Anthony Smith: Rail passengers share woes and demand answers

THE current timetable chaos is deeply frustrating for passengers in the North. They need a train service they can rely on to get them to work, exams, shops and airports.

Passengers have faced weeks of disruption on the region's rail services.
Passengers have faced weeks of disruption on the region's rail services.

Adding to the frustration is that this should have been a good news story. Network Rail’s work to electrify lines between Preston and Manchester was supposed to be finished last year. It still isn’t, meaning much-needed diesel trains haven’t been released to tackle overcrowding across the North.

TransPennine Express has started running more services across the Pennines, but passengers want reliable services and there have been too many delays and cancellations.

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Meanwhile Northern has introduced a temporary timetable that sees 165 services fully removed from schedules.

This has brought some much-needed stability, but it has come at a heavy price with passengers on some lines forced to travel by rail replacement bus.

We’ve been warning since November about problems in getting accurate timetables finalised. We were told that, bar some initial teething problems, it would be okay. How wrong the industry turned out to be.

Here are some passengers’ stories:

A South Yorkshire passenger with mobility problems told us they had been putting off a visit to their elderly father in West Cumbria. It can be a three-train trip and they explained: “It’s been a while since I was last up there and I’m supposed to be going to see him shortly. However…each time I look at the live times on Northern’s mobile app I see lots of trains either cancelled, partially cancelled or delayed…I’m not willing to take the risk of getting stranded miles from where I need to be.”

“I’m becoming resigned to a sub-standard service. The 08.05 train had two carriages and it was standing room only from Keighley.” (Keighley to Shipley passenger).

“Change to train times but no information available at stations.” (Bentley to Doncaster).

“Same old... change of timetable now makes me later for work which means I have to stay later.” (Cottingham to Hull).

“Before the timetable changes there was a direct train from Stockport to Kirkby. Following the timetable changes this train was removed. I now have to go Stockport to Salford Crescent then from there to Kirkby. The first day of the new timetable the journey took 4.25 hours
due to cancellations. The second day took hours hours or so. By the third day I gave up and borrowed my son’s car which I have done every day since. 
These changes, together with Liverpool Lime Street closing means there is no longer any certainty I can get to work and back in a reasonable manner.”

We gathered these comments and stories through our work with passengers on the ground, our online Transport User 
Panel, and our Twitter feed 
(@transportfocus).

They demonstrate the real human side of the performance figures, and have been used by the Department for Transport and Transport for the North. We also use them to challenge the rail operators to act faster – and improve their communications.

The whole rail industry needs to pull together to help passengers through this crisis.

We welcome the move to 
lift ticket restrictions following our calls, helping passengers whichever train company 
they use.

Passengers are also still waiting to see how they will be compensated for the impact 
this is having on their lives.

We want:

Passengers to be able to claim after 15 minutes delay rather than 30, as is the case on Thameslink services;

Compensation for poor service, measured against the original timetable promised, not the slimmed-down one now on offer;

A lump-sum payable to season ticket holders to reflect the hardship experienced;

Recognition of the impact on regular travellers who do not buy season tickets – for instance part-time workers or regular leisure/business passengers. This could take the form of a number of 
free journeys;

Rail operators to promote the compensation offer and make it as easy as possible to claim. Meanwhile we urge all passengers to claim what they can now and send a strong message to operators that this level of service is unacceptable.

Today, we will question the industry at a public meeting in Manchester. We will quiz bosses of Northern and TransPennine Express, and a Network Rail director, on the recent poor performance and plans for compensation. We want to properly understand why the introduction of the new timetable has gone so badly wrong, what is being done to put it right and the steps needed to prevent this happening again.

The Yorkshire Post’s readers can submit their own questions directly – tweet @transportfocus and use #timetablecrisis.

Anthony Smith is the chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus.