|Happy commuters, pic stolen from Northern Rail's website
I am no fan of the shoddy service offered to commuters in the North of England by Northern Rail. The joint venture between Serco and Abellio has brought nothing to the experience or helped economic development in the region. But change is going to come – the clock is now ticking down towards the next franchise period, just as this one has been extended for a couple more years. Hopefully the terms of the next deal will look very different indeed – a longer period and the benefits of the Northern Hub investment.
The Rail North plan envisages a larger franchise integrated with the local transport authorities of Greater Manchester and beyond – that should have the benefits of integrated ticketing, electrification, better rolling stock and more services – in short, a service fit for purpose.
It is surprising how little political traction this has. It remains a bold move - an important devolutionary step. Longer term it could also lead to franchises being run by a consortium of local transport authorities.
I do find it laughable that the Rail Minister Stephen Hammond has set Northern Rail short term targets for improved customer satisfaction. The first thing the management should do is measure peak time punctuality separately from the empty rattlers ambling along on time during the afternoon. Then they should massively rethink the brutal approach to ticket checking at most stations by their G4S bouncers – it is humiliating, unfriendly and intimidating. But they will argue it catches fare dodgers effectively. I believe it is counter-productive.
I also worry when I read the managing director of Northern Rail, Alex Hynes, saying efficiency and service are his priorities and those dreaded words – “more with less”.
The Department for Transport must also insist there is no further running down of trains to the South as First TranspennineExpress have had to give trains to Chiltern. I have noticed more and more trains are made up of just two carriages in the evenings. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but it has to stop.