To receive an update on the work of the Rail North Committee.
Lead: David Hoggarth
9.1 Members received the report of the Strategic Rail Director and Cllr Robinson (Chair of the Rail North Committee) highlighted the key points and updated Members on the current situation.
9.2 Cllr Robinson explained that there needs to be a key focus on the operational performance of the train operators. He added that the reason for poor performance is because of a mix of different reasons and not just industrial action. He then stressed the importance of the operators delivering on their commitments of returning to their proposed service portfolio and stated that should they not meet the targets then their position will be untenable.
Cllr Robinson provided an update on his and the Chair’s meeting with the previous Rail Minister Wendy Morton MP. The meeting had been productive and they were able to emphasise the importance of rail in the North being funded properly in order to avoid the kind of funding gaps that are emerging for Northern and Transpennine Express. He highlighted the consequences of these funding gaps not being addressed with the likelihood of services that were cut during the pandemic not being re-instated and possibly more frontline services being cut.
Mayor Burnham was skeptical that the operators are doing all they can and highlighted the loss of confidence that people are having in trains in the North. He highlighted that the poor service is having a major impact on rail users lives and safety. On the issue of Avanti, he requested that TfN should state its position.
9.3 Mayor Driscoll stated that investors are reluctant to invest in the North because of the issues with trains and it is affecting confidence. He further stated that operators can’t hide behind the issue of industrial relations as a reason for poor service as this is an issue that can be solved.
9.4 Cllr Edwards explained that he believes that industrial relations have not helped and pleaded for operators and unions to get back around the table and resolve this matter.
9.5 Cllr Little stated that Network Rail also needs to take responsibility for some of the cancellations due to infrastructure failure.
9.6 Regarding industrial relations Cllr Robinson stated that both Unions and Senior Management in the train operators are keen to work out a negotiated settlement but they have not been provided the flexibility from the DfT to do this and any deals need to be approved by the DfT.
9.7 Mr. Tim Shoveler stated that no one within the industry believes that the current situation is acceptable or sustainable; railways can only work well when everything works together. He highlighted actions that need to be taken in the short term, these included the Network Rail planning team and the operators ensuring that they are providing good customer information when trains are cancelled. He added that the key focus needs to be continuing to work with the Trade Unions in order to resolve the current situation.
The Chair stated that there are separate issues in what Members discussed; there is the disruption caused by the industrial action and then there is the issue of the service of Avanti. The Chair stated that he will write to the Department for Transport on behalf of the Board requesting a tighter and more detailed recovery plan for Avanti against which performance can be monitored.
The Chief Executive suggested that the letter should also include a request to the Department asking them to give operators the flexibility to negotiate some short-term solutions with the Unions.
1) That Board notes the update on rail matters
2) That Board endorsed the work with DfT and RNP on recovery plans for train operators including both short and long-term solutions to the current issues with the availability of suitably trained drivers with the appropriate route knowledge. Progress will be monitored by the Rail North Committee.
3) That Board endorses work with Rail North Partnership to develop plans for a Rail Academy for the North to provide a pipeline of trained drivers to address the current challenges by positive action in the North. The training academy could also be the first step for a more comprehensive approach to public transport skills including bus and tram drivers.
4) That Board endorse use of existing and newly-commissioned (through the TAME team) analysis to make the case for investment in the North’s railway to support a growing railway and wider objectives such as reduced transport social exclusion and decarbonisation.
5) That Board endorses collaborative working with operators to promote the return to rail to help grow new markets and make rail more sustainable.