Mayor attacks train operator over Fenland village train links
Cambridgeshire’s metro mayor has called for a rail operator to be stripped of its franchise for refusing to run more services between a Fenland village and Cambridge.
James Palmer has attacked CrossCountry for refusing to consider increasing services between Manea and the city during its current contract.
But the operator claims adding an extra stop would increase crowding on its route.
Mr Palmer argues the service would increase the economic opportunities in Manea and add another option for affordable housing within commuting distance of Cambridge.
He said the journey takes less than 30 minutes, and all CrossCountry needs to do is get trains passing through Manea on their way to Cambridge to stop there.
Currently, CrossCountry runs two direct trains on weekdays, one morning and one evening service, otherwise passengers have to change at Ely.
But Mr Palmer claims CrossCountry would not even consider his suggestion until their current contract ends in 2021.
He said: “The response from CrossCountry trains – it’s just extraordinary – ‘we will review it in 2021’… their franchise should be stripped away from them.”
But CrossCountry responded by saying the smaller stop would not be suitable on its longer-distance service, which runs from Stansted Airport to Birmingham, and would add to crowding on the service.
A spokesman said: “CrossCountry complies fully with the specification set by the Department for Transport for train services at Manea.
a regular service provided by the local train operator, Greater Anglia, from which connections to Cambridge can be made at Ely.
“Local train operators are always best at meeting the needs of local rail users, rather than adding stops in already busy long distance services from Birmingham to Stansted Airport.
“Inserting additional stops would make journey times longer and therefore less competitive to car travel, and would lead to crowding on these already busy trains as there are currently no available trains to hire of the type we use to add more carriages.”
Mr Palmer was speaking the day after a report commissioned by six of England’s Combined Authorities called for more powers to be transferred as part of an expansion of devolution.
He argues dealing with third party organisations is “blocking growth” and the slow pace of progress can be “infuriating”.
He said: “I want the power to say to CrossCountry trains, if you don’t deliver this I will kill your franchise.”
And speaking about frustrations over delivering infrastructure projects he said: “Sometimes it can feel like I’m cycling with the brakes on dealing with third parties – Network Rail, Highways England, Whitehall.
“Should I really have to go through Network Rail to put a station up in Cambridgeshire?
“I would like to be able to build railway stations without going through a third party.
“I would like to be able to deliver significant highways improvements without having to bend over to Highways England.”
More by this authorJosh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter