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Railway changes will boost Stafford’s connections with the north

Changes to railway services will see Stafford’s connections with the north boosted by the end of this year.

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Stafford Railway Station

There are also set to be more services from Stafford to London as part of operator Avanti West Coast’s timetable starting in December, members of Staffordshire County Council heard.

Representatives from HS2 Ltd and West Coast Partnership attended a meeting to discuss the high speed line’s future connections with Staffordshire. Stafford is set to be linked via HS2-compatible trains switching to the West Coast Main Line at a junction at Handsacre.

While HS2 Ltd is tasked with building the high speed rail line, West Coast Partnership Development is working with the Government, HS2 Ltd, Network Rail and communities to design and develop future services.

New services along the high speed line may be several years away, but Staffordshire residents will see additional services on the West Coast Main Line at the end of this year, Staffordshire County Council’s prosperous overview and scrutiny committee heard on Thursday.

Mark Osborne, regional growth manager for the West Coast Partnership which also includes rail service operator Avanti West Coast, said: “It’s a challenging time on the railway with industrial action and a real change in how people are travelling. People are travelling differently for work, and weekends have suddenly become the busiest time on the railways – people are using their leisure time differently and railways are a popular way of enjoying leisure time.

“The growth of digital ticketing has been happening but really accelerated in the last two years due to Covid, which brings challenges and opportunities as well. And the way of working is changing as well; people don’t have a single place of work now, they find themselves working from home and two or three different offices and we’re seeing that as a long distance operator.

“The big thing I’ve been looking forward to talking about is what’s happening now with the December 2022 timetable and especially what it means for Staffordshire. It really brings a lot of hopeful benefits to the county.”

From December the county will be added into the timetable for services running between London Euston and the north west and Scotland, Mr Osborne told councillors.

He said: “That will give Stafford a direct service to the north that it really hasn’t had recently.

“On our service from Chester that runs to London, Stafford will be a call on the route – another service to London and one that provides connectivity towards Chester and north Wales. The service from Manchester Piccadilly will also now be calling at Stafford, so that will bring two fast trains to London.

“Unfortunately the Liverpool train won’t be calling at Stafford any longer but West Midlands Trains will still provide that connectivity. The real opportunity is a second train from Liverpool will be added in from December on a phased basis that will run from Liverpool to London and will call at Lichfield and Tamworth on an hourly basis.

“You can expect, hopefully by this time next year, those two towns will have an hourly service to and from London up to Liverpool. We’re really improving connectivity for the two.

“We’re also in the position of refurbishing all our existing trains. For our 11-car trains we’re changing one of the first class seating arrangements to standard class, which overall creates almost the equivalent of three new trains in terms of seating capacity.

“To provide those new services that will be starting from Liverpool and improve our services to Chester, we will be buying new trains. We’re hoping to have the first few early next year.”

The rail operator has also been in talks with Stafford Borough Council to improve the forecourt outside Stafford Station, the meeting heard. Investment at the station includes new secure cycle parking and waiting room improvements as part of station refurbishment.

The Stafford Station Gateway project, which involves the borough and county councils, has earmarked land surrounding the station earmarked for future residential and commercial development. Access to the land, which improves former industrial sites, has already been boosted by the opening of the Stafford Western Access Route last year.

Mr Osborne said: “As part of the wider strategic vision Stafford Gateway project we’re contributing funding to the study to decide what’s needed at the station in terms of the western access and additional facilities. We also fund the North Staffordshire Community Rail Partnership and they’ve now added Stafford into the list of stations their volunteers do engagement work at.

“We’re really keen to do something now because it’s the 60th anniversary of the rebuild of the station in Stafford.”