Hourly trains link Birmingham with Stansted Airport through Leicester, Peterborough, March and Cambridge. Trains have become more reliable in recent years with far fewer cancellations than in the past. Air-conditioning and public address systems are effective.
Toilets in particular seem more reliable than in the past but clearly need constant attention.
There has been significant investment in the lowest quality units. New electrical systems have improved availability. Selective door opening allows long trains to serve short platforms. Conductors can now open doors without having to walk to their cab from where they are working in the train. But they still have less leg room than most other vehicles used on longer-distance services.
The trains are mostly clean and attempts have been made to tackle the ceilings. Catering trolleys are advertised on several journeys. To be viable, catering needs to be dependable.
The biggest issue facing passengers along this route is capacity. Growth has returned to the route after recession, increasing the need for more seats. We believe that no passenger should normally have to stand for more than 20 minutes. Staff regularly count passengers and some resources have been re-allocated as a result.
But the route does now require more vehicles, either to run longer trains where they are over-crowded or to run more trains, increasing service frequency and attractiveness. So we enthusiastically welcomed the provision of 80 more seats on the 0519 and 1522 trains from Birmingham from December 2016, helping passengers going to work in Cambridge and home from working in Leicester or Peterborough. There are aspirations for earlier trains to Stansted Airport, for later trains from the Airport and Cambridge at stations west of Ely and for increased frequency between Leicester, Melton Mowbray, Oakham, Stamford and Peterborough.
We see a clear need for a “whole route” approach to engineering access with trains running on Sundays in university terms a priority. Diversions are available for most sections of the route but add significantly to journey times.
We also need a relentless focus on minimising cancellations and on delivering high standards of passenger information and customer service.
A range of Advance fares, even for some quite short journeys, is offered. Many of the “tickets” can be printed at home or sent to your mobile device. If it works to their benefit, we see no logical reason why “walk on” passengers should be prevented from “splitting” their “ticket” when making lengthy journeys which begin in the business peak and continue through the off-peak period. Advance Purchase On The Day fares have proved more controversial and we welcome the idea of quota-controlled APOD fares without seat reservations.
Our vision is of welcoming stations, where facilities meet or exceed all government targets for their size. The performance of station facility operators in providing toilets, waiting rooms and retail advice at the specified times needs to be robustly monitored and challenged.