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.