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
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