Thursday, March 27, 2014

Northern Rail franchise extended – why this may be good news, but probably won’t be

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.


Anonymous said...

I'm pleased it is not just me that finds the G4S "enforcers" at the station to be rude and intimidating.

I wouldn't mind so much if Northern Rail actually managed to put someone on their trains selling tickets, or there was the facility to buy at the station I come from, but I'm treated like a fare dodger when I have no facility whatsoever to actually buy a ticket before I get confronted by them.

Chris Rogan said...

Completely agree. The hired goons won't even let you run to a vacant ticket machine even though they have failed to sell you a ticket at the station and on the train. I've written to their complaints team countless times and even my MP and things just get worse - glad it's just not me too!