Train crews under pressure from training commitments, operators claim

Rail operators in Yorkshire have admitted there is still more work to do to provide better services in Yorkshire and the North of England.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 5:50 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 5:51 pm

The comments follow a report released by strategic body Transport for the North (TfN), which stated operator Northern cancelled, or “part cancelled” around 116 trains every day between September 24 and October 21 this year. This represents just under one in 20 of its services.

It added that Transpennine Express (TPE) – the region’s other large commuter train operator – had an average of 24 trains cancelled per day. But, as this comes from a much smaller stock of services than Northern, this represented 7.5 per cent – or more than one in 14 – of its services.

The report summarised that reliability for both operators has improved in the past few months, but that the network still remained vulnerable to “flooding and extreme weather events”.

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Speaking to a TfN meeting in Leeds, a representative from Northern claimed that one of the reasons for cancellations was staffing issues, which were exacerbated by having to release drivers for training due to new engines.

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham asked: “If you knew this change was coming, why wasn’t it better managed? It shouldn’t be that the public has to pay with huge levels of cancellations to have new trains.”

The representative said there was a significant amount of rest day and overtime work that was currently being used to cover staffing gaps. He added that due to new trains being delivered late, the company had a shorter amount of time to complete training its drivers.

The TfN report added that, over September and October this year, Northern estimated an average of 112 passengers a day were unable to board due to capacity issues, while no figures were given for TPE.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake called for performance reports to be “consistent”, adding: “I am still concerned about the capacity issues. I am not sure whether this is people trying to get on or being left behind – it’s not clear.

“We will press for when these figures will no longer be estimated and you can give us figures. You refer to this as ‘crush’ time, which is pretty grim for the travelling public. It is unacceptable.

“I assume the new rolling stock will deal with this, but I still don’t have a picture.”

The Northern representative responded: “I think you’ll be looking at the back end of next year [until the data can be available]. The new trains will be able to give us reliable automatic passenger count data.

“It will be able to give us an accurate picture every day.”

The TPE representative said their trains already had automatic passenger count equipment, but that the data required further work before it would be presentable.

Speaking earlier in the meeting, the TPE representative said: “From a performance perspective, period seven [September to October 2019] was a better period than the two prior and same period last year, though we are still not where we would wish to be.”

She added there had been a dip in performance in the last two weeks from disruption on the network from issues such as flooding and driver availability due to training commitments.

The representative of Northern said of the report: “This is still not as good as what our customers expect. We are releasing 50-60 drivers per day to learn the new trains and this is putting a strain on our train crews.”