SMART’s submission to ORR timetabling enquiry

The following was prepared by SMART to feed into Railfuture Yorkshire’s response to the Office of Rail and Road’s timetabling enquiry:


Rail user feedback on timetabling issues

Your organisation: Slaithwaite & Marsden Action on Rail Transport
Train company (delete where not applicable):
·         Northern Rail
·         TransPennine Express


1. What was the quality of the information provided by the train company (on the train, platform, etc before and during the disruption)?

Before commenting on the scale of disruption, information and mitigation, it has to be put into context. Until the timetable change, Slaithwaite and Marsden were served by a basic hourly service calling at all stations between Huddersfield and Manchester Victoria. This was supplemented by additional trains at peak times giving a roughly half-hourly service both to/from Huddersfield and to/from Victoria in the morning and evening weekday peaks. This was provided by Arriva Northern. The quality of the rolling stock, and the standard of internal cleaning was poor, but it was generally sufficiently reliable for passengers to be able to trust it to get them to and from work without significant delay. Performance did, however, deteriorate alarmingly in the four months of so prior to the timetable change.

The May timetable change saw huge changes, with almost all services at Marsden and Slaithwaite being provided by TPE on a skip-stopping basis. Slaithwaite is served by Manchester to Hull trains, and Marsden served by Manchester to Leeds trains, described as semi-fast but stopping at 10 stations between Manchester and Leeds. A further important change was that services would go to and from Piccadilly rather than Victoria, substantially inconveniencing the large majority of commuters whose destination was close to either Victoria or Salford Central. The new timetable also saw a reduction in the peak frequency Slaithwaite/Manchester from half-hourly to hourly, and a lesser but still significant reduction in peak frequency Marsden/Manchester. Improvements, at least in theory, were the introduction of regular through trains to Leeds, along with reduced journey times to both Leeds and Manchester. So commuters were already facing the biggest change in a generation, with trains going to the wrong Manchester station and with the reduction in peak frequency giving less flexibility to passengers.

It is in this context that SMART predicted major problems even on the assumption that the timetable would function as planned.

TPE put considerable time, effort and staff resources into informing passengers before the timetable changes, but the reality of the post-May 20th service has been so different from what was proposed that most of that communication effort has been wasted. The timetable TPE informed passengers about has turned out to be a work of fiction.

The scale of the disruption has been so great that it has been difficult to comment on the quality of information provided, as there have been so many places and occasions when that information has been needed.

We have not attempted to comment on Arriva Northern’s services, as their role in providing services on our route since the timetable change has been very limited.

1a. How was this information communicated, and was it timely?

There are multiple sources of information on the internet, plus passenger information screens and public address at the stations. It is not possible for a rail users’ group to monitor all of these, but we are able to make some comments.

The information systems on the stations have informed passengers of disruption in the form of delays and/or cancellations. They have not, however, provided any information as to what arrangements exist for passengers to undertake their disrupted journeys.

We have looked at regularly. On occasions where trains have been terminated/started short at Stalybridge, the advice provided has typically advised passengers for stations further afield to catch a later train at Manchester Piccadilly, but provided no information for passengers looking to get to Marsden or Slaithwaite, nor for any passengers looking to board at Marsden or Slaithwaite. If any advice is provided for passengers for Slaithwaite and Marsden, it is generally to wait for the next train an hour later. Sometimes by looking further down on, it transpires that the train which passengers are directed to an hour later is also cancelled.

It is difficult to describe information as timely when it is of such limited use to passengers.

1b. Do you have any views on how the information might be improved?

The sources of information we have listed under 1a need to provide accurate information as to how passengers to/from Slaithwaite and Marsden can make journeys with as little delay as possible. Sometimes this should involve directing passengers to the next train from Manchester to Huddersfield and then doubling back.

However, there is a limit to how much impact improved information will have, when the real need is for TPE to make arrangements to provide a more reliable service and to provide adequate mitigation at times of disruption.

2. What was the impact of the disruption on passengers?

Disruption has led to

·         extended journey times – sometimes with journeys which ought to take 30’ taking two hours plus,

·         inability of commuters to get to work on time,.

·         Commuters having less time with families because of the need to set off earlier in the morning to be certain of getting to work on time, and returning home later in evenings

·         difficulties in arranging childcare when the morning services are prone to short-notice cancellations and commuters cannot rely on getting home in the evening in time to collect their children.

·         Cancellations leading to overcrowding on the remaining services which have run, partly mitigated by  a reduction in passenger numbers because the service is no longer reliable or trustworthy

·         passengers making their journeys by car instead. Passengers are abandoning a train service which cannot be relied upon

·         businesses in Slaithwaite and Marsden report that it is impacting on them, too.

2a. Did this vary by passenger type?

Passengers who previously relied on the train to get them to work have the (unsatisfactory) option of combinations of buses with greatly extended journey times, but this is less of an option in evenings as bus services are much more limited, or they can drive to their destination. However, for many commuters there is no viable alternative to using the train and they have to set off earlier in the hope that a train will turn up sooner or later. This is made more difficult by the reduction in the number of peak trains under the new timetable, referred to in 1a.

Daytime passengers are more likely either to use other modes of transport or simply not make the journeys they intended.

3. Did the train company take any action to mitigate the effects of the disruption?

So far as we are aware, very little. Before the timetable change TPE were keen to highlight their ability to mitigate disruption, as a consequence of most of the trains being operated by TPE with very few peak weekday trains being operated by Arriva Northern. One of the specific actions identified by TPE (referred to in a public meeting) was the provision of stop orders at times of disruption. This has happened on perhaps four occasions in the eight weeks so far of the new timetable, even though there have regularly been two or three hour gaps in services, and even occasionally four hour gaps. We have met with TPE but they were unwilling or unable to provide an explanation as to why what we were promised has not been done.

On occasions, rather than seeking to mitigate the disruption, TPE have chosen to make the situation worse. Apparently in order to protect other TPE services serving other stations which see several trains per hour, they consider it acceptable and expedient to skip scheduled stops at our stations and run these trains fast between Huddersfield and Stalybridge or Manchester. An example of this was on 18th July, when the eastbound 1115 and 1315 at Slaithwaite were cancelled outright, whilst the 1215 went through without stopping. This created a four-hour gap in what is supposed to be an hourly service.

On very few occasions TPE have provided a replacement bus. This takes more than three times as long as the train, and in Slaithwaite and Marsden the replacement bus stops are on the A62, on the opposite hillside from the railway stations. This does not provide a satisfactory alternative.

One mitigation that TPE have put into place, at our request, has been to allow passengers travelling between Manchester and Slaithwaite/Marsden to double back at Huddersfield at no extra fare at times of disruption. However, they have not publicised this, so most passengers are not aware of it. Only on 17th July have SMART been in a position to inform passengers (something which should be done by the train operating company, not by a rail users’ group), so it is not yet possible to assess what impact this will have.

3a. Were the mitigating actions successful?

No. See above. One of the actions which TPE have regularly taken to try to mitigate disruption elsewhere (to journeys which already see a much more frequent service) is to regularly terminate Hull to Manchester services (which provide the basic hourly service at Slaithwaite and Mossley) and Leeds to Manchester services (which provide the basic hourly service at Marsden and Greenfield) at Stalybridge. Up to 7th August, termination/starting services at Stalybridge has happened on over 200 occasions. This frequently happens at short notice. The reason is that the train has a turnround time at Manchester Piccadilly of just 7 minutes, which does not allow time to cope with delays. The practical effect of this is to leave passengers stranded six miles short of their intended destination, and left to work out for themselves how to complete their journeys. In the return direction passengers at Piccadilly are unable to get to Stalybridge in time to catch their intended train. Sometimes this has happened to consecutive trains, with the effect that a journey of just 20 miles from Manchester to Slaithwaite can take up to 2½ hours.

We have met with TPE and made it clear that in terms of the impact on passengers this is unacceptable and unjustifiable. TPE did not seem to understand that the impact on passengers was relevant. All they were interested in was attempting to get their unworkable timetable plan to work reliably for its core of four fast trains between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York. They have treated, and continue to treat, passengers at smaller stations in between with contempt.

It is left to passengers to make their own arrangements to mitigate disruption. For many of them this has involved either using their car for the entire journey, or driving to the nearest convenient Metrolink stop at either Derker, Oldham or Ashton. From our observations we estimate that usage of trains between Slaithwaite/Marsden and Manchester is down by about 30%.


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