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


8.1             In introducing this item, the Chair highlighted the noticeable improvements in both Northern and TPE. He also informed the Committee that Avanti West Coast will address  concerns about their performance and their announcement of a reduction to the December timetable between London and Manchester which will impact on the public over the Christmas period.


8.2          Members received an update from Mr Andy Mellors who outlined the Avanti West Coast recovery plan. He explained that the plan has allowed them to build back the timetable from December 2022, including the restoration of the three trains per hour on the Manchester route. He informed the Committee that the plan is working and delivering significant measurable improvements in performance as well as rebuilding the trust and confidence of customers and communities.

He then highlighted some key areas of work which included: improving train crew availability, expediting drivers through training, tackling structural issues in rostering to make sure that resources align to service requirements and reducing reliance on overtime working.

Additionally, he explained that a third of the Avanti driver workforce is over 55 years old and as a result they are recruiting 70 trainee drivers per year over the coming years, already having  introduced over 100 new drivers into productivity.

He then highlighted the challenges of the last couple of months in relation to punctuality as a result of infrastructure and weather disruption. He stated that they have been working with Network Rail to address these issues.

He  provided the Committee with an explanation as to why they have needed to reduce the timetable between London and Manchester in the run up to Christmas, stating that this is due to residual crew availability issues caused by historic leave agreements that predate the recovery plan. He stated that by working in this way they hope to provide a more reliable service during these weeks. He also informed the Committee that during this period the 11-car Pendolino fleet will be used on the Manchester route.  He explained that in order to address the leave issue going forward they are working with employee representatives to get a better spread of leave throughout the year; negotiations are ongoing and it is hoped that revised annual leave rosters can be secured for the start of January 2024.

8.3          The Chair expressed concerns at how Avanti is currently operating and stated that the railway needs to move to be in a different place in 2024.  He highlighted the fact that only a quarter of Manchester to London trains arrive on time and whilst understanding that some of the issues are out of Avanti’s control, others are.  He was critical of the service being provided for one which is so vital to the economy.  

He then enquired as to how many drivers they currently have and how many are needed to ensure that there is not a repeat of the 2023 issues in 2024.

In response Mr Mellors stated that there are over 600 drivers currently on the books at various stages of their careers. At any time just under 200 productive drivers are needed to run the service on a daily basis.  Currently there are around 500 productive drivers with the balance going through training. He stated that once the balance have completed their training they will be in a sustainable position to deliver the current timetable as well as some timetable uplifts into next year.

He then went on to provide assurance that they are working hard to reduce the risk of this sort of thing happening in the future.

8.4          The Chair on behalf of Mayor Rotheram enquired about their commitment to have two trains per hour from Liverpool and asked for an update on when this timetable will be delivered.

In response, Mr Mellors informed the Committee that the delivery of  their new Hitachi trains early in 2024 will help to support an uplift in the Liverpool service to the two trains per hour.  It is anticipated that they will start to operate some of those services from the June 2024 timetable change.

8.5          Lord McLoughlin enquired as to when the new Hitachi Trains will come into passenger operation. He also expressed concerns about the short notice given when informing the public about the recent changes and asked if anything can be done in future to give more notice.

In response Mr Mellors hopes that the Hitachi trains will be in operation at some point during the Spring of 2024. On the issue of greater notice, Mr Mellors explained that industry timescales for making changes to the timetable are currently 8 weeks and the changes made were within the industry timescales, although they are keen for a return to the prepandemic timescale of 12 weeks notice.

8.6          In summing up the discussion, the Chair stated that he believes the service is not where it should be with only a quarter of services arriving on time. He  highlighted the poor travelling experience that many have with on-board facilities.  He stated that 2024 needs to be better and asked for Avanti to return to the Committee every 3 months throughout 2024 in order that the service can be monitored.


In response to the poor travelling experience raised by the Chair Mr Mellors explained that there are investment programmes that have been in the pipeline for some time which will be coming to fruition to address those customer service issues.

The Chair then invited Ms Tricia Williams and Mr George Thomas to provide updates from Northern and TPE respectively.

8.7          Ms Williams updated the Committee on the current situation with Northern. She explained that performance levels are not where they want them to be, and this is as a result of sickness tracking higher than their resource plans had accounted for and not where they want them to be. She also highlighted Sunday working as an issue as this is not part of the working week for many of their drivers. On the issue of rest day working, she informed the Committee thata rest day working agreement has been agreed with ASLEF locally for their drivers, which will allow these days to be used for driver training as well helping to address any spikes in sickness.  She hopes that the agreement that is in place for six months will help in addressing training issues. Additionally, a new occupational health provider has been appointed and will start in February 2024.  

An update was also provided on their rolling stock strategy.

8.8          Mr George Thomas provided an update from TPE. He stated that performance has improved over the last month which has allowed them to deliver positive customer service and  reduce the training backlog which has improved from 55% to 68% of drivers having all the competencies.


8.9          Cllr Hinchcliffe enquired as to how the improvements so far at TPE fit with recovery plan.

Of Northern she asked whether they are able to measure overcrowding on the trains. 

8.10       Mayor Coppard raised the issue of Northern cancellations in South Yorkshire.

Ms Williams apologised for the cancellations and stated that she is confident that the Rest Day Working agreement will help them to address skills shortages and give more train crew with more ability to cover different types of traction and different type types of route.  It will also allow them to address sickness “spikes” allowing them to prioritise the use of training days to areas where they have been more adversely hit.

In addressing the issue of measuring overcrowding Ms Williams explained that they have the ability to count passengers so they can then make sure that they are reviewing how effectively the timetable changes have been and they can then examine demand and insight from customers to check and review if it can be maintained.

On Cllr Hinchcliffe’s question on the recovery plan Mr Thomas stated that they are on plan with their driver training; however, the challenge will come next year when they are forecasting that a large number of drivers will leave the business. Whilst there are new drivers coming in behind them, the challenge will be getting them through to the desired level of competency.


1)   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 focus on delivering the services passengers need;

2)   That in light of the temporary changes to Avanti West Coast services highlighted the Managing Director of Avanti be invited to the next meeting of the Committee to set out their plans for the remainder of the contract.



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