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Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart has welcomed news that the Department for Transport have agreed an extension of the existing franchise with West Coast Trains and Virgin Rail Group from April 2012 until the start of the new franchise, significantly improving services on the West Coast Main Line and bringing good news for Cumbria's economy - and has renewed his call for an upgrade of Penrith Station on the line.
Rory Stewart said: “This is fantastic news for all who travel up the West Coast, and in particular for the north Lakes region. Penrith is always a busy station, and is clearly a thriving stop-off point on the West Coast. This eight-month extension of the franchise enables train operators to increase the number of Pendolino trains on the track, and the lengthening of the trains from 9 to 11 carriages means that there will be far less overcrowding of standard-class seating, meaning that more visitors can comfortably travel to appreciate our wonderful part of Cumbria. This will be a real boost to the local economy and tourism industry.“
Rory Stewart MP has lobbied the Minister of State, Theresa Villiers, to include in the franchise tendering document a commitment to significant upgrading of current platform access at Penrith station, arguing that the existing barrow-crossing is of danger to those who have no option but to use it.
He said: “Increased traffic through Penrith means that we must address the issue of access between platforms 1 and 2. The new franchise presents an excellent opportunity for us to request that bidders commit to upgrading Penrith Station in order to have lift or ramp access to platform 2. The barrow-crossing is not adequate, and can be dangerous. I will continue to lobby Ministers to ensure that this commitment is included in the tendering documents for the next franchise that will be released early in 2012. I encourage anyone who agrees with me to contact the Minister to express their views also.”
Over the course of the extension, three new 600-seat Pendolino trains will be added to the line, in addition to the new Pendolino which entered service in July 2011. It has also been announced that 31 of the existing Pendolino trains will be lengthened from 9 to 11 carriages, increasing the number of standard-class seats on each train by almost 50% from 320 to 470. In all, 106 new carriages are being introduced on the route, making 28,000 extra seats available each day, an increase of 25%.
Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers said: “This will relieve crowding on some of the busiest parts of the West Coast Main Line, which is one of the UK economy’s most important transport corridors