After a fifty year wait, Ilkeston is back on the UK railway map on Sunday April 2.
The construction of a basic station to serve the largest English town without a train service has been a long, protracted process not helped by the surprise discovery of the Great Crested Newt and the unsurprising discovery that the land earmarked for the car park was prone to flooding.
Throw in the apparent loss of interest by Nottinghamshire County Council and arguments over the location of the taxi rank and few would have blamed the rail industry for giving up. However Derbyshire County Council has been a consistent supporter of the project and no doubt many rail devotees will turn out on Sunday morning to witness the departure of the first train at 0945 to Nottingham.
The question on many lips though is whether the station will be a success and who will use it?
With traffic crawling each morning and afternoon peak between Ilkeston and Nottingham on the A609 and high parking charges in Nottingham, not to mention the Workplace Parking Levy, it would be expected that all peak time trains through Ilkeston would stop there. However this is not the case with most notably the through morning train to London, which stops up the line at Langley Mill, flashing through the station non-stop. Indeed there is only one train from Ilkeston arriving in Nottingham between 0730 and 0845 which is an already well loaded two carriage train.
Whilst the station is to be managed by East Midlands Trains (owned by Stagecoach), most of the trains stopping at Ilkeston will be provided by a different operator northern (owned by Arriva which is a subsidiary of the German State Railway DB). Such arrangements are rarely successful, as witnessed at Willington. The ticket machine is operated by East Midlands Trains (EMT) but it is unlikely to sell many of Northern’s popular special offers such as Duo tickets nor will it vend Derbyshire Wayfarer tickets which will be much cheaper for many passengers.
EMT have produced a misleading brochure for the station which has been delivered to households in the catchment area up to 4 miles from the station. It claims a 1 hr 57 min journey time to London with small print stating that this excludes connection time. There is actually just one southbound journey per day under 2 ¼ hours with the journey planners suggesting many trips via Chesterfield rather than Nottingham all taking around 2 ½ hours . Trips back from the capital on either route take 2 ¼ hours.
It also has some misleading comparisons with bus and car costs. Most motorists will be astonished to find that EMT claim that a week’s petrol and all day parking at Broadmarsh is just £28.24 whilst the £30 weekly Mango bus fare quoted is actually charged on a daily “pay as you travel” basis and would include all Trent Barton bus journeys including trips to Derby, Long Eaton, Heanor and Mansfield so it’s hardly a fair comparison with the weekly train season ticket. Furthermore buses run from Ilkeston to Nottingham every 10 minutes during the day and also operate much later than the train service – sports fans hoping to use the train for evening fixtures in Nottingham will be disappointed that the last train back means they will miss half the match.
It is to be hoped that the train does not just attract passengers from the bus services or there is the risk that the local buses will become unviable as has happened in the Scottish Borders. First have withdrawn their buses from the Galashiels area, claiming that passengers have switched to the new Borders Railway.
Some off-peak fares are available on the 0929 northbound train whilst others are barred until the 1029 departure; this seems an over-strict interpretation of the “after 0930” ruling and will no doubt cause confusion to passengers trying to use the ticket vending machine. Research by Transport Focus has shown that passengers often purchase the wrong ticket from these machines as they don’t understand the “rail industry language” and whilst they are deciding, the machine often defaults back to the start of the process.
It also appears that a return to Meadowhall, which is likely to be a popular shopping destination from Ilkeston, is cheaper than a return to Sheffield despite being four miles further. No doubt other anomalies will soon arise.
If the station however is to boost the economy of Ilkeston, whose retail heart has been stripped away by two edge-of-town supermarkets and hosiery and heavy manufacturing industries have shrunk, it needs to attract people into the town. With journey times from London to Ilkeston still longer than to Warrington, Preston, Newport, Stafford, Rotherham or Darlington there is still much to do to persuade business to business customers in the South East to use suppliers from Ilkeston.