MP condemns dismal average speeds of North-East rail journeys

Darlington and Stockton Times: Ian Swales Ian Swales

TRAINS crawl at less than 60mph from the North-East to no fewer than 15 key English towns and cities, an MP has protested.

Ian Swales, the Redcar MP, condemned a failure to invest in rail travel unless it served to “concentrate economic and administrative power” in London.

The Liberal Democrat said one tedious journey – from Liverpool to Darlington – had left Business Secretary Vince Cable “stunned” when he endured it.

And he unveiled research revealing the dismal average speeds to take a train between Darlington and key destinations across England.

A trip from Liverpool takes 2 hrs 51 mins – at a miserable average speed of just 48.8mph if that journey was made by road, Mr Swales said.

The speeds were only slightly faster from Coventry (50.5mph), Leicester (52.1mph), Nottingham (50.7mph) and Oxford (54.6mph).

And journeys to Bournemouth (20.9mph) and nearby Sunderland (27.8mph) – a distance of just 31 miles – were among the slowest in the country.

Mr Swales said: “The North-East has good journey times to London, but very poor journey times to other places.

“Is it right that it takes longer to get from Darlington to Manchester on a single train than it takes to get to London?

“The Secretary of State for Business was stunned recently when he discovered how long he had to spend on the train when travelling from Liverpool to Darlington.

“Past investment focused on ‘hub-and-spoke systems’ based on London - with under-investment on other routes which has helped to concentrate economic and administrative power in the capital.”

Mr Swales said poor cross-country links were also a problem for business leaders, such as Teesport, which needed a “wide hinterland”.

He added: “If such a container was destined for Preston - which is less than 100 miles away - it would have to go via Birmingham, so poor are the trans-Pennine links.”

In stark contrast, average speeds to London were “well over 100mph from many parts of the country”.

The MP also attacked “absurd dog-legging through London”, the only way to take a train between Newcastle and Ipswich, for example.

And he argued that, despite the huge attention given to the HS2 high-speed scheme, it would cover only 13 of 465 possible trips between England’s 29 ‘city-regions’.

Meanwhile, France and Germany were much better at ensuring economic success was not concentrated in their capital cities.

In reply, rail minister Stephen Hammond said rail passengers were benefiting from “massive investment from this Government on a scale not previously seen”.

And he pointed to the Northern Hub development - to increase train services, cut journey times and electrify lines between Northern cities - as “transformative”.

But Mr Hammond also congratulated Mr Swales on his research, saying: “He proved by his journey time calculations and recalculations that he can do mathematics.”

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