Train dining car 'matter of local pride'

AN MP has called on the Government to force a rail company to keep its threatened restaurant service, saying the issue was a matter of regional pride.

Annie Davidson

AN MP has called on the Government to force a rail company to keep its threatened restaurant service, saying the issue was a matter of regional pride.

Bob Russell, who represents Colchester, said the “excellent” service on the mainline between the town and London Liverpool Street was an important part of the experience for commuters.

And he tabled an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons saying that National Express should be forced to retain the service because it would have been part of its application when it was awarded the franchise by the Government.

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Mr Russell said that for three years running the nine restaurant cars on the route, which also serves Ipswich and Norwich, had been voted the best in the UK by Rail magazine.

“Not every train has a restaurant car, there is something distinctive about what I still call the inter-city services and something special about it and far from having the service downgraded I would like to see it enhanced,” said Mr Russell.

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“I would like to see a regional feel with regional displays such as what is on at the Wolsey and the Mercury Theatre and make the train a showcase of regional pride.

“The food is excellent although time doesn't allow it to be a permanent feature for many people it is still a part of the rail experience.

“Commercially, it is my understanding, although I don't have the details, that when they went for the franchise they did not say yes we are getting rid of the restaurant cars as part of the package. I am calling on the Government to look and see what the franchise bid says.”

Mr Russell spoke out as county councillors from Norfolk joined the fray by urging the rail firm to think again.

The authority gave cross-party support to a motion that “demands that National Express reconsiders its proposals and lives up to the expectation of the franchise it has signed to deliver, and to provide a quality service for customers.”

Derek Monnery, chairman of Essex Rail Users' Federation, said the group would be sending a letter to National Express objecting to the decision.

National Express last week unveiled proposals to shed 314 jobs including staff at its Norwich-based call centre.

It also announced plans to increase fares after Christmas by up to 6% for commuters using the Norwich to London line.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said that it was committed to passenger comfort but the specific catering facilities were a matter for the train company.

A National Express spokesperson said: “We are undertaking a review to give greater focus on customer service and operational delivery.

“We are planning to make changes to the way we provide food and drink on board the Norwich to London trains in response to changing customer needs.

“We are proposing to remove the restaurant service, and improve our buffet and at-seat service.”

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