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£200m Chase Line plagued by delays and cancellations

By Jordan Reynolds | Walsall | Transport | Published:

Passengers on the Chase Line have been faced with repeated cancellations and delays since its £200 million electrification.

The newly-electrified Chase Line was opened with much fanfare in May

Now a task force has been set up by rail bosses to rectify the issues on the line between Walsall and Rugeley, which launched its new timetable in May.

The aim of the six-year project was for faster Chase Line trains to run locally every half an hour and be more environmentally friendly than before.

The project, which has cost more than £200 million according to Network Rail project sponsor Martin Tiller, also led to trains travelling direct between Walsall and London for the first time.

But MP Amanda Milling has now held talks over the issue with West Midlands Trains and Network Rail.

Timetable disruption

The Cannock Chase MP has said passengers have experienced a number of service disruptions, such as seriously delayed and cancelled trains.

Ms Milling MP said: “I made it clear to West Midlands Trains and Network Rail that the Chase Line is essentially a commuter service between Rugeley and Birmingham.

“As such, it needs to be reliable and I am concerned that it is so often the same group of commuters who are finding themselves on delayed or cancelled trains, or on trains that terminate at Hednesford rather than going through to Rugeley.

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Amanda Milling MP meeting representatives of West Midlands Trains and Network Rail

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“This is not something that is acceptable, let alone something that should be repeated week after week.

"I have urged West Midlands Trains and Network Rail to build more flexibility and contingency into the system to cater for problems that come about from issues elsewhere on the network, especially in and out of London Euston.”

She added: “The electrification of the Chase Line was supposed to deliver an improved service; sadly, this is not what passengers are experiencing.”

Emergency timetable

Meanwhile, the Midlands-based Campaign for Rail has called for an emergency timetable.

The organisation said on Wednesday passengers saw 11 cancellations to and from Rugeley by 8pm and there were no trains to and from Rugeley between 4.29pm until 7.38pm.

Then-rail minister Andrew Jones was one of the first people to travel on the new line

The chairman of CFR, Ian Jenkins said: “CFR welcomed the recent investment and electrification of the Chase Line.

“However, the train service operator, West Midlands Railway Ltd, is delivering a disgraceful level of unreliability for train passengers at Rugeley.

“Things have got so bad that some passengers are now considering legal advice.”

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He added: “People use the Chase Line largely as a local service. We need an emergency timetable that passengers can rely upon, and we need it in place urgently after the summer holidays from September.”

Francis Thomas, head of corporate affairs for West Midlands Railway, said the main issue has been the knock-on effect of delays south of Birmingham.

He said: “The introduction of the May timetable has created extra journey opportunities in the West Midlands and we are now carrying an extra 150,000 people across our network.

Local MP's Valerie Vaz and Amanda Milling unveiled a plaque with Mr Jones

“However, performance on the Chase Line has not been as good as we would have liked and in response we have set up a taskforce to improve matters.

“The measures we have taken in the last four weeks have driven improvements, with fewer Chase Line services terminating early despite the impact of record temperatures in this period.

“In the medium-term we are looking to separate the Chase Line service from the Walsall-Euston route, protecting our West Midlands passengers from the effects of disruption on the West Coast Main Line.”

A Network Rail spokesman added: “We are working closely with West Midlands Railway to provide a more reliable service for passengers on the Chase Line.

"The measures put in place in the last month have made things better and we are looking at what other improvements can be made.”

Jordan Reynolds

By Jordan Reynolds
Reporter - @jreynolds_star

Senior reporter at the Express & Star.

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