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
A damning list of North rail failures has been put to the Government.
MPs have accused the Department for Transport of overseeing years of neglect and of “blundering” its way into years more of service failures on crowded and outdated Northern trains.
Ministers were told it was disgraceful that they were planning to take 170 modern trains from across the entire North of England and send them south, serving constituencies such as the prime minister’s.
Shadow deputy leader of the House Angela Smith said the loss of stock on the North’s First Transpennine Express service came as result of officials pushing back its franchise renewal while they “rushed” into the sale of mainline services.
And the Government was forced to admit it will try and phase out the unloved Pacer trains, used by Northern rail on the Hexham to Newcastle line, as soon as possible in the next franchise. Speaking in parliamentary debate, the MP said: “It is becoming obvious where the Government’s priority lies when it comes to rail lines, and the priority is not with passengers in the north of England.
“As their ill-fated, illogical and shambolic franchising policy goes off the rails, it is the north of England that suffers.
“We are witnessing a situation in which the huge blunder that was west coast franchising has led to a comedy of errors, with the consequences landing squarely in the lap of the north of England and its railway services.”
She added: “We in the North believe we need efficient, well-run railways with modern trains providing the capacity a growing network needs. We need those trains so our economy can compete with the South – we all know how big that challenge is – if we are to close the North-South gap. On the Northern franchise, however, the average age of the fleet is 2, which compares with a national average of 18 years.
> I think they meant an average age of 20+, not 2. If only it was 2.
“Many routes are still served by the Pacer railbuses, which make up about a quarter of the fleet. I will not name my source, but I was approached several years ago by someone who asked whether the Pacer trains might have a future in the new country of Kosovo, but the trains may still be required on those Northern Rail services if the Government do not get their finger out.”
Ms Smith was backed by Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: “We need to highlight the point about the differentiation in investment in different parts of the country.
“At a presentation last week to the all-party group on rail in the North, Network Rail outlined its plans for investment, including in the Northern hub.
“However, the only reference to the North East of England were signs on the map saying, York, and, To Scotland. The North East of England was not an afterthought – it was not even a thought.”
Junior transport minister Stephen Hammond said discussions were ongoing to try and let the North keep the modern trains until May 2015.
The minister added: “Pacer trains that were introduced in the mid-1980s and have rightly received their fair share of attention.
“With the introduction of new rolling stock into the region, higher quality rolling stock will be released for use across the network.
“We expect to ask bidders for the Northern franchise to put forward proposals for the removal of Pacers from the area.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 14 March 2014