Transport for the North Chair Lord McLoughlin told the Transport Committee that the weekly cost of disruption to rail services in Northern England could be around £8 million per week – half a billion pounds per year.
In an evidence session on 14 December 2022, Lord McLoughlin said that long-term investment confidence being lost was more important than the financial effects – a view echoed by Transport Focus Chief Executive Anthony Smith, who pointed out that Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express were both highly popular with passengers before the disruption.
Avanti West Coast (AWC) Director of Corporate Affairs Richard Scott said around 95 of the planned 97 new drivers were now entering into frontline service, and that the December 2022 timetable restored three trains an hour between London and Manchester, with two per hour to Birmingham with a third in peak hours.
TransPennine Express Managing Director Matthew Golton said that driver numbers have increased from 371 five years ago to 576 drivers and trainees now but highlighted issues around a training backlog and the TransPennine Route Upgrade where diversions will be required.
Mr Scott said AWC’s reliance on rest day working was the main reason for the company’s poor performance but added: ‘It has been in place for decades and has never caused us a problem previously. This is unprecedented and, as far as I am aware, unique; drivers decided that they were no longer willing to volunteer. As I say, that is entirely their right and I do not blame them for that at all, but it is a fact. We then had to take steps. Over the last few months, we have been working to redo the rosters to not rely on rest-day working.’
Challenged by Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw about TPE’s use of ‘P code’ cancellations – timetable alterations made before a day’s service which do not count as cancellations in official statistics – Mr Golton said: ‘Right up until the day before, we are seeking to run the maximum amount of services. Once we P code, that information goes automatically through to passenger-facing systems and to our own app, as well as National Rail apps, JourneyCheck and so on. It is really important that customers have the opportunity to find out as far in advance as they can whether they can be confident that their train is running. I do not think that you would want us to do it on the day, and that is why we do it.’
Mr Scott said AWC hopes to return to paying premiums to the Government, and that the company was intending for that to happen in the current financial year but highlighted the company’s problems in running its pre-December timetable.