A LEADING Yorkshire entrepreneur today challenges TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin to witness the chaos and confusion that passengers endure on a daily basis as a direct result of late-running trains.
The invitation from Internet service provider Freeserve’s founder and digital marketing guru Ajaz Ahmed comes after Mr Goodwin – and other rail executives – were ordered by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps order them to improve their performance immediately or face the consequences.
Also present at the so-called ‘no coffee’ meeting at the Department for Transport were representatives of Network Rail, as well as train manufacturers Hitachi Rail and CAF, after TPE blamed delays to infrastructure improvements – and the late delivery of new trains – for hold-ups which have caused significant reputational harm to the North because of the adverse publicity.
It comes less than a week after Mr Shapps signalled his intention to wind up the troubled Northern franchise run by German-owned Arriva – he will decide by the end of the month whether to award a new short-term deal or to effectively renationalise the service by putting the DfT in control.
The Cabinet minister also used an exclusive interview with The Yorkshire Post to put all train operators, including First Group who are responsible for TPE’s services between the North’s major cities and towns, that poor levels of punctuality and reliability will no longer he tolerated.
“I have told them they must get their act together since I won’t hesitate to escalate this further,” Mr Shapps tweeted after the talks over TransPennine Express services.
TPE has also blamed staff shortages for the cancellation of dozens of trains following the introduction of new timetables on December 15, and the industry-wide failure to learn sufficient lessons from the disruption endured by passengers after previous changes to schedules in the summer of 2018.
Last week, TPE announced enhanced compensation to cancel the 2.8 per cent fare increase that was imposed on long-suffering season ticket holders this month. When the scheme was launched, Mr Goodwin admitted that “our performance was not up to scratch at the end of last year and for this we really do apologise”.
He said: “We have experienced a number of issues following the introduction of our new trains, resulting in disruption to a number of our customers’ journeys with us.”
Industry figures show just 39 per cent of TPE trains arrived on time between December 8 and January 4 compared with a nationwide average of 62 per cent. The figure for Northern was 51.4 per cent – an improvement of nearly 10 percentage points compared to the preceding four-week cycle.
However Mr Ahmed – whose epilepsy condition means that he is dependent on public transport – blames bad management for many of the failings on the North’s rail network.
Writing in today’s newspaper, he explains how overcrowding risks his health before criticising the poor management of the rail network in this region.
Mr Ahmed says passengers have had enough of excuses and apologies. “I think it’s poorly run train companies, it’s as simple as that,” he concludes. And, in a direct message to Mr Goodwin, he adds: “Let me interview you on platform 16A, Leeds City Station, during the evening rush-hour and accompany me on my journey so you can endure it from the perspective of one of your passengers.”
UPDATE: This morning a TPE spokesman said: “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.”
But Mr Ahmed denied that he had had any such meetings or correspondence.