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.”
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.
Outdated and uncomfortable “Pacer” trains are to be axed from rail services in the North and replaced by 120 brand new vehicles, the Government has announced.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 Teesside MP has warned that the Government’s Transport Ministry may look to replace Northern Rail’s Pacer trains with equally ageing former London Underground trains.
Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has joined in calls for improvements on routes served by the trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.
Easington MP Grahame Morris has called for a firm commitment from the Government on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains after Chancellor George Osborne said the re-franchising of the East Coast mainline next year would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.
Now Mr Blenkinsop, who uses the trains which operate from Middlesbrough and Darlington to Nunthorpe and Saltburn, said:
“The influential railway industry source, the Rail Business Intelligence Bulletin has become aware of a proposal to convert London Underground District Line D78 units – that were already 30-years-old and being decommissioned by London Underground – into diesel engine carriage sets for use on North of England commuter lines like the ones in my constituency.”
Mr Blenkinsop said the only winner if a deal was brokered would be London Mayor Boris Johnson “who will get a Christmas present of some cash for trains he was going to scrap anyway”.
“This worries me as a local rail service user, we don’t want to see veteran trains replaced by equally ageing old London Underground trains which will be nothing more than vintage carriages with a diesel engine bolted on to them.
“I have a simple message to coalition transport ministers – just get rid of the Pacers.
“They are an embarrassment to our rail system and the regular commuters who have to be sardined in them on a daily basis.
“Give people on Teesside the longer trains and comfortable carriages enjoyed in the south. Only then will you see passenger numbers really increase on local routes instead of today’s steady decay.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 16 Dec 2014
Campaigners have pointed out that rail tickets near the Prime Minister’s own constituency are cheaper that those in the North-East.
Teesside passenger group Coastliners spoke out after David Cameron said the region’s decrepit Pacer trains would be replaced – but fares would have to rise to pay for the new rolling stock.
It was revealed on Friday that the Prime Minister had declared that “those trains are going” when asked about the unpopular Pacers, which run on Northern Rail lines across the North of England.
Mr Cameron rejected his own Government’s suggestion that the 30-year-old carriages could be modernised rather than replaced.
Instead, bidders for the Northern franchise will be asked to draw up plans to replace the trains.
But the Prime Minister said fares must rise to pay for the upgrades when the new contracts start in 2016.
However, research by Coastliners, which represents rail passengers on the Durham coast, suggests it is a myth that North-East fares are cheaper than those elsewhere in the country.
Coastliners’ Peter Walker said:
“Don’t forget that Campaign for Better Transport‘s London-based staff have admitted that we in the North pay as much as if not more than those living further South.”
“Oxford to Tackley, nearly in Mr Cameron’s constituency, is nine miles, and the day return is £3.50, or £3.40 single.
“If the fares level decides what type of rolling stock is provided, his argument implies that Pacers should serve Tackley and Class 166 diesels should be sent to our coast line forthwith.”
Mr Walker pointed out savings to users of the Oyster card meant that many London journeys of similar length similar to, or greater than, those on the coast line were far cheaper :
“London to East Croydon, some 13 miles, works out at £3 single for an Oyster-card holder.”
Mr Walker also questioned the Prime Minister’s claim that Northern Rail fares were the most heavily subsidised in the country.
Source – Northern Echo, 07 Nov 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
Rail union campaigners opposing Government cuts to jobs and services are calling on local authorities in the region to support them.
The RMT is warning fares will rise under Government plans for the refranchising of Northern and Trans-Pennine Express trains.
Now, RMT boss Mick Cash is calling on MPs to back an Early Day Motion (EDM) in the House of Commons, put forward by Stockton North MP Alex Cunninghgam, rejecting the Government’s consultation on the plans and setting out concerns about the line’s future.
So far, North East Labour MPs Pat Glass, Stephen Hepburn, Mary Glindon and Dave Anderson have signed the motion.
Mick Cash is asking councillors and local authorities to back their campaign against rail cuts as it sends out 10,000 postcards throughout the region to raise awareness.
Liverpool City Council has officially registered its opposition to the Government’s plans and the union is hopeful others will follow suit.
It comes after Northern Rail opted to slash some of its off-peak fares in a move the union claims was motivated “purely in the name of profit”.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said demand for rail travel is growing and claimed any plan to cut jobs made no sense.
He said: “The fight to stop the outrageous carve up of jobs and services under the Northern and Trans-Pennine Express franchise plans is gathering pace by the day and is sending out the clearest possible message to the Government and Rail North that they need to scrap this attack on transport services.
“Let’s not forget that the core of the Government’s future plans for Northern and TPE is to axe jobs, restrict services, throw the guards off the trains and jack up fares while capacity to meet surging rail demand in the area is left to stagnate.
“That attack on the fare-paying public has already begun with the abolition of off-peak fares and only an all-out and coordinated fight can stop the savage assault on rail in the North.
“RMT today launches the next phase of the fight to both inform the public and fight the savage cuts being lined up for these Northern rail franchises, and to get MPs signed up to EDM 174 opposing this carve-up.
“It is absolutely essential now that we keep up the pressure.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 06 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
A CAMPAIGN against possible cuts in jobs and services on the Tyne Valley railway line gets under way in Hexham on Monday.
As part of protests against about the Government’s proposals for the future of the Northern franchise, the RMT union is launching a new phase of action on the day that Northern axes a range of off-peak fares.
RMT is pointing out to passengers that the fare increases may be a taste of what’s to come under the new Northern franchises. The union has slammed the Government and Northern Rail for secretly colluding to axe the off-peak fares.
A new postcard, following on from the 10,000 cards collected in opposition to the plans under the franchise consultation, will be distributed from Monday with the public urged to press MPs to sign EDM 174, opposing the new franchise proposals, and calling for councillors and local authorities to register their opposition.
Hexham has been chosen for the first phase in the action on Monday morning, between 7am and 9am, as commuters set off to work in Newcastle.
Source – Hexham Courant, 03 Sept 2014