Agenda item

Northern Rail

Presentation about Northern Rail


Further to Minute No. 7(7) of the meeting of the RMBC Transport Liaison group held on 24th September, 2014, Members welcomed Mr. John O’Grady (Client and Stakeholder Manager of Northern Rail) who gave a presentation about the Northern Rail railway franchise.


The presentation highlighted the following salient matters:-


: the Northern Rail company is ten years old;


: Northern Rail operates rail services in the North of England by means of a 10 years’ franchise awarded by the Department for Transport (the current franchise expires in February 2016); previously, there had been a direct award to Northern Rail of an extension of an additional two years to the original franchise period;


: Northern Rail is the largest provider of passenger rail services in England (93 million passengers per year, with the pattern of travel being mainly short commuter journeys);  train service performance is at 96% reliability;


: the franchise arrangement from Department for Transport does not allow rail companies to make capital investment for growth of their business, although some investment is permitted, often using funding provided by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs);


: the bidding process for the new franchise, beyond February 2016, will begin soon, although there may ultimately be some alterations to that process, depending upon the outcome of the General Election in May 2015;


: Northern Rail operates 450 railway stations throughout the North of England and, currently, there is a process of installing the new Customer Information Screens at the vast majority of stations;


: the company is placing much more emphasis upon customer service and, earlier in 2014, appointed its first Director of Customer Services;


: the company has embraced modern methods of ticket sales : increased use of Internet sales; the expensive installation of ticket vending machines at railway stations (a vending machine will be installed at the Rotherham Central station in February 2016);


: the offer of reduced fares for off-peak travel is not universally popular; however, the Department for Transport had insisted upon their availability as part of the conditions of the railway franchise;


: Northern Rail actively co-operates with community rail partnerships (eg: the ‘Friends of Penistone Line’);


: all assets on the railway lines are owned by and are the responsibility of Network Rail (not by the Northern Rail company);


: revenue protection is important to the Company; previously, it was estimated that some 10% of passengers would attempt to travel and avoid paying for a ticket; however, Northern Rail had engaged a sub-contractor to resolve this issue and a more recent estimate is that only some 5.3% of passengers manage to avoid paying the fares for travelling;


: sustainability – Northern Rail has environment-friendly policies (eg: use of recycled water for washing trains and carriages; installation of LED lighting at railway stations);


: Northern Rail provides enhanced train services for specific events (eg: for journeys to the Christmas Market at Lincoln and for spectators watching the Tour de France bicycle race in Yorkshire in July 2014);


: the professionalism of the service is being improved; eg: staff training and improved focus on customer requirements; improved communications with passengers; conductors enabled to speed up the ticket checking process by the use of smartphones;


: nationally, surveys of rail passengers take place each year in the Spring and Autumn; however, the sample group of 1,200 passengers is considered to be too small; therefore, Northern Rail undertakes its own customer satisfaction surveys, involving 5,000 passengers every quarter;  feedback usually refers to the punctuality of trains and passenger experiences of services and waiting times within railway stations;


: passenger satisfaction levels have risen markedly during the past 18 months;


: Northern Rail will make increasing use of social media for communications with the travelling public;  much negative feedback from passengers will be quickly published on social media, for example, whenever a train is delayed or cancelled;


: Northern Rail works with the various Passenger Transport Executives in the region to plan the delivery of priorities for the travelling public (eg: improvements to the whole railway station environment);


: important issues in the next six months are : increasing the availability of electrified trains (and some diesel vehicles); responding to the outcome of the recent survey of passengers.


The questions from Members and the subsequent discussion included the following issues:-


- passengers prefer to purchase tickets either via the Internet, or at ticket offices at railway stations; a significant amount of money is still collected from passengers who pay the conductor on the train; this latter proportion of passengers is reducing, although locally in South Yorkshire, paying fares on the train is still a very popular method amongst rail passengers;


- there is a capacity problem on some trains and often there are more passengers than seats on trains (eg: the East Coast mainline); the manufacture of diesel trains no longer occurs in the United Kingdom, nor in many parts of Europe; the Government does not allow any significant investment in services;  it is unfortunate that passengers often have to stand when travelling on trains;  the railway industry views the HS2 high speed rail project as a necessity;


: some manufacture of trains happens in County Durham (eg: Hitachi Rail Europe);


: the imminent electrification of the railway lines between Liverpool and Manchester (and the use of electrified trains there) will enable better quality, but not new diesel vehicles to be transferred for use elsewhere in the North of England;


: it is the intention that the aged and shoddy-in-appearance Pacer trains should eventually be removed and replaced with new and/or newer vehicles;


: Northern Rail is a joint venture between the Serco Group plc, the international services company and Abellio, a subsidiary of NS Dutch Railways;


: although the subsidy which Northern Rail receives from central Government is one of the largest in England, in turn, Northern Rail transports the largest number of passengers;


: concerns were expressed about passenger safety on trains and at railway stations; the Government may specify, as part of the new franchise, that there are ‘driver-only’ trains; rail franchise companies ought to ensure that there are sufficient staff on railways, available to assist passengers at all hours;


: reference was made to the specific and personal assistance provided for visually impaired people who travel by train; it was imperative that such persons should register with the Company in order to benefit from this specific assistance;


: any restriction of the increase in fares would be the product of a decision by central Government;


: it is anticipated that the proposed expansion and improvement of the railway network, during the next decade, will be matched by increases in the number of people travelling by train;


: the integration of rail and bus services is a desirable objective, for the wider benefit of the travelling public; however, the commercial demands of bus and rail operators are acknowledged;


: desirable objectives for the local area are : direct rail links from Rotherham to London; improvements to the Holmes Chord railway line serving the Rotherham Central station.


Mr. O’Grady was thanked for his informative presentation.