The North’s rail infrastructure suffers from “overcrowding, short formed trains, reliability issues and bottlenecks” according to a damning report released today.
The Blake Jones Review, which was set up in the aftermath of the May 2018 rail timetable chaos, has made nine recommendations to improve services, which include more local decision-making and more effective communication between rail operators and passengers.
It adds that, although improvements have been made to services in recent months, the lack of decent services through the latter half of 2018 meant “significant reform” was needed for the industry.
Leeds City Council leader Coun Judith Blake, who co-authored the review, claimed the recommendations will “strengthen the voice of passengers and local accountability.
The review, also co-authored by rail minister Andrew Jones MP, claimed there were still major problems with overcrowding, short formed trains, reliability and bottlenecks on the network.
It added: “This review recognises that more work is needed to address these basic passenger expectations. The failure of the rail industry to deliver a satisfactory service for passengers through the latter part of 2018 signalled the need for significant reforms, and this was one of three reviews that were commissioned to look at the problems and what could be done about them.”
May 2018’s rail timetable changes, which saw hundreds of commuter services delayed or cancelled across the North of England. The review called those timetables “quite simply inoperable”, and that emergency measures had to be introduced to restore “some semblance of a rail service”.
Recommendations included a new “Passenger Promise” – a document which would set out the standards passengers can expect from rail operators, as well as seeking commitments to improving accountability behind the scenes, making it clearer who is responsible for key decisions.
It concluded: “Our sincere hope is that this review will help inform those responsible for future decision making be equipped as needed to take the decisions required to reform the rail sector with the prime focus throughout being on the needs of passengers.
“The recommendations of this report, together with the industry changes already implemented, should provide the foundation for the introduction of further enhancements for passengers in the coming months – including the provision of new trains, better facilities and smarter more responsive information systems.”
Speaking following the report’s publication, Coun Blake said: “While some stability has been restored since May 2018, rail passengers in the North continue to experience punctuality and reliability below acceptable levels. The rail industry lost sight of the need to put the interests of passengers first and our recommendations will significantly strengthen the voice of passengers and local accountability in the way rail services in the North operate.
“I hope proposals from the forthcoming Williams Review will address some of the broader issues raised by last year’s disruption including the need to greater integrate track and train and to deepen devolution arrangements over rail services to the North.”
Rail Minister, Andrew Jones, said: “Working closely with Transport for the North, our absolute priority is to deliver reliable services. This review sets out how we can work to ensure passengers get the journeys they expect, and restore trust in our railway.
“We continue to see performance improving, significant investment delivering new and refurbished trains across the north, and industry expert Richard George is continuing to drive forward a recovery plan to deliver better journeys.”
A spokesperson for Northern, the region’s biggest rail operator, said: “We acknowledge the publishing of the report and, along with our industry partners, will take time to assess the findings and recommendations. We agree the North deserves the best possible rail service and are working hard to improve the performance and reliability for customers.
“The unacceptable disruption following the May 2018 timetable change was caused by delays in infrastructure projects outside of our control. We have apologised to our customers for the pain this caused. We have delivered two successful timetable changes since then, introducing many more new services.
“The north is beginning to benefit from the half a billion pound investment in new trains. The first nine have been carrying customers since start of July with a further ninety-two to be introduced between now and early 2020.”
A spokesperson for TransPennine Express, another major operator in the North, said: “We’re pleased that the review has now been published, and we will respond in full in due course. Following the introduction of the December 2018 timetable we have seen a significant improvement in our train performance, and we continue to work with our partners across the industry to increase our reliability and provide the service that the North deserves.”
Barry White, Chief Executive of Transport for the North, said: “It’s absolutely right that both Judith Blake and Andrew Jones MP put the needs of the North’s passengers absolutely front and centre of their Review. They’re the ones who bore the brunt of last year’s chaos, which impacted on both lives and livelihoods.
“We worked hard to bring the North’s leaders together in the wake of timetable change, striving to give them greater visibility of industry decisions and greater opportunity to have a say on performance and services. There’s been real progress on that front, but there is still far to go.
“Both the Blake Jones Review and upcoming Williams Review will be pivotal in achieving a ‘re-set’ of our railways, with the opportunity for more devolution to the North’s decision-makers.”