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.