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
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
Easington Labour MP Grahame Morris and transport unions have reacted with fury to reports that the UK’s only Government-run rail line is to be taken over by a consortium largely owned by the French state.
Mr Morris said the decision to re-privatise the East Coast line was “right-wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of passengers”.
Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmour and the RMT and TSSA unions were also highly critical of the expected decision.
The UK Government has been anxious to return the London to Scotland East Coast main line to the private sector ever since it was taken over from National Express by the Department for Transport in 2009.
But now it is likely that this week’s announcement of a new private franchise will see the line, from next year, being run by joint bidders Eurostar and French transport company Keolis which is 70% owned by state-run French rail company SNCF.
Opponents of the move to re-privatise the East Coast line have pointed out that the public-sector run company has made big returns to the Treasury during its tenure.
Mr Morris said:
“This public-run rail franchise has generated over a billion pounds for the Treasury. If this is what a publicly-run train operating franchise can deliver, at a time when every penny counts, we should be looking at ways to bring privately run railways back into public ownership not the other way round.
“This is right wing Tory dogma being put ahead of the best interests of the service, consideration for passengers and the public finances. The public-run East Coast main line franchise has consistently been the best performing franchise when it comes to passenger and staff satisfaction, fares and profitability. “
Ms Gilmore said:
“Passengers recognise the improvements to services that East Coast have made under public ownership over the last few years. They also appreciate that at present, all profits are retained for the benefit of British passengers and taxpayers.
“But despite calls from Labour for these arrangements to continue in the long term, today we hear that East Coast is set to be privatised just before the next general election.”
She went on:
“Ironically if the contract is awarded to Keolis – which is largely owned by the French government – ticket revenue may well be reinvested in improved services. Unfortunately these will be services between places like Paris and Lyon or Marseille and Monaco, rather than Edinburgh and London.
“A future Labour government would allow a public sector operator to bid for rail contracts, so that passengers and taxpayers always get value for money.”
A win for Eurostar/Keolis would mean disappointment for the other two bidders – FirstGroup and a joint venture between Virgin Trains and transport company Stagecoach.
Before National Express pulled out of the franchise, a previous private operator – GNER – also ceased running the East Coast line after its parent company Sea Containers got into financial difficulties.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT transport union said re-privatising the line was “ludicrous” and a “national disgrace”.
“This is pure industrial vandalism and the strong rumour that the French-state operator is in pole position to mop up this vital, strategic north/south route says it all.
“This Government is happy to have state ownership of our railways as long as it isn’t by the British state, in the interests of the British people.”
Manuel Cortes, leader of the TSSA transport union, said:
“This has got nothing to do with improving services but everything to do with sheer political spite.
“Here we have the best-value franchise, which has returned £1 billion to the taxpayer over the past five years, being sold overseas because it is a public sector success story.
“Rather than allow that to continue, the Tories would rather see it in French hands. They don’t want the voters having the chance to keep it in the public sector by voting Labour in May.”
He went on:
“We are in the absurd position that the country that invented railways, and gave them to the world, is no longer considered by the Tories capable enough to run our own railway firms.
“They prefer French, German and Dutch state railways to run them instead. ‘Anyone but the Brits’ seems to be their vindictive attitude.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 25 Nov 2014
North East bus passengers will soon be able to use Oyster-style tickets, travel operators have announced.
Britain’s biggest bus operators – including Newcastle-headquartered Go Ahead and Sunderland-based Arriva – have announced plans to launch London-style smart ticketing across England’s largest city regions.
The pledge by Stagecoach, First, Arriva, Go Ahead and National Express aims to deliver multi-operator smart ticketing to millions of bus customers across England next year.
Greater Manchester will be an early adopter of what is described as a “transformational initiative”, helping support the area’s wider growth plans.
The smart tickets will then be rolled out across Tyne and Wear, Merseyside, South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire along with the city regions of Nottingham, Leicester and Bristol.
The bus providers have spent several months finalising their plans and this work has included liaising with IT suppliers and the Department for Transport.
The announcement comes two weeks after North East councils took a step towards seizing control of the bus services, in a major shake-up of public transport – a move bitterly opposed by the bus companies.
Members of the North East Combined Authority voted unanimously for the Quality Contract Scheme (QCS) for the Tyne and Wear area.
If passed by an independent review board the proposals will signal a new era of London-style bus services across the region, in which travellers carry a pass similar to the capital’s Oyster card and councils decide on fares and when and how often services run.The bus companies said their own plans represent a multi-million pound investment in what is the biggest smart ticketing project in the UK’s history.
The technology will allow smaller bus operators to be included and provide a platform to extend the system to other modes, such as trams and trains.
In a joint statement, Stagecoach Group chief executive Martin Griffiths, First Group chief executive Tim O’Toole, Go Ahead chief executive David Brown, Arriva chief executive David Martin and National Express chief executive Dean Finch said:
“Millions of people in our biggest city regions will benefit from this transformational initiative in London-style smart ticketing. It will deliver an even bigger programme and wider benefit than the capital’s Oyster system.
“Bus operators share the aspirations of our city regions to become growing economic powerhouses and we know high quality public transport is an important part of making that happen.”
Bus operators also urged central and local Government to work with them to improve bus services across the country.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Nov 2014
Cheap North-East rail fares are a “myth” that should be dispelled, campaigners say as the Government proposes increasing tickets prices to pay for better services.
Train fares in the region are already comparable with other parts of the UK and putting up prices to pay for new rolling stock and more frequent services would be unfair, says rail user group Coastliners.
As part of a consultation exercise ahead of the refranchising of the Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) services, the Government has asked users for their views on below-average fares being increased to pay for improvements.
But research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, found that many journeys in the Tees Valley were no cheaper than those in the South-East and London.
Peter Walker, who carried out the study, said the South-East had received massive investment in schemes such as Thameslink and Crossrail – and North-East passengers deserved similar levels of funding without seeing substantial price rises.
“We often pay as much for our trains as do those in the Home Counties. It is time to end the double standards of funding so often seen in the years gone by.”
The findings were supported by Martin Abrams, from the Campaign for Better Transport.
“There are many myths about rail in the North of England which desperately need dispelling if passengers are to get a fair deal.
“The idea that northern passengers are getting better value for money than passengers in the south is one of these.
“Not only are standard fares very similar across the regions, but investment per head in the south is around twice that per head in the north.”
In response, the Department for Transport said the consultation on the Northern and TPE franchises asked for views on how services could be improved and how this could be balanced with fares.
“We are very aware of passengers’ concerns over rail fares, and that is why the Chancellor announced a second year’s freeze in real terms on regulated fares, as well as abolishing train operating companies’ ability to flex prices on unregulated fares.”
The RMT has announced that it will hold an event in the House of Commons to lobby MPs on the Northern and TPE franchises.
The transport union said members and supporters from across the country would attend the event on November 4.
Source – Northern Echo , 18 Oct 2014
Labour has refused to rule out higher rail fares or keeping decrepit trains, in a bleak message for the North’s passengers.
Mary Creagh, the party’s transport spokeswoman, said the Government’s controversial plans for the new Northern Rail franchise may be impossible to reverse – even if it wins the general election.
Ministers claim local fares are higher in the South and have put forward proposals to wipe out those differences by hiking ticket prices on cheaper Northern routes.
Asked if Labour opposed that move, Ms Creagh said:
“That’s not a fair question without civil service advice – that’s what ministers are doing on the basis of advice.”
She added that halting that process was “not impossible”, particularly if Labour plans to devolve decision-making to local transport authorities went ahead.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has also sparked anger by planning to “modernise” the 30-year-old ‘Pacer’ trains – condemned as “cattle trucks” – despite an earlier vow to replace them.
But Ms Creagh said it would take around seven years to bring in different trains – which must be ‘cascaded’ from other lines, where electrification schemes are in doubt.
“I don’t want to upgrade the Pacers – I’m not sure you can. They’re not disability compliant.
“However, they have the enormous advantage that they exist – unlike better trains for the future that don’t exist yet.”
Ms Creagh was speaking after the launch of the Right Lines campaign, to end decades of underinvestment in rail in the region.
The crucial date looms in December, when specifications for the new franchises – potentially including fare hikes and retaining the Pacers – are published.
The North’s transport leaders have warned that hoped-for improvements will be “locked out for seven to nine years” unless their message is heard by then.
For example, an annual season ticket for the 13.5 mile journey between Darlington and Middlesbrough is £928 – but Bath to Bristol, a similar distance, costs £1,504.
But Northern transport bosses say the difference is justified because of lower incomes in the region, as well as by the older trains passengers must use.
Ms Creagh insisted Labour had a strong plan for the railways, which would end the damaging fragmentation of the privatised system.
It will create a rail authority – a “single guiding mind to plan investment and services” – bringing Network Rail together with passenger organisations.
The new body would contract routes, coordinate services and oversee stations, fares and ticketing, with a state-owned company bidding to run rail lines.
Source – Northern Echo, 17 Oct 2014
Passengers who use an already packed rail service which operates in the North East could face further overcrowding.
From next April, First TransPennine Express is set to lose nine of its 70 trains to Chiltern Railways in Oxfordshire, after it struck a train leasing deal with the company that owns them.
This week, Alistair Gordon, the UK boss of Keolis, which owns a 45% stake in First TransPennine Express, said its line connecting Newcastle with Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool was so busy he recently saw a woman faint on board a train.
Mr Gordon reportedly commented: “Try getting on a train . . . and some days you just can’t.”
He said the problem was a chronic shortage of trains and that the company could not find extra carriages for its diesel services. “There is not enough rolling stock in this country,” he said.
Government figures show the franchise is one of the most overcrowded in the country after doubling its passenger numbers in a decade from 13.5m to 26m. Now it facing up to increasing passenger numbers with less trains.
First TransPennine Express leased the nine Class 170s from Porterbrook, a rolling stock operating company, for the duration of its franchise which has been extended for a year until 2016. Chiltern was able to offer a longer term leasing deal.
A spokesman claimed, although a solution has yet to be found for the problem, it would not affect its service in to the North East where it uses Class 185 rolling stock.
He denied suggestions some might be diverted to cope with the loss of the nine Class 170 carriages
“Customers in the North East will see no change in terms of capacity and timetabling,” he said.
The spokesman said they were lobbying the Department for Transport to help find a solution.
It was only in May this year that ten new four-coach electric trains – costing £6 million each – started work on its route between Manchester, the North East and Scotland.
They offered 90,000 extra seats every week on all their North of England services, running one train every hour during the day between Manchester and Scotland and five trains every hour between Leeds and Manchester.
“What we’re saying to the DfT is we need to protect the capacity we have put in place,” said the spokesman.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT rail union, said:
“It is a shocking indictment of both this Government’s policies and two decades of privatisation that one of the most crowded franchises on the rail system is losing a large chunk of its fleet to routes around the stomping ground of David Cameron and his cronies.
“The internal rolling stock merry-go-round is robbing trains from the North to aid the South while the clapped-out, lashed-up Pacers are also being kept on as part of the new Northern and TPE franchise.
“What a disgraceful way to treat passengers who are paying through the nose to ride these highly-profitable services.
“With the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line being bulldozed through, despite the success of the public operation that has delivered a billion pounds back to the taxpayer, this madness is set to not only continue but to worsen.”
Meanwhile David Sidebottom, Director of Passenger Focus, an independent rail passenger watchdog, said:
“Getting a seat, or even sometimes getting on a train, can be a struggle for some passengers as overcrowding on the railways grows. It is a particular problem with First TransPennine with just 55% of FTPE passengers telling us that they are satisfied with the availability of seats or space to stand, and this is getting worse.
“Passengers need to see more seats on TransPennine and other trains. And they will want to know when this issue will be resolved.”
Source – Newcastle Journal. 14 Oct 2014
North East rail users face fare hikes of up to 100% after some off-peak fares were axed on Monday.
The price rises affects a number of evening services run by Northern Rail – with a return ticket from Hexham to Newcastle jumping from £3.55 to £7.10.
The increases, which were announced in the summer, came into effect a day after Chancellor George Osborne announced he was knocking 1% off the January 2015 national commuter fare rise for England, meaning regulated fares like season tickets will going up by 2.5% rather than the planned 3.5% next year.
Nevertheless, Northern Rail’s changes have been fiercely criticised by rail unions and campaign groups.
The RMT union is marking the rise by launching a new wave of protests against plans for the new Northern franchise and also for the new franchise for TransPennine Express, which links the region with the North West.
The union says the rises are “a kick in the teeth for the travelling public” and a “taste of what’s around the corner under the new franchises”.
And the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) said the Northern Rail rises would hit part-time and shift workers worst.
Martin Abrams, CBT public transport campaigner, said:
“This fare increase threatens to make rail travel unaffordable to tens of thousands of part-time workers.
“Despite Government promises, there are no flexible tickets for the increasing numbers who work part time or anything other than traditional nine-to-five hours.
“Their only option is to pay for individual tickets, which will now be double the price on Northern Rail’s most popular routes.”
Mick Cash, RMT acting general secretary, added:
“The axing of off-peak fares is a savage kick in the teeth for people already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity.”
Northern said the fare changes were being made after the Department for Transport (DfT) asked the company to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its current franchise agreement. It added that it had heavily publicised the fare changes.
Richard Allan, Northern Rail commercial director, said:
“The majority of customers who travel at peak times will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening and what options are available to them.”
Labour MP Mary Creagh, shadow transport secretary, said:
“This is a direct result of the Government’s West Coast franchise fiasco and commuters travelling to Leeds, Manchester, Bradford, Sheffield and Newcastle are paying the price.
“People shouldn’t have to choose between paying more or waiting until after dark to travel.”
However, a DfT spokesman said the changes would help build a “rail network that is better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer”.
“Such restrictions are relatively common on other parts of the network, including in the Mersey travel area, and we expect only a minority of passengers to be affected.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 08 Sept 2014
Railway workers mounted a protest at Hexham railway station on Tuesday against what they describe as the biggest threat to railway services since the Beeching Axe of the 1960s.
At the same time, there were angry protests at rail company Northern Rail’s decision to axe off-peak fares on the Tyne Valley line – a decision which will hit hundreds of local commuters.
The protests have been sparked by the Department for Transport’s consultation exercise on the future of the Northern and Trans Pennine rail franchises, drawn up in conjunction with Rail North, a conglomeration of 30 Northern local authorities.
Railway workers’ union RMT say the proposals will result in fare rises, service and timetable cuts and the loss of hundreds of essential rail jobs.
They also feel passenger service and safety will be affected by the proposed introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station de-staffing and ticket office closures.
Union members are particularly concerned that the proposed cuts will impact on disabled, older and women passengers.
The consultation is due to end on Monday of next week.
Further fuel has been added to the fires of discontent by Northern Rail’s announcement this week that, with effect from Monday September 8, off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on local rail services between Hexham and Newcastle.
Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy an anytime ticket.
> Although if they get rid of all the conductors and guards, who will be checking tickets anyway ?
The rail company claims the majority of customers who travel at the evening peak time already buy season tickets or anytime fares and won’t be affected by this change.
They could also find their trains are less crowded.
Commercial director, of Northern Rail, Richard Allan, said: “The majority of customers will be unaffected by these changes, but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.”
Off-peak day/duo tickets will no longer be valid on weekdays on all services between Hexham and Newcastle between 4pm and 6pm.
Regular travellers could benefit from season tickets, which can be purchased for a week, month or year, and offer significant discounts.
The changes are being made after the DfT asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.
The franchise agreement includes commitments to invest in more customer information systems, better retailing facilities and environmental initiatives, which will lead to over £6m being invested to improve facilities for customers.
However, RMT has described the move as “a savage kick in the teeth for the travelling public”.
Acting general secretary of the RMT, Mick Cash, said: “People are already struggling with the burden of low pay and austerity and the fact that this has been cooked up by the Department for Transport in collusion with the privatisation pirates from Northern Rail is a warning of what’s to come.
“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares, while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.
“The attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”
Source – Hexham Courant, 20 Aug 2014