Examination of Witness (Questions 812
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
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
Mr O'Brien: Transport and General Workers Union.
Mrs Ellman: Transport and General Workers Union.
Helen Jackson: Transport and General Workers
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 concernedand you may be more aware of
these than I amcertainly 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.
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.
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.