To consider a business update from representative of Northern Rail (verbal presentation).
The Chairman welcomed Chris Jackson, Craig Harrop and Martin Keating, representatives of Northern Rail.
Chris Jackson, the new Regional Director, introduced himself to the Committee. He looked after the west region, was a local, and was aware of the importance of the successful running of the railway for the local economy.
Craig Harrop, Stakeholder Manager, who had last spoken to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in August 2018, then addressed Members.
He explained that the Office of Rail and Road Glaister Report had found that all rail industry partners had made mistakes causing the collapse of the May 2018 timetable, worsened by Network Rail wrongly believing that it could make up the time. The industry had not focussed on its passengers, but on planning and engineering concerns. In addition, the System Operator, who had been in the best position to understand and manage the risks, had not taken sufficient action. Neither Govia Thameslink Railway nor Northern Rail had been properly aware or prepared for the problems in delivering the new timetable and had not done enough to provide information to passengers when disruption occurred.
Mr Harrop next explained the changes to timetable and operations which had occurred since August 2018.
The Lakes Line had been withdrawn and reintroduced in July 2018. An interim timetable had been introduced to reduce last minute cancellations, to provide stability and to allow for outstanding driver training. Train service delivery had now stabilised and was more resilient on both the Lakes and Furness Lines. The majority of services had been re-introduced in September 2018 with little or no adverse impact and, since December 2018, all Northern services had been reintroduced and were being delivered robustly.
Performance on local routes has continued to improve since the Committee’s meeting in August, with the Lakes Line PPM (public performance measure) tracking at 90% consistently - the previous day’s performance on the route had been 100%. The Furness Line PPM had also seen a steady improvement, with significant incidents and cancellations that had been averaging around 70-80, falling to around 20 in each four week period. PPM has seen a 20% improvement and was now averaging 80%. This route interworked with other routes into Manchester which had imported more delay over autumn. Autumn weather and adhesion, i.e. fallen leaves on tracks, had also impacted on all routes during November, but had since recovered.
Current performance focus included greater resilience, working closely with Network Rail on infrastructure issues and full winter preparedness through point heaters and unit availability. Proposed changes to service recovery on the Lakes Line would mean services continuing along the line to terminate at Kendal rather than Oxenholme when there was significant late running as a result of operational issues.
Mr Jackson provided the Committee with an overview of the RMT (Rail, Maritime and Transport Union) Strike Action which would see its 43rd action on the following day. The latest development was that Transport for the North and the Department of Transport had guaranteed a second person on trains and hoped to engage the RMT in talks. It was felt that this should satisfy issues around revenue collection, accessibility and security. Northern Rail had made a request for ACAS to establish an independent inquiry (214) to unlock progress in resolving the RMT dispute. Following the call for an inquiry, Northern had received support from business leaders, passenger groups and key stakeholders across the North, who all wanted the damaging dispute to end. The ACAS 214 inquiry would appoint an independent chairperson and would look at the future role of the second person on the train across the Northern network and then explore the feasibility of Driver Controlled Only, where the driver had full operational control of the train, including the train doors. At the end of the inquiry, ACAS would publish a report with their conclusions for Northern and RMT to consider. The RMT had been invited to join but there had been no response from the Union at this time.
Mr Jackson drew attention to the fact that managers were working six days a week in order to fulfil the timetable and that he had made a personal commitment to work as an emergency conductor during the strike.
Mr Harrop provided details with regard to timetable improvements and new trains.
Timetable improvements were to be delivered in May 2019, better connecting the region to Manchester Airport, with 11 direct services per day (seven from Barrow and four from Windermere). Oxenholme connections would be maintained and the frequency of stops at Burneside and Staveley increased.
Class 195 DMUs (diesel multiple units) were to be provided on both the Lakes and Furness Lines. These were currently being tested and appropriate training had commenced.
Mr Harrop informed the Committee that, over the next six months, Northern Rail would fully evaluate the impact of the new timetable across the entire region, with Network Rail being challenged on their possession planning and infrastructure work - engineering work was currently carried out within holiday periods but this did not make sense in a tourist destination.
Questions were raised as to how Northern Rail planned to re-convince people to rely on trains again and to renew their confidence in the company, as well as to bring people back to South Lakeland by train through appropriate marketing. In response, Mr Jackson reiterated the fact that new trains were to be provided which people needed to be able to experience, and he extended an invitation to Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to see them. The trains were fully accessible and had a large amount of luggage space. In addition, details on improved performance would be published. Mr Harrop provided an update on the upcoming marketing campaign for both the leisure and commuter markets. The plan would be shared in due course, following its finalisation with both Cumbria County Council, Cumbria Tourism and the Community Rail Partnership, and was expected to launch in February. Mr Harrop was asked to provide details to the Committee once available. A suggestion was raised for the inclusion of marketing details within South Lakes News.
Mr Jackson and Mr Harrop responded to a number of other queries. They provided details in relation to the luggage space within the Class 195 DMU trains. The overhead luggage space was low enough to fit airline size wheeled cases and all seats were cantilevered, so allowing a full size piece of luggage to fit between chairs. Class 769/Bi Mode trains would not be introduced on the Lakes Line. With regard to the possibility of a branch passing point on the Lakes Line, Members were advised that Northern Rail had funded a £25,000 feasibility study with a view to ultimately delivering 30 minute frequency services. Proposals for the electrification of the line had been withdrawn by the Secretary of State for Transport. The route did need better access and capacity, and Northern Rail was working with Cumbria County Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership in reviewing options for the route and infrastructure. Strong concern was expressed with regard to the need for passengers to be able to book and bring bicycles on trains, and it was explained that the new trains had an electronic reservation system, with a minimum two bicycles per train being guaranteed, free of charge. It was hoped that improvements could be made with regard to this issue and Mr Harrop undertook to investigate further, although drawing attention to the need to strike a balance with luggage requirements, wheelchairs, prams, etc.
Mr Jackson informed Members about compensation and station improvements.
Delay Repay 15, a new compensation to rebuild confidence and trust, had been launched at end of December 2018. In excess of seven figures had been paid out in compensation and the company was authentic in its commitment to the system.
The company had also committed to invest a significant amount of money to improve station environment through, for example, new shelters; LED lighting; ticket vending machines (TVMs); CCTV; and customer information screens. A TVM was due to be installed at Staveley by the end of January.
Martin Keating, Community and Sustainablity Manager, provided an update on community rail in Cumbria. He reported that Northern Rail was working with diverse groups in promoting community rail, including schools and charities such as The Well in Barrow. Northern Rail held regular liaison meetings and workshops with Cumbrian Rail User groups including the Lakes Line Rail User Group.
Mr Jackson summarised, stressing that improvements were being made and acknowledging the need to rebuild the confidence of rail users in South Lakeland. The company looked forward to working with the Council on the marketing campaign. This was an exciting time with the introduction of the new trains in Cumbria. Mr Jackson urged Members to take up the opportunity to engage with and inform the ACAS 214 inquiry (section 214 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 20092, which would be the way forward in trying to reach a breakthrough and stop the damaging RMT strike action.
A number of further queries were raised. It had been noted that Northern Rail had been advised that guards could be kept on board trains and it was questioned what the ACAS talks hoped to achieve. Mr Jackson explained, however, that the guarantee had been for a second person on board for security and customer services purposes, but that the discussions would include what the detailed role of that person was. In response to concerns about the lack of disabled access to Staveley station, Mr Jackson informed Members that this issue was being examined with Cumbria County Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership as part of the overall route strategy. Evaluation work had first to be carried out but it was hoped that this could be resolved in the near future. Mr Harrop advised that the possibility of moving the station was being looked at, amongst other options, and that Northern Rail would welcome any means of improving this station. Mr Harrop also clarified that the figure of 11 direct services per day starting in May from Barrow and Windermere were for return trips, i.e. four return trips from Windermere and seven from Barrow.
RESOLVED – That the verbal business update from representatives of Northern Rail be noted.
Note – The Committee adjourned for a beak at 2.00 p.m. and reconvened at 2.15 p.m.