The Railway 24/7: New series to document TransPennine Express’ nightmare winter

A new documentary will reveal what was going behind the scenes at TransPennine Express as Yorkshire rail passengers faced chaos last winter. Chris Burn reports.

Even by the standards of Yorkshire’s notoriously-unreliable rail services, last winter was something of a nadir. Timetable changes introduced by TransPennine Express in the middle of December were later dubbed a “reckless shambles”, with the company’s managing director Leo Goodwin leaving his post three months later.

Fewer than 40 per cent of scheduled station stops were made within one minute of the timetable between December 8 and January 4 by TPE, compared with the average across Britain of 62 per cent.

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When Mr Goodwin left in March, the Department of Transport described the company’s recent performance as “completely unacceptable” and saying it understood “how deeply frustrating this is for passengers”.

(left to right) Steve Montgomery Managing Director of First Rail and Leo Goodwin Managing Director of TransPennine Express, attend a Transport for the North board meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds on January 8. Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Presumably this is not how TPE anticipated things would turn out when they agreed to participate in a behind-the-scenes documentary that is beginning on Channel 5 tomorrow night.

The Railway 24/7 follows staff across its Northern network over six episodes over the course of what proved to be a dramatic few months for the company in late 2019 and early 2020.

Many of its services run through Yorkshire, with key routes including Scarborough to Liverpool, Hull to Manchester Piccadilly and Sheffield to Manchester Airport.

The first episode begins in early December where staff in Leeds and Manchester are facing furious commuters fed up with delayed and cancelled services and major overcrowding on the trains that do turn up.

Rail Passengers face delays at Leeds Railway Station after lighting caused problems on some of the lines in July 2018. Picture by Simon Hulme

It also shows how a derailment outside Manchester caused an immediate logjam of passengers, with a team of TPE workers trying to jack up the 230-tonne train and clear it from the tracks before the evening rush hour.

The first episode also follows bosses at HQ deciding to bring in a new timetable which was to scrap hundreds of services in order to allow drivers and conductors to be training on a fleet of new state-of-the-art trains the company had invested £500m in.

Liz Collins, interim Managing Director at TransPennine Express, says the show is an “open and honest insight” but will also give people a better understanding of the staff who care deeply about their jobs.

“We wanted to show customers and regular commuters the inner workings behind our operation and so gave the cameras an access all areas pass to film each and every aspect of our business and the wonderful people we have working for us,” she says.

“We’re excited to be making our TV debut this Wednesday, we know the documentary will show some high moments, such as accepting Nova, our new fleet of trains, and some challenging moments such as storms, fare-dodgers and trespassers.

“We are looking forward to sharing these moments with viewers and giving an open and honest insight into TransPennine Express.”

One of the workers who has participated in the show is conductor Nikki May, seen in one clip attempting to cheer up customers travelling from Scarborough with light-hearted announcements such as describing the train’s destination of Liverpool as “the spiritual home of the shellsuit”.

She says in the show: “I love this job, I travel all over the country. They pay me to talk. What you give out you get back.

“It is quite an achievement getting people to where they want to be.

“We do it in the end, but not in the timeframe sometimes that people want.”

The first episode of The Railway 24/7, made by Blast! Films, will be aired on Wednesday, June 10, at 9pm on Channel 5, with each subsequent episode shown every Wednesday at the same time.

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