Wednesday, 2 July 2014

My personal consultation response to the Northern Trans Pennine Express consultation

Following are my responses to the Northern TPE consultation as now ongoing.
I live at Prudhoe a station with a 30 minute frequency service on the Newcastle Carlisle Tyne Valley railway line.
TO1: What are your views on increasing below-average fares over time to levels typical on the rest of the network in order to improve the frequency, capacity and quality of local services? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
This is a good idea so long as fares are comparable to neighbouring bus services and road tax is increased in line with the environmental damage road transport causes. In our case the Tyne Valley line faces intense competition from Go North East X84 and 10 routes. At present the railway is fare competitive but uses dated uncomfortable trains with no Wifi. Fares increases are only acceptable if the line is modernised with for instance a service comparable to that of ELECTRIC Class 350 Trans Pennine trains. If you raise the fares and continue to provide hand me down trains, the passengers will walk. Twice in the life of the nationalised British Railways, a totally new fleet of trains was delivered, in 1958 and 1987-88. So far 17 years of privatisation has delivered no improved rolling stock at all.

TO2: What are your views on giving priority to improving the quality of the Northern rolling stock at the expense of some reduction in lightly used services (e.g. fewer calls at low-use stations)? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
This sounds good but I struggle to see how it will be accomplished. Any new tranche of rolling stock is a major investment. The amount of money saved by "fewer calls at low-use stations)? " is small beer compared to the costs, There are ways to reduce cost in the rail industry. The bringing in house to Network Rail of all maintenance work would be one example. The abolition of the train leasing companies would remove another huge tranche of spend. It is laughable that a Pacer which is a 1980s Leyland bus on rails costs so much to lease. It owes nothing to anyone and is fully depreciated.

TO3: What are your views on allowing some reduction in the hours ticket offices are open and staffed if this is accompanied by the ability for passengers to have widespread access to ticket buying opportunities (e.g. through new and improved approaches such as smart ticketing, increased advance purchase ticketing or via mobile phones), adequate measures to ensure vulnerable passengers are not disadvantaged and more effective customer service by both station and on-train staff? Do you have any evidence to support your views?
Personally I don't mind as much cost saving as possible through demanning of stations. Purely dedicated ticket office staff are unnecessary as the example of London Underground shows. Staff can be redeployed onto platforms and to advise on the use of machines and internet options. In some circumstances a staff presence could be retained or even reinstated through multi function staff who may for instance also be representing a Community Rail Partnership or running a kiosk sellings teas and coffees. The principle of corner shop PayPoints is a good parallel. If Hexham station was demanned and some of the money saved was passed to the CRP it would be interesting to see if it could deliver the same service for less?

COM1: How can local communities, local businesses and other organisations be further stimulated to play an active part in the running of Northern and TPE rail services, including at stations?
Only by the franchise holder having a dedicated team to expand these links. It is all very well suggesting this idea, but transport is in large measure a professional activity and a business, neither of those easily thrive with amateur volunteers. Staff are required on the ground who can develop volunteer and community skills. In the Tyne Valley there has been some achievements with this. For instance websites like and its facebook . Same exist for the Community Rail Partnership. These are all high maintenance activities and to be really effective, few will be totally voluntary efforts. Will the new franchise holder be empowering organisations to run and develop relevant websites and print?

COM2: What opportunities are there for Community Rail Partnerships to expand their role and range of activities?
Dealt with above however I understand that the East Coast franchise has statements about support which I welcome to laterally connected partnerships. Our CRP functions on a shoe string, one officer for one/two days a week and the volunteers. He is the only person in the entire rail industry whose only job is to develop the BUSINESS of the Tyne Valley railway line. How does that work? How does a 60 mile double track railway line thrive with one person for business development? The answer is because a lot of other people have it as part of their work but if you really want a business to grow, you have to invest in staff time to do that.

TPF1: Are you aware of any proposals for third-party funded changes not already indicated? Please provide details.
I am aware of a growing lack of money. It is said the NELEP will provide solutions. I believe it employs 3 people and its chief executive has left for a new job in banking? I sense a tense circle. It is now acknowledged that the previous Northern franchise was let as a standstill but growth that shows no sign of abating took place. Yet the new franchise is expected to achieve growth with a lower bid. Difficult to reckon with.  People really want to use trains. The success of TPE shows this. We in practice live on a Trans Pennine route. Perhaps our line should go to that franchise? We already have through trains to Glasgow which we don't want to lose. If TPE can make a great success of Manchester Airport Glasgow/Edinburgh through as much empty moor as our line, then  Teeside-Wearside, Tyneside, Carlisle, Dumfries, Kilmarnock Glasgow is no less of a corridor. Our line has been identified in the Trans Europe network? Where is the investment in electric trains? EU money could accomplish much of this.

FID1: What factors may impact on demand for travel on the new Northern and TPE franchises? Please provide evidence.
Look at the Tyne Valley timetable. 
eastbound into Newcastle no arrivals between 0655 the first and 0807 the second. Then 0827, 0900, 0928. The first five.
westbound from Hexham, the first train is 0717, the next is 0858, how does that help commuters?
For comparison eastbound into Newcastle in 1989 the first seven arrivals were 0640 0724 0811 0831 0849 0858 0940 from Hexham or west therefore. A loss of two morning peak trains since 1989.
So in this growth cycle, the service in the peak has actually got worse since privatisation and this on a double track cross country line. We need a franchise that plugs these gaps and runs a 30 minute interval service from service start to 1900 in the evening, then hourly to 2300. We are not a branch line but a busy commuter route for a third of the run to Hexham and the only rail crossing east west across Britain for a 100 miles north or south. We're a strategic route as is shown every year when the East Coast weekend service is timetabled down our line. That uses a third train an hour path which is why John Stevenson, the Carlisle Tory MP's call for an express and a stopper service from Carlisle east is completely achievable. The tracks and timetable could deliver it, we need the trains and the committment.
However even all that is on a line where the speed limit is generally between 50-60mph. If this line was electrified and substantial lengths improved to 100mph running, and given the acceleration profile of a class 350, a complete seachange in public transport in this corridor is achievable. I understand Nexus and Northern are considering an extension of wires to the Gateshead Metrocentre on our line. This I fully support as a first step to electrifying the whole route and doing away with all the 19th century signalling infrastructure which still works here. Does the DfT understand that late 19th century signalboxes and equipment are what operate the Tyne Valley Line on a day to day basis?
If the Metrocentre Morpeth trains go electric as I hope they will, this should be a first step to a connected up Northumberland strategy in which trains on the re-opened Ashington Blyth and Tyne do not turn around at Newcastle Central station with all those issues but speed on to various locations in the Tyne Valley.

DTD1: What are your proposals for providing passengers better and safer access to different modes of transport at stations (including bus, tram, cycling and walking?)
Integrated transport is essential. A Quality Transport Contract for the North East is what is needed not just a Quality Bus Contract as Nexus is currently studying. Our local bus company does everything possible not to connect with trains. The new Prudhoe Interchange which I successfully campaigned for with others in 2007 paid for by the DfT has worked very well. Traffic figures have soared, but it is with car/train change. The bus services consistently fail to connect, there is no through ticketing, and I regularly observe the resultant frustration.
We also have an issue outlined here . Since the early 1970s an effective bus/rail interworked service linking rail to Hadrian's Wall has existed. In the last five years what was an exemplar operation has been stripped down and minimalised. Visitor numbers to the world heritage site that is Hadrian's Wall have fallen. And that they have done steadily not just in the recession. There is no One North East, no Hadrian's Wall Trust  to do the overseas promotion that is needed.
However there is a station sat on top of the wall at one of its most exciting central locations. This is Gilsland closed in 1967 and on the boundary of Cumbria and Northumberland. The two MPs want it open, the local parish and county councillors want it open. A properly resourced study by transport planners has demonstrated that allowing for LOCAL and TOURIST use re-opening this station will wash its face. We want a new franchise to commit to a fully costed priced option integrated into the GRIP process to develop this node.

OTH1: Do you have any other views on the future of the Northern and TPE franchises that you would like to set out?
The new franchise should require as an early step the provision of free on board Wifi. If this is not done many people of a younger generation will choose buses even if the journey is longer.
Over the last decade I have seen MANY instances of the bad results that follow through a lack of local rail management, very visible and accessible and based in the North East. This to handle day by day instances of trouble and to develop strategy.
I should be able to travel direct by train from Prudhoe to the two 1948 North East New Towns called Peterlee and Washington, Future Rail North East from Regional Railways North East by British Rail identified in 1993 the need and achievability to re-open these. One is on the Durham coast line our trains run on. The other is on the "Leamside" line which was lifted last year. You cannot even find "Future rail north east" 1993 on Google or Yahoo but I have the report placed in the National Railway Museum Forsythe Collection so I know how much this ground has been repeated over and over again.
I worry that the efforts myself and others go to to react to these consultations are all a complete waste of time. A sop. I shall be fascinated to measure the end outcome against my aspirations as outlined here and see if there is any connectivity.
Yours sincerely
Robert Forsythe

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