Workers on Northern Rail have voted to go on strike in a row over jobs and safety.
Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union backed walkouts by 80% and other forms of industrial action by 90%.
The union said it is in dispute over a series of issues, including the removal of permanent posts and the creation of zero-hour jobs via a contract with a security company, cuts to booking offices and attacks on the role and responsibility of train guards.
The union said Northern Rail, which runs services which links Teesside with stations across the north of England, had also given no commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies beyond the end of its current franchise in February 2016.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said:
“RMT has made every effort to win assurances from Northern Rail over jobs, services and safety. However, the company continues to ride roughshod over our efforts.
“We therefore had no option but to ballot all staff for action to force the company to take these issues seriously and the members have now voted decisively for action. That mandate will now be considered by the union.”
Hartlepool employees will be encouraged to ditch the car to get to work as part of a new green travel scheme.
Hartlepool Borough Council, which is leading the Government-funded sustainable travel scheme, says it will work with local firms to promote greater take up of cycling, walking and public transport.
Where car use is necessary, the scheme will encourage employees to share vehicles.
Sustainable travel officer Tony Davison, leading the scheme, said:
“In particular, the greater use of these forms of travel is crucial to us achieving our economic regeneration priorities for the town in a sustainable way by helping to ensure that developments do not adversely affect local roads in terms of congestion and safety.
“In addition, they can play a significant role when it comes to improving the health of local people by increasing their levels of physical activity,” said Tony who cycles 28-miles a day to work from Coxhoe and back.
Looking ahead the council says it is hopes to develop new cycle routes to key employment sites.
Axing guards and conductors from rail services in the North of England could make passengers less safe, MPs have warned.
And they urged the region’s new rail authority, formed by local councils, to pressure the Government to reverse plans to run trains with no staff on board except the driver.
MPs from across the North East issued the plea in an official House of Commons motion.
They criticised proposals to make do without guards or conductors on the Northern Rail and Transpennine Express franchises.
A draft franchise agreement drawn up by the Department for Transport makes it clear that the new franchise, coming into effect in April 2016, will include trains without guards or conductors.
It states that “at least 50%” of services should be run as what is called a “Driver Controlled Operation”.
This means “operation of a train by a driver alone without the need for a conductor (or any other franchise employee).”
But the decision has been condemned by MPs who signed a motion warning it would mean passengers found it harder to get help or travel advice when they needed it, and would also be less safe on trains.
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, Gateshead MP Ian Mearns and Easington MP Grahame Morris joined colleagues including some MPs from the North West to protest against the changes.
The Tyne and Wear Metro has seen the biggest rise in passengers of any light rail transit system in the UK outside of London.
Latest figures from the Department for Transport reveal in 2014/15 there was a massive 38.1m passenger journeys on it – a 6.7% increase on last year.
This has also led to a 4.4% increase in revenue to £47.9m, the highest figure it has ever posted.
Nationally there were 239.8m journeys on Light Rail and Tram systems, up 5.6% on last year.
The only system to have a bigger increase in passenger journeys than the Metro was the Docklands Light Railway in London whose 110.2m journeys represented an 8.5% year-on-year increase.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 10 June 2015
An axed bus service could be replaced with a voluntary service to help keep people on the move.
A local charity is investigating the possibility of replacing the service to enable residents to access key services in the area.
Thirsk District Community Minibus Association said they had been inundated with requests for public transport to replace the old “figure of eight” service through Thirsk and Sowerby – which bus operator Dales and District used to run until just two weeks ago.
The service came to an end as the Campaign for Better Transport claimed North Yorkshire County Council cut more bus services than any other local authority in the country over the last year.
It said a 25 per cent budget cut by the authority, which is currently in the process of cutting its budget by £167m because of a reduction in Government funding, led to a total of 90 different bus services being reduced, altered or axed.
The move comes four years after the Little White Bus service was launched in Upper Wensleydale, which has since won a contract to become the only bus operator for Wensleydale and Swaledale.
The association, which was launched in 1987 and currently operates two minibuses, is now considering running a reduced service, which would be staffed by volunteer drivers and would be funded through grants and donations from the passengers themselves.
A spokesman for the group said:
“We have been approached by numerous residents who are deeply concerned about the loss of this service.
“The cost of a return trip to Thirsk from Sowerby by taxi could be £7 for some residents, and if you are regularly going to the doctors, then going to collect prescriptions and pick up groceries, that could soon mount up and make certain journeys unaffordable.”
“We are concerned that some residents, and in particular elderly people who were the majority of users of the previous service, may face the prospect of becoming isolated or housebound without a bus service.”
Train passengers in the North East expressed their “disappointment and anger” over the reprivatisation of East Coast train services.
The franchise was handed over to Stagecoach and Virgin – an act rail users in Tyne and Wear described as a “fait accompli.”
“Our publicly owned East Coast rail returned money to the taxpayer over the last five years, contributing to £1 billion to the government – far more than when it was run by private companies GNER and National Express,” said Vicki Gilbert, chair of the Tyne and Wear Public Transport Users Group.
“For rail passengers from the North East and elsewhere, it is likely that there will be new larger fare increases along with cuts in costs, by reducing the staffing on trains and at stations.
“This will mean a poorer service for passengers, while profits go into the pockets of the Stagecoach and Virgin’s companies shareholders.
“This cost cutting is very concerning for everyone but particularly for the disabled and vulnerable, who rely on assistance with wheelchairs and pushchairs.
“This will also affect passengers’ personal security, with figures already showing an increase in violence, drinking, anti-social behaviour and attacks across the entire rail network in England.”
Jarrow MP Stephen Hepburn also expressed his opposition to the move, which the government hopes is a case of third time lucky after two previous private franchises running the line collapsed, causing it to be placed into the hands of the state owned Directly Operated Railways in 2009.
“Over the past six years since it was re-nationalised the East Coast mainline has gone from strength to strength and it is a disgrace that the Tories are selling it off before the election,” Mr Hepburn said.
“The Tory-led Government’s plans defy all logic and by taking East Coast out of public ownership all the government is doing is passing the income the line raises into the back pockets of the profiteers.”
Under the new name of Virgin Trains East Coast, the franchise’s first service left Newcastle bound for London at 7.55am on Sunday.
The Department for Transport said it was confident that the new franchise was the best way forward, but trade unions have pointed to the huge sums the publicly owned line has been able to return to the Treasury.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“It is disappointing to see East Coast in private hands after five years of public sector success. The Government’s decision to re-privatise the line is a costly mistake.”
But a Department for Transport spokesman said:
“The skills and experience that the private sector provides drives forward innovation and investment, and has helped to transform our rail network into a real success story.
“We are confident that the new East Coast franchise gives the best deal for passengers. It will provide more seats, more services, new trains and over £140 million of investment along the route. In addition, more than £3 billion will be paid to taxpayers.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 02 Mar 2015
Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.
The decision to scrap the trains, which have been compared to cattle trucks, was made by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin as he launched the contest inviting rail operators to bid to run the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises.
It brings to an end speculation that the vehicles could stay, or could be replaced by second hand trains from another part of the country.
But it also emerged that Mr McLoughlin faced a battle with civil servants – who argued that the £250 million cost of the new vehicles was poor value for money.
The Transport Secretary was forced to issue a “written directive”, a formal note confirming that he had been advised against requiring new trains but wanted his officials to go ahead anyway.
Mr McLoughlin told his staff that scrapping the Pacers was essential, warning: “I do not think that the continued use of these uncomfortable and low quality vehicles is compatible with our vision for economic growth and prosperity in the North.”
He also said that many Northern lines were unlikely to be electrified, so it was important to ensure new diesel trains were built because there is an industry-wide shortage of diesel vehicles.
It means the decision will now be scrutinised by a Commons spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, but while this could potentially criticise Mr McLoughlin it does not have the power to over-rule him.
Pacers were introduced in the 1980s as a short-term solution to a lack of rolling stock. Their future had been unclear until now, with senior Ministers including the Prime Minister promising they would go, while a series of official Government documents stated they could instead be refurbished and remain in use.
The Northern franchise operates local, commuter and rural services throughout the region, and a number of long distance services linking major cities.
As well as replacing the pacers with new trains, the winner of the franchise will be expected to modernise other vehicles on the route, double the number of services on may routes, provide more off-peak and Sunday services, invest at least £30 million to improve stations and introduce free Wi-Fi on all Northern trains by 2020 at the latest.
Bidders for the franchise are Abellio Northern Ltd, Arriva Rail North Limited and Govia Northern Limited. They have until 26 June to submit their plans.
The TransPeninne Express franchise provides longer distance intercity-type services, connecting the major cities of Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Hull, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as Manchester Airport.
Improvements the government wants the bidders to introduce include introducing extra capacity for passengers through more carriages and more services; providing earlier and later services and more services on Sundays; considering options for new services such as extending Newcastle services to Edinburgh, and introducing free Wi-Fi on all TransPennine Express trains by 2020 at the latest.
The bidders are First Trans Pennine Express Limited, Keolis Go-Ahead Limited and Stagecoach Trans Pennine Express Trains Limited, and they must submit their proposals by 28 May 2015.
Both new franchises are due to start operating in April 2016.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 27 Feb 2015
> If it aint broke… break it.
The East Coast Main Line franchise made a profit of £13 million last year – with the cash returned to the Treasury.
And the financial success of the line is in stark contrast to other (privatised) rail franchises, which required millions in subsidies to keep going.
Labour said the figures exposed the foolishness of privatising the line, which is currently run by a state-owned business but is due to be managed by Virgin Trains from March.
They were published in the annual financial report of the Office of Rail Regulation, the official regulator for Britain’s railways.
The East Coast Main Line was one of only two rail franchises to make a profit for taxpayers. The other was South West Trains.
Virgin Trains, which currently runs the West Coast Main Line from London to Manchester and on to Scotland, received £221 million in subsidies.
And the most expensive franchise was the Northern Rail line, which operates in the North East, North West and Yorkshire, and received £495 million.
A separate study by consumer group Which also found the East Coast Main Line had a good record for train delays, coming sixth out of 21 franchises for the lowest number of delays.
Labour’s Shadow Rail Minister Lilian Greenwood MP said:
“These reports prove that the forthcoming East Coast sell-off is set to be a terrible blunder that puts privatisation ahead of passengers’ and taxpayers’ best interests.”
“East Coast was one of only two train operating companies that made a net contribution to the Treasury once infrastructure costs were taken in to account.”
Labour plans to allow a state-owned operator to bid for future franchises, although this would still potentially allow private operators to run franchises if they win the bidding process.
The policy not supported by some Labour MPs who argue that franchises should simply be transferred to the public sector once they expire.
Rail Minister Claire Perry said:
“We are investing record amounts in our railways as part of our long-term economic plan and passenger fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements, which will bring more services, more seats and modern trains.
“As we drive forward this huge investment programme, it is absolutely important that disruption to passengers is kept to a minimum. It is also important that we recognise passengers’ concerns about the cost of rail fares. This is why we have frozen them for the second year in a row.”
The Office of Rail Regulation said rail industry income from passengers in 2013/14 was £8.16 billion – a 10.8% rise compared with the figure for 2010/11 and 6.2% higher than in 2012/13.
Government funding for the railways in 2013/14 was just under £3.8 billion – a 16.4% dip on the total for 2010/11 and 8.1% down on 2012/13.
Total Government funding in 2013/14 varied from £1.88 per passenger journey in England to £7.77 per journey in Scotland and £9.18 per journey in Wales.
Government funding in 2013/14 represented 28.5% of the rail industry’s total income.
The number of passenger journeys increased by 16.6% (or by 260 million journeys) between 2010/11 and 2013/14, with the amount of freight carried rising 18.1%.
ORR chief executive Richard Price said:
“There has been substantial growth in the use of the railways in the past four years. Passengers are increasingly the main funder of the railways, and must be central to developing plans for future services and investment.
“Our report also highlights that the rail industry has been successful in keeping costs stable despite carrying significantly more passengers.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 16 Feb 2015
A bus company has been attacked by a Labour MP for “salami slicing” services after it emerges 80 journeys a day have disappeared under a rerouting programme.
Houghton and Sunderland South MP Bridget Phillipson has criticised Go North East for cuts to bus services across Tyne and Wear, citing a study by Passenger Transport Executive Nexus.
Sunderland is shouldering most of the burden, the MP says, with changes to routes and timetables to the 35, 35A, 35B and 35C services.
The MP says her office has fielded calls from people worried about links to schools and health facilities.
She adds it is difficult to compare the new route map and timetable information with previous versions and people have concerns that the re-routing of the 35 services will significantly disrupt journeys to nearby GP practices in Silksworth, Herrington and Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Children may also have to take longer journeys to schools such as the Venerable Bede Academy because they will have to change buses.
Go North East said the changes will simplify services, but four variations have already been made to routes 35, 35A and 36 since November.
The MP said:
“The volume of service changes implemented by Go North East this week is likely to cause a great deal of confusion and inconvenience to many people.
“I have received many emails and phone calls from worried constituents expressing their concerns over changes to the route 35 service.
“Go North East say this is about simplifying things, but there have been 15 variations in this route since 2011 and I cannot see how this constant chopping and changing is making things simpler. The new route maps and timetables are also presented differently from older versions.
“People are understandably angry about the fact that four services have been reduced to three. Across the region estimates show that as many as 80 routes a day will be cut.
“Go North East should explain why these changes are being implemented and how they are in the best interest of passengers.
“This salami slicing of services shows exactly why we must introduce a London-style bus network with stable routes, oyster style ticketing and fines for operators when they fail to live up to their promises.”
Managing director of Go North East Kevin Carr, said the changes were introduced after a consultation with Nexus and customers.
He said many of the services now travelled closer to shops.
He said: “We are the number one bus operator in Sunderland and it’s really important that we adapt our services to meet customers’ needs.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 Jan 2015
Spending on buses is going up in urban areas while it dips in rural parts of the North East, figures reveal.
Data released by the Campaign for Better Transport showed spending on subsidised bus services has risen by 14.3% since 2010 in Tyne and Wear.
Meanwhile, in County Durham and Northumberland councils are spending 29.8% and 15.3% less, respectively.
Martin Abrams, from CBT, said elderly and disabled people are those that suffer.
“Every single local authority is in a difficult financial position.
“This report isn’t about beating up local authorities – we want to highlight the fact that councils are really, really suffering from the funding cuts imposed on them by central government – but some councils are finding ways of funding services.
“We are concerned for elderly people in rural areas as this will have an impact on them, especially.
“A lot of elderly people take the bus to the shops and they meet their mates. If you take that away then people will be left in isolation and it will have an impact on the social fabric of the country.
“It is the big rural counties rather than urban areas that are making big cuts and it is very worrying.”
Councillor Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council and transport lead on the North East Combined Authority, said Nexus, which manages transport in the Tyne and Wear area, is dipping into reserves to avoid the funding cuts seen in other areas.
The combined authority has voted to operate a Quality Contract Scheme (CQS) which would see councils take control of fares and services.
“About 10% of local bus services in Tyne and Wear are paid for by local authorities through Nexus, and that includes all our school buses and special routes for early-morning shiftworkers, as well as many journeys in the evening and at weekends.
“Tyne and Wear has been able to avoid the severe cuts to local bus routes seen in many parts of the country thanks to good planning by local councils and Nexus up to now, but the fact is Nexus is spending the last of its financial reserves to keep these vital services on the road.
“This cannot go on much longer and that is why the North East Combined Authority is pushing ahead with a planned Quality Contracts Scheme, in which some of the large profits made by bus companies in the region are re-invested to protect and improve all local services.
“This will not only protect routes but mean lower fares for passengers, a universal smart ticket like Oyster in London and savings for the local taxpayer.
“Without a Quality Contracts Scheme local people should be under no illusion that local buses face cuts due to the enormous pressure on council spending.”
Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said cutting the bus budget in County Durham had been unavoidable in the backdrop of severe cuts to local authorities.
He said following a consultation in 2011 funding for evening and weekend services had been scaled back to protect those operated during the day.
He added further cuts would make it harder to protect services.
Councils in other parts of the region, such as Darlington and Stockon, have cut funding for subsidised bus routes altogether.
“There has not been much of a reduction over the last few years, however, as with everything else, given the cuts that are being made by George Osborne that will become more and more difficult.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Jan 2015