Agenda item

Rail North Partnership Operational Update

To receive an update on rail operational matters and updates from the operators and Network Rail.

Lead: Gary Bogan


5.1             Members received the report from the Director of the Rail North Partnership.  Representatives from each of the Train Operating Companies were then invited to provide an update.


5.2          Mr Steve Montgomery provided an update on the current situation regarding Avanti. A recovery plan had been put in place last year and improvements are being seen, although there are challenges.  He explained that t the three trains an hour between Manchester and London had been be restored.  He informed the Committee that attempts are being made to bring more stability to the timetable although there is volatility on certain days and difficulties at the weekends due to terms and conditions.  Avanti is working with the Trade Unions on these issues.


He then addressed the issue of drivers and stressed that  rather than simply a shortage of drivers, the issue is a shortage of drivers who are deemed competent on the routes and drivers who have been restricted from duties due to long term sickness. He stated that the number of productive drivers is however increasing and that this is leading to a reduction in the number of cancellations. He added  that the next issue they needed to address is punctuality and delays to services.


5.3          Mr Matthew Golton provided an update regarding Transpennine Express.  He informed the Committee that the recovery plan has been submitted to the Department for Transport and explained that it sets out how TPE intends to resume reliable services. The plan sets out a series of actions and interventions across TPE which need to be delivered to return long term stability and reliability back to services. This includes measures to increase the number of available train crew to complete essential training, improving workforce relations, restoring reliability and rebuilding customer and stakeholder confidence.


The recovery plan assumes that there is no driver overtime working available and the target without that is to reduce crew related cancellations by up to 60% until the end of June.  He pointed out that should there be any further industrial action then this will impact on the rate of training as well as the recovery.


He acknowledged that he and his team recognise that the current situation is unacceptable, and that faster improvement and recovery is required.


Regarding Sunday services, he explained that TPE is in discussion with the Department for Transport and the Rail North Partnership about how they can be restored to an acceptable level.


5.4          Mr Nick Donovan provided an update on Northern.  Following the December 2022 timetable change  approximately  3,000 additional services per week have been running and these are not reliant on rest day working.  He then highlighted that during period 11 only 3.8% of services had been cancelled, including “on the day” cancellations, which is commensurate with the England and Wales average.


Mr Donovan updated on the current sickness levels within Northern;  there are some local hot spots with high levels of sickness, which is causing some issues on delivery.  On Sunday services, he explained that 95% of crews on the west side of the business do not have Sundays included in the working week which impacts on the resilience of delivery on Sundays.


He stated that the resourcing position of Northern is in a healthy, with 1,790 competent drivers and a further 160 drivers in training.


5.5          Mayor Driscoll criticised the number of cancelled services by Transpennine Express (TPE) and the length of time it has taken to put a recovery plan in place.  He also questioned whether the Government should renew its contract, highlighting the operational issues within TPE. Concerns were expressed that the situation is discouraging people  from using the railways.


5.6          Mayor Coppard supported Mayor Driscoll’s comments, questioned the confidence that communities can have in the recovery plan and requested regular updates on this. He  questioned why a modern day railway is so reliant on rest day working in order to deliver services.


5.7          Mayor Rotheram highlighted the economic impact that unreliable train services have on northern economies.  He commented that it is more difficult for people to visit Liverpool at weekends because they cannot be certain of their return journeys.  The economic problems are being created by a lack of a recovery plan and he questioned whether this is being built into the thinking, and how the plan will be monitored.


5.8          Mayor Brabin also highlighted the impact on the economy  and the cost to the West Yorkshire economy of £2 million per week week and the wider northern economy of £8 million per week.  She had attended a presentation delivered by Mr Golton and stated that there was nothing in the 75 page document which convinced her that there is a recovery plan which would serve the people of West Yorkshire in the way they need to be served.  She asked Mr Montgomery whether he is confident with the plan.


5.9          Mayor Burnham stated that this is not first time there has been these issues with TPE and  that this illustrates structural issues within the organisation. He highlighted a similar timetable collapse in late 2019 where there was a huge loss of service. He observed that the parent company has never prioritised TPE and provided it with adequate resources and a plan to deliver what is required.


He stated that in the previous week prior  approximately one third of  timetabled services were cancelled which has a massive impact on lives.  He expressed concern at the damage that this is causing with people more likely to use their cars causing irreversible behaviour change and creating greater congestion.  


He added that this situation is also one for the DfT to address, as operators are working within their parameters and that better is achievable if everyone including government work together.


5.10       The Chair stated that the eyes of world will be on Liverpool during the Eurovision song contestand how people are serviced over that particular time will be of great importance.


5.11       In response Mr. Montgomery stated that TPE is also unhappy with the current situation and  apologised for the current levels of service.  Driver training is an area which is particularly challenging for them.; drivers were recruited in the lead up to the planned timetable changes but delays occurred due to the Covidpandemic .    R  He offered reassurance that they are trying to act as quickly as possible and expedite matters but improvements are unlikely to be seen until the drivers currently undertaking training complete their training and begin to become available.


Regarding Liverpool, he stated that services are more reliable but more intermittent than previously. Plans are being made for the Eurovision Song Contest and they have been working with officers to make sure services are better for this time.


On rest day working Mr Golton explained that they want to move away from reliance on this. On customer care, he said that he is in discussions exploring what can be done to put additional presence in places that require more. 


5.12       Cllr Little asked if a full timetable is  to be resumed in May and if so, is yit can be sustained. He thanked Northern for their solid performance in the area.


Mr Golton stated that that the increase from 35-40 services on a weekday would be deferred until December.


5.13       Cllr Hinchcliffe asked if TPE has been “hollowed out” by the parent group.


Mr Montgomery stated that TPE has had a lot of additional resources in and this had been the case for the last year.


5.14       The Chair stated that the discussions had been frank and the Committee had expressed their concerns and the very strong feelings of the people of the North about the service they are currently receiving. He stated that the service has not been acceptable.

5.15       The Head of Strategic Rail stated that following these discussions a recommendation could be formulated for the March Board which will  focus on getting the recovery plan contractualised as the key driver to getting more progress, a desire for quicker timelines to restore services, monitorable and measurable milestones, compensation for passengers and the longer term actions around the training academy to get that pipeline in place as well as having sufficient funding for TPE and the flexibility to develop and grow new markets.


5.16       Mayor Burnham stressed the urgency of this matter and that the Committee’s concerns should be escalated particularly in view of the fact that the plan can be improved.


That the Committee notes the information in the report and the actions that Transport for the North and Rail North Partnership (RNP) are 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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