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Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart has stepped up the campaign for the upgrade of Penrith station.
In the latest stage of his efforts to improve access to the northbound platform at Penrith railway station, he has written to the four pre-qualified bidders for the InterCity West Coast franchise to ask for their commitment to undertake upgrades at the station as a part of their bid document. On the recommendation of the Minister of State, the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers, with whom Rory has discussed the issue, he has contacted the four bidders to highlight the strong local support for this initiative, and to ask for their recognition of the concern that exists about the current barrow crossing, which Rory considers "outdated and dangerous".
He said: said: "Penrith still has an outdoor barrow-crossing, which is used to access the station’s second (northbound) platform from the main station entrance. I believe it is one of the only main branch line stations in the UK that still has one of these crossings. The disabled, elderly, unwell, mothers with prams, and those with cumbersome luggage are obliged to use this barrow-crossing in all weathers throughout the year, and complaints about the suitability of the crossing are increasing. I fear it is outdated and dangerous, and the station now urgently needs an upgrade."
"There is enormous support locally – both from the community, the local authorities, station staff, and the emergency services - for improved access. This campaign is growing, and becoming more vocal. Ideally, given constraints of space, the station could be fitted with a lift or perhaps a ramp. However, we are open to suggestions. I have personally asked for the bidders' commitment in their bid document to an upgrade of existing access between platforms one and two. This year’s franchise seems the ideal opportunity to ensure that Penrith does not get left behind: it is a key station on the north-west route, is always busy, and serves to transport the many, many visitors who come to the north lakes throughout the year."
The Minister of State Theresa Villiers said: "We do recognise the importance of accessibility in those parts of our rail network which date largely from the nineteenth century, and were designed at a time when mobility needs were considered differently. We hope very much the Penrith will be considered under any extension to the Access for All programme, which aims to deliver obstacle-free routes to 148 UK stations by 2015. However, I support Rory's campaign to ask franchise bidders to include commitments to station improvements in their tenders."
Bids are due to be submitted to the Department for Transport by May 1st 2012, with the successful franchisee being awarded on August 13th 2012. The new franchise will commence on December 9th 2012.