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Mayor says Covid must not be used as an excuse to cut Fenland ‘lifeline’ services

Mayor says Covid must not be used as an excuse to cut Fenland ‘lifeline’ services

The train operator Cross Country has decided to stop its services halting at Whittlesea, March and Manea, blaming a resource issue.

Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority officers have engaged with Network Rail and Department for Transport officials over the past week over the Cross Country cuts and will continue to engage with these teams to find solutions to ensure long-term commitment to services.

To help soften the immediate impact of Cross Country’s actions, the Mayoral Combined Authority has been quick to act, engaging with Network Rail to put on an additional afternoon stopping service for school children trying to get back from Peterborough.  It has also been working with Network Rail and the Department for Transport following news that schoolchildren at Whittlesey have also been left stranded by Cross Country’s sudden cuts.

 Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, James Palmer:

 “This is urgent and we continue to liaise with the Department for Transport and Network Rail. We are determined that the community must not suffer and we’re pushing hard to get all the services reinstated, or an alternative operator to make stops.

“Cross Country’s treatment of the travelling public here is nothing short of appalling. This is the latest slap in the face as they choose this time, when everyone is vulnerable and struggling to get back to school and work, to cut what was an already-poor stopping service at the Fenland stations.

“It is completely unacceptable behaviour from Cross Country. This is a massive issue for the Fenland community, who need better services, not worse.

“The Mayoral Combined Authority is pouring money into these stations to regenerate Fenland, benefit the communities there, and help the travelling public in general, and it is beyond disgusting that Cross Country should just switch off services in this contemptuous and high-handed fashion.

“Everyone in the country is being asked to work together to get the UK back on its feet and Cross Country is standing out as a company which can’t be counted on, which fails to deliver when needed, and which is making itself part of the problem, not part of the solution.

“I’ll be discussing this with the rail minister at the earliest opportunity and I am writing to him on this matter now. The kind of unreliability shown by Cross Country means we will redouble our efforts on behalf of passengers, lobbying loudly and hard for improvements to services at these stations. I am extremely unhappy with this company, and disappointed that they were so easily given renewal to operate on that line.

“Of course, I appreciate the pressures placed on transport operators by Covid-19. While some temporary reduction in services might be necessary, this must not be used by Cross Country as an excuse to cut lifeline services in what is already one of the least connected parts of the country.

“I am absolutely committed to increasing train use and improving services between market towns and Cambridge. We are continuing our investment in Fenland stations, and I will continue to press Government and the train operators to ensure services are restored as soon as possible, and improved at the earliest opportunity. I have instructed my officers to discuss this situation with Network Rail urgently.

“The truth is, our efforts to improve Fenland rail travel have always been frustrated by Cross Country. I have pushed for better stopping services at March, Manea and Whittlesea – and for the Stansted to Birmingham service to be expanded to give greater opportunity to the Fenland communities. And now, instead of improvements, Cross Country announces cuts.  People need services to be more frequent, not less, and they need later-night services too.  I have been constantly exasperated by Cross Country’s failure to come to the table on any of these key improvements.

“Now is the time to encourage people to use trains, not push people away from them. If Cross Country would just engage, its service would be the easiest and cheapest way to bring about better rail connectivity in Fenland, where the journey time from Cambridge to March, and vice versa, is a little over 30 minutes direct. It would also support the wider ambition of increasing public transport use, reducing congestion on the roads, easing stress on the environment and helping our county and our country back to school and work.

“The Mayoral Combined Authority is bringing forward new stations at Soham and Cambridge South and plans a new rail link for Wisbech. We are also delivering a series of improvements to upgrade facilities at our Fenland stations. We are investing in our local rail network and we are planning for a transport future in which better rail services are essential. For that reason the Mayoral Combined Authority needs more cooperation from Cross Country – and a greater say when franchises come up for renewal.”