NETWORK RAIL Chief Executive Andrew Haines has told the House of Commons Transport Committee the company has improved its timetabling process following issues encountered with the major changes in May. He said NR had worked to derisk the December change, although he added that December ‘isn’t a riskfree timetable and nor should it be’.
Continuing, Mr Haines explained: ‘We have an industry process now that we’ve set up under Paul McMahon (Managing Director, Freight & National Passenger Operators), and he keeps a regular review on all the individual stages to make sure that we’re bidding and offering the timetable to time… and the intelligence we’re getting on rolling stock, crew availability and infrastructure clearance is being validated. We’re also getting independent assurance on that.’ He added that NR now has ‘a high degree of confidence, not just about December but going forward’.
However, Mr Haines agreed there is a case for fundamental reform of the timetabling framework. ‘I think the decision to centralise train planning within Network Rail taken almost a decade ago was what civil servants would probably call bold, and short-sighted, and the reduction in headcount that went with that was not appropriate’ he explained. ‘We now have a very committed team but it’s smaller than it was and has lost a lot of skills.’ He also suggested the timetabling process used was still designed ‘by our forefathers in the 1990s’, which was set up against a background of declining passenger numbers and no real prospect of a significant increase in investment. ‘I think the fact that as an industry we haven’t owned a change of that process is one of the contributory factors to why we’ve ended up where we are.’
TPE PLANS DECEMBER TIMETABLE AMENDS
TransPennine Express has announced timetable amendments to take place in December as it struggles to improve performance following the changes in May.
Although subject to the moratorium on major changes imposed on eight operators, TPE is making tweaks to improve reliability. The current Manchester Piccadilly to Leeds stopping service will be split in two at Huddersfield, while calls in the Hull to Manchester Piccadilly services at Batley and Slaithwaite will be removed and transferred to the now split services. Changes will also be made to increase the turnaround time at Manchester Airport of services from Newcastle and Middlesbrough, which run via the Ordsall Chord. TPE says this does not alter the actual timetable but will improve the reliability of these services.
The timetable changes have been agreed with the Department for Transport and the Rail North Partnership, although TPE’s plan to turn back some trains bound for the North East at York has been ruled out.
With Northern, TPE and Network Rail all continuing to express concern over the ability of the network to handle the May 2018 timetable, some of which was initially deferred to December 2018 before being further put back to May 2019, a more ‘risk averse’ attitude has emerged. This raises the possibility of some changes being put on hold until all sides can guarantee there will not be a repeat of the disruption seen this year. Philip Sherratt/Tony Miles