Every Time You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse

We have now had six weeks of massive disruption.

Before the timetable change, Northern inflicted large scale disruption on passengers, with cancellations, bus replacements taking three times as long and even trains omitting our stops in order to make up time.

We thought TPE couldn’t possibly be any worse.

I’ll just repeat that to emphasise the point. We thought TPE couldn’t possibly be any worse.

Cancellations are now routine. Daily, trains for Manchester are terminated short at Stalybridge, dumping large numbers of passengers six miles short of their destination and left to hope that there will be onward travel. In the opposite direction, passengers from Manchester are unable to get to Stalybridge in time for onward travel to Marsden & Slaithwaite. Occasionally trains miss out or stops in order to make up time.

If it’s not cancelled, then it’s delayed. A fifteen minute delay is normal, a delay of only ten minutes now counts as a good news story.

Just when we had got used to the idea that cancellations and part cancellations would lead to two hour gaps in the service with occasional three hour gaps, TPE have managed (on 27th June) to extend that to a four hour gap between (approximately) 0915 and 1315 with no direct services between Slaithwaite and Manchester and the same in the return direction. And the same the following day, coming back from Manchester no direct trains between approximately 1830 and 2230. No explanation, no attempt at mitigation, passengers told to wait an hour for the next service even if it’s already known that that one’s cancelled, too.

Within that time period, TPE would have run 15 services between Huddersfield and Manchester, but weren’t willing to put a stop order on any one of those to enable passengers at Slaithwaite and Mossley to get to/from Manchester. Before the timetable change we were told stop orders could be made in those circumstances. We can think of no valid reason why they weren’t.

Other places on TPEs network are being affected, too. As described above, Hull to Manchester passengers get abandoned in Stalybridge. Scarborough’s hourly service often only makes it as far as Malton. Middlesbrough trains (also hourly) are often terminated short, too. Some of their trains to Newcastle get terminated short, but that’s of less significance because there are plenty of alternative trains between York and Newcastle.

The only bit they seem to be interested in is running fast trains at 15 minute intervals between Manchester, Leeds and York. If you’re not a passenger who wants to get from Manchester to Leeds or York in a hurry, then they’re just not interested in you.

It would be wrong to think TPE are failing, because that would be to imply that they are making an attempt to get things right.

So what’s the solution?

The fundamental problem is that to many trains are being squeezed on to a system which can’t cope, with pinch points at Manchester (several locations), between Stalybridge and Huddersfield, between Huddersfield and Leeds, and at Leeds station.

This is what happens when a silly obsession with running “six fast trains per hour” is pushed through without providing the necessary infrastructure. In the long term, capacity needs to be increased and the Transpennine Route Upgrade needs to deal with all the pinch points by reinstating all the cancelled or deferred schemes, additional track at key locations, full electrification, sufficient to cope with existing traffic and future growth. Over to you, Secretary of State.

In the short term, something needs to be done to make operations more resilient, with the focus firmly on minimising the scale of disruption to passengers. Remember them?

In order to do this, TPE needs to stop prioritising its long distance passengers over all the others. If, as with Northern, this requires an emergency timetable with some of the expresses removed (and the rolling stock released being used to lengthen the remaining expresses), then that is what should be done. Likewise, if putting stop orders in expresses is necessary in order to ensure passengers at places like Mossley and Slaithwaite retain a roughly hourly service throughout the day, then that too should be done.

TPE’s management also needs to apologise and acknowledge the extent of their failure, because until you acknowledge a problem you can’t begin to put it right. They also need to explain what they propose to do to put it right, and what they will do to regain the trust and confidence of passengers. Up to now they have been completely silent, maybe hoping that if they keep quiet none of the passengers will notice.

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2 Responses to Every Time You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse

  1. Rob says:

    The same prioritising of long-distance travellers is also happening on the Manchester Airport-Scotland TPE routes. For example, on that route they have cut out the Manchester Oxford Road Stop, despite this being one of the major commuter stations in the north of England: servicing two major universities, lots of local businesses, and the Manchester hospitals. Before the changes the majority of passengers would get out at this stop. Now they have to continue to Piccadilly, and then make their way back.

    This change has meant that commuters from North of Preston (e.g., I travel from Lancaster, others from places even further north) have had a minimum of 30 mins added to their journey time every day, and has made it increasingly difficult to get to work by 9am. (Oh and the train does still stop at MCO – they just don’t open the doors).

  2. Mark Crowe says:

    For our comrades going to meet with TPE: I was going to write an intelligently argued, excoriatingly witty summary of my travel experiences over the last six weeks. But frankly I’ve logged most of the ongoing offences on here and TPE can read them. The opening couple of weeks or so, chaotic and a real pain as they were, are not the main problem in the long run. Posters on here (and a child of 12) have identified the issues you would get by running more trains with the same amount of rolling stock and staff on what is essentially a two track line with some passing points.

    I can only speak from my experience which is this: my journey is from Marsden to Leeds return everyday. I’m employed to work in Leeds from 09:00 to 17:00 and I work 10 minutes walk from the station. I have two children in pre- and after-school care, the earliest I can drop off is 07:30; the latest I can pick up is 18:00, both in Marsden.

    the long term problem I have is with timings. to get to Leeds before 09:00 from Marsden I have to get the 07:44 then it’s preferable to get the 08:00 Scarborough train. It’s virtually impossible to have the children ready, dropped off and for me to be out of pre-school care an up to the station. The next train is the 08:44 – or late for work (09:30). I could take them to school but they aren’t allowed in until 08:45 at the earliest. So that means getting the 09:44 – getting to work at 10:30. That’s not going to wash, is it?

    Likewise the return journey. Ideally I could get the 17:06 from Leeds and pick up the stopping TPE train (that sets off earlier from Leeds) atr Huddersfield getting into Marsden at 17:45. Other wise pick up one of the later TPE and catch the “extra” Northern stopping service departing Huddersfield at 18:13 and rely on someone else to pick my kids up. And this is where it all goes frustratingly wrong.

    All the westbound TPE’s at Huddersfield use platform 1, just platform 1. That means if 17:06 from Leeds is delayed for whatever reason and hasn’t overtaken the stopping service at Dewsbury (or wherever) it’s a minimum 45 minute wait for the next service to Marsden AND the express is stuck behind a stopper – lose lose. This seems to be the norm not the exception and is likely to stay that way for the following reasons:

    1) there is simply not enough “slack” in the system to cope with the inevitable short/ unavoidable delays which means that instead of one train only being affected ALL services are affected – this is compounded by staff arriving late on inbound services – turnaround times, and the use of single platforms at Huddersfield and even Marsden contribute to this.

    2) timing the stopping services – Time the stoppers so that commuters can get to their start station at a reasonable time and meet a stopper en route instead of missing one by 5 minutes and having to wait 45 – 60 minutes for another one (e.g. my experience on evening)

    3) the length of trains – the morning stopping service to from Huddersfield to Leeds is 3 cars. It’s full by Mirfield, and positively rammed by Batley. I saw a guy have to do yoga to get off one morning at Cottingley or Morley because he was wedged in so hard. It’s obvious that train is going to simply get fuller and fuller – make it six cars.

    I’ve been doing this journey for most of the last 12 years and I’ve commuted across West Yorkshire for most of the last 30. The current situation is one of the least flexible and most stressful on a day to day basis I have ever encountered. That includes the period of the Leeds station refurbishment, electrification works and all the rest.

    Yes there may well be more trains from Leeds to Manchester but in fact there is less much less choice and much less reliability for people traveling to intermediate stations, for the reasons outlined above. And I don’t see it getting any better in the short to medium term (i.e. the next 2 years minimum).

    I would really like to see the “evidence” used to assert that 5 or 6 trains an hour east-west would make an improvement to most people’s lives or the economy as a whole. I would like to see the evidence of consumer demand which has led to the timetable. TPE should have had the guts to say that this isn’t workable and all the experience so far is that it is unlikely to become so simply by wishing for it.

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