NETWORK Rail bosses have admitted that their communication over the August Bank Holiday closure of the East Coast Main Line was ineffective.
They have also promised to learn lessons after some organisers of national sporting and cultural events complained were not informed of the August 24 and 25 shutdown until up to four months after the dates were agreed.
Those affected include tens of thousands spectators attending cricket’s Ashes Test at Headingley; York’s Ebor festival; rugby league’s Challenge Cup final; the Leeds Festival and the Edinburgh Festival.
The Yorkshire Post can now reveal that the decision to close the line between London King’s Cross and Peterborough was taken on February 14. Train operators as well as officials from the Department for Transport, the Transport Focus watchdog and London Travel Watch were present, say Network Rail.
However Welcome to Yorkshire, the region’s tourism body, says it only became aware of the closure on June 6 when it was contacted by concerned executives from York’s racecourse as the impact on travelling public slowly became clear.
It is particularly embarrassing because Sir Gary Verity, WTY’s former chief executive, is also chair of the East Coast line’s Supervisory Board which was set up in August 2017 to improve communication. It has not met for eight months.
“What is clear from the feedback we are receiving is that the information flow from our briefings has not been as good as we would hope and this is something that as an industry we are committed to improve as this work progresses,” said a Network Rail spokeswoman.
She confirmed that the major engineering work – part of a £1.2bn upgrade of the route – was approved at a meeting on February 14. “As an output from that meeting the communications group was tasked to communicate with passengers and stakeholders,” she added. “That work remains ongoing.”
Yet, while York Racecourse describe the timing as “staggering”, business leaders are surprised that the Supervisory Board – set up to restore public confidence in the troubled route – has been in abeyance.
“The lack of the Supervisory Board meeting for the East Coast Main Line is just not acceptable,” tweeted Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison.
And former Morrisons director Roger Owen contacted this newspaper to express surprise at the lack of meetings. “I spent over 20 years on the board of Morrisons and another nine in a senior position prior where this slack approach would not have occurred. It strikes me the board is a cosy mates’ club that needs a shake,” he said.
MP blasts ‘disgraceful’ decision
VETERAN Huddersfield MP Barry Sheerman describing the timing of the East Coast Main Line closure – and absence of advance warning from Network Rail – as “absolutely disgraceful”.
He said the episode showed that Yorkshire was bereft of political leaders who could also think strategically and stand up for rail travellers.
Mr Sheerman, who is also chair of the Yorkshire All Party Parliamentary Group at Westminster, added: “I’ve never known a time when we have such a lack of strong visionary leaders in our region – people who can get things done, work with others and see problems and stop them before they happen.”