Discussions about the December 2019 timetable

The following is taken from West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee’s agenda papers for 11th January, and specifically from WYCA’s formal consultation response on the proposed December 2019 timetable.

2. Local services between Leeds and Manchester

As you will be aware, the service patterns on the core Diggle axis have been the focus of much attention both before and after the May 2018 timetable change, both with regard to the connectivity and service levels timetabled and to real-world operating performance. The Combined Authority’s consistent position has been not to favour “skip-stopping” or similar patterns on the rail network, and in this respect the Combined Authority welcomes the December 2018 changes as representing the beginning of a move away from this, albeit only the beginning.

Clearly, this route is highly capacity-constrained and some improvements will need to await the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade programme (TRU), but we believe that some enhancements both can and should be delivered in the shorter term. These include:

The restoration of a “true” stopping service between Manchester and Huddersfield, operating at least once per hour and calling at all stations.

An increase in service levels at Slaithwaite and Marsden to 2tph in the AM and PM peaks (in each case in both directions), again to restore pre-May-2018service levels to those stations. It is accepted that under some service combinations it might not be possible for all the additional peak-only trains to stop at all stations, and a pragmatic view will be needed as to which “extra” trains can accommodate stops at these stations, provided that at least 1tph does stop at all stations between Huddersfield and Stalybridge.

The Combined Authority notes that the current services at Slaithwaite and Marsden, taking TPE and Northern services together, fall short of franchise requirements in the peaks, as well as being inferior to the position before May 2018. While the noncompliances may directly relate to Northern’s rather than TPE’s Train Service Requirement, the reality of this corridor is that the two operations are inextricably linked, and the constraints “caused” by one operator’s service often cause issues for the other. In any event, we retain an open mind as to the potential merits of any “remapping” of certain services if this provides a route to unlocking the service levels we wish to see.

In the longer term, Combined Authority policy favours 2tph on the stopping service between Huddersfield and Leeds via Dewsbury (with the Manchester – Calder Valley – Brighouse – Dewsbury – Leeds service becoming semi-fast), but accepts that this is unlikely to be feasible without additional infrastructure, for which we look to TRU.

3. Operational Performance (Punctuality and Reliability)

Performance on the North Trans-Pennine route continues to fall far below reasonable expectations and franchise standards. Indeed, by some measures Slaithwaite station has the least reliable services anywhere in Britain, and six out of the top ten least reliably-served stations are on this line; amongst the top 100 busiest stations in the country, nine of the ten with the least reliable services are on the TPE network, including Huddersfield as the least reliable large station of all, with Leeds and York also featuring.

Day-to-day operating decisions have exacerbated the impact of the poor performance: we have received numerous reports of trains that should travel to Manchester Airport being terminated at Manchester Victoria, from where the onward journey to the Airport is anything but straightforward; of stops at Slaithwaite or Marsden being omitted; and of Scarborough trains only reaching Malton – amongst other examples. Where trains only run hourly, the impacts on travellers’ journeys is often unacceptable, and we have heard of situations where such steps have been taken to consecutive trains. This is harming both rail travel and the economies of the communities that depend on rail connectivity. So not only the structure of the timetable but also the management of performance on a day-to-day basis needs closer and improved management focus.

The Combined Authority is aware that TPE is taking steps to seek to mitigate this, including the timetable changes being introduced in December 2018, and it has been pleasing to see evidence of TPE moving away from a “blame culture” towards working positively to tackle the root-causes of the problems. The Combined Authority is in principle supportive of any timetable interventions designed to improve performance, provided that they do not entail compromises to connectivity (either of TPE’s own services or consequent impacts on other operators’ services) that go beyond acceptable limits, as for example removing station-stops or curtailing local services would be likely to.

In this spirit, the Combined Authority has not opposed the principle of the breaking of the cross-Huddersfield links on local services that have proved incapable of being maintained reliably. Similarly, we would not necessarily oppose re-examining the clockface structure of fast services between York/Leeds and Manchester if, for example, a move away from current structure could greatly increase performance or unlock local connectivity at intermediate stations.

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