Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 812 - 819)



  Chairman: Good afternoon, I am very grateful for you coming to see us this afternoon. I am going to ask you to identify yourself in a moment but perhaps you will forgive me if I take a second to declare that I am a member of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.

  Mr Stevenson: Transport and General Workers Union.

  Mr O'Brien: Transport and General Workers Union.

  Mrs Ellman: Transport and General Workers Union.

  Helen Jackson: Transport and General Workers Union.

  Miss McIntosh: I am a Shareholder in Railtrack.


  812. And First Group and Eurotunnel. Can I ask you to identify yourself.

  (Mr Hinchliffe) David Hinchliffe, Member of Parliament for Wakefield.

  813. Mr Hinchliffe, do you have anything you want to say to us?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I am most grateful for this brief opportunity to have a word about the serious situation on the regional railway network in West Yorkshire. I think you are aware that the franchise provider in West Yorkshire is Arriva Trains Northern. You will probably know that on 25 October the Strategic Rail Authority proposed enforcement action against this particular company, a £2 million fine for breach of contract, and they also allowed them to introduce a temporary revised timetable which has meant the cancellation of 1,000 trains a week in our area, and the replacement of many of these services by buses. I and other Members of Parliament are now receiving complaints about the standard of bus service provided as an alternative. Drivers are getting lost and having to seek the advice of passengers and look at maps to deliver the service. It is a most unsatisfactory situation. If I could briefly give a little detail about the history. The Committee may well be aware that the original franchise in 1997 was awarded to MTL. At the time they took over, on day one of the franchise they allowed over 80 drivers to leave and we found in 1997 in the summer an unacceptable number of cancellations arising from driver shortages. MTL became Northern Spirit in 1998 and this company began to face increasing financial difficulties during the following year. In January 2000 Arriva took over the MTL company and the SRA agreed to extend the franchise from February 2001 to February 2003, and since then we have seen in West Yorkshire a clear pattern of reducing punctuality and increasing numbers of cancellations. By July of this year cancellations were occurring on large numbers of trains because of driver shortages. In August of this year cancellations increased to around ten per cent of all services, about 500 trains a week, and on Sundays complete services were suspended. There have been some consequences that are fairly obvious, if I can briefly detail them. The concern I have got in particular, because my area includes a number of isolated rural villages with small stations, is a concern about public safety. I passed to your Clerk a letter from my constituent Mr Blamires of Denby Dale about his daughter who travels from Denby Dale station to Lockwood station in Huddersfield and he describes in his letter how she cannot guarantee getting to and from work and she has found herself on several occasions stranded in the dark on her own at Lockwood station without any means of knowing whether the train is coming or not. I believe this is not an isolated case, it is happening to many other people and I am sure you will understand the feelings of people in this kind of situation. We have grossly over-crowded trains where people frequently cannot get onto the trains because they are so packed with passengers. The difficulties are having an impact on the passengers' ability to fulfil their employment commitments to get to work. I am hearing stories of people having to consider leaving their work in West Yorkshire because of their inability to travel in a satisfactory way. We are obviously seeing more use of the road network because there is no confidence in the regional railways and the unreliability of the Arriva services means that the whole idea of integrated transport provision is a nonsense. I have got an integrated network at Denby Dale in my constituency where, in theory, the train service meets a bus and the bus departs when the train comes, but the train does not come on time so the whole service is totally disrupted. As far as the reasons are concerned—and you may be more aware of these than I am—certainly the West Yorkshire PTA believe that the franchise was under-resourced from the outset. There are clear problems with driver recruitment. I understand at the moment there is a shortfall of about 150 drivers, one of the main reasons being that this company pays significantly less than other similar companies to people doing the same job, and of course there is this rolling stock shortfall. The West Yorkshire PTA state: "The operator has never on any single day delivered all the current peak formations which are specified and paid for." We have got serious difficulties and I hope the Committee will have a look at this in detail and offer some suggestions as to the way forward.

  814. We have had this raised with us by one of our Committee members, Mr O'Brien. Are the SRA plans for penalising Arriva going to remedy this situation?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I suspect not. I suspect the problem has arisen because we have a company which is simply unable to carry through this franchise for a variety of reasons. There is no confidence that the actions being taken by the SRA will resolve the problems they have got. Something more radical is needed.

  815. You do not think Arriva have done what they ought to have done to make it possible for them to fulfil the terms of their franchise?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I do not see that at all.

Mr O'Brien

  816. You refer to over-crowding and even when the train is running and there is a driver there is a shortage of coaches on the trains which creates over-crowding and jeopardises safety because of the fact the carriages are crowded, the inspector cannot get through and there are people left on the platforms. I have seen that experience. What is your view on that and have your constituents raised those issues on the question of over-crowding, shortage of rolling stock, and safety first?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I have had this raised by a number of constituents who clearly feel it is wrong when they are expecting four carriages for one or two to arrive and they simply cannot get on the train. It is totally unsatisfactory.

Helen Jackson

  817. You touched briefly, Mr Hinchliffe, on the South Yorkshire transport system but you only mentioned the freight aspect. You also mentioned that it is in receipt of Objective 1 European money because of its need for regeneration. Would you not agree that the need in South Yorkshire is for a greatly expanded jobs' market so that people can move easily both across the Pennines and within South and West Yorkshire? Do you not agree that the SRA have got a big job to do in ensuring that the new trans-Pennine franchise, for example, has got the necessary resources and upgrades?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I do not profess to know as much as you do about the transport network or about South Yorkshire. What I do know is that many of my constituents travel on the Huddersfield/Sheffield line from villages in my area to Sheffield to work and they simply cannot rely upon that service. There is a need for more investment and more reliability, quite clearly.


  818. Should the SRA have acted rather more swiftly than it did?
  (Mr Hinchliffe) I understand that their objectives include securing progressive improvements in the performance of franchised rail services and improved levels of customer satisfaction with the quality of stations and services. There has been an abject failure in West Yorkshire, as far as I can see.

  819. Mr Hinchliffe, I am very grateful to you. Your evidence will be published and also the evidence that you have submitted to us.
  (Mr Hinchliffe) Thank you very much.

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