Mark Wylie: “Welcome to TransPennine Express – a passenger’s long wait for a semi-reliable service”

Mark Wylie: Welcome to TransPennine Express – a passenger’s long wait for a semi-reliable service

[from the Yorkshire Post, 10 October 2018]

I have been commuting from West Yorkshire to Manchester for over 25 years. For the past three years, I have been commuting by train after moving to Slaithwaite, a village on the main trans-Pennine line from Leeds to Manchester.

The differences between the benefits that we were told we were going to get and the actual service we do get since TransPennine Express (TPE) took over our daily services is quite dramatic.

TPE promised us newer trains, faster journey times, direct services to Leeds and Manchester, increased seating capacity, services running earlier and later during the day and, crucially, more frequent and reliable services.

When compared to the Northern rolling stock that we were used to, there are some improvements. The trains are both comfortable and air-conditioned, and with wi-fi for those who need it.

We did get the promised services that ran both earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and this has been a benefit to those rail passengers in the Colne Valley.

However, it didn’t take long for our dreams of a better service to disappear and many commuters are now quite simply fed up of TPE’s service since the May timetable change.

We have now got used to the fact that we can no longer travel to Marsden, the next village along the line as our trains now ‘skip stop’ into Manchester. Now you sometimes see confused walkers trying to figure out how to get to their car that they have left at Marsden.

There have been problems almost every week. The delays aren’t always large, normally between five and 10 minutes, and are more of an annoyance than anything else, although it does mean that the TPE services are no faster than the previous Northern ones.

Far more worrying is the number of cancellations. On my journey to and from Manchester each week, there is often at least one train cancelled that I am intending to catch. Sometimes it just doesn’t run, at other times it is ‘part-cancelled’. This is something I had never heard of before May 2018.

Basically, certain stops are deleted from a train’s route or it terminates early instead of reaching its timetabled destination. This has left me and other rail travellers waiting at Slaithwaite while the expected train speeds past non-stop to make up time.

Likewise, if there is more than a 10-minute delay, we have been left waiting for trains in Manchester only to find out that it has terminated early and turned around at Stalybridge, resulting in a hour-long wait for the next train.

This is not just an occasional problem, there have been well over 500 cancellations or part-cancellations since May 2018.

A seven-minute turnaround time at Manchester Piccadilly is simply not long enough for a long-distance service from Hull. For those of us trying to get back to the Colne Valley in the evening, it is normally an hour-long wait for the next service, despite TPE management promising what is called a ‘special stop order’.

This is an additional station stop to make up for a previously cancelled service. That these ‘special stop orders’ are so rare makes me think that TPE management do not care about regular passengers from smaller stations.

Because of late running, cancellations, and part-cancellations, I have missed or arrived late for meetings at work, evening events and rail connections to elsewhere in the country. For those commuters with children it must be even worse, never sure if the train they intend to catch will get them back home in time for them to pick up their children or have quality time with them in the evening.

Despite TPE’s claim to have a significant increase in seating capacity, it is now a regular feature for some commuters to already be standing from Huddersfield, and I expect to stand throughout my journey to Manchester at least three or four times in the week.

Having said all this, the front-line staff are almost uniformly excellent. Most understand the frustrations of commuters on these overcrowded, delayed or part-cancelled trains. They use their common sense and deliver customer service by advising revised connection times on delayed services.

Yet there appears to have been no common sense at play in the management of the timetable change – 
or in TPE management trying to fix 
these issues for the benefit of passengers on a day-to-day basis.

Mark Wylie is a regular commuter from Slaithwaite. A museum curator, he actively chooses to use 
public transport for environmental reasons.



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A reminder of what Transpennine said before the timetable change

A letter from Leo Goodwin, Managing Director of TPE, to Andy Burnham before the timetable change.

So, of the claims made:

  • faster journey times to Manchester – only on the rare occasions when trains are running to time and not terminated at Stalybridge, and definitely slower to Victoria
  • faster journey times to Leeds – again, only when not being delayed
  • regular direct service to Leeds – yes, but being withdrawn in December
  • regular direct service to Manchester – we had this before, but now it often gets no further than Stalybridge
  • significant increase in seating capacity – no
  • earlier and later services – yes
  • more services on a Saturday – no
  • significant increase in services on Sundays – no
  • train fleet more reliable – no, reliability has been a feature conspicuously absent since 20th May
  • passengers getting faster, more frequent and more reliable services – no
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Office Of Rail And Road: Independent Inquiry Into (Some Of) The Timetable Disruption In May 2018

We hesitate to mention this, as it’s a report into the timetable debacle which somehow manages to avoid any analysis of TPEs part in it, and doesn’t manage to mention the impact on our stations until the end of the last appendix.

We find it difficult to take seriously a report which ignores the train company whose performance has been consistently as poor as Northern’s.

The conclusion of the report appears to be a bit like Murder On The Orient Express. They all did it. Except the ones who weren’t there.

Links to the report and the Yorkshire Post article below. Nothing interesting to say about our abysmal train service, in fact nothing at all to say about our abysmal train service.

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“Transport for the North Board takes decisive action on the future of the North’s railways”

We don’t want “the same frequency of local trains” at the end of 5 years of disruption. We want two trains per hour throughout the day. That’s the same as anywhere else in the Manchester and Leeds travel to work areas, not the same inadequate service as we have now.

[Transport for the North press release, Thursday 13th September 2018]

The Transport for the North Board met in Sheffield today and welcomed the allocation of nearly £3bn over the next five years by government as the first phase of upgrading the Transpennine railway line.

But the Board also made a clear call to ensure that designs for the Transpennine Route Upgrade programme should allow for the full delivery of all outcomes originally agreed:

• Target journey times of 40 minutes between Leeds and Manchester and 62 minutes between Manchester and York
• 6 long distance trains per hour, whilst allowing for the same frequency of local trains
• Greater capacity through provision for longer trains
• The highest reliability levels of any long-distance service in Britain
• Provision for freight, with the option to transport containers by rail (which is not currently possible)

Furthermore, Transport for the North wants to ensure that any upgrades are environmentally sustainable and do not have a negative impact on air quality.

The Board emphasised the vital importance of minimising disruption whilst major upgrade works are completed.

Transport for the North Chairman John Cridland said,

“Our call to government is an example of the North clearly stating its intent and ambition with a single voice through Transport for the North. We are pleased that the Government is showing continued commitment to the Transpennine Route Upgrade, which is a vital component of the Northern Powerhouse, and we look forward to working closely with the Department for Transport and Network Rail as detailed design begins.”

On the subject of rail performance, Northern, TransPennine Express and Network Rail gave a presentation on their improvement plans and our Board expressed frustration around performance in general and in particular the industry’s short term plans to improve the resilience of the network.

Whilst recognising that performance has improved and stabilised since the major disruptions following the May timetable change, board members repeatedly challenged representatives from Northern, Trans Pennine Express and Network Rail about the reasons for continued delays, cancellations and short-formed trains.

Also at the meeting, it was announced by Transport Minister Jo Johnson that in response to our letter of 2 August to Chris Grayling calling for a single person to oversee both infrastructure and train operations, Richard George has been appointed, working closely alongside Transport for the North.

With extensive rail industry experience, Mr George has served as Chairman on the boards of First Group, First Great Western, First Great Eastern and First North Western. He was Director of Transport at the London Olympics and is currently Global Head of Rail Infrastructure at SNC Lavelin.

He will assume his role following final agreement between Transport for the North and the Department for Transport on the details of the appointment.

Transport for the North is also pleased to announce that terms have been agreed between the Rail North Partnership and Northern on compensation for some regular travellers in the most disrupted areas. An announcement will follow from the train operating companies with the scheme implemented as soon as possible.

The news on compensation follows the announcement yesterday of an enhanced Delay Repay scheme for Northern passengers. From December, passengers whose journeys are disrupted by 15-29 minutes will also be able to claim compensation under the Northern Delay Repay scheme – currently only those delayed by 30 minutes or more can claim.

John Cridland, Chairman of Transport for the North, said:

“Our focus as a Board is on a rail service that is reliable, resilient and environmentally sustainable and we will continue to press the industry in order to deliver on our vision.

“Richard George’s appointment is a major step forward for the travelling public of the North and a clear indication that Government is listening to the views of Transport for the North. It will enable us to address the structural issues relating to the rail industry that have had a major impact on passengers, while the imminent implementation of the further compensation scheme we have been seeking will help passengers who were disrupted earlier this year.”

Transport for the North Board takes decisive action on the future of the North’s railways

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