Spalding Rail Station timetable expansion plans delayed by coronavirus
Train passengers in South Holland have been dealt a blow after confirmation that plans for more services to and from the area will be delayed due to coronavirus.
A senior manager for East Midlands Railway (EMR), operator of trains between Spalding, Peterborough, Sleaford and Lincoln, warned that is “highly unlikely”that improvements to its timetable for the route would take effect in either December 2021 or May 2022.
During a virtual meeting of Lincolnshire County Council’s highways and transport scrutiny committee last Monday, EMR’s senior commercial strategy manager, Max Taylor, revealed that rising cases of COVID-19 among its train staff, as well as delays in recruiting and training new drivers, had resulted in the cancellation of nearly 40 services across its network.
These include two services each way on the Lincoln to Peterborough line, which runs through Spalding, cutting the number of services between the two cities from eight to six.
Mr Taylor said: "The impact of COVID-19 can't be overstated because not only has our patronage (passenger numbers) sharply fallen away, although it's been climbing back up slowly over recent months, it has also severely impacted on our ability to provide a service.
"We're in the very unfortunate position where we've had to withdraw 37 services from our timetable due to our inability to resource them.
"This is directly linked to the availability of train crew who are either self-isolating, or have become ill over the past few weeks and are waiting for the test results.
"All this is against the backdrop of significant change ahead of our May 2021 timetable and the need to recruit and train new drivers on the new trains that are coming to the region."
EMR, part of Dutch state-owned transport company Abellio, took over train services on the Peterborough, Spalding and Lincoln line in August 2019, with the promise of a £600million investment in new trains and enhanced timetables.
Part of this promise included new early morning and late evening services in the so-called Great Northern Great Eastern line between Peterborough and Doncaster by December 2021.
But Mr Taylor said: "It's highly unlikely that improvements will be delivered in December 2021 or May 2022 and we're unable to say when they will be introduced.
"It may well be that we can deliver some improvements earlier than others and we do intend to introduce additional services between Lincoln and Peterborough."
Coun Rodney Grocock, county councillor for the Donington Rural division and a highways and transport scrutiny committee member, said: "When EMR announced that the service between Peterborough and Lincoln, via Spalding, was going to be vastly increased, it was the best transport news South Holland residents had received for some time.
"It would help them get to Lincoln Hospital, help our students to go to university and help people going to work near Lincoln, taking cars off our busy roads.
"Rail companies are now complaining about footfall and how passengers are not using the trains.
"But South Holland has never been looked at properly to increase regional train services when it has an untapped market of people wishing to travel."