The meeting opened by noting the sad loss, early in June, of Chris Benson who had, until around four years ago, been Northern Station Manager in our area and a great friend of several volunteer railway groups, including Coastliners who had been represented at Chris's funeral at Malton.
John O'Grady (Client and Stakeholder Manager, Northern Rail , Tees, South & East Yorkshire) provided us with a Power Point presentation on Northern Rail's operations
The DfT have recently granted Northern a Direct Award, extending their franchise to 6th February 2016. However with less subsidy (£632m) than they requested it is a case of doing more with less. Under this new award Northern shoulder all the revenue risks. The original franchise had been let on a no growth, no capital investment basis, whereas Northern had seen a 47% growth to 93m journeys per year. However they had been able to lever in £130m from local funds to spend mainly on station improvements and train upgrades - upholstery, paintwork & toilets etc.
The new regime would see concentration on the Right Time Railway, taking into account punctuality at all station stops rather than just the terminal point as in the present PPM system. Under MD Alex Hynes, the company had been reorganised under three directors Customer Experience, Operations and Delivery. There was to be a six figure investment in new ticket machines and customer information systems at 100 more stations. There would be continuing support for Community Rail. At the insistence of DfT who wished to see more fares income, evening peak restrictions were to be introduced on some lines - in the North East just Newcastle to Hexham.
The period running up to the awarding of a new franchise in 2016 would see the first fruits of £1.5bn investments in infrastructure - notably electrification in the north west & new stations in Yorkshire. There were also proposals for stations at Peterlee & Gilsland.
Northern were also looking at electrification from Newcastle to MetroCentre for trains to Morpeth, but the view of the meeting was that Morpeth would be better served by extending Trans Pennine services.
We also discussed the DfT consultation on the Northern/Trans Pennine Express new franchises click here to view pdf
The meeting was addressed by two guest speakers from Northern Rail
Bob Warnes, Planning & Programme Director whose role was to develop the network with Network Rail and other stakeholders and to look after Northern's track access regimes.
Simon Cox, Service Development & Planning Manager. His role was the planning and diagramming of Northern's services including future developments.
There was to be a£2m investment in the North's railways including the North West electrification projects and 'Northern Hub' improvements. The latter included more services and shorter travel times for Yorkshire - Manchester inter-city journeys. Every £1 of subsidy spent on the North's railways was estimated to result in growth of £2 in the North's economy. Bob described how they collected together all ideas from stakeholders and tested them to see if they were both possible and affordable. In recent years major changes had been forced upon Northern's services due to
- Virgin's West Coast timetable in 2009
- East Coast (ECML) 'Eureka' changes in 2011
- Trans Pennine's(TPE) 5 trains per hour' timetable coming into force in May 2014
Of major concern to those present was the loss from the start of the summer timetable of reasonable connections from Durham Coast Line trains into TPE services at Thornaby. Simon said that they had tried numerous combinations, but, apart from the need to fit in with Grand Central, Nexus and freight services Coast Line services were also constrained, by Saltburn line services in the south which themselves were constrained by limited paths available at Darlington.
Tyne Valley services in the north. These were largely fixed by paths for Morpeth -Metrocentre trains on the East Coast main line and paths at Carlisle and even Glasgow for through trains to Scotland.
Even small changes were constrained by the short turn round times at Hexham (7 minutes) and with the new hourly timetable, 12 minutes at Nunthorpe. This latter would serve the new James Cook station which was expected to come into use in the summer. Network Rail planning rules also required drivers to be able to always see green signals if all trains run to time. Any changes which involved an extra unit were rejected as no extra trains were available. However our guests agreed to have another look at Sunday connections at Thornaby.
Currently detailed proposals for further TPE and ECML service changes in 2016 were awaited. It was hoped that these would provide opportunities to recast all these north-east interlocking services. In the meantime there were to be some infrastructure improvements to increase speed limits on the Durham coast and there was to be an ARUP study into the possible new Peterlee station. From May a late TPE train from Newcastle to York will make a stop at Chester-le-Street. This will release a Northern unit to run later down the coast on Saturdays to give departures from Newcastle at 2030 & 2130.
Some concerns were expressed about Rail North being only interested in services south and west of York. Nexus were now to lead a consortium of politicians and stakeholders in the north-east. It was felt essential that they come up with a rail strategy for the region.
Paul Robson - HBC Transport Consultant 2007-13 described Hartlepool's Integrated Transport Unit founded in 2008 and bringing together all aspects of passenger transport, highways & traffic, & management of the HBC transport fleet. They operated their own fleet of yellow school buses and encouraged commercial bus services, but with subsidies no longer available it was on a 'use it or lose it' basis. There was also a Travel Club facility - able to advise on the best option for specific transport needs.
He also described the work of the Association of Transport Coordinators. The government funding regime favours PTE's over smaller & shire authorities, it being very difficult for the latter to get funding for significant public transport schemes. Nexus were looking into a Quality Contract with commercial operators which would be similar to the London Passenger Transport Board, specifying routes and fares. This was being watched with interest. With operators not being very cooperative it was thus difficult to introduce real time bus stop information. Bob Whitehouse (Bishop Line Partnership) echoed how it was impossible to get bus/rail integration in the present climate. Bus operators were interested in circuitous bus routes between main destinations rather than feeding into faster rail services.
Some discussion ensued on the 'Rail North' strategy being lead by the Manchester & Yorkshire authorities. North East authorities were putting together a wish list for the next rail franchise, but government hadn't yet
indicated what money would be available. It was felt that with proposed McNulty cuts, the government was trying to get Local Authorities to give out the bad news.