(5th February 2018)
I met with Liam Sumpter, Regional Director of Northern Railways, and travelled together on the Buxton line into Manchester Piccadilly, with High Peak commuters so that Liam could see the overcrowding and problems with the line, as well as discussing them with regular users.
Liam agreed that the current service on all three lines from High Peak into Manchester – and Sheffield on the Hope Valley line – are in desperate need of improvements.
This is what he told me about Northern Rail’s plans.
- New trains are now being built and are due to arrive in the UK before the end of 2018. No decision has been taken about which routes the new trains will operate on. Routes that do not get new trains will get fully refurbished units with wifi, new or refurbished seats, PRM toilets and a refreshed interior.
- Additional Diesel Multiple Unit trains (DMUs) will be available later this year. Network Rail delays to the project are likely to delay the introduction of new services on High Peak lines. Further stock will come from Great Western.
- When the DMUs do arrive, the off-peak schedule on the Buxton line will increase to two trains per hour.
- The overall number of trains will increase across the Northern network once the outdated Pacers are all removed from service in 2019, resulting in at least a 10% increase in capacity.
Northern is a growing franchise. Total staff numbers will probably increase from around 5,300 to about 5,500 by the end of the franchise. Staff have been recruited for the new trains and new services.
- Ticket machines will be installed at all stations. Software updates to enable season tickets and concessionary fares to be bought at ticket machines, will be brought in a whole line at a time.
- There will be a new concessionary fare for 16 to 18 year olds, and Young Persons railcards will be available for 18 to 30 year olds.
- Rail fare increases are mostly regulated by government, with increases linked to RPI. Fares help to fund investment in the railway such as the new trains, new services and station improvements. Over half of Northern’s costs are staff wages.
(In fact most fares, on most lines have risen by an average of around 6% since Northern took over the franchise. There have been five fare rises since Northern took over the franchise, off-peak fares such as from Glossop to Manchester, have risen by almost 50% from £4.40 to £6.30 for a single.)
- Northern are training station staff to understand that some passengers cannot buy tickets before Piccadilly because they have no ticket office at their station and/or there is no guard collecting fares on the train.
- I proposed that passengers from stations with no ticket office, whose season ticket has just expired, should be able to travel to Piccadilly to buy a new season ticket and have the cost of that journey included in the season ticket. Liam Sumpter agreed that his commercial team would look into this issue.
- The current system for refunds is complex and can take several weeks to process. Liam Sumpter agreed to personally consider how it could be made easier.
- Options for Smart Ticketing (like Oyster cards in London) and for Carnet tickets (batches of tickets bought at a discount) would have to be introduced across all rail companies and are currently being discussed.
- Car park charges: Northern are not aware of any other stations that are due to introduce charging. They do monitor car park occupation, particularly where complaints are received that non-rail users are parking in free station car parks.
- Glossop station parking charges: Northern is aware of the problems for residents around Glossop station and is planning to replace the car-parking machine at Glossop with a card version to make it easier to pay.
If residents around Glossop station wish to look at a scheme of residential permits, I am happy to assist and support, although the County Council advises that there would be a charge for setting up a scheme and all households in the area would need to agree.
- Dinting: Concerns about parking around the station have led Northern to ask Glossopdale Community School if it can provide ‘safety monitors’ for the large numbers of children who it is anticipated will use the train to get to school.
- Chinley: Northern Rail is looking at extending the car park onto neighbouring Network Rail land.
- Work on the ticket office at New Mills Newtown will commence in February and is scheduled for completion in April 2018. This will include fixing the CCTV.
- Bike racks – Northern will look at increasing bike storage racks at stations, especially those which have suitable cycle access. They will seek to ensure that CCTV coverage includes the bike racks.
Northern is aware it needs to improve real-time information for passengers, especially those at unmanned stations. I suggested using Twitter more as it is well used by passengers who can relay information to other travellers.