Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry has urged Network Rail to re-think a controversial shutdown of the East Coast Main Line on the forthcoming August Bank Holiday, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Rail bosses have been heavily criticised over the plan which would impose disruptive line closures between King’s Cross and Peterborough for 48 hours on August 24 and 25.
The decision forced the operator LNER to tell passengers not to travel over the bank holiday weekend – causing potential chaos for thousands of fans of sport, music and culture who will be travelling to major events that weekend.
The Ashes Test Match at Headingley will be hit by the closure along with the final day of the Ebor festival at York’s racecourse.
Rugby League fans travelling to Wembley for the Challenge Cup final, music lovers attending Leeds Festival and people travelling to and from the Edinburgh Festival will also be caught up in the chaos.
And Newcastle United fans looking forward to a new season clash with Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur will face a major challenge in getting to the match.
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Berry branded the choice of the August Bank Holiday weekend for the shutdown “astonishingly ill-timed”.
He said: “The August Bank Holiday weekend must surely be one of the busiest for the rail network.
“I totally understand and support work that will improve the quality of the service and bring more visitors to the North but for it to take place on this weekend – of all weekends – seems to me astonishingly ill-timed.”
“The decision will have a severe impact on those hoping to travel to major sporting and cultural events around the country and there will be an obvious economic impact for the North.
And in a letter to the rail body’s chairman Sir Peter Hendy, the minister called for a re-think of the move.
He wrote: “Given the likely economic impact to business and the inconvenience that will be caused to the public who are wanting to enjoy the great sporting an cultural events on offer, I ask again that you reconsider the timing of these works.”
This comes amid mounting pressure on Network Rail after it was revealed that the closure plan was made many months but the information was shared publicly.
Mr Berry said: “The situation has been made far worse by Network Rail’s decision not to communicate the closure until a few weeks before the shut down – even though I understand it has been in the calendar for a year...
“In the future I would urge them to take account of what major events are happening before embarking on a significant shutdown of such an important route.”
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “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.”