INTO THE SUNSET - NORTHERN RAIL
During a week where I sampled the new Oxford Parkway, Bicester Village to Marylebone service on Chiltern Railways it is refreshing to read the news that the northwest train operator franchise is being assigned to a new company in 2016.
The contrast between the rolling stock, the services and the stations of the decrepit hand me downs of Northern Rail to the quality comfort and cleanliness of Chiltern trains is like night and day.
According to public announcements this week the abysmal Northern Rail current operator will be no more from next April ; with the new appointed operator being Arriva Rail North. A promise of oodles of capital spending secured their contract, together with commitments to improved services and hopefully a visionary attitude not dissimilar to that of the Chiltern railway team.
The new Bicester Village Station under final stages of construction (formerly a single track dead end halt with one train an hour to and from Oxford). Now double track with a new curve to connect with north south mainline running into London from Birmingham, Warwick, Banbury and up to four trains an hour in peak times in both directions). The station adjoins the huge parking lot serving the retail village with walking access into Bicester and business parks under construct.
Quite apart from the infrastructural investment and new trains with comfortable seating, air conditioning, quiet and smooth running and fast and frequent services, the economic boost such investment brings to local economies is huge. Bicester Village is probably Britain's most successful out of town retailing destination growing year on year with job creation both direct and indirect. Obviously the proximity of Bicester to London (50 minutes from Marylebone Station) and to Oxford - 20 minutes by car - makes this outlet in an enviable market location. And one cannot compare like with like when arguing the potential for Fleetwood Freeport - but lessons can (and should) be learned here.
Sleek new multi unit trains of up to 8 coaches - plenty of leg room and wi-fi among other features. Announcements in Chinese and Urdu en route to Bicester.
Fleetwood Freeport by contrast is denuded of rail link and accessible by car on a two lane clogged road well away from the nearest motorway access. A small investment in a curve connection at Poulton and some out of the box planning (is anyone listening out there?) could bring trains from Preston and much further afield onto the doorstep of Fleetwood Freeport, the intended redevelopment around Wyre Dock and at least walking distance of a few minutes to Fleetwood commercial centre. Will this happen under usual divisive local politics and blinkered in sand thinking prevalent in this part of the northwest ? Most unlikely.
In the meantime - take a trip down south to see the real world in action where railways mean business and local economies prosper.