A Month In, And It’s Still No Better

The timetable debacle (and just for the record it needs to be said that the service provided by TPE has been and still is every bit as bad as Northern) is a failure of management on a colossal scale. We have previously said that we can never track down anyone who admits responsibility for decisions that we as passengers don’t like. Whoever we talk to, it’s never them. It’s always an unspecified someone else. Yesterday the Transport Select Committee cross-examined the senior management of Arriva Northern and discovered the exact same thing.

The impact of the timetable changes, had TPE been able to actually operate something with at least a superficial relationship to the published timetable, was predictable. Skip-stopping, a reduction in peak frequencies to/from Manchester, reduction in peak capacity leading to overcrowding, extended journey times to the Manchester stations which most of the passengers on our line wanted to get to (for the record, that’s Victoria and Salford Central, not Piccadilly). All those we identified before the timetable change. There were supposed to be some benefits, including reduced journey times to Piccadilly and a more resilient timetable with one main operator (TPE) able to adapt when disruption occurred, by issuing stop orders when trains at our stations were cancelled.

We expected overcrowding on a large scale, but by and large that hasn’t happened. From day one, the service has been so unreliable that passengers have deserted the railway in large numbers. When the TPE franchise included something about promoting modal shift, we naively thought that meant getting people out of their cars and on to the trains, not the other way round.

The reduced journey times have been more than cancelled out by their habitual lateness. As for the resilience, almost daily trains have been terminated short at Stalybridge, leaving passengers stranded either waiting for the next train which might or might not turn up, or hoping to connect on to one of Northern’s trains and then finding them cancelled, too. No day is complete without at least one cancellation. It’s common for skip-stops to skip-stop the stations they are supposed to stop at, if that makes sense. Given the scale of the disruption, we would have expected a lot of stop orders, since it cannot be acceptable to leave two or even three hour gaps in the service. So far, over a month of chaos, there has been just one train subject to stop orders.

Today we have seen (before the evening peak, it may get worse):

  • the first morning train missing out Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley to make up time, even though it’s a strike day so the preceding Northern service was also cancelled.
  • an early afternoon train serving Slaithwaite and Mossley, and the return working, terminating/starting at Stalybridge.
  • an early afternoon train running Leeds-Huddersfield only (i.e. cancelled at Marsden, Greenfield, Stalybridge and Piccadilly).

It seems this is the new normal, and TPE have offered nothing by way of explanation or apology.

So what was until the timetable change a basic hourly service, half hourly at peak times, is now less frequent both peak and off-peak, and bears minimal resemblance to the published timetable. But at least the trains which turn up late or never are cleaner and more comfortable than the ones we endured before 20th May.

It’s not just Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley. Every day, some of TPEs trains for Scarborough and Middlesbrough get terminated short.

Yet no-one is taking responsibility for the situation. We don’t care about blame, but we do want someone to take responsibility.

We never did get to identify, still less talk to, whoever it was that thought skip-stopping between Stalybridge and Huddersfield was a good idea. Now we can’t seem to track down whoever it is that thinks that operational convenience is more important than mitigating the disruption to passengers.

As a fellow sufferer said earlier today,

“What’s the point of a train arriving at its destination vaguely on time if it’s failed to collect half of its passengers?”

There’s an excellent book by Alan Williams, published 1983 called “Not The Age Of The Train”. One of the chapters is entitled Passengers Are A Pest. Judging by the last month, nothing has changed.

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