New Azuma trains in Harrogate a 'game changer' for town
The first gleaming new Azuma train which will revolutionise Harrogate's rail links with London received a fanfare send-off this morning.
It was only a demonstration run for the arrival of six daily direct services to and from the capital which will be launched in earnest a week on Sunday.
But its symbolic value for Harrogate's business hopes was met with rapturous applause by the invited guests at a VIP event at Harrogate railway station this morning.
And Brian Dunsby, the Harrogate man most associated with the lengthy campaign to win direct London rail links for the town, hailed is as a hugely important step forward.
Meanwhile, East coast rail operator LNER's managing director David Horne told an assembled audience of Harorgate's business, hotel and transport community, as well as General Election candidates Andrew Jones (Conservative), the former rail minister, and Judith Rogerson (Lib Dem) that it was a big moment for Harrogate.
He said: “Harrogate is an incredibly important destination for LNER. We hope that our new Azuma services will not only revolutionise the customer experience for those who travel with us but also open up huge economic benefits for the area thanks to the increase of services from one train each way to six.”
Before inviting guests to ride the sleek and spacious new Azumas to Leeds and back, Mr Horne said that LNER was delighted that three to four years of hard work to bring the new service to Harrogate had paid off.
Speaking to the Harrogate Advertiser, he said he was aware of the Harrogate-Leeds line's record of delays and cancellations and the risk of a knock-on effect on the new services.
But he said the launch has only been made possible because of work on the line in the last month by Network Rail and work was going ahead to create a new crossover point for trains in the next few months.
In addition, LNER had undertaken lengthy discussions with Northern to create a "resilient" timetable to minimise the risk of Harrogate-Leeds delays undermining the direct London services.
The man who has championed Harrogate's case for regular direct services to London for more than a decade, Brian Dunsby OBE of Harrogate Line Supporters Group, said it was a great day for Harrogate.
But he emphasised it had been years in the coming after a series of near misses when the breakthrough had not quite been achieved.
Pointing to Mark Leving in the crowd of guests in a marquee erected in the station car park, he praised the then managing director of Hull Trains for his role in co-producing the crucial report entitled “Why Harrogate Trains? in 2010.
Mr Dunsby said: “I have been campaigning actively to achieve more direct services between Harrogate and London since 2008.
"When I teamed up with Mark Leving, we successfully campaigned for an evening return service from Kings Cross to Harrogate when Elaine Holt was Chairman of East Coast.
"This began in 2011 and demonstrated the potential demand for more London-Harrogate services."
Paula Lorimer, director of Harrogate Convention Centre, said the new services were a "game changer.
She said it would mean Harrogate could now compete on a level playing field with the likes of Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool for vital conference trade from the south
The daily departure times of Harrogate’s new London services are: from Harrogate - 07.34, 09:36, 11:36, 13:36, 15:36 and 17:36, and from London King’s Cross - 07:33, 09:33, 11:33, 13:33 15:33 and 17.33.
Different times will apply on a Sunday.