Hopes grow of gains for Gainsborough

Is the tide turning for Gainsborough?

From being a quiet town in the depths of Lincolnshire, seemingly condemned as an unloved and unwanted part of the railway, suddenly senior rail executives are planning to visit the town, but only after the plight of the local railway and its users was highlighted in RAIL 777. Unwanted investment that could have an adverse effect on the town is being challenged.

Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith is joining RAIL Managing Editor Nigel Harris next month, to see first hand the problems that the town faces.

The Friends of the Brigg Line have been campaigning relentlessly (but largely fruitlessly) regarding the plight of Gainsborough Central and Gainsborough Lea Road stations for many years. In the long term, they are thinking big… but for now they just want their pleas to be heard as they strive for very basic improvements. 

Is this a situation where the regulated railway is failing its users? At Lea Road, Network Rail has spent around £250,000 on a point to a freight terminal that will probably never be used. And at Central it is determined to replace a steel lattice bridge with an identical structure that has no ramp access (at a cost of £350,000-£450,000), while at the same time removing a foot crossing. This means that disabled passengers, those wishing to cross platforms with heavy luggage, mums with buggies or those who are unsteady on their feet, will have to travel to Retford in order to catch a train heading east. That’s an added journey time of an hour. 

The service provision at Gainsborough Central had dropped to one per day, through the cynical 1980s-style British Rail method of reducing the number of trains running and then claiming that no one used the trains. In 1993 the Monday to Saturday service was abolished, leaving trains to run on Saturdays only. 

Yet there is clear evidence of demand. Local user groups report more than 150 passengers on one of the Saturday-only trains from Gainsborough Central. One of the Pacers that arrived on July 11 had just four seats spare, while 17 people boarded another train. That doesn’t sound a lot, but when there are only three trains per day, it illustrates that there is visible demand.

To Northern Rail’s credit, it increased the number of trains serving Gainsborough Central to three per day. But the current situation seems to be falling halfway between either developing the market or winding it down. And that benefits nobody.

This is the failure of the regulated railway at the fringes. 

Major conurbations such as Manchester and Leeds demand constant investment, while London has received new trains. Yet in the flatlands of Lincolnshire, a town with two railway stations and a population of nearly 17,000 is being largely ignored. Is this a situation where the industry only cares about the main line? 

Lea Road station enjoys regular services from Sheffield and Lincoln Central, while East Midlands Trains operates five trains (Monday to Saturday) between Doncaster and Lincoln Central (some extended to Peterborough). 

But after several years of improving passenger numbers, Lea Road suffered a decline in 2013/2014, according to ORR station usage statistics. Last year 137,394 passengers used the station, down from 150,154 in 2012/2013. That was the first drop since 2008/2009, and the lowest passenger figures since 2009/2010, when 136,284 passengers used the station.

At Gainsborough Central the number of passengers increased in 2013/2014, with 1,220 using the station (up from 1,128 in 2012/2013). But it has yet to reach the 2009/2010 figure of 1,438, or even the 2011/2012 figure of 1,334.

Senior sources within the rail industry have cited the lack of signage at the station as a result of vandalism. Yet the local campaign group describes Gainsborough Central as “Britain’s most secure station”, because the neighbouring shopping complex has CCTV and the station gates are shut six days per week when the station is not open. Over at Lea Road, CCTV is also prevalent. Vandalism - the locals say - is rare. 

Speaking to RAIL on July 13, the Friends of the Brigg Line’s Paul Johnson said that the previous week he had attended two meetings with Network Rail in York. Prior to that Johnson, a former career railwayman, had tried in vain for many years to meet the infrastructure owner. NR would never meet him.

“Incredibly, following on from the article in RAIL, I was invited to a forward planning session for Control Period 6 ,” he says, adding that representatives from local authorities and freight operating companies were also in attendance. 

And he was pleased with the outcome: “It was positive. People were saying they want progression and economic growth.” 

That sounds music to the ears of the campaigners, although there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome. Johnson explains: “Then I went on Friday . They confirmed they were not going to replace Brigg Bridge with a ramp, they said ‘this is what we are going to do’. Yet Brigg is a retirement town. Passengers are going to Barnetby to use that bridge. There would be a 25% increase at Brigg overnight if they put access in.”

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