Six months on from Transpennine Express being taken back into public control (and yes, we know that the Department for Transport had quite a lot of control even before that date), some press and media coverage of the Huddersfield to Manchester service and of Huddersfield being the worst station in the entire country for cancellations.
[Whether Huddersfield actually is the worst station in the entire country for cancellations depends on how it is measured – over what time period, is it just the 500 busiest stations being looked at, are “P-coded” trains (pre-cancelled the night before) included and is it the percentage of cancellations or the total number or something which takes account of both. ]
TPE will be reducing services from the December timetable change date to address its long standing issues with driver training. It is described as a marginal reduction, but in some locations it is a bit more than that. Clearing its training backlog and reversing its previous policy of “optimised diagramming” which saw drivers have reduced route knowledge, creating a need for multiple crew changes on long distance services. So, for example, instead of a Newcastle to Liverpool and return train being driven by one driver, multiple crew changes meant that up to 6 drivers could be needed to operate the service. It reduced the driver training requirement, which saved money but reduced resilience. It only needed one of the potentially 6 drivers to be unavailable or merely delayed then the entire service could be cancelled. That’s what has been happening for a long period. It was a key factor in the poor performance throughout 2022 and 2023.
The new managing director has been clear that optimised diagramming has to be abandoned.
In order to get driver training up to the level it needs to be at, TPE is temporarily reducing services.
So far as Slaithwaite & Marsden are directly affected, the additional peak trains on Saturdays will be withdrawn but there is actually one more train on weekdays and Sundays.
There are, however, other changes which affect us. The timings and calling patterns of some of the through trains to/from Leeds at peak times will change, with some of the evening peak through trains from Leeds calling at all stations between there and Huddersfield and being overtaken by the following express. Some of the Manchester to Huddersfield stopping trains will be extended to Wakefield Kirkgate, Castleford and York.
In addition, some of the 5 carriage trains which currently serve Slaithwaite & Marsden at peak times will be replaced by three carriage trains. We estimate that the number of seats from Manchester Piccadilly to Mossley/Greenfield/Marsden/Slaithwaite in the evening peak (4.30 to 6.30, five trains) will reduce from 1317 seats to 855 seats. When many of these trains are already full and standing, this is not an insignificant change. It’s more difficult to work out how overall capacity will change in the other direction (i.e. evening peak from Leeds/Huddersfield) because the service pattern is a lot more complicated, but it seems inevitable that there will be a significant reduction in capacity.
TPE are confident that they have enough capacity to cope with passenger numbers. We’re not convinced but we hope to be proved wrong.
Apparently it’s possible to simulate the Huddersfield to Manchester train experience, which is just as well because experiencing it in real life is a bit of a lottery.
In-game purchases include an excuse generation module, and a station cat deployer should any of the press turn up looking for a story.
Rumour has it that it works intermittently in the daytime but is prone to outages for no apparent reason. it’s programmed not to function in the evenings.
Also coming soon – the Rail Replacement Bus Simulator with the option for the driver to ignore his instructions and stay on the A62 rather than picking up the passengers waiting at Marsden station.
[For the avoidance of doubt, the product is real and we’re giving them a bit of free advertising. We’ve embellished the commentary a bit based on suggestions from some Marsden and Slaithwaite commuters.]