Business leaders in a Yorkshire city are demanding answers from a leading rail operator over fears that a vital link to Manchester will be downgraded to a “stopping service” with longer journey times.
The Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce says timetable changes being introduced in May this year will mean the TransPennine Express service between Hull, Leeds and Manchester will incorporate 10 intermediate stops, six more than before.
Hull’s year as UK City of Culture fuelled a boost in both tourism and business travel, we feel strongly that nothing should happen which could therefore undermine this growth, which is vital for Hull’s continuing renaissance as a destination city.Dr Ian Kelly
In a letter to the firm’s Managing Director, the Chamber’s Chief Executive Dr Ian Kelly said the proposed changes will worsen the service and undermine the economic growth “which is vital for Hull’s continuing renaissance as a destination city.”
But TransPennine Express insists the city’s business leaders have been “wrongly advised” on the impact of the changes. It says the timetable from May has yet to be confirmed but that its plans “enhance connectivity to and from Hull”.
The row comes a day after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling approved changes to the Hope Valley rail line between Sheffield and Manchester, which would mean three fast trains an hour between the cities, rather than two.
The Chamber of Commerce says it has raised concerns about the Hull-Manchester plans but they are still going ahead. Analysis by its rail consultants suggests the number of intermediate stops on the line will now be 10, up from the current total of four, adding at least six extra minutes to the journey.
It says this is in contrast to the proposed service changes between Scarborough and Liverpool, which will be 22 minutes quicker, and Newcastle to Liverpool, which will be 26 minutes quicker.
The letter to TransPennine Express Managing Director Leo Goodwin says: “The Chamber believes good transport links are vital to the economic well being of the Humber region and effective rail links are integral to this.
“The Chamber has previously lobbied for extending the current service beyond Manchester Piccadilly to Manchester Airport and Liverpool.
“There has been a consistent view from our members that the frequency of services between Hull and Leeds should also be doubled to provide a half-hourly service.
“The proposals set out by TransPennine Express worsen, not improve, the current service, adding an average of six minutes to journey times, and we feel this is unacceptable at a time when rail links between the largest cities in the Northern Powerhouse of the country should be improved, and not downgraded.
“Hull’s year as UK City of Culture fuelled a boost in both tourism and business travel, we feel strongly that nothing should happen which could therefore undermine this growth, which is vital for Hull’s continuing renaissance as a destination city.”
Hull North MP Diana Johnson said: “Alongside the fact that it will be decades before Hull sees any improvements to our rail infrastructure, it is totally unacceptable to Hull passengers and our business community that we will soon be seeing a slower Transpennine rail service. This is not an ‘improved’ service.
“I’ve already raised the issue in the Commons and I look forward to making this case alongside Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce and other representatives from Hull.”
A spokeswoman for TransPennine Express said: “The Hull & Humber Chamber of Commerce have sadly been wrongly advised on this matter.
“We have offered to meet with them on several occasions over the past year to inform them on the improvements proposed but have received no response. We would like to reiterate that we are still open to discussions on this matter.
“The timetable developments in May 2018 are currently being finalised but our plan will enhance connectivity to and from Hull.
“Stopping at additional stations in West Yorkshire will enable the capacity of the route to become more reliable.
“We know that the vast majority of customers travel from Hull to Leeds and this journey time will not be affected. Our customers travelling to and from Manchester will see an increase of around only a few minutes.
“We are currently delivering a significant investment to improve Hull’s rail services, including a £32million upgrade of our trains with free Wi-Fi in Standard and First Class and an on-board entertainment system.
“We have already introduced additional late-night services from Hull towards Leeds and Manchester and delivered a significant improvement at Hull Paragon station including new toilets, waiting rooms, retail units and a new customer information centre.”