Opinion: campaigning for a better rail service

Here at Eaglescliffe we have a great airport on our doorsteps – still known as Teesside Airport to most of us despite the best efforts of the owners to change it to Durham Tees Valley. From my house I can take a 10 minute walk in the other direction to a railway station with a reasonably frequent service going past the airport on its way to Darlington.

The airport has a railway station too – ideal you might think. Think again. Trains stop there once in each direction on Saturdays and now on Sundays too. For the rest of the week the trains hurtle through without stopping. For reasons best known to the rail authorities of the past the Airport railway station is a good 10 minutes walk from the Terminal. In years gone by there was a shuttle bus from the station to the Terminal but not any longer. Now it takes a real effort to take a train to catch a plane.

Enter the Teesside Airport Flashmob! One keen person set up a Facebook group, invited Stockton Lib Dems and others to join in and Saturday 2 April was to be a day of action and publicity.

At the appointed time a small group of enthusiasts made the effort to get to the airport, unfortunately having to do it by car, in order to catch the train back home and publicise this absurd situation. The local press turned up, both Gazette and Northern Echo, but the train didn’t!. A phone call to customer services elicited the information that there was a problem on the track and it hadn’t yet set off. So why no announcement over the tannoi? Presumably because they didn’t expect anyone being on the station!

There was an announcement at the next station along. Eventually the train which should have come through after ours hurtled towards us. Would it stop and pick us up? No chance – it carried straight on through, with its passengers looking slightly bemused to see a group of people on the platform being ignored.

Several phone calls later and we were told ours was on its way. The next train through actually slowed down enough for the driver to lean out of his cab and tell us that ours was following, finally arriving 75 minutes late. The press photographers had long since gone to their next assignment, taking with them shots of an empty track.

If we are ever to get people out of cars onto public transport we have to sort out the lunacy that allows a service to stop so infrequently that the conductor says he’s never before had to find that station on his machine. We need the funding for the Tees Valley Metro to be guaranteed so that the station can be moved to beside the Terminal and people can once again get to the plane by train. And we need Rail customer services to communicate properly with the train crews so that in case of problems such as the delay to our train another one can stop briefly and pick passengers up. We need a train service, not just a rail system.

Maureen Rigg is a Lib Dem councillor on Stockton Borough Council. She blogs regularly at eaglescliffe.blogspot.com

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  • Brilliant example of transport lunacy. Here in Scotland, the East Coast Main Line passes within feet of the end of the runway at Edinburgh Airport. The Labour / Lib Dem coalition had earmarked spending to build an interchange station at the airport – which was immediately axed in 2007 by the SNP (before the current financial situation really took hold.)

  • I remember using the Tees Valley line from Darlington to Middlesbrough, sometimes beyond to Marske and Saltburn and it always confused me how no trains stopped at the airport.

    Unfortunately this area of England has not seen any investment in rail at all. Only thanks to the open access company Grand Central does the Tees area even have a direct train to London.
    1980s 2-carriage diesel trains made from bus parts are still the main stock on the line, while London services get shiny new electric trains.

    It was this sort of neglect that led to Labour losing Redcar – the last government didn’t seem to give a damn about Teesside/Langbaurgh/Cleveland- and this government can’t make the same mistake.

    We know that a London-based economy wasn’t sustainable, and Clegg and Cameron have both spoken about investing in other parts of the UK. Unfortunately, words are meaningless unless followed up by action. What kind of business wants to locate itself on a train line where visitors and staff have to put up with overcrowded, deafening, shaky trains with bus seats, poor heating and no live departure boards or staff at many stations?

    Upgrading this train line would be incredibly significant in attracting a different type of business to the Tees area, especially as the roads around the Redcar/Middlesbrough industrial area are congested enough as it is.

  • Unbelievable examples, all three.

    Leeds Bradford airport is another one in need of a rail link:

    We nearly always go via Manchester, because of the station (and it’s good news that the 2011 budget makes it even more accessible, with joined-up Manchester stations).

    I would really really like to see us taking as high a profile as possible on transport issues – after Norman Baker, thanks to Maureen for this article. Would be great to hear some more, esp. on the Local Sustainable Transport Fund.

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