Steer Davis Gleave circa 2000 did suggest such a halt could raise 100 extra train journeys on the Marston Vale Railway, most would be filling lighter used off peak services. The 3 minute delay in stopping, could be mitigated by increased receipts and prestige of relevance of the railway to the major local centre.
c. Sunday and Bank Holiday services. The signalling is automated now and costs overhead-wise reduced accordingly. That saving should be commuted to half hourly frequencies Monday-Saturday and hourly on Sunday and Bank Holiday services. The line is marketed as a ‘leisure line’ but it is also a key local commute for blue collar workers and capturing a slice of the end to end Bedford-Milton Keynes commute, requires adequate rolling stock, adequate frequency and end to end seamless journeying. A point being is that X5 coaches deliver to the shopping centre and Central Milton Keynes Station but the large swathe of the business section of the Central area lies between the shopping centre and the Central Rail Station, so rail could offer a genuine modal choice and relief to congestion on the A509/M1 Junction which tends to congest and hold up Coachway operations in and out during peak times for example.
d. Extension of local shuttle services to Milton Keynes Central. This would best be done if the line is electrified and 4 coach standard 321 or 319 sort of stock is utilised.
5. Reopening a rebuild of the Northampton-Olney-Bedford Rail Link.
This short 21.5 mile link could offer multiple operational and practical benefits to the Franchise and so should be supported:
a. Birmingham, Coventry, Luton and Gatwick Airports via one train, seamless journey.
b. Bletchley-Bedford-Northampton/Rugby capacity loop for extra services to North of Milton Keynes Central, more capacity for freight (avoiding conflict) and local Bedford-Bletchley services being extended to Northampton which could mean additional end to end and stopping services utilising same stock, ideally 319 or Desiro stock + any Open Access e.g. West Coast-Luton Airport without recourse to London and/or Heathrow via Dudding Hill Lines reopening to passenger access, again creating capacity of ‘not via central London’.

c. Northampton is a growing town equivalent to Croydon yet is poorly served by rail links and cross-country services. The A428/A509 corridors are growth corridors and without the railway and a parkway station at Olney (A509) which would serve a 5 mile catchment of some 33, 000 people, which otherwise have to drive up to 12 miles each way to Milton Keynes or Bedford which adds to queues, congestion and parking demand which cannot be catered for. Far better to address the growth nearer to where people live as Olney Parkway would. The new university campus at Northampton borders the trackbed of the old line and could be a prospect for a South Northampton cum Brackmills access station. The line needs protecting and again a study should be commissioned to ensure we don’t allow by default, the loss of a key asset in the modern context.

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