These are the comments that SMART sent to the Kirklees councillors on WYCA’s Transport Committee, in advance of their meeting on 6th July.
Comments on operation of the new timetable from 20th May 2018 – Slaithwaite & Marsden Action on Rail Transport
We are now six weeks into the new timetable, and whilst it may have stabilised elsewhere on the network with the introduction of the emergency timetable, at stations between Huddersfield and Stalybridge the service is every bit as bad as it was on day one.
Some of this narrative repeats our comments from the first week of the new timetable. Nothing has changed.
We have seen no improvement. There has been only one single weekday, Wednesday 20th June, when there have been no cancellations affecting trains at Slaithwaite.
Whilst Arriva Northern have rightly attracted criticism and attention for their poor performance, our service has been mostly provided by TPE, and passengers on this route cannot understand how TPE has escaped the same level of criticism.
We are served by three services – a TPE service between Hull and Stalybridge which calls at Slaithwaite and Mossley, a TPE service between Leeds and Manchester which serves Marsden and Greenfield, and an Arriva Northern service between Huddersfield and Manchester which serves some of Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley at weekday peak times on a variable stopping pattern.
The first of these we have described as a Hull to Stalybridge service. According to the timetable, this is supposed to run through to Manchester Piccadilly. Often it does not. If it is not cancelled, part-cancelled or terminated short, then it is usually late. We were told that we would benefit from faster journeys into Leeds and Manchester, one of the few improvements in the new timetable pattern. Because the trains are habitually delayed, the faster journeys have not occurred.
We were also told, in a letter from TPE Managing Director Leo Goodwin to GM Mayor Andy Burnham dated 5th February, that passengers would benefit from through services to Manchester and Leeds. It seemed odd that Mr Goodwin should be unaware that we have had regular through services to Manchester ever since 1990. Now we have many fewer through services, because of TPEs propensity to terminate services at Stalybridge with no thought as to how passengers could complete their journey. Trying to get back from Manchester is even more of a lottery.
The second service, serving Greenfield and Marsden, appears to be slightly less unreliable, but still prone to cancellations and on more than one occasion with trains forgetting to stop at intermediate stations, carrying passengers unwillingly beyond their destination.
When Arriva Northern’s service is the least unreliable of the three, then it should be apparent that there is a significant problem.
The peak service between Slaithwaite/Marsden and Manchester (which contrary to common perception is our nearest large city, nearer than Leeds) was approximately halved in frequency in the May timetable change, with the previous six trains from Manchester to Slaithwaite in the evening peak being reduced to three. With cancellations this is often reduced to just two in a three hour evening peak period.
The service between Marsden/Slaithwaite and Leeds, whilst equally unreliable and subject to delays, is at least not affected by terminations short of the main destination station for passengers. Nevertheless, we should not be expected to lower our expectations and this is still unsatisfactory.
This is probably not the place to discuss in detail the inadequacies of the existing (pre and post timetable change) service, other than to point out that there are very few other stations on lines radiating from Leeds and Manchester which have so many passengers (circa 200,000pa or more at each station) but only an hourly service. Because the service is so infrequent, the impact on passengers of a cancellation is greater than on routes with a more frequent service. TPE have failed to take this into account when cancelling or part-cancelling our services.
When services are cancelled, TPE direct passengers to the next service an hour later, even if that also turns out to be cancelled. Sometimes there can be a chain of successive cancellations, where passengers are directed from one cancelled train to another to another. We can provide specific examples of this.
If TPE are giving a higher priority to minimising the delays on services which run four times an hour, where the inconvenience of a single cancellation is easy for passengers to work around, then their priorities are wrong and need to change.
Mr Goodwin’s letter of 5th February refers to improved reliability. This has also been referenced by TPEs managers in public meetings held in Marsden and Mossley prior to the timetable change. It was made clear that having almost all services on the route operated by TPE would make it easier to mitigate the impact of delays by putting stop orders at Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley in other TPE trains. In six weeks of utter chaos, we have seen just four stop orders. When passengers have requested stop orders they have been refused. From this passengers have concluded that TPE do not care about the inconvenience caused to passengers at these stations. We have had no explanation from TPE management as to why the claims they made before the timetable change have proved to be false, and why they are unwilling to make any attempt to mitigate the disruption to passengers. In fact, we remain to be convinced that they even understand the question.
Given the scale of disruption affecting Marsden and Slaithwaite passengers since the timetable change, will TPE allow passengers between Marsden/Slaithwaite and Manchester to travel via Huddersfield at no extra charge until TPE is able to run a full service at these stations in accordance with the published timetable? This question was asked in week one, but remains unanswered. A simple yes will suffice.
Concerns continue to be expressed by Marsden passengers at the large gap (both distance and height) between train and platform edge on platform 2 at Marsden. Until the timetable change, this platform was not in regular use. What Station Operational Risk Assessments have been carried out for Marsden platform 2? Again, this question was asked in week one and remains unanswered.
It is clear that there has been significant modal shift from trains to private cars. One of TPEs franchise objectives was modal shift in the opposite direction.
We also have issues with overcharging on fares between Marsden/Slaithwaite and Manchester where TPE have been charging the higher “via Huddersfield” fare rather than the direct fare. WYCAs Rail Technical Adviser has been provided with the details.
We have seen reference to compensation for passengers, with season ticket holders on Northern’s routes in the North West receiving 4 weeks’ compensation, and passengers on TPE routes or in Yorkshire only receiving 1 week’s compensation. Given the scale of continuing disruption on our route we believe that fairness dictates that passengers at Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley should receive the maximum level of compensation (i.e. 4 weeks) and if the current chaos persists further compensation should be forthcoming. We understand that TfN has a major role in determining the level of compensation on different routes.
The impact on people’s working lives and family lives is significant, and it should not be seen as merely an abstract operational problem. It impacts on real people, whose interests need to be taken into account in a way that has not so far happened.
We have urged TPE to communicate with the passengers at the stations affected, to identify what TPE will do to provide a more reliable service, and what they will do to rebuild passenger trust and confidence in their service. Six weeks into the new timetable, it should not be for a rail users’ group to suggest to TPE a course of action which should have been obvious in week one.
The experience of the past six weeks means it is now difficult to have confidence in TPEs ability and commitment to provide a reliable service.
Passengers are now talking about what direct action they can take to force TPE to take seriously the need to provide an adequate service at these stations. We would much prefer that TPE resolved the situation before it gets to this point.