Working together to get rail right

Getting a better rail deal for our city is absolutely integral to Lincoln’s future and it’s something I’m entirely dedicated to. No one is in any doubt that the current deal is a raw one – the number and frequency of train services just don’t match our city’s size, importance and – most importantly, our potential.

As I’ve written many, many times, here and elsewhere, better rail links are vital for the growth of our local economy, for jobs, for tourism, for residents, for business, for students, for our key institutions.

One train an hour to Nottingham, and nothing until afternoon on Sundays, infrequent services to Sheffield, Doncaster, Grimsby, Spalding and Peterborough and unusable connections to Scunthorpe.

Then there’s the sorry tale of our one train a day to London Kings Cross and the slower service to St Pancras. We are the largest city in the UK with such a poor service to London.

Imagine how much more attractive Lincoln would be to big employers and tourists if rail travellers could feasibly get to and from the capital on any number of direct trains a day.

My predecessor, Gillian Merron, achieved the promise of seven trains a day direct to London, however directly after Gillian stopped being Lincoln’s MP the planned trains were cancelled. This was a shame and much to Lincoln’s detriment. In the meantime, we’ve seen the Government announce huge investment in rail improvements for our neighbouring towns and cities, but nothing for Lincoln. We must work together to put this right.

The strongly profitable East Coast service is the only line owned by all of us, but instead of keeping it public and using the profits to invest in better and more services to Lincoln right now, the Tories have decided to sell off East Coast into private hands. This means improvements can’t happen until a new franchise starts in March 2015, and Labour continues to oppose this policy of diverting profits from the taxpayer to the private shareholder.

This said, I know that as and when East Coast is sold off, it will be imperative to impress upon the new private operator just how important services to Lincoln really are. That’s why I, along with our City and County Councils, our current MP and many other interested groups, such as the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, responded to the Department for Transport’s recent consultation on the new franchise and what services should be specified for the new private operator to run.

It was very good news that the call for new services to Lincoln was by far and away the most popular option according to the DfT. Looking ahead in the franchising timetable, there’s now a lot more work to do.

In February next year, the government is to issue its specification for the new franchise, in May the shortlisted private companies must submit bids, and, in October, the winning company will be announced. I will do everything I can to keep up the pressure all the way through the government’s process and I have already discussed these issues with Shadow Transport ministers and interested local parties.

I’ve met with Network Rail to talk about improvements such as the new footbridges and better East Coast, East Midlands and Northern rail services. I’ve also pledged my support to the excellent RailFair campaign for a better service between Lincoln and Nottingham — a journey that takes longer now than it did 100 years ago.

I believe the best for Lincoln will doubtless come from all groups working together towards the same goal and that’s why I offer my help and support to each and everyone — regardless of political colour — pushing for a better rail deal for our city.