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Cumbria Chamber calls for rethink on HS2

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce is demanding a rethink of plans for HS2 after it emerged that trains from London will pass through the county without stopping.

The £56bn high-speed line is due to reach Wigan by 2033, from where trains will continue over existing tracks to Scotland.

But assumptions published by HS2 show that London trains will not stop between Preston and Glasgow or Edinburgh, forcing Cumbrian passengers to change at Preston.

Rob Johnston, Chief Executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, said: “It strikes us as bizarre that HS2 trains would hurtle through the county without stopping, given that Cumbria has so much to offer.

“How are we expected to boost Cumbria’s tourism sector if we make it more difficult for tourists to come, and how are we supposed to host nationally-significant infrastructure projects such as Moorside?”

HS2 is adamant that it will bring significant benefits to Cumbria.

The fastest journey to London from Carlisle will be 154 minutes, down from 195 minutes now, while from Penrith the fastest journey will be cut from 177 minutes to 138, and from Oxenholme from 154 minutes to 115.

The new timings include 10 minutes to change trains at Preston.

But Rob said: “Passengers don’t want to change trains and, as soon as you introduce a change, you have the potential for a missed connection.

“We will be lobbying government directly, and using our influence through the British Chambers of Commerce, to change this.

“It’s imperative that Cumbria doesn’t lose its direct rail service to the capital. If that were to happen, it would certainly damage our economy.”

HS2’s proposals do allow for through trains from Cumbria to Birmingham without a change.

A new franchise, West Coast Partnership, is due to take over the West Coast Main Line from Virgin in 2019 and will operate HS2 services when they start running between London and Birmingham in 2026.

It has yet to be awarded, although the Government announced a shortlist of bidders this summer. The franchise holder will be able to make a commercial decision on where trains stop.

The Chamber is planning to lobby the successful bidder to ensure there are stops at Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle, and is already mobilising support for its campaign.

It has approached the three MPs whose constituencies straddle the West Coast Main Line, who have pledged to take up the issue.

Gill Haigh, Managing Director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “Cumbria Tourism fully supports Cumbria Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying.

“With two world heritage sites and increasing numbers of domestic and international visitors, it is unacceptable to see the proposed HS2 service, which is designed to benefit the ‘North of England’, will not stop here.”

Tim Farron MP has tabled a motion in Parliament calling on the Government to amend these plans so that high speed trains will stop at Oxenholme, Penrith and Carlisle.

Tim said: “All of us in Cumbria have helped pay the huge bills for building HS2, but all we will see of those fast trains is a blur as they speed through our county without even stopping.

“This is a huge slap in the face from the Government – especially for local businesses.

“I have put down a motion to Parliament calling for HS2 fast trains to stop at Oxenholme and other Cumbrian stations.

“After London, the Lake District is Britain’s biggest visitor destination – it is simply madness not to have the new fast trains stopping here.”

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