CALLS are growing for transport chiefs to be compelled to take greater account of spectators attending major sporting and cultural events when closing major railways for engineering upgrades, The Yorkshire Post can exclusively reveal.
Network Rail is also facing mounting criticism for failing to consult more widely over the decision to shut the East Coast Main Line between King’s Cross and Peterborough for 48 hours over August’s Bank Holiday weekend.
Already rail operator LNER is advising passengers “not to travel” on August 24 and 25, causing potential chaos for spectators attending the Ashes Test Match at Headingley and the final day of the prestigious Ebor festival at York’s racecourse.
Also affected will be rugby league fans making the annual pilgrimage to Wembley for the Challenge Cup final; music fans attending Leeds Festival – and people travelling to and from the acclaimed Edinburgh Festival by train.
Even though all these dates – and many others – have been known for more than a year, a senior Leeds City Council executive said the authority only became aware of Network Rail’s closure plans around “three weeks ago” when it was a “fait accompli”. “It is hard to think of a busier weekend in the year,” they added.
Football fans will also be affected following the release of forthcoming fixtures – most notably Newcastle United’s trip to Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur.
Though the potential economic impact has not been calculated, the reputational risk to Yorkshire – and the North – is expected to be significant when the region’s rail services continue to be beset by reliability issues so regularly.
Network Rail – whose PR consultants sent an email on Thursday to local MPs inviting them to a briefing on July 17 – said it is the first planned closure of the line in 20 years and the £1.2bn package of improvements will create additional capacity for passengers.
But Keighley MP John Grogan said sports fans and leisure visitors had been disregarded. “Sport is not just important for itself and the joy it brings to many lives it is also a major economic driver which puts food on the table in many households,” he added
“There seems to be little recognition from Network Rail of this basic truth. The current consultative mechanisms on rail shutdowns seem little more than cursory and need to be beefed up by the new Secretary of State for Transport.”
And York Racecourse chief executive William Derby added: “Our fixture list was published last summer. At the 11th hour, to discover Network Rail’s plans to sever London from the North on a busy August Bank Holiday weekend for us and many other events and festivals is staggering.”
ADVICE FOR PASSENGERS
THERE will be no trains between Peterborough and London King’s Cross on August 24 and 25, affecting LNER, Hull Trains and Grand Central services. Trains will also be diverted between Doncaster and Peterborough on these days.
Rail operator LNER says: “As a result, we will be running a severely reduced train service across our entire route, and we’d strongly advise customers not to travel on either of these dates.”
A scaled back service is also planned on August 26 – Bank Holiday Monday – while trains are diverted between Doncaster and Newark Northgate because of track improvement work at a busy junction.
An email from LNER to affected users adds: “If you must travel around the Bank Holiday weekend period, we suggest booking tickets for either Thursday 22, Friday 23 or Tuesday 27 August instead, when train services will be running as normal.
“As trains will be very busy between 22 and 27 August, we strongly recommend that you make a seat reservation when you book your tickets.”