RUGELEY will keep its extra evening and weekend rail services, after Cannock Chase Council confirmed it would carry on subsidising Chase Line rail services until March 2016 with its partners Centro and Staffordshire County Council.
The council will continue funding additional services until the current London Midland franchise ends in 2016. The franchise was recently extended by the Department for Transport from September 2015, hence the need for Cabinet to agree extra funding to cover this period.
The Government proposes to let a direct award franchise contract from April 2016 to June 2017 as part of its overall franchising review. And councillors hope that after this time the extra services will be incorporated in the new contract and will no longer need to be funded locally.
The additional services include the Monday-to-Saturday evening extensions from Hednesford to Rugeley and enhanced Saturday services.
The Chase Line services connect Cannock, Hednesford and Rugeley with Walsall and Birmingham. The additional service revenue from the extra services has grown by 70 per cent since 2009 and the services have also helped contribute to the 5 per growth in passenger numbers on the Chase Line year on year.
The current contributions towards the additional services are £146,000 a year from Centro, with Staffordshire County Council paying £39,000 and Cannock Chase Council £10,000.
Cllr Gordon Alcott, Cannock Chase Council’s Economic Development and Planning Portfolio Leader, will now work with Centro and the County Council to secure the continued operation of these services and other future improvements. This will include discussions with DfT and other regional and national bodies over these additional services being incorporated into the next franchise review.
Councillor George Adamson, Leader of Cannock Chase Council, said: “The additional Chase Line services deliver a half-hourly link from this District into Birmingham. They are good for passengers and good for the economy, as connectivity with Birmingham and the metropolitan area is essential.
“Seeing them withdrawn would see services end too early in the evening, journey times extended and would see an hourly, instead of half-hourly, Saturday service. So it is vital that the additional services are maintained and this Council will contribute its share until March 2016.
“We believe there is a sound business case for the extra services and we want to see them incorporated into the new franchise contract at the earliest possible date.
“This is an exciting time for the Chase Line, with works on the £30m electrification having started for delivery in December 2017. We also hope to see line speed improvements as part of this scheme to enable reduced journey times between Chase Line stations and the metropolitan area.”