"Rail journey times between Sheffield and London to increase" - MP claims
Commuters in Sheffield have been "thrown onto the slow track once again" with rail journey times to London expected to increase despite years ofÂ campaigning by politicians and passengers.
Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts said he had seen planned timetable changes for trains between Sheffield and London St Pancras, due to come into force in May, and claimed that it would see peak-time journeys increase by around six to eight minutes.
He accused transport secretary Chris Grayling of putting investment in South East commuter services before those in the North, including the Midland Mainline between Sheffield and the capital - something which the Department for Transport said was "totally untrue".
The timetable changes will affect the Master Cutler service - which leaves Sheffield at 7.29am, returning from London at 4.57pm on weekdays - and other peak-time services, Mr Betts said.
He said: "I understand that the next Sheffield to London rail timetable will show that journey times for the Master Cutler and other peak time trains will increase by between six to eight minutes.
"I’m told that Stagecoach, which has the rail franchise, has been ordered by the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, to give priority to increasing the number of Thameslink Trains for south-east commuters over mainline services from the North.
"The Midland Mainline gets a bad deal at every twist and turn. The electrification of the line got cancelled and now the trains are going to be slowed down so that more trains can run for commuters in the South East."
Mr Betts has been heavily involved in the campaign to get journey times reduced to two hours and accused the Department for Transport of "taking Sheffield back 10 years" by increasing the duration of the commute.
"We have fought for years to get the Sheffield to London service down to two hours and we have finally got that but then the Thames Link comes along and it's our line that's affected - it's an absolute disgrace," he added.
"Undoubtedly there are a lot of commuters using the services in the South East but the Master Cutler is extremely busy. It is the main commuter service for people heading to London for work or meetings."
Mr Betts said, together with the cancellation of the electrification scheme, the longer journey times brought into question the whole Northern Powerhouse project - the Government's plan to boost the economy by investing in skills, innovation, transport and culture.
He said: “Just what is this Northern Powerhouse the government keeps talking about?
"At each and every turn, we see the government giving priority in transport funding to the South-East over the North.
"South Yorkshire’s passengers have been thrown on to the slow track yet again.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said: "It is totally untrue that the Transport Secretary has ordered Stagecoach to prioritise increasing the number of Thameslink trains over services from the North.
“The new timetable has been developed by the train operators and Network Rail to deliver the extra services created by the Thameslink programme alongside the upgrade of the Midland Mainline. The Midland Mainline improvements will mean more services for passengers and cut journey times from Nottingham and Sheffield to London by up to 20 minutes from 2020.
“We have taken action to minimise the impact on today’s intercity services while this important upgrade work takes place, including funding three additional trains for the East Midlands Trains fleet and making changes to the original plans for the Thameslink timetable."
An East Midlands Trains spokesperson, said: “The Â£7bn Thameslink programme will deliver a step change and huge investment in the UK’s railways and will transform travel from north to south London."In order for this to be successfully introduced by the Department for Transport and Govia Thameslink (GTR), we have had to make some changes to our timetable to allow the additional GTR train services to run on the lines we share into London. Whilst some trains will have slightly longer journey times than today, there will be some benefits created through the extra capacity provided by the new timetable and some journey improvements on trains running northbound from London to Sheffield.“In the longer term, we will continue to work with the Department for Transport and Network Rail to deliver the improvements needed for the Midland Main Line which will provide greater capacity on the network and will enable future timetable improvements and more journey time benefits.”