Questions that under-fire TransPennine Express managing director must not be allowed to avoid – Tom Richmond

AS Transport Secretary Grant Shapps considers the fate of the failing Northern rail franchise, he should now intervene over the mismanagement of TransPennine Express – without delay.

TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin.

After summonsing TPE managing director Leo Goodwin, and others, to a ‘no coffee’ meeting on Tuesday to order them to improve performance, or face the consequences, passengers could have expected some humility.

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No. Despite earning over £300,000 a year following performance-related bonuses, the near-invisible Mr Goodwin is unable or unwilling – you decide – to meet the public to hear their views.

Freeserve founder Ajaz Ahmed's invtiation to meet TransPennine Express rail operator Leo Goodwin has been rebuffed.

People like Yorkshire entrepreneur Ajaz Ahmed, the founder of internet service provider Freeserve, who has to use Northern and TPE services because he suffers from epilepsy. The fear of a panic attack, while standing in a cramped carriage as cancelled trains exacerbate overcrowding on the Leeds to Manchester route, terrifies him.

He wrote a heartfelt piece in The Yorkshire Post on Thursday challenging Mr Goodwin to meet him on platform 16 at Leeds Station to experience and endure his journey home to Huddersfield. The public response was supportive. “Ajaz is always worth listening to,” posted one businessman who respects Mr Ahmed’s reputation when it comes to customer service.

Leo Goodwin, managing director of TransPennine Express, is refusing to meet passengers like Yorkshire businessman Ajaz Ahmed.

But TPE – owned by First Group – declined the invitation. “TPE and specifically our Regional Development Managers have had correspondence and meetings with Ajaz on a number of occasions, and so I’d invite him to get back in touch with any requests/questions as has happened in the past,” they said.

This was news to Mr Ahmed who says that his one previous attempt to meet a senior executive last year was rebuffed. The Huddersfield businessman, who travels frequently to Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, did not like his integrity being questioned.

Pressed for names, dates and clarity, TPE replied: “Ajaz has attended several conferences and, as I say, has had correspondence with one of our Regional Development Managers, who will now contact Ajaz again following this article.”

However Mr Ahmed, who condemned the TPE responses as “fake news”, is not giving up easily. Just as I’m still pressing for Dr Manfred Rudhart, chief executive of the Arriva Group which runs Northern, to justify a 18 per cent increase that has taken his pay package to £1.34m, and answer the questions that I posed in last week’s column, he wants Mr Goodwin to explain his “bad management”.

So, for the benefit of readers, here are the three questions that Mr Ahmed would have posed to Mr Goodwin at a time when less than 40 per cent of services between major towns and cities are on time.

1. Do you travel to work by train every day? What percentage of your staff travel by train every day?

2. Do you think “Thank you for travelling on TransPennine Express” is the right message to send out on electronic screens when passengers are standing or have had their train cancelled?

3. How do you think would Tesco run the trains differently?

I’ll keep you posted in the unlikely event of a reply. But I have a question of my own for Mr Goodwin – why are you so reluctant to meet passengers and why do you think you’re so self-important that you don’t feel the need to do so? And if he won’t answer, I’m now certain the Transport Secretary will have some follow-up questions of his own.

TALK about bad timing – just like its trains. Northern sent out a missive this week calling on the public to nominate community projects that the firm could support. “Even if the project or scheme doesn’t really fit in any of the suggested categories, but does benefit local people, it’s worth getting in touch,” said Carolyn Watson, who is Northern’s Community and Sustainability Director.

Leaving aside the nonsensical comments which only undermine such non-roles, how about more 
trains running on time? That would help local communities – and their sustainability – by reducing car-dependency.

ON the subject of the train operators, they really need to do raise their collective game when it comes to disabled passengers. Passing through Leeds Station on Monday, I came across a young man who was clearly disorientated. Explaining that he had a visual impairment, he was clearly grateful that someone had stopped to take the trouble to ask on his wellbeing – and guided him to the correct train.

He said that he hated travelling by train because the information screens are blurred, the Tannoy announcements unclear – and a free-for-all when there are last-minute platform changes. Now which MP is going to take up this issue?

THE irony was lost on a failed former Cabinet Minister when they told the House of Commons this week: “We will hear lots of nonsense from the Opposition Benches, but people should not pay the slightest attention to it.” Even on the backbenches, Chris Grayling remains as contemptuous as ever after years undermining the justice system and transport network.

ONE of the few public figures to rival Chris Grayling for arrogance is John Bercow. Now it emerges the former Speaker spent £1,003 hiring a taxi to travel from Westminster to Nottingham (and back) to deliver a speech and charging the bill to the taxpayer. I trust that the money will be recouped from the serialisation fees that Mr Bercow will receive next month for his memoirs which he must have been working on while still employed as Speaker.