NEW state-of-the art trains are set to herald an era of much-improved rail services in the region.

That is the view of rail user groups as passengers across the South Lakeland await the arrival within the next few weeks of brand new 195 class trains which are faster, roomier and more comfortable than the previous ageing stock.

"People have heard about new trains for a long time and it may sound like a pipe dream but they are here, " said the regional director of Northern, the rail franchise holder."We have 98 new trains on order - a mixture of diesel and electrics - and the Windermere and Barrow lines are going to be the first routes to be getting them."

And after hailing the news, rail passenger groups have also highlighted their proposals for a number of other far-reaching improvements on the Lakes Line. These include a passing loop, which would greatly increase the frequency of services, and radical changes at Staveley station to solve access problems caused by the notorious '41 steps' entry path.

Rob Talbot, chair of the Lakes Line User Group, offered a cautious welcome to the news on the new trains, and said the introduction of the new timetables in May would be the most suitable time for their introduction.

"We have struck up a very good relationship with Mr Jackson and we are hopeful for the future and welcome the news on the new trains," he said.

But he stressed that the staffing issues which caused so much disruption in 2018 must be addressed to ensure there was no repeat of those problems.

Tim Owen, chair of both the Furness Line and Lakes Line Community Rail Partnerships, monitors rail services in the area closely and said he was similarly optimistic and had already seen improvements.

"I've noted very few delays in the last few weeks and there has been a major improvement which is welcome news," he said.

News of the impending arrival of the new train stock comes in a week when Northern bosses launched a major new public relations initiative aimed at restoring faith in the regions's rail service as the start of the tourist season approaches.

And as they roll out their campaign, which includes a host of discount offers, Mr Owen said he believed the new 195 trains, which have already undergone at least three test runs on the Furness Line, would be well received by passengers.

With a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour in comparison to the older 156 units, which had a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour, they promise faster, more comfortable travel.

Mr Owen added that they were spacious, comfortable and have ample luggage space, and were also equipped with a seat reservation system which includes red and green light indicators for ease of use.


However, the Lakes Line User Group and Community Rail Partnership are united in their belief that capital projects such as the passing loops and station revamps would complete the rejuvenation of the line and ensure it thrived for years to come.

Mr Talbot explained that a short passing loop halfway along the line close to Staveley station would facilitate a much higher frequency of services, but a longer 'dynamic passing loop,' which would allow moving trains to pass each other, would be preferable, though this would need to be much longer and therefore much costlier.

Significantly, Mr Owen pointed out that similar passing loops had already been constructed on two branch lines in Cornwall and had been hailed a tremendous success by all parties.

Access to both Staveley and Burneside stations has also been examined and efforts have been backed by councillors and community groups in both villages.

Staveley presents particular problems as the location of the platform makes using the station an impossibility for wheelchair users.

Moving the entire station a short distance closer to Kendal has been discussed, as has keeping the same location but switching the single platform to the other side of the track.

However, Mr Talbot warned that any of these proposals would need Network Rail agreement and significant funding which was notoriously difficult to secure.