How a ‘coalition of the willing’ resulted in economic and societal growth for TransPennine Express
When the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK in early 2020, the landscape for everyone and everything changed overnight. For public transport, which exists to take customers where they want and need to be, those changes were seismic. As lockdowns hit, customer numbers – and revenue – collapsed, and with that, came changes in the way people thought about their travel requirements and how they could do business, seemingly forever.
Fast-forward two years and customer numbers are recovering, but that recovery is fragile. A new variant emerging or governmental advice to “work from home if you can” has an immediate impact, particularly in the commuting and business travel sector. However, what has become stronger over the past two years is the use of the railway for leisure travel, with demand for weekend travel often above pre-COVID levels. The recovery of customer volumes and revenue is, therefore, based on leisure travel, and within that there are significant opportunities ahead, such as has been seen through the introduction of a new service between Edinburgh – Newcastle.
As TransPennine Express’ Managing Director Matthew Golton explains, it’s all about joining the dots.
We are extremely proud of the part we played in directly connecting, by train, the towns on the route between Edinburgh to Newcastle. Dunbar, in East Lothian, the new station (soon to be opened) at Reston in the Scottish Borders, and the key locations of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth, Morpeth and Cramlington are all now connected directly to each other by rail for the first time in decades, creating new leisure, commuting and business travel opportunities.
Collaborative working with Transport Scotland and Rail North Partnership saw us convert an opportunity to realise a gap in the rail market, enabling an agreement to be reached in a matter of weeks that saw these services , and the connectivity they provide, introduced during December 2021.
This happened because the key organisations involved, which also included Transport North East, Northumberland County Council and Scottish Borders Council, formed a remarkable ‘coalition of the willing’. This enabled a market that had been unserved before COVID to become one of the fastest growth stories on the rail network as customers flocked to the new service. The reason behind this demand is simple, dots on the route between Edinburgh to Newcastle had been joined up again, enabling those journeys to be made by train once more.
Connecting East Lothian, the Scottish Borders and Northumberland in a way they have not been for decades has come at the right time for the increasing demand for leisure travel. But this is about more than the new services connecting local communities. To date we have seen almost 70,000 customers use our trains to travel from Edinburgh or Newcastle to get to places such as Dunbar, Berwick-upon-Tweed or Alnmouth. By offering new leisure journey opportunities TransPennine Express is connecting communities and providing a service that meets the needs of its customers.
The success of the Newcastle – Edinburgh services was only possible through the collegiate approach of the organisations involved, and the foundations are now in place to reap the societal and economic benefits for years to come.
Graeme Dey MSP, former Minister for Transport in the Scotland Government said: “Improving access to work, education and leisure opportunities by connecting communities is at the heart of our transport priorities. These additional rail services, particularly at intermediate stations, will also make a real difference in encouraging more people out of their cars and onto trains as we strive towards achieving Net Zero goals.
“This is a good example of collaborative working by all involved to deliver a great outcome for those on the route.
Martin Tugwell, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, said: “Transport for the North remains committed to strengthening rail links between the North East and Scotland and this initiative, which we have been pleased to support through the Rail North Partnership, brings a high-quality service to a growing rail market supporting a number of key communities along a key rail corridor between the two countries. Improving connectivity between the North, Edinburgh and beyond will bring about benefits for our residents and businesses, as part of the wider UK economy.”
Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, said: “It’s brilliant to see better rail connectivity being introduced by TransPennine Express to communities in Northumberland along the East Coast Main Line. The new trains are transformational in connecting people to employment, education and leisure opportunities, which is a key aim of the North East Transport Plan. We have been pushing for this improvement and we’re delighted that it has been made possible by TransPennine Express, the Rail North Partnership and Transport Scotland.”
Work is continuing develop the service further, with new connections available once the new station opens at Reston. As markets continue to recover from the impact of COVID, there will be other opportunities for the rail network to connect even more communities and deliver the additional mobility evidenced in the success of the Edinburgh – Newcastle service. The key for rail operators and partner organisations is to keep looking for the opportunities to join the dots.
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