North East Coastliners

"A Voice for Durham Coast Rail Users"

The latest from Stakeholder Manager Pete Myers

Although it doesn’t feel like it those lazy days of summer may be just around the corner, and with that the demand for more leisure travel. Since my last update we have introduced the summer timetable, which is of course specifically designed to meet this demand. Coupled with that nationally we have taken a further step along the road to COVID-19 recovery, which can certainly be seen on our trains. It is also of course an exciting time with the Williams – Shapps Review now firmly in the public domain:

  • May Timetables: The May timetable was introduced, and it must be said introduced well, with very little media coverage. With these things (especially since the infamous May 2018) no news is good news; but believe me this hides a great deal of time and effort put in by many people right across the industry. I have spoken here before about the ‘station workings’, which are mini timetables for the major stations. These are put together by Network Rail, but operated by us, and therefore the week before the timetable’s introduction sees a lot of frenetic work (they only arrive that week), as we ensure that they really work. Coupled to that each timetable change means the plans for our depots need to be totally rewritten, and this will have happened at Heaton, Neville Hill and Holbeck. In the past I have seen our people sat with the track layout and pieces of Lego to ensure that everything fits. A task made a tad more difficult this time as some depots are slightly ‘fuller’ than normal due to much of the Azuma fleet being inspected. For all of this the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, and as our performance indicates, so far so good. A timetable for all its efficiency is no good if it doesn’t take people where they want to go and we have had to focus much of the available resources on the potential leisure market, therefore there are services that see fewer trains than provided in December. We will continue to monitor customer feedback and where possible make interventions, but resources are limited, so therefore is our room to manoeuvre.
  • Future Timetables: Work continues with December, much of what we will be in a position to deliver will be governed by the available resources, but we remain confident for increased delivery. Especially considering the marketplace will have changed by then. Coupled to this is the East Coast Mainline (ECML) rewrite which is due to commence in May 2022. As an industry we will be coming out to consult on this during June. Its impact on Northern will always be tangential, but nonetheless there will be an impact, and as always, the devil is likely to be in the detail.
  • COVID 19: Our message remains: “Travel with confidence” and “travel safe”. The advice is still not to make unnecessary journeys, but clearly, we are free to travel, and this can be seen in the customer numbers below.  Training of traincrew (particularly drivers) continues well, with the famous new trains training now very much behind us. There is still lots to do however, and this will become more difficult as the new timetable is far more ‘resource hungry’ than that it replaced. Now that COVID-19 absence from work is so much reduced, training is half of the resource issues that confront us currently. The other half is the COVID-19 allowances in all of the rosters. These (along with much overspill accommodation) allows our people to book on and off safely by maintaining adequate social distancing. These allowances add time and therefore remove flexibility. They are part of a national programme and the removal of them will be dependent on the national COVID-19 picture.

The following is an extract from the latest update from Northern Stakeholder Manager Pete Myers

  • May Timetables: We are ready to go with our May timetable this weekend. A great deal of time and effort has been expended to ensure that our readiness is as good as it can be. Very important are the ‘station workings’, which are little very detailed timetables for the main rail centres, such as Newcastle, York, Leeds and Sheffield (although there are more of them). These are put together by our friends from Network Rail and back in May 2018, it was this that caused a great deal of the disruption in that timetable, especially in Leeds. Since then, we have worked up a number of processes that ensure these are as good as they can be, but it is difficult because without working them we can’t really know where the wrinkles are. Nonetheless much time has been expended on them over the last two weeks, and my performance colleagues all seem confident. We will be out and about right across both regions to ensure it embeds as it should, and people get to where they need to go.
  • Future Timetables: December is gradually firming up as we do our level best to estimate what resources will be available to us by then. Again this is tricky because there are so many unknowns, but given a fair wind and the absence of bad news re the pandemic, we should be in a good place by then to match demand more fully.
  • COVID 19: Our message remains: “Travel with confidence” and “travel safe”. This seems to be working and generally people are avoiding traveling needlessly. Sadly, we still can’t overtly promote rail travel, as a railway person this seems odd to me and we are all keen to shout it from the rooftops, but clearly this would be wrong, and we must manage demand carefully as we move further down the COVID-19 roadmap. In this we will continue to work as an industry and follow the lead of the Rail Delivery Group (RDG). COVID-19 absences remain low, which is really good news. Training continues unabated with our new trains training pretty much complete. As said before this is a credit to many hard-working individuals and has represented a great deal of planning and effort over the last six months. There is another advantage of this however, that is it will release those vehicles earmarked for training into the fleet and so ease some of the vehicle shortage issues. Road learning and legacy training continues, again a great deal of work is involved, it has been so important to maximise this during the emergency timetable, because as from next Monday we will have less flexibility to train.