To receive a verbal update from a representative of Northern Rail.
Chris Jackson, Regional Director from Northern Rail attended the meeting and provided Members with an update on various topics including; the impact of the pandemic, ticket machines and the wider industry picture with a focus on Cumbria.
He began by informing Members that the pandemic and ‘pingdemic’ had a huge impact on colleagues, particularly conductors which resulted in pre-planned cancellations and a reduced timetable from early August to early September.
He noted that service use was at around 60% of pre-covid levels, with a lot of empty seats still to be filled. He highlighted to Members that work was being done to stimulate demand through things like flash sales of £1 tickets and millions being invested into stations and cleaning.
With regard to ticket machines, he referenced a previous cyber-attack which resulted in the ticket machines being offline for a long period of time. He informed Members that no details were compromised and that ticket efficiency was back up to around 99%.
In terms of the wider industry, Mr Jackson told Members that work was being done to look at the timetabling issues that occurred in May 2018 to see what went wrong and what could be done better in future. He noted that they were currently awaiting a final decision in September and hoped to implement the recommendations in December, following which he would be happy to return and update Members once again. He then highlighted the underreported issue of unwanted sexual behaviour and informed Members that Northern Rail were currently running a national campaign to raise awareness of the issue and re-inforce a zero-tolerance stance towards this behaviour.
He noted that the Rail Industry Recovery Group had created an enabling framework agreement which set out the challenges for industry and how to go about tackling them. He added that the agreement was available online for anyone to look at.
Touching on Cumbria specific news, he informed the Committee that duo tickets had been launched in certain areas within Cumbria, an event plan had been prepared in anticipation of the Cartmel Races, and that accessibility fund monies had been spent on various scheme such as Mindful Days Out in Cumbria and dropped curbs in Silverdale, Cark and Ulverston. He noted that some money was available via Ulverston Access for All, and expressed an interest in meeting with any Members who would like to put forward ideas to make use of the funds.
He finished by noting that discussion had kicked off with Stagecoach regarding joint bus rail integration, which had resulted in a suite of ideas to be submitted as part of the Government’s Bus Service Improvement Plan. He also noted that physical timetable booklets had been re-introduced, were well received, and that Stagecoach was considering something similar for bus routes.
Mr Jackson then welcomed comments from the Committee.
Members thanked Mr Jackson for his verbal update and were pleased to hear about the stimulation of demand, as well as the re-introduction and popularity of the physical timetable booklets.
In responding to a question on rail fares and split-ticketing, Mr Jackson responded noting that the rail industry was due a reform when it came to fares. He hoped that there would be a drive towards split-ticketing and more simple fares in the future, finally noting that this would fall under the umbrella of the Great British Railways body which was currently being formed.
Members asked various questions regarding the accessibility of different stations, Mr Jackson responded saying that accessibility was constantly being looked at, but each station would differ in priority. He informed Members that the average costs for station works could range between £2-5 million and that improvement works were often skewed towards areas where match funding could be secured and areas with high footfall. He appreciated that Members wanted to see the improvements for their communities, but concluded by informing the Committee that ultimately expectations would need to be managed and that works would be carried out on a priority basis.
In responding to questions on the amount of Government funding received and cleaning procedures Mr Jackson informed the Committee that around £800 million had been provided by the Government via the Department of Transport, and that this money had been invested into COVID protection measures, cleaning testing and training for staff. He noted that the standard for cleaning had been re-benchmarked, and that additional resources had been brought in to achieve that standard with the resources here to stay for the future. He concluded by stating that the press had a hand in delaying people returning to travel by creating fear around safety, however he noted that the current message was that if people wanted to travel, they could do so safely with Northern Rail.
Members raised questions regarding unwanted sexual behaviour whilst travelling and the treatment of non-fare payers. Mr Jackson responded by reassuring the Committee that currently unwanted sexual behaviour was not a major problem on the train lines, however the campaign was being run to ensure that everyone feels safe to travel. He then went on to note that a consistent approach was being taken to come down on those that don’t pay the fares, but again reassured the Committee that staff were trained to use discretion when dealing with more vulnerable individuals.
Members highlighted the cyber-attack mentioned in Mr Jackson’s update and queried whether plan were in place to ensure it could not happen again and what lessons were learned. Mr Jackson responded by firstly noting that he wasn’t an expert on the technology, however there was a big team working in the background looking at the cyber-attack with their supplier to analyse what went wrong. He concluded by noting that they were in regular dialogue with the supplier and that threat monitoring was a business priority.
In responding to a question on whether Northern Rail worked with large employers in the area, Mr Jackson responded that the North West Business Leadership Team was in regular dialogue with BAE systems, with a dedicated team looking at ticketing and other services for big businesses. He also informed the Committee that they were working closely with Sellafield Power Station who were looking to go car free.
Members also raised questions regarding climate change, and highlighted the major positive impact that rail travel could have. Mr Jackson responded by signposting the Committee to the Williams-Shapps report on the future for rail travel, which was available online. He informed Members that there was also a proposal from the Department of Transport for battery powered trains and that this could be suitable for the Windermere branches, but an outcome was still awaited. He also noted that hydrogen power was a future option, but not currently in discussion for Cumbria. Finally, he concluded by informing the Committee that the Lakes Loop was still at a strategic outline business case stage and the costs to implement were still being explored.
RESOLVED – That the verbal update be noted.