SMART’s submission to ORR timetabling enquiry

The following was prepared by SMART to feed into Railfuture Yorkshire’s response to the Office of Rail and Road’s timetabling enquiry:


Rail user feedback on timetabling issues

Your organisation: Slaithwaite & Marsden Action on Rail Transport
Train company (delete where not applicable):
·         Northern Rail
·         TransPennine Express


1. What was the quality of the information provided by the train company (on the train, platform, etc before and during the disruption)?

Before commenting on the scale of disruption, information and mitigation, it has to be put into context. Until the timetable change, Slaithwaite and Marsden were served by a basic hourly service calling at all stations between Huddersfield and Manchester Victoria. This was supplemented by additional trains at peak times giving a roughly half-hourly service both to/from Huddersfield and to/from Victoria in the morning and evening weekday peaks. This was provided by Arriva Northern. The quality of the rolling stock, and the standard of internal cleaning was poor, but it was generally sufficiently reliable for passengers to be able to trust it to get them to and from work without significant delay. Performance did, however, deteriorate alarmingly in the four months of so prior to the timetable change.

The May timetable change saw huge changes, with almost all services at Marsden and Slaithwaite being provided by TPE on a skip-stopping basis. Slaithwaite is served by Manchester to Hull trains, and Marsden served by Manchester to Leeds trains, described as semi-fast but stopping at 10 stations between Manchester and Leeds. A further important change was that services would go to and from Piccadilly rather than Victoria, substantially inconveniencing the large majority of commuters whose destination was close to either Victoria or Salford Central. The new timetable also saw a reduction in the peak frequency Slaithwaite/Manchester from half-hourly to hourly, and a lesser but still significant reduction in peak frequency Marsden/Manchester. Improvements, at least in theory, were the introduction of regular through trains to Leeds, along with reduced journey times to both Leeds and Manchester. So commuters were already facing the biggest change in a generation, with trains going to the wrong Manchester station and with the reduction in peak frequency giving less flexibility to passengers.

It is in this context that SMART predicted major problems even on the assumption that the timetable would function as planned.

TPE put considerable time, effort and staff resources into informing passengers before the timetable changes, but the reality of the post-May 20th service has been so different from what was proposed that most of that communication effort has been wasted. The timetable TPE informed passengers about has turned out to be a work of fiction.

The scale of the disruption has been so great that it has been difficult to comment on the quality of information provided, as there have been so many places and occasions when that information has been needed.

We have not attempted to comment on Arriva Northern’s services, as their role in providing services on our route since the timetable change has been very limited.

1a. How was this information communicated, and was it timely?

There are multiple sources of information on the internet, plus passenger information screens and public address at the stations. It is not possible for a rail users’ group to monitor all of these, but we are able to make some comments.

The information systems on the stations have informed passengers of disruption in the form of delays and/or cancellations. They have not, however, provided any information as to what arrangements exist for passengers to undertake their disrupted journeys.

We have looked at regularly. On occasions where trains have been terminated/started short at Stalybridge, the advice provided has typically advised passengers for stations further afield to catch a later train at Manchester Piccadilly, but provided no information for passengers looking to get to Marsden or Slaithwaite, nor for any passengers looking to board at Marsden or Slaithwaite. If any advice is provided for passengers for Slaithwaite and Marsden, it is generally to wait for the next train an hour later. Sometimes by looking further down on, it transpires that the train which passengers are directed to an hour later is also cancelled.

It is difficult to describe information as timely when it is of such limited use to passengers.

1b. Do you have any views on how the information might be improved?

The sources of information we have listed under 1a need to provide accurate information as to how passengers to/from Slaithwaite and Marsden can make journeys with as little delay as possible. Sometimes this should involve directing passengers to the next train from Manchester to Huddersfield and then doubling back.

However, there is a limit to how much impact improved information will have, when the real need is for TPE to make arrangements to provide a more reliable service and to provide adequate mitigation at times of disruption.

2. What was the impact of the disruption on passengers?

Disruption has led to

·         extended journey times – sometimes with journeys which ought to take 30’ taking two hours plus,

·         inability of commuters to get to work on time,.

·         Commuters having less time with families because of the need to set off earlier in the morning to be certain of getting to work on time, and returning home later in evenings

·         difficulties in arranging childcare when the morning services are prone to short-notice cancellations and commuters cannot rely on getting home in the evening in time to collect their children.

·         Cancellations leading to overcrowding on the remaining services which have run, partly mitigated by  a reduction in passenger numbers because the service is no longer reliable or trustworthy

·         passengers making their journeys by car instead. Passengers are abandoning a train service which cannot be relied upon

·         businesses in Slaithwaite and Marsden report that it is impacting on them, too.

2a. Did this vary by passenger type?

Passengers who previously relied on the train to get them to work have the (unsatisfactory) option of combinations of buses with greatly extended journey times, but this is less of an option in evenings as bus services are much more limited, or they can drive to their destination. However, for many commuters there is no viable alternative to using the train and they have to set off earlier in the hope that a train will turn up sooner or later. This is made more difficult by the reduction in the number of peak trains under the new timetable, referred to in 1a.

Daytime passengers are more likely either to use other modes of transport or simply not make the journeys they intended.

3. Did the train company take any action to mitigate the effects of the disruption?

So far as we are aware, very little. Before the timetable change TPE were keen to highlight their ability to mitigate disruption, as a consequence of most of the trains being operated by TPE with very few peak weekday trains being operated by Arriva Northern. One of the specific actions identified by TPE (referred to in a public meeting) was the provision of stop orders at times of disruption. This has happened on perhaps four occasions in the eight weeks so far of the new timetable, even though there have regularly been two or three hour gaps in services, and even occasionally four hour gaps. We have met with TPE but they were unwilling or unable to provide an explanation as to why what we were promised has not been done.

On occasions, rather than seeking to mitigate the disruption, TPE have chosen to make the situation worse. Apparently in order to protect other TPE services serving other stations which see several trains per hour, they consider it acceptable and expedient to skip scheduled stops at our stations and run these trains fast between Huddersfield and Stalybridge or Manchester. An example of this was on 18th July, when the eastbound 1115 and 1315 at Slaithwaite were cancelled outright, whilst the 1215 went through without stopping. This created a four-hour gap in what is supposed to be an hourly service.

On very few occasions TPE have provided a replacement bus. This takes more than three times as long as the train, and in Slaithwaite and Marsden the replacement bus stops are on the A62, on the opposite hillside from the railway stations. This does not provide a satisfactory alternative.

One mitigation that TPE have put into place, at our request, has been to allow passengers travelling between Manchester and Slaithwaite/Marsden to double back at Huddersfield at no extra fare at times of disruption. However, they have not publicised this, so most passengers are not aware of it. Only on 17th July have SMART been in a position to inform passengers (something which should be done by the train operating company, not by a rail users’ group), so it is not yet possible to assess what impact this will have.

3a. Were the mitigating actions successful?

No. See above. One of the actions which TPE have regularly taken to try to mitigate disruption elsewhere (to journeys which already see a much more frequent service) is to regularly terminate Hull to Manchester services (which provide the basic hourly service at Slaithwaite and Mossley) and Leeds to Manchester services (which provide the basic hourly service at Marsden and Greenfield) at Stalybridge. Up to 7th August, termination/starting services at Stalybridge has happened on over 200 occasions. This frequently happens at short notice. The reason is that the train has a turnround time at Manchester Piccadilly of just 7 minutes, which does not allow time to cope with delays. The practical effect of this is to leave passengers stranded six miles short of their intended destination, and left to work out for themselves how to complete their journeys. In the return direction passengers at Piccadilly are unable to get to Stalybridge in time to catch their intended train. Sometimes this has happened to consecutive trains, with the effect that a journey of just 20 miles from Manchester to Slaithwaite can take up to 2½ hours.

We have met with TPE and made it clear that in terms of the impact on passengers this is unacceptable and unjustifiable. TPE did not seem to understand that the impact on passengers was relevant. All they were interested in was attempting to get their unworkable timetable plan to work reliably for its core of four fast trains between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York. They have treated, and continue to treat, passengers at smaller stations in between with contempt.

It is left to passengers to make their own arrangements to mitigate disruption. For many of them this has involved either using their car for the entire journey, or driving to the nearest convenient Metrolink stop at either Derker, Oldham or Ashton. From our observations we estimate that usage of trains between Slaithwaite/Marsden and Manchester is down by about 30%.


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“Why under-fire rail boss needs to take a trip to meet his customers. Here’s the invite”

Tom Richmond: Why under-fire rail boss needs to take a trip to meet his customers. Here’s the invite

[from the Yorkshire Post, Saturday 11 August 2018]

The managing director of troubled train operator TransPennine Express, Leo Goodwin, has now broken his silence on the region’s rail scandal, after some prompting, in last week’s column.

He issued a half-hearted apology, which The Yorkshire Post published on Tuesday, in which he suggested that many of the problems on the main line between Leeds and Manchester were down to Network Rail and Northern.

If he thinks this evasiveness – straight from the Macavity handbook written by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling – is sufficient to get him off the hook for the time being, then he, and his PR team, should think again.

The column challenge came after commuters from Marsden and Slaithwaite contacted me about the hundreds – yes, hundreds – of trains that have been cancelled, or not reached their intended destination since timetable changes came into effect in late May.

Not only is this causing great inconvenience for travellers, but tourism in the beautiful Colne Valley is now being hit. B&B owner Jane Walker said it was easier for some guests to travel from New Mexico to Manchester than it was from the North West city to her village.

Yet did Mr Goodwin respond to this? No, he did not. Has he answered letters from residents, and campaigners, who can no longer rely upon the train? Not according to all those who continue to get in touch with this newspaper.

And what did TransPennine Express do when Mr Goodwin’s piece was published in print, and online, on Tuesday? Sarah Humphries, the media relations manager, emailed me and requested that a photo be used of one of their new trains. Is this all they care about?

So here’s another challenge after I wrote a column on Thursday calling for a series of customer service commitments to be included in all future rail franchises.

How about Mr Goodwin meeting rail campaigners in Marsden and Slaithwaite in person so he has a better understanding of their anguish and hardship?

There are two problems – Mr Goodwin’s willingness, given his track record as one of the rail industry’s faceless bureaucrats, and whether he will actually be able to get there on one of his own trains. A real public servant would readily agree. I’ll report back next week.

Read more at:

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“Rail’s own Chuckle Brothers are having a laugh – at us”

Thanks to Tom Richmond and the Yorkshire Post for continuing to highlight the farce that our train service has become.

Tom Richmond: Rail’s own Chuckle Brothers are having a laugh – at us

[from the Yorkshire Post, 9th August 2018]

At least the Chuckle Brothers provided some humour when this Yorkshire double act performed their ‘To me, to you!’ comedy routine. It’s no laughing matter, however, when rail chiefs try it. In fact, it is insulting.

Here’s why. TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin broke his silence this week, after some prompting by this columnist last weekend, and effectively blamed fellow operator Northern – as well as Network Rail – for the chaos on his services.

Northern went further when one of its rush-hour trains broke down on the Wharfedale Line between Leeds and Ilkley and led to two hours of delays. It tweeted that this was “out of our control” when the operator is in charge of its own maintenance. And then there’s Chris Grayling. “I don’t run the railways,” he insists. Well, who does? He’s only the Transport Secretary.

In the week when Rotherham is mourning Barry Elliott, one of the Chuckle Brothers, who has died at the age of 73, this latest ‘To me, to you!’ buckpassing is a recurring theme – awful communication and an abject failure to take any responsibility.

Yet both are fundamental to the future of the railways if the day ever comes when Mr Grayling is replaced by someone who knows what they’re doing and Transport for the North is given real powers.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says he doesn’t run the railways. Who does? From correspondence readers of The Yorkshire Post have sent me, their collective lack of confidence in the trains is matched by the reluctance of senior managers to engage with the public.

If they’re not being insulted by Northern’s tweets, it is TransPennine Express passengers missing business meetings, or airport connections, because journeys to Hull, Scarborough and Middlesbrough, or Manchester Airport, were cut short because they were running so late.

And then there’s Mr Goodwin’s failure to address the specific concerns of people living in the Pennine communities of Marsden and Slaithwaite as his firm’s complacency and contempt takes its toll on tourism in the beautiful Colne Valley.

They’re supposed to have an hourly service to both Leeds and Manchester. Yet, invariably, trains are cancelled with no notice or, as on Tuesday, only complete part of the rush hour journey before being halted and leaving stranded passengers awaiting a train with some standing room.

This isn’t a branch line. It’s the main cross-Pennine railway, supposedly one of the most important in the country. Yet, since May 30, passengers here have endured 453 cancelled trains – or services which have not reached their intended destination – according to campaigners. Of these, TransPennine Express, part of First Group, were responsible for 436.

Pacers were better than current TransPennine Express service. Yet, while Mr Goodwin said in his article for this newspaper on Tuesday that correspondence from commuters “has been responded to”, the complainants are not satisfied. Far from it.

Campaigners like Gary Godolphin, of Slaithwaite and Marsden Action on Rail Transport, have been writing to Mr Goodwin for weeks and have been fobbed off by his regional development manager Lucja Majewski. Just like the trains, they’re getting nowhere.

Call me old-fashioned, but invisible and faceless bosses like Mr Goodwin – and Northern’s managing director David Brown – should be fronting up when this summer’s scandal has already cost the North £35m and one million lost hours.

For this reason, I’d apply some very strict customer service criteria to all new rail franchises if – heaven forbid – I was running the Department for Transport.

As the railways are a subsidised public service, there should be a legal requirement for the MD of train operators to sign off complaints, and correspondence, from customers within 14 days, and in person, rather than leaving it to minions to mimic the ‘To me, to you’ routine of the Chuckle Brothers.

They should also be ordered to stage public meetings once a month, ideally at the main stations on their network, so they can engage with commuters.

And, in return for running the franchise, there should be incentives to speed up the payment of compensation when trains are delayed for an unreasonable period – there are currently passengers in Yorkshire with 12 or more outstanding claims who say there’s no transparency, or method, to existing protocols. Any rail chief with a public service ethos will agree. If not, they shouldn’t be part of the industry.

Then there’s the role of the Transport Secretary. Not only do the railway industry’s watchdogs need to raise their game, but the hapless Mr Grayling – or, preferably, his successor – should be required to make, in person, quarterly statements to Parliament on the performance of the train operators, take questions from MPs and provide a detailed spending breakdown so the neglected North can see if it’s receiving a fair share of Government funding or not.

Front up – or step aside for someone who will put passengers first. That’s how I would try to end this ‘To me, to you’ farce so the likes of Leo Goodwin, David Brown and Chris Grayling, realise that power still comes with responsibility and is nothing to chuckle about.

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Looking to the future – improving the timetable

Whilst all the focus at the moment is on the failure to operate a service which resembles the published new timetable , with its large number of cancellations, part-cancellations and poor punctuality, there’s still a need to look beyond the day-to-day issues.

SMART’s objective remains a daytime service of two trains per hour, with additional services at peak times. Whilst that may be difficult to achieve before the Transpennine Route Upgrade (whatever that may contain) is carried out, that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.

Transport for the North (TfN) have recognised the issues with the timetable at Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley, and it’s one of the things they are looking at with a view to making changes to provide us with a more coherent and more frequent service.

It’s identified in the agenda for the TfN Rail North Committee Meeting on 12th July. Item 6, appendix 1, workstream 2 refers.

Develop train service mitigations and improvements to ensure an improved service across all routes
As further mitigation for the ongoing disruption of rail services, TfN could seek improvements over and above those contracted through the Franchise Agreements. Several areas have been identified with the franchisees’ plans that create issues for connectivity and capacity:
• Preston to Manchester via Bolton (electrification due later in the year)
• Manchester to Leeds (issues with calling pattern at local stations)
• Warrington to Manchester (re-routing of TPE service from May 2018)
• Southport to Manchester (desire to revert to more services to Piccadilly)
TfN will assess the franchisees’ delivery plans and may wish to procure additional services or rolling stock. There is scope to utilise funds already secured through the franchise (such as innovation funds and other sources) subject to business case.
Who will lead?
TfN and DfT, working through the Rail North Partnership.
Desired Outcome
Improved connectivity and capacity.

link is

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