No problem here, said council note before timetable chaos

Picture: PA Wire
Picture: PA Wire
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It was a disaster no-one saw coming until it was inevitable.

A note from the director of policy at the West Yorkshire Combined Authority dated July 2017 betrays the false calm that preceded the chaos on the rails which began exactly a year ago.

“There are relatively few issues and concerns,” it said of plans by TransPennine Express to overhaul its timetable.

In the event, around 32 of the company’s trains were cancelled in whole or part every day.

“One passenger told me that since the end of May, his train had been cancelled or delayed nearly every single day,” the Thirsk and Malton MP, Kevin Hollinrake, told a Westminster Hall debate.

At the root of the trouble was engineering work that had not been completed. A year later, on the eve of another new timetable, the job is still not fully done.

Mr Hollinrake’s constituency had been a pinch point in the dysfunctional 2018 timetable. Two lines run through Malton Station on the route to Scarborough, but only one has a platform – a bottleneck that saw it named among the 12 worst in the country.

William Murchison, Trans­Pen­nine’s head of train planning, said his strategy for this year’s timetable, which kicks in tomorrow, is to prioritise west-bound trains through Malton over those heading towards Scarborough. That, he says, will mean that passengers with the bulk of their journey ahead of them will get a clear run in the event of disruption elsewhere on the line.

It became apparent “only a matter of some days or weeks” before the timetable change last year that Network Rail would not meet its deadline for completing its engineering work, he said.

This year the company is taking what he called a “cautious” approach. “Clearly we don’t want to over-promise on the resource base because that just creates more performance problems. We’ve tried to do as much as we can but not overdo it so that we can’t deliver what we say,” Mr Murchison said.

The region’s biggest operator, Northern Rail, which cancelled nearly 170 services a day at the height of last year’s fiasco, says it is in “a better place” as it prepares for tomorrow’s roll-out.

“We’ve already set up our Gold Command structure to get ready for D-Day minus four as we progress through the weekend into Monday, said Richard Allan, its deputy managing director.

“Last year was a very painful period all round. We and the industry got it wrong, and a painful lesson was learned all around.”

Asked if he thought heads should have rolled, he said: “The challenge is ours to rebuild trust and restore our reputation.”