‘The North should not give anything up lightly’ – rail boss told

Politicians from across the North grilled interim Managing Director of state-owned TransPennine Express, Chris Jackson at a meeting of the Rail North Committee on Wednesday.

Mr Jackson was tasked with turning around the service after it was taken over by the Government following years of poor performance and cancelled services.

At the Rail North Committee, members asked about the provider’s plans to improve the service.

The plans will include £10m worth of incentives to get more people to travel, such as cheaper tickets.

More controversial measures include dropping some services from December to make the remaining services more reliable.

And the relatively new Nova 3 fleet, which is pulled by the diesel-electric Class 68s, will be pulled from service in December. TPE says this move will also improve reliability. The trains will be replaced by diesel models.

At the meeting members raised concerns that the push to make services reliable was at the expense of trains and services.

Bradford Council Leader Susan Hinchcliffe questioned whether the company could cope with the number of passengers that might be tempted back to trains through the cheap ticket incentive programme.

She fears that if those people attracted back to using the rail service find cramped cars and poor service, it could put them off trains for good.

She said: “Have you made sure you can tolerate lots more people using the train?

“The biggest incentive to get people to use the railways is for trains to turn up on time and passengers to have a comfortable journey. That is something that has been really lacking in the past two years.

“Can you give us assurances there will be no three car trains? We can’t have people feeling like cattle on trains that are reliable. We need people to want to keep on using the railway.”

Questioning the plan to pull the Nova 3 fleet from service, she said: “Once we lose trains we lose them forever. We need more capacity, we need more trains.”

She also criticised the fact that removing the Nova 3 trains will lead to more diesel models being used at a time when the industry was looking to move to fully electric services.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, raised similar concerns. He said: “I’ve been on three car Transpennine Express trains that are very full. That can create real discomfort for people.

“People know that when you’re at Leeds station you can have a real problem getting on trains sometimes.

“There is nervousness in the North about us losing stock and it not coming back. The North should not give anything up lightly given what we’ve experienced over the years.”

Mr Jackson said the aim was for all services to be restored by December 2024, and acknowledged there would be three car trains used on some services from this coming December.

They would be on services where the company expected a reduced demand.

Responding to concerns over whether the company could cope with a large influx of passengers attracted by the incentives, he said: “We need people to come back to our trains. We still have a lot of empty spaces on our trains, there is still a lot of capacity.”

Referring to the removal of Nova 3 trains, he said: “It was a difficult decision to remove them, but it was the right one. The reason we’re removing them is because they have traditionally been under utilised.”

It has previously been reported that technical issues and difficulties training drivers to use the newer models had led to much of the fleet not being used on a regular basis.

Mr Jackson said just a handful of the trains were ever used.

Mr Burnham said: “We understand your decision, but we’re putting a marker down to say the enhancements we’ve won are not going to be given up lightly. We need a plan for people in the North of England to get what people elsewhere in the country expect.

“Perhaps in the past the wrong trains were bought, but that is not a mistake we should be punished for in the North.”

Acknowledging the efforts being made to improve the service, Mr Burnham added: “I get the feeling we’ve hit the bottom, and are beginning to bounce back up again.”

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