Rail firms admit they have caused 'hellish' experiences for commuters

Rail firms say they are ‘slowly rebuilding’ the trust of passengers more than a year after timetable changes led to ‘absolute disaster’ across Greater Manchester.

Rail firms are trying to rebuild the trust of passengers
Rail firms are trying to rebuild the trust of passengers

Northern Rail and TransPennine Express (TPE) admitted their reputations had been ‘significantly damaged’, causing ‘hellish’ experiences for customers, since the widespread disruption last summer.

But while a national survey recently noted an increase in customer satisfaction, councillors say cancellations, delays and reduced carriages are still rife.

Chris Jackson, Northern’s regional director, told the Greater Manchester Transport Committee that service levels have stabilised since the introduction of two ‘successful’ timetable changes.

Rail firms are trying to rebuild the trust of passengers

He said: “The rail industry has been significantly damaged by everything that has happened in the last year or so, and we’re working with industry partners to improve things.”

The meeting also heard that there was a 17 per cent uplift in Manchester customer satisfaction recorded in the National Rail Passenger Survey.

But Wigan councillor Mark Aldred said: “A 17 per cent increase from last year’s absolute disaster isn’t much.

“We’re representing the people that use your services. How do we persuade them to come back on the rail network and use rail again as a form of transport?”

A ‘trust offensive’ launched by Northern this year saw them offer customers 10p tickets and the chance to win back the cost of rail travel up to £200.

Mr Jackson said: “We recognise there’s still a lot more to do. We think trust is slowly being rebuilt.”

A report to the committee said that more than a third of Northern’s delays were caused by internal operational issues, with the remaining delays attributed to Network Rail and other train companies.

Rochdale councillor Phil Burke said services had taken a step back in the borough, with trains cancelled ‘without notification’ and sporadic Sunday services.

He added: “Sometimes you’re leaving people stranded, and it’s unfair that people are being penalised because you can’t get staff to work on a Sunday.”

Sunday shortages were blamed on an ongoing dispute with staff over working conditions, with drivers rejecting a new deal – backed by the train driver trade union ASLEF – in July.

And Mr Jackson admitted that Northern still had work to do with handling delays, punctuality and the cleanliness of carriages.

Stockport councillor Angie Clark said ‘skip-stopping’ – where trains miss out scheduled stops – and short-forming – where services carry fewer carriages than planned – were ‘major problems’ on the TPE Hope Valley line.

Coun Clark added: “We have huge problems with cancellations in the evenings and on weekends as well. We’re sick and tired of it.”

Kathryn O’Brien, customer experience director at TPE, said: “It’s been hellish for customers and now we’ve seriously got to rebuild that.”