Mark Wylie: Welcome to TransPennine Express – a passenger’s long wait for a semi-reliable service
[from the Yorkshire Post, 10 October 2018]
I have been commuting from West Yorkshire to Manchester for over 25 years. For the past three years, I have been commuting by train after moving to Slaithwaite, a village on the main trans-Pennine line from Leeds to Manchester.
The differences between the benefits that we were told we were going to get and the actual service we do get since TransPennine Express (TPE) took over our daily services is quite dramatic.
TPE promised us newer trains, faster journey times, direct services to Leeds and Manchester, increased seating capacity, services running earlier and later during the day and, crucially, more frequent and reliable services.
When compared to the Northern rolling stock that we were used to, there are some improvements. The trains are both comfortable and air-conditioned, and with wi-fi for those who need it.
We did get the promised services that ran both earlier in the morning and later in the evening, and this has been a benefit to those rail passengers in the Colne Valley.
However, it didn’t take long for our dreams of a better service to disappear and many commuters are now quite simply fed up of TPE’s service since the May timetable change.
We have now got used to the fact that we can no longer travel to Marsden, the next village along the line as our trains now ‘skip stop’ into Manchester. Now you sometimes see confused walkers trying to figure out how to get to their car that they have left at Marsden.
There have been problems almost every week. The delays aren’t always large, normally between five and 10 minutes, and are more of an annoyance than anything else, although it does mean that the TPE services are no faster than the previous Northern ones.
Far more worrying is the number of cancellations. On my journey to and from Manchester each week, there is often at least one train cancelled that I am intending to catch. Sometimes it just doesn’t run, at other times it is ‘part-cancelled’. This is something I had never heard of before May 2018.
Basically, certain stops are deleted from a train’s route or it terminates early instead of reaching its timetabled destination. This has left me and other rail travellers waiting at Slaithwaite while the expected train speeds past non-stop to make up time.
Likewise, if there is more than a 10-minute delay, we have been left waiting for trains in Manchester only to find out that it has terminated early and turned around at Stalybridge, resulting in a hour-long wait for the next train.
This is not just an occasional problem, there have been well over 500 cancellations or part-cancellations since May 2018.
A seven-minute turnaround time at Manchester Piccadilly is simply not long enough for a long-distance service from Hull. For those of us trying to get back to the Colne Valley in the evening, it is normally an hour-long wait for the next service, despite TPE management promising what is called a ‘special stop order’.
This is an additional station stop to make up for a previously cancelled service. That these ‘special stop orders’ are so rare makes me think that TPE management do not care about regular passengers from smaller stations.
Because of late running, cancellations, and part-cancellations, I have missed or arrived late for meetings at work, evening events and rail connections to elsewhere in the country. For those commuters with children it must be even worse, never sure if the train they intend to catch will get them back home in time for them to pick up their children or have quality time with them in the evening.
Despite TPE’s claim to have a significant increase in seating capacity, it is now a regular feature for some commuters to already be standing from Huddersfield, and I expect to stand throughout my journey to Manchester at least three or four times in the week.
Having said all this, the front-line staff are almost uniformly excellent. Most understand the frustrations of commuters on these overcrowded, delayed or part-cancelled trains. They use their common sense and deliver customer service by advising revised connection times on delayed services.
Yet there appears to have been no common sense at play in the management of the timetable change – or in TPE management trying to fix these issues for the benefit of passengers on a day-to-day basis.
Mark Wylie is a regular commuter from Slaithwaite. A museum curator, he actively chooses to use public transport for environmental reasons.