Every Time You Think It Can’t Get Any Worse – The Sequel

Now that we are six months into the new timetable, it’s worth looking at how it has worked, and whether there has been any discernible improvement.

TPE would argue that there has been some improvement, but in saying that they are looking at their network as a whole, not focusing on the Hull-Manchester and Leeds-Manchester stopping services or on the impact specifically on Slaithwaite, Marsden, Greenfield and Mossley stations. It’s the impact on our area which interests SMART, and it’s clear that there has been no improvement.

It’s not easy to explain to an outsider just how bad it has been, it has to be experienced to be believed.

So, first of all, some statistics and graphs.

Even before the timetable change, Slaithwaite was in the bottom 100 stations for punctuality and reliability.

The timetable change resulted in a further decline in punctuality and reliability, and instead of being in the bottom 100 stations it is now in the bottom 1. TPE should be embarrassed by this, but they seem more interested in pointing out that only about a fifth of delays and cancellations are their fault, and what upsets them more is that the likes of SMART respond to enquiries from the Yorkshire Post.  However, one fifth of the delays is still a lot of delays.

Analysis by www.ontimetrains.co.uk puts Slaithwaite worst in the entire country for delays and cancellations over the past 6 months, with Mossley 2nd and Greenfield and Marsden also in the worst 20.

Although in the past 4 weeks there are a few stations in West Lancashire which have managed to push Slaithwaite and Mossley off the coveted bottom position, it’s worth noting that that’s not an improvement for Slaithwaite (reliability has fallen even further), but that in a few other places the decline in performance has been even greater.

Our own analysis has attempted to track the number of cancellations and part-cancellations. How these are defined is a bit subjective, but we have looked at it from the point of view of Slaithwaite and Marsden passengers. So, as we define it, any train which was timetabled to call at Slaithwaite or Marsden and doesn’t counts as a cancellation. Any train which calls at Slaithwaite or Marsden but failed to go to/from Manchester in one direction and Leeds in the other we have classed as a part cancellation. We didn’t even bother looking at delays. They are so commonplace as to pass without comment.

On that basis, we are looking at (up to 29th November), a total of about 350 part cancellations (typically a train which starts or terminates at Stalybridge) and 630 full cancellations. It seems inevitable that before the next timetable change on 9th December, this will have passed 1000. In the unlikely event that any TPE manager reads this, it’s something to be embarrassed and ashamed of.

It’s more than just statistics.

It’s about how it affects people’s ability to travel to and from work, and how it affects people’s lives.

The commute to and from Manchester is now much more difficult than before the timetable change. What was previously a half-hourly peak service was reduced to hourly in the 20th May timetable, and often cancellations reduce that to just two trains in a three hour peak period.

It’s common for peak trains to be terminated at Stalybridge, leaving passengers to wait for the next train (if that isn’t cancelled, too) and often unable to board because it’s just too crowded. Timings are too unpredictable to rely on being able to connect to trains to Victoria. In the return direction, it’s common for hundreds of passengers to be stranded at Piccadilly whilst their train departs from Stalybridge instead, empty.

The commute to Leeds is a little less disrupted. The one good thing in the 20th May timetable was the regular through trains to Leeds. These, at least, have been less prone to cancellation than the Manchester commute. Delays are commonplace, but we have all reduced our expectations.

Cancellations in the daytime deter passengers from using the service when they don’t know whether there will be a train home at the time they planned to return.

The Yorkshire Post articles by Rob Walker and Mark Wylie describe some of the impacts on passengers’ personal and work lives.



More importantly, it’s something which should have been addressed long ago, by means of actions to mitigate the disruption. The promised stop orders have largely failed to materialise, and routinely TPE regard it as acceptable to expect passengers to wait an hour for the next service, and maybe wait another hour if that one’s cancelled, too. It’s unclear whether the ultimate responsibility for refusing stop orders sits with TPE or Network Rail or a combination of both. TPE and Network Rail have agreed a recovery plan which involves terminating westbound trains at Stalybridge if running more than 11 minutes late at Huddersfield, but also refers to stop orders being made in the event of cancellations. What’s the point of a recovery plan if TPE and/or Network Rail just cherry-pick which bits of it they implement?

Providing a service that passengers can use doesn’t appear to have been on the agenda.

It’s worth pointing out that Northern run 10% of the trains serving Slaithwaite and Marsden, but only account for 4% of the cancellations. We never thought we would be relying on Northern to be the relatively reliable part of the service.

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

  1. Jeremy Hinks says:

    Well researched, written and much appreciated. It really does sum up what we all know: TPE don’t want to run the stopping service, they don’t care about us, we are treated with contempt. This morning (3rd Dec) was yet another example. The 0744 Marsden to Leeds was ‘only’ 15 late, but it still ran non-stop missing Greenfield and Marsden. So, you can wait an hour… The 0844 left Manchester a mere 10 mins late, not that unusual, and guess what? It also runs non-stop missing Greenfield and Marsden. It actually passed through Marsden at 0852. All to save few minutes, we’re left with no eastbound train between 0730 (thanks to Northern) and 0944. 2hours 15 mins without a train (3 hours without a TPE service) at exactly the time of day people need to get to work, university, or need to make onward connections for long distance trip. I note services to Manchester were also late and cancelled. And of course the Hull service also had cancellations. Just another day.
    I would like to hear TPE’s justification for making the decision to miss stops when the delay is only 10-15 mins. The service has a 23 minute turnaround in Leeds. It’s bad enough being sacrificed, but to do so for such relatively minor delays, and to do this on two consecutive trains, shows a total lack of understanding and/or care for us passengers, their customers. Who is making the decision, someone in control, their managers, do network Rail have a say? Is there a documented plan as to when such action is taken? If so, it doesn’t seem to be carried out consistently.
    That’s just one example from one station on one day. We know, and your article proves, it happens almost every day. TPE love to tell us how ‘just’ a fifth of delays are directly down to them (last I heard it was a third – but whatever, it’s still appalling). We know, there are many reasons trains are delayed outside the operators’ or even the railway’s control. Of course it doesn’t help when the timetable has so little margin for recovery and no resilience. But when things do go wrong for whatever reason, the decision to terminate trains short, miss-stops, not put in stop orders, is (at least in large part) down to TPE. They could mitigate problems for us passengers from the smaller stations but they don’t.
    Will the new timetable improve things? Maybe, and for Slaithwaite then I expect it will. It could hardly get worse (well, I say that… ). And while the new service does only have a 9 min turnaround in Manchester, it has 33 mins at Huddersfield, so giving recovery time. Though will we be back to the old days of our train sat in platform 4 at Huddersfield waiting for late running westbound TPEs? We’ll still be at the mercy of the wider timetable and the knock on effect of delays elsewhere. If only there was a loop at Marsden where expresses could pass. And imagine if that loop had a platform which could be used from all doors and without posing a serious hazard. Oh wait… But as far as I can see, TPE are still scheduled to use p2 at Marsden, so that farce seems set to continue.
    So yes, skipping stops should become a rarity, I expect more trains to turn up if not necessarily on time. But I’m doubtful of a great improvement, especially in the morning. The reason early morning trains are frequently delayed or cancelled is given as ‘train late from depot’, ‘problems at depot’, and ‘issues with traincrew’. Regardless of whether the train is going to Leeds or Huddersfield, it won’t solve whatever problems TPE seem to have getting ready every morning. That’s another question I’d like to put to them, what is going wrong each morning and what are they doing to rectify it? Maybe I’ll be proved wrong. Maybe we will get a service where there is more chance of a train turning up on time than being cancelled. It’s approaching Christmas, we’re allowed to dream.

  2. Jeremy Hinks says:

    Just to add weight to the comments I sent on Monday.

    Re cancellation of early morning trains: this morning (6/12) both the 0610 and 0644 Leeds services from Marsden were cancelled (one running non-stop, the other appearing to have not run at all) due to train late from depot/problems at depot. Hence my cynicism things will greatly improve with the new timetable. If TPE can’t get their act together in the morning, it doesn’t matter if the trains are going to Huddersfield or Leeds, they’ll still not turn up.

    The missing stops policy: an example of the inconsistency, looking at the 0844 Leeds service from Marsden this week
    Mon – passed Marsden 8 late * , arrived Hudd 8 late, arrived Leeds 14 late. Return working left 3 late. *Marsden stop ‘sacrificed’
    Tues – arrived Marsden 9 late, arrived Hudd 10 late, arrived Leeds 8 late. Return working left 1 late.
    Wed – arrived Marsden 10 late, arrived Hudd 14 late *, arrived Leeds 17 late. Return working left 1 late. * Extra stop was made at Slaithwaite

    It shows there is no consistent policy, and that missing local stops when the service is ‘only’ 10-15 late makes no difference. On all three days, with different decisions made, the train arrived at Leeds in time for the return working. In fact the latest it arrived in Leeds was the one day it skipped the Marsden and Greenfield stops!

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