The Government’s treatment of North rail passengers is “nothing short of scandalous”, it is claimed today, amid fears that outdated Pacer trains won’t be replaced.
Easington’s Grahame Morris is calling for a firm commitment on replacing the “outdated, uncomfortable and cramped” trains, which go no faster than 60mph on Northern and Trans-Pennine Express routes.
The line is set to be re-franchised in 2015 and George Osborne said the new deal would include “a substantial package of upgrades including new services and modern trains”.
But Mr Morris said doubt hangs over the claims and the Chancellor could be backtracking.
He said Government documents show bidders are simply being ‘encouraged’ to replace the Pacers and, when quizzed in Parliament this week, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin offered the North no cast iron guarantees. Now, the County Durham MP is calling for swift action.
“Like thousands of my constituents I travel on these outdated, uncomfortable and cramped trains every week,” Mr Morris said.
“On top of all the other things hitting North East commuters we now have the prospect of continuing to use these totally inappropriate trains for the foreseeable future. I am writing to the government to point out that North East passengers are suffering enough without this new threat. I shall be seeking guarantees from the government about this.”
It had long been assumed Pacers, originally a stop-gap solution, as they are outmoded and expensive to repair.
The MP added:
“The North has a tiny fraction of money spent on it on infrastructure, compared to London and the South and the amount spent in the North-East is even less. All we want is fairness, North-East travellers deserve their fair share.”
He also said rising fares and the Coalition’s move to re-privatise the East Coast Main Line are unacceptable and the region is not getting the deal it deserves.
He said re-franchising services would spell job losses and companies like Stagecoach and Virgin – who as InterCity Railways won the East Coast Main Line franchise would be “laughing all the way to the bank”.
East Coast, under public ownership, had moved into profit and had high approval ratings from customers.
“The way rail passengers in the North-East are treated is nothing short of scandalous,” said Mr Morris.
“In the last 20 years we have seen a fragmented, privatised rail network fail passengers, with high fares and poor service, all in the name of the free market. It is clear we need, as happens in most other countries, a publicly owned and managed rail service aimed at providing a safe, affordable and efficient service for passengers.
“The decision by this government to force the East Coast mainline back into private hands, despite the public company running it consistently achieving top marks on all measures, including passenger satisfaction and value for the taxpayer, only goes to show it’s all about political ideology, not what’s right for the public and taxpayer. Of course the private train companies are laughing all the way to the bank.”
Source – Sunday Sun, 14 Dec 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
The shortlist of train firms bidding to run the region’s rail services have been announced by the Government – with unions immediately descriving the operators as the “same old greedy companies”.
Three companies have been shortlisted to run the Northern franchise, while three companies are being considered for the TransPennine Express franchise.
All the operators companies have successfully passed the pre-qualification stage, and will now be asked to develop their plans for the franchises before they receive the Government’s Invitation to Tender in December.
Officials say that bidders will be expected to show how they will make the most of the government’s £1billion investment programme for the rail network in the north of England, which aims to provide faster and more reliable journeys, more capacity, better trains and improved connections for passengers across the region.
The shortlisted bidders to run the two franchises are:
• Abellio Northern Ltd
• Arriva Rail North Limited
• Govia Northern Limited
• First Trans Pennine Express Limited
• Keolis Go-Ahead Limited
Rail Minister Claire Perry said: “The north is undergoing a real rail renaissance, and we will be asking these companies to come up with innovative and ambitious proposals that will ensure a truly world-class rail network for the region.
“Building a railway that is fit for the 21st century is a vital part of our long term economic plan, connecting businesses and communities, generating jobs and boosting growth, and we need strong private sector partners to help us achieve this ambition.”
The new operator will also be expected to work closely with Rail North, which represents the region’s local authorities, to ensure local rail users will have more influence in how their train services are run.
Sir Richard Leese, for Rail North, said: “The companies on the shortlists demonstrate the interest there is in meeting Rail North’s desire to see the railway acting as an economic driver in the north of England.
“We look forward to working with the bidders to deliver strong franchises for passengers, which reflect the aims and objectives of our Long Term Rail Strategy and the predicted growth in patronage.”
The franchise is expected to run for a period of around 7 to 9 years, with the provision for an extension of one year at the discretion of the DfT.
An announcement about the successful bidder is expected in autumn 2015, with the contract expected to start in February 2016.
One of the shortlisted companies, Stagecoach, said the TPE rail franchise was a key part of the North of England’s infrastructure, supporting economic growth and connecting communities – and the company was delighted to have been shortlisted by the Department for Transport.
A spokesmand added: “Stagecoach has played a leading role in transforming rail travel in Britain over the past two decades, bringing new ideas and putting customers at the heart of the railway.
“We look forward to engaging with local people and other stakeholders to develop a package of ambitious and robust proposals that will improve services and deliver better value for money to passengers and taxpayers.”
Mick Cash, RMT Acting General Secretary, criticised the Government for releasing ths hortliost just horus after a consultation process into the future of the services closed.
Mr Cash added that the shortlist contained “the same old greedy companies looking to hitch yet another ride on the rail privatisation gravy train purely in the interests of private profit”.
He said: “It makes a mockery of the consultation that this list of the greedy and the incompetent has been drawn up by the Government before the consultation responses have even been opened and before these companies even know what it is that they are bidding for.
“RMT said from the off that the consultation was wholly bogus, this morning’s outrageous manoeuvring has proved that conclusively and RMT will use every tool at our disposal to expose this racket for what it is.”
Both franchises are due to be awarded by October 2015 and as they develop their bids each of the bidders will need to set out how they will capitalise on the biggest programme of rail modernisation ever.
The Government says that than £1billion will be spent on the rail network in the north over the next five years.
The potential operators will need to demonstrate how they will use these projects to increase capacity in order to tackle crowding and meet future passenger demand; provide faster and more frequent services; and upgrade rolling stock, including proposals to replace Pacer trains on the Northern franchise. Bidders will also need to improve customer service and passenger satisfaction.
The Northern and TransPennine Express franchises carried more than 110 million passengers last year, covering inter-urban, commuter and rural routes. The franchises connect passengers travelling into and between the key strategic cities of Leeds, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester and Newcastle, and onwards to Edinburgh and Glasgow.
A public consultation into the future of rail services in the north closed on Monday and responses will be taken into account as the franchise proposals are developed further ahead of the Invitations to Tender in December.
Source – Northern Echo, 19 Aug 2014
Northern Rail has announced it is putting up fares for some passengers – and blamed a new franchise agreement with the Department for Transport.
The changes will take effect from Monday, September 8, and mean that off-peak tickets can no longer be used during weekday evenings on the line between Newcastle and Hexham in Northumberland.
Customers who currently use off-peak tickets during the evening peak will either have to travel earlier or later, or buy a more expensive anytime ticket, according to Northern Rail.
In a statement, the firm told passengers using season tickets or anytime fares – which won’t be affected – they could find their carriages less crowded.
The statement, issued on the company’s web site, continued: “The changes are being made after the Department for Transport asked Northern to look at several options to help reduce subsidy as part of its new franchise agreement.
“The change to off-peak tickets is the only option that has been taken forward and will be used to reduce the cost of the railway to taxpayers by reducing subsidy to Northern.”
The changes provoked a furious response from transport union the RMT, who said it could be “a taste of what’s to come” when new Northern and new TransPennine Express (TPE) franchises come into effect in 2016.
RMT acting general secretary Mick Cash said: “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 and the fact that it has been cooked up by the DfT 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. That attack on the fare-paying public has already begun.”
Richard Allan, commercial director, Northern Rail said: “The majority of customers who travel at peak times, such as those with season tickets, will be unaffected by these changes but we want to make sure that those who are know about what is happening.
“We have consulted extensively with local stakeholders and with Passenger Focus on the detail of this change, which is part of our new franchise agreement that was announced in March.”
The DfT is currently consulting on the new Northern and TPE franchises ahead of the launch of a bidding process.
But a consultation published by the Dft has given a taste of what may be to come. Ministers want the services to stop employing guards and move to “driver only” trains.
They also want to review the number of staff working at ticket offices and introduce more ticket machines, suggesting staff numbers will be cut.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 12 Aug 2014
The Conservatives have said they will target working class Northern voters even as austerity measures continue.
Tory party chairman Grant Shapps hit back at claims the party had “given up on the North” and insisted tomorrow’s Budget will be good news for the region.
With a strong UKIP vote predicted in the upcoming European elections, the party is still way behind any signs of a revived North East presence.
Mr Shapps said he was confident the party could fight back in the region.
He said: “I recognise that we have a long way to go, we took over a recession from the last Government, there was no double dip recession.
“Now there are in the North East 17,000 more people in a job than there were.
> 15,000 of them are self-employed leaflet distributors….
There is just the start of the recovery. I know the North East had some big issues to deal with, the reliance on the public sector, but it is showing good signs.”
He admitted though that there was little hope in sight of an end to Government spending cuts.
“What we need to do now is not create more Government jobs but help create more private sector jobs,” he said.
“There is no short cut. If you believe you can somehow just raise taxes and spend money on jobs we know from years of experience that it just does not work.
“We have come this far, it has been difficult and painful, I totally get that. But what we do not want to do is hand the car keys back to the people who crashed this economy in the first place.”
> No chance of that, they never gave up possession of the car keys in the first place… just got someone else to take the points on their licence (something certain Lib Dems, for example, know all about).
Mr Shapps faces a difficult task turning that economic message into votes in the North East, with a 10% unemployment rate standing as the UK’s highest.
Asked if he feared losing out to UKIP in the region despite the Budget message, Mr Shapps said: “If voters want a referendum the last thing they should do is vote UKIP, because that will just hand power to Labour, and then you will never get what you want.”
Over the weekend Labour had attacked the Tories record in the North, saying it had abandoned the region.
Asked if he thought this was true, Mr Shapps said: “Absolutely not, the North has been the engine of the economy and I think we will see that again in the North, and Conservatives are going to be a part of that.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 18 March 2014