Campaign group criticises Northern Rail for price hike and poor communication

Kate Anstee at Hebden Bridge station.
Kate Anstee at Hebden Bridge station.
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Northern Rail has hit back at criticism from the head of a campaign group who says the company is providing a poor service to commuters.

Kate Anstee, from Hebden Bridge, runs the Northern Resist Facebook group, which encourages passengers to share their experiences of using Northern Rail.

It has more than 2,000 members, and Kate says a recent poll of 300 of them found that two-thirds felt their experience of using Northern Rail had got worse since the group was set-up six months ago.

Kate said: “We had a meeting arranged with a director from Northern and Craig Whittaker, but that’s had to be rescheduled for next month.

“But I don’t really feel that’s good enough. I’ve asked for a meeting with their managing director but had no response.

“We’ve had around 150 Northern staff join our group, and they contact us privately with examples of the way they’re treated.

“We’ve heard that staff are being disciplined for things they have written on social media, and that managers have set-up profiles so they can track their staff.

“Communication is a massive issue, whether it’s not giving any reason for cancellations or delays, or just refusing to communicate with passengers.

Their Twitter team block people for making valid complaints, so there’s no accountability.

“Another massive issue is the fare increase at the start of the year of 3.5 per cent. What is the justification for that? Where will that money go? Will it be invested back into the service?

“I’m sure we’ll hear the same old spiel about new trains but that doesn’t help overcrowding or poor levels of service now.

“I genuinely think they don’t care. They will argue they inherited a poor franchise but it’s got worse since then.

“I want them to acknowledge the significant problems with communication, be it on social media or displays in the stations updating people.

“We will give them the benefit of the doubt that the planned improvements will alleviate the cancellations but we need updating about those things, we need to be able to plan our day as commuters and know what is going on.

“I don’t think that’s too much to ask given we are paying for that service.

“Every person that has been blocked should get an explanation and be unblocked.

“There are also going to be timetable changes in May across the board, but people are still really unclear about them.

“This will reduce the number of trains on some routes from two an hour to one an hour, but they don’t want to communicate on that because there will be uproar.”

A spokesman for Northern said: “We are absolutely committed to communicating in an open and transparent way with our customers and our staff.

“Social media is a key method of such communication. We have more than 93,000 followers and deal with up to 1,500 incoming messages every day from customers, staff and those interested in the running of the railway.

“We welcome all opinions on our social media channels and actively encourage constructive criticism, both internally and externally, as this helps us to identify ongoing problems and look to develop solutions to those problems.

“We do, however, draw the line at abusive comments or posts which are designed to purposefully spam the Northern feeds. In these circumstances we may seek to block users.

“Our proposed timetable for May 18 was dependent on the successful delivery by Network Rail of the Manchester to Preston electrification project, which has been significantly delayed. This meant our planning process was also delayed and that some of the extra services we had originally planned for May will now be arriving later than we had hoped.

“The delay to some of our service improvements will not, however, delay our overall modernisation plans. By 2020 we will provide 2,000 extra services each week across the Northern network, will have introduced 98 brand new trains, have refurbished the rest of the fleet and removed all Pacers from the network. We are absolutely committed to transforming the journey experience for our customers and are investing hundreds of millions of pounds to ensure that happens.”