Financial Difficulty at Northern?

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by Starmill, 10 Jun 2019.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. AM9

    AM9 Established Member

    Messages:
    6,942
    Joined:
    13 May 2014
    Location:
    St Albans
    Commuters are not bread and butter revenue. Relying on the revenue from their fares to pay for the scale of infrastructure and rolling stock required to prevent mutinies by masses of angry commuters is not a way to profitability. Commuters are not willing to pay much higher fares, and with the majority of them using season tickets, do not pay higher fares. Indeed, the normal fare paid on annual season tickets is about the same as off-peak walk-up tickets ant they travel on trains that some times only make one or two return journeys per day. Many staff are required to operate the service for 2-3 hours per morning and evening peaks requiring complicated shift working if wasteful levels in the intervening hours are to be avoided. Unless there is sufficient patronage to fill at least some trains between the peaks, subsidies would have to rise dramatically, even above current Northern levels. In the US and some other car-centric nations, the governments have grudgingly acknowledged that accommodating ever increasing tidal commmuter volumes on public roads cannot be tolerated. They are prepared to commit considerable levels of public funds maintaining financially inefficient peak-only suburban rail systems. So far, the UK has managed to keep a rail system that the general public sees as an asset for off-peak and importantly optional leisure travel. The revenue for that travel helps to defray the massive costs of subsidising commuter's fares.
     
  2. AMD

    AMD Member

    Messages:
    266
    Joined:
    6 Dec 2017
    An example of this comes straight from the book 'The Network SouthEast Story' - in 1982/83 the London & South East sector required a subsidy of £322m (in 1983 prices!) because it was a commuter network. The book continues to describe how the network was developed driving off peak travel as one of the key planks of the plan to reduce the subsidy profile, and as we know the railways in the south east are overall in the profitable end of the spectrum now.
     
  3. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    Yeah, fair enough, point well made.

    I definitely think off-peak travellers are an important part of the network, but one that currently Northern doesn't serve terribly badly now the strikes at weekends have ended...

    I think what I was trying to convey, or what point I will make now is that Northern has really mistreated commuters recently and that they do still must represent a good amount of the revenue they bring in. Just a bit more consideration of peak times and ensuring short forms, etc aren't being jammed through areas like Piccadilly 13/14 at 5.30pm would likely improve things for that segment of the market.

    But yes, US commuter rail systems, even in areas where they are very popular get large subsidies. Metra in Chicago is about 50/50 fares/subsidy.
     
  4. hwl

    hwl Established Member

    Messages:
    4,127
    Joined:
    5 Feb 2012
    NSE also increased fares by 130% on average during its existence...
    Comparing London to Leeds/Manchester some of the equivalent fares into London are 80% higher on a /mile basis.

    The big difference between Northern and NSE is peak train length so the 2 examples aren't directly comparable.
     
  5. Clip

    Clip On Moderation

    Messages:
    10,354
    Joined:
    28 Jun 2010
    Generally they wouldve already had a lot of commuters money at the start of the year and the only effect would ve been those with weekly/monthly and its very hard to get the information about how many are sold in each category
     
  6. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    Yeah peak train lengths are significantly longer in the South East, one non-stop train I got at rush hour from Guildford into London still had seats available and no-one was standing!
     
  7. hwl

    hwl Established Member

    Messages:
    4,127
    Joined:
    5 Feb 2012
    That is a rarity
    1 or 2 staff on a 12 car train is a very different cost base to 2 staff on a 2 or 3 car unit.
     
  8. Killingworth

    Killingworth Established Member

    Messages:
    1,397
    Joined:
    30 May 2018
    Location:
    Sheffield
    However, random cancellations on Sundays have certainly not ended. They are a major deterrent to building up 7 day travel by train in the western side of the franchise. People travel 7 days a week. Deprive them of a reliable service for leisure on one day and it kicks back to use on the other 6. Providing trains in an afternoon is fine to get home, but if there's no train in the morning I'll use the car or not go at all. And the same applies for future potential journeys.
     
  9. tbtc

    tbtc Veteran Member

    Messages:
    15,426
    Joined:
    16 Dec 2008
    Location:
    Sheffield
    You mean like the eighty metre 319s, the sixty nine metre 170s, the replacement of thirty metre Pacers by forty metre 150s due to the influx of Sprinters from ScotRail/GWR etc (permitting Pacers to be doubled up on other diagrams)... there have certainly been increases in the length of trains on a number of lines.

    Compare the number of GWR/GA services run by two coach trains to the number of Northern services run by two coach trains... Northern clearly has a much bigger percentage of its franchise taken up by such short services... "hiding" those services inside a franchise that also included TPE would still leave them sticking out like a sore thumb... can't hide these things, however much some people may wish to pretend that you can.

    Agreed - and it's a difficult one to manage - if you cut the Colne branch (average passenger loading on the hourly service is thirtysomething) down to bi-hourly then that may still see average passenger loadings comparable with a bus because a significant number of passengers will be turned off a less frequent service... but if you doubled the frequency (assuming there were sufficient loops/ stock/staff etc - I'm talking hypothetically) then there's no guarantee that passenger numbers would go up by much.

    Personally, I don't think that the costs of heavy rail (two members of staff spread between thirty passengers, signalling costs, infrastructure maintained to much higher standard than light rail...) is appropriate for a number of the lines that Northern serves.

    Sorry for not being clear - I was going on my experience of the lines where Northern have increased the supply of seats (e.g. 170s replacing 158s from Sheffield to Hull/ Bridlington) or increased the frequency (e.g. Sheffield to Worksop/Retford)... the "huge untapped demand" that some people like to talk of doesn't seem to have translated into significantly busier services just yet. Early days, I guess, but presumably Northern were expecting a certain boost in passenger numbers from some of the improved services by now.

    How many Northern services are "overcrowded" (and how many of these are off-peak) and how many are carrying round so few passengers that they could be accommodated by a minibus?

    Good point - plus Northern have the difficulty of a messy network without one simple "hub" (compared to ex-NSE franchises) - so it's not as simple as bulking out a handful of services a day.

    True (although some of the people keen to shave 20% off journey times to make them more attractive are the people who dismiss HS2 on the grounds that "getting to Birmingham twenty minutes faster" doesn't help anyone). Not a dig at @hwl , just a general point about how differently some people see different types of market.

    Agreed - the economics of a thirty metre Pacer compared to a two hundred metre (plus) EMU make a huge difference.

    Sadly, the approach in northern England has been to cram the network full of short trains, instead of maintaining frequencies but running longer services, because we have this obsession with everywhere having a direct link to everywhere, hence the messy network of services run by short trains (that becomes very unreliable the moment anything goes wrong).

    Someone needs to wean northern England off this addiction (it's the same with TPE etc too).
     
  10. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    At the end of the day, if you want a reliable, frequent, fast service you have to be willing to pay for it.

    To maintain the current level of service reliably, Northern need to recruit many more staff, carry out maintenance more frequently and top up their order of 195's/331's. All of this costs money and the DfT is eager to reduce subsidies.

    To run a reliable, low subsidy service, Northern needs to cut back on the amount of direct services and run branch lines as shuttles to a nearby station in say a reasonably populated town with good connections to IC services (e.g. The Windermere Branch)

    The amount of services through the Castlefield Corridor needs to be cut too, unless the investment in 15/16 is to be made.

    If so, I propose chopping the Crewe to Liverpool Lime St service in two and having the stopping Liverpool Section go from either Oxford Road bay or Manchester Victoria. The crewe section can start/end at Piccadilly. The Llandudno service can also start/end at Manchester Victoria instead of running to the Airport. Oxford Bay is also available ;)

    Basically end the madness of anywhere to anywhere, but in reality it being so unreliable a change or two probably wouldn't be the end of the world.

    It's the triangle of rail service:

    -Low Costs (either in subsidy and/or end user.)
    -Reliability
    -Frequent/Fast/Comfortable service

    Pick two.
     
  11. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

    Messages:
    1,046
    Joined:
    14 Jul 2018
    As nationalisation is apparently so great Northern should just put up fares to drive demand down, like BR would.
     
  12. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    What are you talking about, nationalisation would instantly result in an improved service with zero increased running costs to the passengers or taxpayer... ;)

    I'd argue overambitious tenders for the existing infrastructure by the DAfT and lobbying by local interests to get their connections to Manchester Airport or other various places is at least partly to blame for the current mess.

    Honestly, seeing how poorly the government tries to tender infrastructure projects such as electrification, etc with their flood or famine tactics, I wouldn't want them anywhere near everyday operations!
     
  13. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    Very true, I just use this to claim delay repay on the rest of my journey when doing long distances! Actually kind of a celebration when it happens because I get 12 quid back for Northern failing on the last couple of miles.

    Ok... This definitely explains why they're not profitable :lol:
     
  14. Starmill

    Starmill Events Co-ordinator

    Messages:
    13,043
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    I think this is a myth. The Off Peak fares in Greater Manchester were doubled in 3 years between 2015 and 2018. Fares in the afternoon "peak" including the contra-flow are very uncompetitive.

    The off peak fares are now higher than the tramway in most cases (where the reverse used to be true in nearly all cases), and Metrolink offers a far superior service for reliability and frequency, in all cases (sometimes Northern have the superior journey time, but only by a few minutes).

    The other crucial point is that the train fare is often more expensive than driving. Lets say a couple who live in Westhoughton are going to the cinema on a Friday afternoon in Manchester, leaving on the 1601. You can park right on the edge of the city centre for £2. If you're buying a cinema ticket, you can potentially park right in the city centre, in a secure multi-storey for that price. What's the price of the train? £18.80 for both. In other words, the full whack commuter rate that would be charged to someone going in on the busiest train in the morning and coming back from town on one of the busiest in the evening. That fare is hopelessly uncompetitive.

    What demonstrates most clearly that local fares are horribly uncompetitive is that Northern have brought back half price tickets after 1830 in an attempt to get a few more people onto their trains. Just as used to exist before 2014.
     
  15. hwl

    hwl Established Member

    Messages:
    4,127
    Joined:
    5 Feb 2012
    The rest of the comparison was with reference to London and South East made several comments later in clarification.

    "Comparing London to Leeds/Manchester some of the equivalent fares into London are 80% higher on a /mile basis.."

    I actually did the numbers about 4 months ago (mainly peaks), I'll dig them out when I get a chance. It isn't a myth, but Northern are obviously working on increasing some of them.
     
  16. Starmill

    Starmill Events Co-ordinator

    Messages:
    13,043
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    Commuter fares haven't gone up very much at all. There was one year in Greater Manchester where there were no increases in Season and Anytime fares whatsoever. This is in line with the Northern franchise agreement, which aims to have Off Peak fares set at about 85% of the Anytime fare. Of course, in the South East, the cheapest ticket is normally more like 50% of the Anytime fare.
     
  17. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

    Messages:
    1,046
    Joined:
    14 Jul 2018
    Sounds like there needs to be a parking tax
     
  18. Eccles1983

    Eccles1983 On Moderation

    Messages:
    547
    Joined:
    4 Sep 2016

    In reality they set off for Manchester, spend upwards of one hour is traffic outside the city, then park a car then walk.

    Then they limit the options on enjoying a drink or two. They also then have to walk out of the city to find the car they paid 2 pounds to park with the risks attached to that.

    Then another 30-40 mins drive home.

    If you are going to compare costs then obviously car is cheaper (if you take initial purchase, tax and insurance out of the equation)

    But the time difference and lack of drinking flexibility is an underplayed card.
     
  19. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    Manchester does seem to have surprising low public transportation usage for it's size...at least compared to other UK cities. The parking around the city seems to be slowly disappearing in favour of new developments, so perhaps this will change. I don't think a tax is needed, but the council shouldn't protect parking either ;)

    In response to Starmill, isn't there a Two Together Railcard that would bring it down to around £12.40? Obviously you'd have to be looking at doing this sort of thing with your other half frequently enough to get your £30 worth!

    Also you have the option of going out for a meal and not worrying about that pesky drink drive limit if you want a drink, or two, or three... 8-)
     
  20. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

    Messages:
    41,246
    Joined:
    20 Oct 2014
    Location:
    Up and down the south WCML (mostly)
    Go there, use it and consider why that might be.

    Clue: apart from Metrolink (which does have its issues, particularly overcrowding - all the trams really need to be 4-"car" all the time - it's also expensive because it doesn't receive an operating subsidy) it's a load of absolute and utter rubbish.
     
  21. Starmill

    Starmill Events Co-ordinator

    Messages:
    13,043
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    In my opinion parking ought to be restricted almost to zero in the city centre and taxed in the surrounding areas. But I also take the view that if people are going to travel there by rail instead, it needs to offer:
    - Reliability
    - Adequate capacity
    - Good value for money

    Much of the time it offers none of these things in Greater Manchester. On some routes, frequency (1tph or even less) is also insufficient. On Sundays it's even worse, and of course some stations still have no service.
     
  22. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

    Messages:
    41,246
    Joined:
    20 Oct 2014
    Location:
    Up and down the south WCML (mostly)
    This one is the absolute key. There is no excuse for overcrowding on routes which are only overcrowded because of the persistence in operating silly little short DMUs. Get the trains to at least 6 x 23m in length and then we can start talking about what else is needed. There should not be a single train shorter than 80m operating on Castlefield, ever.

    You can't blame people for driving when they will, if they go by train, be crammed into a train that is only too short because of a lack of rolling stock.

    I go on about my S-Bahn-Manchester idea a lot - but it really is very much needed - Merseyrail style train lengths and frequencies on Greater Manchester's suburban routes, even if for now they are DMUs (like the transformation of the Snow Hill Lines using 172s).
     
  23. Starmill

    Starmill Events Co-ordinator

    Messages:
    13,043
    Joined:
    18 May 2012
    Location:
    Manchester
    This is a classic enthusiasts response. Most people don't have a Two Together Railcard, and don't know they're available. What nearly everyone has is a car.
     
  24. Jozhua

    Jozhua Member

    Messages:
    544
    Joined:
    6 Jan 2019
    I live in Manchester and yes, I know exactly why. I can mostly get away with things being unreliable though, living a 30/40 minute walk from the city centre.

    Buses are overpriced, trams don't go anywhere near where I live and trains are inconvenient/unreliable.

    Then we haven't got into the terrible, unsafe conditions for people walking and cycling anywhere but the city centre.

    The city is a bit more spread out as well compared to others making the last mile issue definitely a thing.

    The point I was getting across that, looking purely at population, it is lower than it should be.
     
  25. philthetube

    philthetube Established Member

    Messages:
    1,736
    Joined:
    5 Jan 2016
    This is largely what northern does, Colne to Preston, Middlesbrough Whitby, Skipton Leeds etc., longer services tend to run through to avoid terminating at busy stations.
     
  26. Eccles1983

    Eccles1983 On Moderation

    Messages:
    547
    Joined:
    4 Sep 2016
    Not sure what the TfW service to the airport has to do with Northern.

    Weird rant.
     
  27. 158756

    158756 Member

    Messages:
    847
    Joined:
    12 Aug 2014
    The passenger numbers on the Bolton line during the electrification works suggest that if a "sparks effect" does indeed exist, it is strongly negative. Is a 4 car 319 actually cheaper to lease and operate than a 2 car sprinter, or has the investment both increased costs and reduced income? Numbers on the Chat Moss line look better, but are nowhere near doubling along with capacity.
     
  28. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    20,787
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    And of course, many, what could reasonanly be called 'daytrip' journeys in the North, don't even have an off peak equivalent, let alone the various discounts that are available in the London and South East area at all.

    Even if one or two PTE inner city fares are 'astonishingly cheap' it's really not representative of the situation within the PTE's even, let alone the North as a whole.

    The Two Together railcard cited by @Jozhua isn't much use to anyone who isn't joined at the hip to someone else. The Network card provides the generosity of extending a discount to an unspecified travelling companion, but the Two Together railcard doesn't even allow this as both travellers have to be those named.
     
  29. yorksrob

    yorksrob Veteran Member

    Messages:
    20,787
    Joined:
    6 Aug 2009
    Location:
    Yorks
    The "sparks effect" doesn't traditionally take place during electrification, rather afterwards when the improved service is up and running, not during the upheavel of electrification itself.

    The Bolton electrification suffered from a prolonged period of implementation upheaval which merged into a lot of other industrial relations/staffing issues. There was never going to be a "Sparks effect" until that lot was sorted.
     
  30. 158756

    158756 Member

    Messages:
    847
    Joined:
    12 Aug 2014
    It'll need a massive rise just to recover the damage the works did, never mind getting anywhere near filling a 319. The improved service to achieve this consists only of consistently 4 coach trains rep!acing the randomness before, with minimal decrease in journey times and at certain stations actually a reduction in frequency compared to when the works started.
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page