Tuesday, 17 November 2009

York barrier plans scrapped!

Well, it has certainly been an eventful week. We heard last Monday that National Express East Coast had launched an appeal against the refusal of the barrier plans by City of York Council, so everyone was gearing up to write letters to the Planning Inspectorate. Of course, it seemed pretty remarkable that a company that would cease trading within days would want to lodge an appeal at its own expense to install ticket barriers at a station in which it no longer had any financial interest.

Anyway, Friday 13th November turned out to be anything but unlucky because, apart from being NXEC's last day holding the East Coast franchise, the DfT also announced that the barrier plans were being withdrawn "to maintain through access for non-passengers." So that means people will still be able to enjoy crossing over the famous footbridge without travelling by train.

This is all excellent news for the city, though the arguments about the barriers were much wider than simply a matter of through access. There were concerns about the inconvenience to passengers from the barriers - delays and congestion that would deter people from travelling by train - particularly as evidence from elsewhere suggested that the gates were able to handle far fewer passengers than originally claimed. Travellers at Leeds had to cope with months of disruption, and for at least several weeks, the barriers were operating in "accept all tickets" mode - that is to say any ticket, valid or not, opens the barriers.

This "sod the passenger" approach was also evinced in such matters as the proposed secondary access points (the NRM entrance and the cycle racks/ executive car park) where there would be no permanent staff presence. A ticket machine (possibly not accepting cash) would be available, but if the limited range of tickets there wasn't any use, you would have to walk right round the outside of the station to get to the ticket office.

The crux of the matter was that no-one was willing to present a coherent business case for the barriers at a main line station that handles very little suburban or short-distance traffic. Problems with local services such as the Harrogate train could have been dealt with by spot checks on people coming off those trains - better still if a ticket machine were provided at Poppleton station to allow people to buy a ticket before boarding. However, determined not to be defeated, the barrier enthusiasts now have the DfT's support to accelerate the implementation of the barrier scheme at King's Cross.

The proposed new barriers there will cover platforms 1-8 (platforms 9-11, which deal with most of the suburban traffic, already have gates). These bays deal almost entirely with trains that do not stop for some time after leaving King's Cross - many will run to Cambridge, St Neot's, Peterborough or even York before making their first stop. Are we really to believe that on-train checks are not possible in this length of time?

Still, enough ranting for now. One certainly hopes that the DfT's statement will give more power to the elbow of anti-barrier campaigners in Sheffield, where through access across the footbridge is a prime concern. If there's one thing this episode shows, it's that people power can work. Because the good burghers of York were willing to kick up an almighty fuss, the powers that be decided the barriers were more trouble than they were worth. Let's hope the people of Sheffield manage to defeat the scheme there. At the time of writing, there are over 1,000 planning objections to the barriers!