‘PLEASE stand back from the platform edge; the next train does not stop here.’ So goes the familiar Milton Keynes Railway Station announcement.
The West Coast Main Line is the busiest rail route in Britain, cutting straight through our city: fantastic. But the issue is so many trains do just that – whoosh straight past our platforms.
Extensive infrastructure work here, part of a £9 billion upgrade two years ago, seems to have been for the benefit of places like Birmingham rather than Milton Keynes. This is a point I have repeatedly raised. Yet timetables seem to favour those travelling to the capital from the north and midlands. Trains that do stop here are overcrowded and delayed.
I recently asked transport secretary Philip Hammond whether there was a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the long-suffering MK commuters. He pointed to one proposal glistening on the horizon: High Speed Rail.
The HS2 line is backed by the Government, and rightly so. Linking London to the midlands, north and Scotland with an entirely new line will alleviate a lot of the pressure on our line. In essence, those people whizzing to London from Birmingham will no longer dominate our much-needed track.
Since then my attention has recently been drawn to the suggestion to link our city to the exciting Crossrail project. The ‘West Coast Main Line Route Utilisation Strategy’ may sound like a dull document, but it outlines this interesting proposal.
‘This concept would enable direct services from the MK corridor to the City of London and beyond,’ it boasts. Direct services to the West End and Canary Wharf would be a fitting facility for the fastest-growing city in the country.
After all, we need to do better by our commuters. Forget Ed Miliband’s invented ‘squeezed middle’ demographic. Here we are talking about the people who are literally squeezed onto trains each morning and evening – and paying an annual season ticket fare of £4,960 for the privilege. They have little choice: they’re not going to London for a jaunt but for work.
The approach up until now has been baffling. We want people to choose cars over trains. Taxed motorists feel discouraged to the point of being demonised, so rail needs to be real alternative.
Because at the moment commuters are choosing between being nose-to-tail in traffic or shoulder-to-shoulder in a carriage. There is no other option – unless you want to follow the lead of Bletchley Park’s mathematician Alan Turing, who used to run 40 miles to his meetings in London.
The Coalition has realised that we need to lure people on trains rather than force them out of their cars.
Therefore it has in its sights a shake-up which could reduce running costs by up to £1bn per year without the need to cut services. Around 650 extra carriages are being brought into service across the country.
This is not without a price; regulated fares are to be capped at RPI+3 per cent for three years from 2012, rather than the usual one per cent. But our rail network’s capacity will increase by a massive 17 per cent.
The country is on track for a better rail network. We need to ensure the Government takes one thing on board: Many more thousands are set to come here. Therefore many more trains ought to stop here.