Agenda item

The Future of Rail in North

Members to be provided with an overview of rail issues in the North and to consider recommendations for the improvement of services.

Lead: David Hoggarth


4.1             Members received the Future of Rail in the North report and the Rail North Partnership Operational report from the Strategic Rail Director who outlined the key points within each of the reports before Members were able to asks questions and make comments.


4.2             Mr. Steve Montgomery provided the Committee with an update on the current situation in relation to TransPennine Express (TPE) and Avanti.  He recognised the current issues and challenges being faced and apologised to customers and stakeholders for the current situation. Before providing a local update, he gave some context to the wider industry issues.


He stated that industry reform is at different stages and explained that positive levels of engagement are occurring with the Trade Unions looking at reform. He further explained that the unions are seeking a pay increase for their members and together with the Unions and Government they are looking to develop reform that will enable that increase. 


He then updated the Committee on the current situation with Avanti,explaining that from July staff willing to undertake additional overtime shifts significantly reduced.  He then addressed the issue of driver training but stressed that the issue is not driver numbers at either Avanti or TPE as numbers are higher now than pre pandemic but rather getting drivers productive and trained.  He added that work on the Avanti recovery plan continues.


Mr. Montgomery explained that final discussions are taking place on the drivers rosters for the December timetable change and was hopeful that the talks would be positive leading to a reintroduction of services from December particularly on Avanti. 


TPE are facing similar issues on driver productivity with a significant amount of training needed on diversionary routes.  He reassured Members that they are doing everything possible to restore the services in December that they promised.


4.3             Mr. Matthew Golton then provided additional detail on the current situation with TPE.  He also apologised for the impact that cancellations have had on customers and Stakeholders.  Hestated that at the start of the Autumn cancellation levels were at the lowest levels since May but as the Autumn progressed matters became more challenging including a doubling of non-TPE related instances.


An update was provided on progress following the last meeting; he explained that they have been working hard to deliver improvements including a temporary adjustment to services on the West Coast Mainline which provided greater stability and a positive impact on the number of cancellations. More crews are expected to become competent by 12 December and the daily number of services will be increased to 35 in December rising to 40 in May 2023.   As competency and depth is added services are anticipated to  improve week on week.


4.4             Mr. Nick Donovan provided the Committee with a progress update for Northern.  He explained that there is currently strong customer demand with the service being at about 90% of 2019 volume levels with leisure continuing to dominate, but this is being impacted by the industrial action and the service delivery challenges. /On the issue of growth Northern recognises that future growth is linked to stronger delivery and performance and he apologised to customers for the service delivery issues. He explained that in the short term good progress has been made with driver rostering and the issue that had been going on since May was resolved by the end of October though issues still exist with Sunday services. He then highlighted a number of challenges including sickness (which is particularly high in the North East with a lot of focus being placed on improving things in this area), and driver training which has been reduced by about 25% over the last two years despite the rest day working challenge.  Regarding the December timetable he explained that the change will be critical for Northern as it will support a more robust delivery.


4.5             Cllr Little raised the issue of morning train cancellations and the impact that this has on subsequent trains with them becoming overcrowded and many passengers needing to stand for significant parts of their journey.  He further stated that this lack of reliability is making people less likely to use the train.


4.6             Mayor Driscoll highlighted the importance of an integrated travel system and the importance of it for growth.  He also expressed his support for the “double devolution” proposal as well as the need for a driver training academy in order to help deal with the training needs.


He then addressed the performance issues and the impact that they are having in the North East, highlighting some major issues in rural areas where businesses have been unable to open due to staff being unable to get to work and school children waiting on dark platforms for long periods.  He also highlighted that Northern replacement bus services are not turning up at the stations and expressed concern at the high levels of sickness amongst drivers.


In response Mr. Donovan apologised for the impact to the communities in the North East.  He addressed the issue of the high sickness in the area and explained that the management in the North East have a major focus on this issue.  On the issue of bus replacement services, he explained that they are having issues in recruiting bus replacement services as the bus companies are having issues in resourcing these.


Mayor Driscoll requested that Northern improve their communication and ensure that the public are kept informed if replacement bus services can not be put in place either.


The Chair asked Mr. Donovan to ensure that the Regional Director work with Mayor Driscoll, Cllr Little and others in the affected areas while any disruption continues.


4.7             Mayor Burnham was critical of the poor service standards during the second half of this year and highlighted the negative impact that this has been having on people’s lives, businesses and the wider economy.  He believed that the public has lost faith in rail and that this has led to more cars on the road and more congestion in Greater Manchester.


He further stated that the current situation in relation to cancellations over the last few months is worse than May 2018 and specifically highlighted the number of TPE cancellations, as well as the fact that on some mornings there are no services in some places.  He added that the people of the North of England have had a very poor service for nearly five years. 


Whilst recognising the external and Governmental factors which are beyond the operators control he stated that there are things that the operators are in control of and asked for honesty about what they have got wrong and what they are going to change in their service provision. Additionally, he enquired about Government contracts and whether these are playing a part in the poor service. He stated that if there honesty is lacking then there will be no confidence in the December timetable.


4.8             In response Mr Montgomery stated that lessons are always learned from these issues and that previously there has been an over reliance on staff working extra hours in order to maintain services and this has now caused issues.  He then explained that they have added more drivers in in order to address this issue and work and discussions have taken place with  the Trade Unions on new rosters as well as ensuring that there is a more even spread of drivers available across the week.  He stressed that TPE and Avanti want to provide a good service and they are working towards this.


4.9             Mayor Burnham reiterated his call for greater honesty from the operators highlighting comments made by the TOCs in the summer where all the blame for the issues on the trains was placed on trade unions, this he described as inaccurate. 


Mayor Burnham stated that he understood why the actions that Mr. Montgomery outlined had been taken and believes that they are the correct actions, but he sought reassurance that three trains per hour between Manchester and London would be reinstated in December. /Mr. Montgomery stated that there are enough trained productive drivers to deliver on this but stated that this was subject to the Trade Unions agreeing to the new rosters. 


The Chair requested that Mr. Montgomery keep Members updated on how things progress over the coming weeks.


4.10          Mr. Golton highlighted the importance of collaborative working amongst partners in order to deliver a quality and resilient service.   He explained that following his arrival at TPE in June 2021 much work has been done to overcome the knowledge backlog  and to recruit and train drivers. Due to the December timetable change and the Transpennine Route upgrade this has been a priority.  Progress has been made, and there is more to come.


4.11          Mr. Donovan highlighted the differences between the forthcoming December 2022 timetable change and that of May 2018. He explained that the planning arrangements for the t timetable structure and its interplay with the infrastructure is in a different placeand that only modest infrastructure work is required in order to be able to implement the timetable and much of the work required is on track from completion. /He stated that the most critical part of implementing the new timetable is the train crew resourcing,    the rostering negotiations are currently taking place and he was hopeful that these would be completed positively.


4.12          Cllr Hinchcliffe shared her frustrations  at the poor quality of train service experienced East of the Pennines and highlighted the social and economic impact that this has on communities every time a train is cancelled.  She requested that a quantification be done on the economic impact when services are cancelled and are replaced with bus services and that it is important to have this information in order to demonstrate to Government the economic damage that is being done if Northern rail is not funded appropriately.


On the Rail Academy she requested that this be driven by a group of Combined Authorities from across the North so that all areas have skills leads in order to tap into the existing infrastructure and requested an early meeting of the local authority skills leads with the train operators.


4.13          The Chair asked  the Strategic Rail Director to monetise the impact of poor performance highlighting that the performance of TPE is costing the Northern economy £2 million per week and asked if this can be localised more.


4.14          In response he explained that Transport for the North has the tools and models to be able to demonstrate the economic impact that this is having on the North of England and that the measures of cost of delays from poor performance and wider social benefits can be combined to produce a figure. /He added that he had already had contact with the West Yorkshire Combined Authority skills lead.


4.15          Cllr Edwards highlighted the fact that much of the recovery in rail has been leisure and tourist led during the summer months additionally he highlighted the issues with Sunday travel and how this needs to be resolved because weekend travel is key to those travelling for leisure and tourism purposes. He expressed his concerns and beliefs about the abilities of some operators being able to step up and deliver the December timetable changes. /He requested that the wording of the recommendations be strengthened to state that if the promises aren’t met and the issues aren’t resolved then TfN would no longer be willing to support the franchises in their existing state.


4.16          The Chair was supportive of the suggested changes to the wording of the resolution and advised the Committee to support the proposed changes.  The Committee were also reminded that TfN is able to issue statutory advice.


4.17          Lord McLoughlin stated that everyone will be watching what happens at the timetable change on 12 December and that the current situation of one train an hour between London and Manchester unacceptable.  He urged operators to be confident in the accuracy of information that they are providing to the public and explained that the public lose confidence in rail services if it is not reliable.


4.18          Mr. Montgomery made the Committee aware that there are two strike days planned on Avanti when the new timetable goes live.


4.19          The Chair asked that the Train Operators voice their concerns if they are facing issues that are a result of restraints put on them by the Government.



1)   That assurances be sought from the Department for Transport that the train operators in the North will be provided with the flexibility to put in place short term arrangements that could bring about an immediate improvement to performance – including Rest Day Working Agreements.

2)   That TfN seeks the support of the Department for Transport to complete the business case for a Training Academy for the North which will ensure there is a pipeline of trained drivers to end the reliance on overtime working and also deliver the growth in services needed.

3)   That work through the Rail North Partnership continues to hold the train operators accountable for their recovery plans and commitments and should promises and pledges made regarding the December timetable change not be met then TfN would be unable to support continuation of the relevant ‘franchises’.

4)   That the executive be requested to prepare a proposition for consideration by the December 2022 Transport for the North Board that sets out the case for using the existing rail devolution in the North as the basis for rail reform.

5)   That the case continues to be made for the funding the North needs to support a growing railway  including revenue budgets for the train operators and capital investment.

6)   That the Committee notes the information in the report and the actions that Transport for the North and Rail North Partnership (RNP) is taking to ensure operators have robust recovery plans in place and to provide them with support and guidance to respond to current issues in the best way possible for passengers.

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