Major changes to rail services are on the horizon - but could they harm Luton business?
From May, a £7bn Thameslink programme is set to deliver over 3,000 extra peak-time Thameslink seats from Luton each morning, and over 3,400 by December 2018.
The government-sponsored Thameslink programme aims to improve journey times and connections on GTR (Govia Thameslink) services from Bedford to Farringdon, for Crossrail, as well as to London Bridge and further south.
However, the changes could “spell disaster” for those commuting into Luton for work, as from May 20, no East Midlands Trains services arriving into St Pancras between 7am and 10am will call at Bedford or Luton, and no East Midlands Trains services leaving St Pancras between 4pm and 7pm will stop at Luton or Bedford.
Gavin Shuker, MP for Luton South said: “For East Midlands Trains to no longer provide services to Luton when we most need them is unacceptable.”
Off-peak and weekend services will still call at Bedford and Luton and direct East Midlands trains to London will still call at Luton Airport Parkway throughout the day.
The changes are because of the increased number of GTR trains needing to operate on the shared network between Bedford and London, and the changes will be in place until the completion of the Midland Main Line upgrade in 2020.
This upgrade will see extra capacity used to deliver more seats on fast, direct services between Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton, Luton Airport Parkway and London St Pancras.
A Thameslink spokesperson said: “From May, there will be 2,100 more seats from Bedford in the north to Luton during the three-hour morning peak which will continue to support workers coming from the north to the town.
“We shall be providing two faster trains in each hour between Bedford and London until the Midland Main Line upgrade programme completes in 2020.”
Jake Kelly, managing director for East Midlands Trains, said: “To enable these major projects to be successfully completed, there will have to be some changes and we appreciate that this will mean inconvenience for some.
“Customers have alternative transport connections in place with the additional fast GTR services being introduced from May and a coach service from Wellingborough (to Bedford).”
A Luton Borough Council spokeswoman, said: “The Council is very surprised that changes to the East Midlands rail franchise services have been changed whilst the Department for Transport are still reviewing responses to the consultation which closed in October.
“Fast connections between Luton and the East Midlands are important and it is extremely disappointing that peak time services to the East Midlands from Luton and Bedford have been taken out of the timetable. “Businesses will be disadvantaged by the lack of services for employees and key economic links.
“Whilst links to London are important, this seems to be at a cost to strategic connectivity, particularly given the significance of the area between Oxford and Cambridge as part of a government-supported strategic growth corridor.”