As I have reported previously, the Government has begun the process for the refranchising of train servicesw currently operated by Northern Rail and TransPennine Express, which serve all the stations throughout Hyde, Stalybridge, Longdendale, and Mossley.
To start that process the Government have issued a consultation document which sets out some of the guiding principles they want to include in the invitation tender, which will be issued in the near future.
I have made a submission to the consultation process which sets out my concerns about this initial document, and shares some of my priorities for rail services in our area.
The letter I have submitted as part of the consultation process can be read below:
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing in response to the Rail Executive’s stakeholder consultation document in relation to the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express rail franchises.
The fate of rail services in my constituency and throughout the region is a matter of great concern to me and something that I know is high on the list of priorities for both constituents and businesses alike. It is crucial that the franchises deliver the best possible services so as to ensure the greatest possible economic benefit for the region, and a high quality service for the passengers who rely on the railway on a daily basis.
The consultation document leaves me with some serious concerns about whether the Governments tender proposals will achieve those ends, and I know that these concerns are shared by transport campaigners and passenger groups throughout the region.
In my constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde many people’s experience of the railway is not overwhelmingly positive. I regularly hear complaints about overcrowded trains, old, poor quality carriages, and infrequent services with regular delays. Commuters at Stalybridge and Mossley stations don’t feel that there are currently enough services to meet the demand of their busy commutes, and there is unhappiness about the fact that when you do board some of these services you are unable to get a seat.
The consultation document seems to acknowledge many of these problems too but seems to insinuate that the only way they will be resolved is to increase fares, reduce the number of services and cut back on jobs. This does not seem to me to be a good deal for commuters in my area who already feel that they are not getting good value for money.
I agree that improving rolling stock needs to be a priority for the new franchises, especially on the services where outdated and overcrowded stock is still being used. Tackling this issue is crucial to ensuring that the services are able to cope with the predicted growth in passenger numbers and to improve passenger satisfaction for those already using them. Investment in rolling stock and stations is my overwhelming priority for the railway in my area.
Secondly, maintaining affordable fares for passengers using these services is crucial. The argument that fares need to be increased in line with the national average seems to avoid any explanation for why fares are below the national average in the first place. The reason that some fares are slightly lower is because services in the region benefit from much less investment than those in parts of the South, particularly London, and people here have, on average, lower incomes. If this logic was to be taken to its natural conclusion investment would have to increase substantially to justify the resulting fare increases.
My third major point of concern is regarding the proposals to reduce services on parts of the network. Whilst I’m glad that there is a consensus emerging on the need for new investment on the franchises it seems counter intuitive to bring in new money and then reduce services. For instance, I find it difficult to see how there could be an argument for reducing the number of calls at Stalybridge – particularly during in peak hours – and I would have serious concerns about passengers at more isolated stations such as Godley, and Flowery Field losing out from any push to reduce calls at smaller stations.
The only specific suggestion I would make regarding changes to the individual services that serve my constituency would be to increase the number of night time services to and from Manchester city centre. If some flexibility over timetabling is going to be devolved to the operators as part of the new franchises then this could be rearranged to suit demand as long as a final service was guaranteed on each of the services.
In conclusion, I am clear on the need for new investment, particularly in infrastructure and rolling stock, and am keen to explore the possibilities on how this can be done. I want to ensure that passengers in my constituency receive a service that continually improves and benefits from greater connectivity as a result of increased investment across the network. I look forward to engaging in this discussion throughout this process and am keen to hear the Government’s comments on the consultation responses.
Jonathan Reynolds MP