Transport User Voice – December – You and your train company

29 November 2018

On 13 November Transport Focus held a board meeting in public in Manchester. Board members and members of the public heard from Transport for the North, Highways England and David Brown and Leo Goodwin, managing directors of Northern and TransPennine Express respectively. Before the meeting, we also contacted Northern and TransPennine Express passengers on our Transport User Panel to ask if they had any questions they would like to see raised with the managing directors on their behalf.

Panelists suggested 123 questions, covering a wide range of local and strategic questions. Of course, alongside questions from Transport Focus Board members and attending members of the public, it was not possible to ask all the questions received at the meeting, but Jeff Halliwell, chair of Transport Focus, suggested the train companies respond to a selection in writing. Their responses will be published next month. The two questions that it was possible to raise at the meeting and a brief summary of the responses are below:

‘What action are the train companies taking to facilitate access to trains and stations for people using mobility scooters (not wheelchairs)? My experience is that (with one honourable exception) every possible objection is raised rather than help offered, and permits are required by each individual company. With an aging population, the use of mobility scooters will increase, and users should be able to use the rail transport network freely?’
Bingley to Leeds.

Leo Goodwin said that all TransPennine Express’s trains meet accessibility regulations and that its new fleet of trains will have more space for scooters on board. David Brown explained that Northern has a very varied train fleet where some trains are not currently accessible, but that all Northern’s trains will be accessible by 2020 when the Pacer trains are retired. However, Brown added that variations in platform heights – and therefore ramp angles – between the train and the platform, along with significant differences in the size of mobility scooters were the reason for its permit system. He said that unfortunately it wasn’t possible to have a simple policy across the network without making the policy very restrictive, but Northern is looking to improve and will be revising its policy on mobility scooters next year.

‘We hear a lot from the RMT about ‘getting rid of Guards’. Why don’t we hear any details from Northern about what you are actually planning to do and when services will be required to have a second member of staff, and what their duties are expected to be, so that everyone knows exactly what is happening in this dispute?’ Commuter, Saltaire to Leeds.

David Brown said before it can consult externally, Northern needs to consult internally with its staff about any possible changes to their roles, which may be some time away. However, he said Northern will try to communicate more with concerned passengers and do what he called “myth-busting” in future. Earlier in the session, when discussing the strikes, he also said Northern is considering how best it could provide customer service to passengers. He suggested that in metropolitan areas when trains are very busy, and on train staff may struggle to get through the train, it might be more effective to staff stations.

At the end of October we published research from our Transport User Panel concerning the Impact of strikes on Northern passengers and their views on the dispute. One of our conclusions was ‘It remains unclear to passengers exactly what changes Northern may seek to make to staffing on trains or at stations and how these changes might affect their journeys in future. If trust is to be rebuilt, then Northern, the Department for Transport and Transport for the North will need to communicate much more clearly, and transparently, about the plans for the franchise and urgently address passengers’ concerns about accessibility and personal safety’.

This week, the Department for Transport and Transport for the North, who co-manage the Northern franchise, have publicly confirmed their commitment to retaining a second member of staff onboard Northern trains. We welcome this additional clarity and hope all parties can agree a way forward to quickly bring to an end the severe disruption that strike action has caused every Saturday for many months, to the detriment of so many Northern passengers.

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