Northern AM Peak shortage of train drivers 07/10

Discussion in 'UK Railway Discussion' started by Starmill, 7 Oct 2019.

  1. Starmill

    Starmill Veteran Member Associate Staff Events Co-ordinator

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    Good morning

    I notice there are several morning peak arrivals at Manchester Piccadilly cancelled this morning due to a shortage of train drivers. Crucially one of these is the 0749 Macclesfield to Manchester Piccadilly, probably one of the busiest trains Northern run to Manchester.

    Is this simply par for the course now or is something in particular happening? Seems like quite an extreme driver shortage if key morning peak services are regularly being cancelled now.
     

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  3. 175001

    175001 Member

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    Could be anything really.

    Most probably a late notification of sickness which can throw a massive spanner into the works.
     
  4. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Forum Staff Staff Member Global Moderator

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    It does seem to be three or four diagrams worth of cancellations though?
     
  5. M1544

    M1544 Member

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    Tends to have been a number of cancellations on the Calder Valley line every day for last few months due to driver shortages, either the York Blackpool, Leeds ManVic or Leeds Bradford Huddersfield circuits, so I presume they are short of drivers all round?
    Saturday from late afternoon and Sunday evenings seem to have an even higher number cancelled regularly each weekend.
     
  6. Robertj21a

    Robertj21a Established Member

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    Silly question time......

    Why are they short of crew ? - simply many vacancies (despite good pay) ? - high sickness ? - lots of training ?
     
  7. itsonlyme

    itsonlyme Member

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    This occurs so often that I feel that the only explanation is that they will not spend the money, as the cost of finding and training is more than the penalties for cancelling services. About time the DOT got an axe to those tocs using thisi sort of excuse on a regular basis.
     
  8. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Forum Staff Staff Member Global Moderator

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    I'm not sure there's any particular evidence of that. Certainly Northern have run recruitment exercises for trainee drivers (I am aware of at least one Forum member who currently is a trainee for Northern!) which hardly seems supportive of such things. I suspect the most significant charge that could be laid at their door is that perhaps they got their timing wrong on when to start any training courses considering the length of time that it takes to produce a fully qualified driver. But I think we'd need more evidence of a plan to be deliberately under establishment beyond a "feeling".
     
  9. Andyh82

    Andyh82 Established Member

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    It’s that time of year for more then the average amount of people to be ill. I know my office is coughing all over the place.
     
  10. thejuggler

    thejuggler Member

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    Indeed I had my dose of 'back to school' cold last week. First day sick in about 15 years. It completely floored me for a day. I suspect had I needed to drive a train it would have been 2-3 days off.
     
  11. a_c_skinner

    a_c_skinner Established Member

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    There is something nasty going round the NW at present. I've been ill for nearly two weeks and just about feeling human again.
    There is work that compares a heavy cold with drinking alcohol and it puts most people at around the drink drive limit.
     
  12. Richard P

    Richard P Member

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    This isn't a recent issue so can't be put down to autumn colds. Northern services on my local line between Manchester Oxford Road and Liverpool Lime Street are cancelled on a regular basis due to a shortage of train drivers. Ironically today there has been a pretty full service although the much vaunted services that go on to Manchester Airport were cancelled yet again
     
  13. Carlisle

    Carlisle Established Member

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    Yes, whilst I’ve no idea whats causing northern’s cancellations, I can confirm the above to be true
     
  14. scrapy

    scrapy Established Member

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    There is a formula agreed between Northern and ASLEF for dictating how many drivers each depot needs from the amount of work allocated to that depot. It was discovered some time ago that on the West side that formula wasn't being applied correctly and many depots whilst showing fully staffed were actually understaffed. This understaffing has gone on for several years back into the Serco Abellio franchise and ASLEF never picked up on it and became custom and practice and Arriva based their franchise bid on it. When it was picked up by ASLEF Arriva admitted the understaffing but said it was too costly to alter. It means that West side depots even when fully staffed have comparably less drivers than the East to the amount of work and probably less than other TOCs too.

    Many depots whilst fully staffed are also well behind with training although this has improved recently. A depot may have a full complement of 80 drivers but if 40 don't sign all the routes you have problems.

    Sickness levels at Northern are actually reasonably low so not the underlying cause.
     
  15. Grannyjoans

    Grannyjoans Member

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    High turnover of drivers at Northern which means plenty of newer drivers who don't have full route and traction knowledge
     
  16. 323235

    323235 Established Member

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    Is an issue like this not something that Northern should be talking to the DfT about regarding an amendment to the franchise agreement?
     
  17. scrapy

    scrapy Established Member

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    Possibly but depends whether the agreement needs changing or whether it's simply Arrivas responsibility to provide enough drivers. If it's the latter Arriva must think it's more cost efficient to rely on overtime and cancel trains than employ more drivers.
     
  18. ainsworth74

    ainsworth74 Forum Staff Staff Member Global Moderator

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    My understanding, though it might not be true at all franchises, is that the DfT usually sign off on establishment levels in the franchise agreement and if you want to vary them they have to sign off on it.
     
  19. Carlisle

    Carlisle Established Member

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    Haven’t the DFT already relieved them of a significant proportion of their original franchise commitments, when do you finally say enough is enough ?
     
  20. scrapy

    scrapy Established Member

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    What is most worrying is that Northern don't have enough drivers for services they are ruining now whereas in December they should also be running according to the franchise spec. (Most should already be running)

    An extra hourly train:-
    Manchester to Macclesfield
    Manchester to Greenbank
    Liverpool to Bradford
    Manchester Airport to Manchester Vic (add on to existing Calder Valley)
    York to Scarborough
    Wigan to Manchester via Atherton
    Manchester to Hazel Grove
    Newcastle to Middlesbrough
    +any more I've missed

    Whilst we know this won't happen, did Northern know 2/3 years ago when planning establishment numbers this wouldn't happen? (This will have been planned before the 2018 timetable problems)Where are the drivers that they should now have to operate these services? Did they ever have any plans to operate these extra services? It should all be investigated and made public, but we know it won't be.
     
  21. Llama

    Llama Established Member

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    Clearly a big push on traction training at the moment. There are currently more trainee drivers in various stages of training than we can shake a stick at, but they're not a priority at the moment, short term goal is getting enough existing drivers trained on the CAF stock for introductions onto new diagrams.

    Train crew short term sickness will usually spike at this time of year (colds/flu/norovirus etc). Here's a thought - traincrew at Northern (and other TOCs) get into an inordinate number of minicabs, usually filthy. There's a fair few of them I've been in recently where the taxi driver is also streaming with a cold - that's one small detail but probably accounts for a surprising risk to traincrew sickness levels being in an closed car so often with someone so afflicted. Ten years ago we might have got in a minicab once every few weeks, the vast majority of the same journeys were made with a dedicated company car/minibus and a TOC employed car driver instead. There were generally fewer such journeys needing road or booked as 'passenger' transport back then anyway though as the diagrams were put together by experienced diagrammers who understood what constituted a robust traincrew diagram with reliability in case of minor delays or taxis not turning up. There are diagrams now with up to half a dozen taxi journeys per shift. A lot of diagrams now have 'triangulated' work where a driver books on, works a train from A to B, then B to C, then C to A. A B and C are more often not the train's origin or destination. Let's take a diagram at Manchester Victoria - a driver might book on and work a train (which originates at Rochdale and terminates at Clitheroe) from Manchester Victoria to Blackburn. So that train has three different drivers for a relatively short 90 minute journey - one who worked it up to Rochdale and back, one from Victoria to Blackburn and one to Clitheroe and back. Three drivers, three times the risk of delay if any one of those drivers isn't in the right place at the right time. Our driver who got off at Blackburn then might be booked as a passenger from Blackburn to Preston on a train which originates at York. When they get to Preston they might be booked to relieve a Blackpool man snd work a train originating from Blackpool and terminating at Hazel Grove, working it from Preston to Oxford Rd. Yet another train with three drivers. At Oxford Rd they might be booked a break, then to work a Liverpool-Manchester Airport train between Oxford Rd and the Airport and back again. Then they might be booked to travel passenger from Oxford Rd to Piccadilly and relieve another driver of a unit to work that train to Huddersfield and back again. This isn't an extreme example of a diagram, there are dozens of diagrams like this and more of them now even involve changes on pass rides - there's one job I can think of off the top of my head where a driver is booked to travel pass from Blackburn to Liverpool and another from Preston to Chester.

    Since just over ten years ago the traincrew diagrams have been spat out of a computer program designed to squeeze more traincrew efficiency out of every diagram - anyone with half a brain can realise that if a member of traincrew is on a tight schedule to walk/get a taxi to catch a connecting train from A to B with minimal time allowances then it can go wrong far more easily. The experienced diagrammers have lost the skills needed because the computerised diagramming system is considered superior - and it is, on paper, in a perfect world, where everything runs right every day. Unfortunately this computer system isn't going anywhere fast, a large number of TOCs now use it and it's a big deal commercially - there are big contracts to adhere to.

    So why is poor performance/reliability becoming much more of an issue in the last few years? Because in addition to the above we have reached the natural tipping point which is the consequence of traincrew not being trained up to competency in 100% of their booked work - some TOCs train just enough people on just enough of their routes to wing it and just about scrape a service from day to day. More fully productive drivers 'from the days when things were done properly' with full route and traction cards are leaving or retiring and being replaced by trainees who will take years to become fully productive because training is becoming more and more difficult due to the gridlocking effect of a bigger proportion of drivers not being fully productive. Any type of new work (new traction, new routes) to a depot has a disproportionate effect on the train plan as there is a mad scramble to get a select few people trained so that the new traction/route actually has (usually the bare minimum) bods trained to work it when it comes in to service.
     
  22. Grannyjoans

    Grannyjoans Member

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    I can't see it happening. Even if they did have the train crew, it wouldn't work due to bottle necks in places like Man Vic, Man Picc, Oxford Road, Ordsall Lane, Salford Crescent.
    Trains are already often queing to get through.
     
  23. muz379

    muz379 Established Member

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    As well as the things you have just mentioned in your spot on post , we also have a reduction in numbers of train-crew available to cover disruption , with people shown spare in the link almost always being marked up to full work , and standby people being given full uncovered jobs the minute they walk through the door .

    And lets face it , even before when diagrams had more realistic allowances in them , there was always the occasion the spare/standby 'man' had to tip out to work a train , with tighter diagrams there is more of a chance that such spare or standby 'man' will be needed , but in today's world there are also less of them to go around .

    Another problem is that currently instructors in the driver grade are kept in the links , but there are some instructors who have pretty much permanently been seconded to training for the new units . This creates more lines of work that need covering .
     
  24. 507 001

    507 001 Established Member

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    On your past point, I’ve heard a few people who have moved from our place to your place are in queues for Instructors. One guy said he was something like 17th in the queue, and another who moved to Lime Street didn’t drive a train for well over a year!
     
  25. itsonlyme

    itsonlyme Member

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    all very well having all these instructors, now how about somebody for them to instruct
     
  26. Alz

    Alz New Member

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    At the moment there’s a lot of drivers being released for training on the new trains, also instructors are needed to instruct these drivers. There’s been a large recruitment of new drivers but due to the priority of getting the new trains out in service this has slowed down the training of the new drivers. The majority of the training for the new trains will be finished early next year and then more focus on getting the new drivers trained and productive
     
  27. Llama

    Llama Established Member

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    Edit - @itsonlyme
    That's not the issue here, we have trainees in the system here who have been waiting for months for an instructor and still know they won't get an instructor allocated until well after Christmas. Yet again too many trainees have been recruited in too short a space of time which just gridlocks the whole process and delays training for months or years. 'Feast and famine' doesn't work for a 15 month recruitment and training period. We have more than twice the number of instructors that we did ten years ago, we have a not incomparable number of trainees these days but we have one instructor per every eight drivers now and still can't cope.
     
    Last edited: 11 Oct 2019
  28. ComUtoR

    ComUtoR Established Member

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    Wow, sounds like exactly what happened down here with GTR.
     
  29. Matt_pool

    Matt_pool Member

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    That's the line I use. Two cancellations so far today due to shortage of train crew, including a service just now that I was planning on getting into Lime Street which is going to make me late to meet some friends.

    Good job it isn't going to make me late for work. But the train I use to commute to work was cancelled one day last week which forced me to make alternative arrangements at short notice.

    You get used to the delays and cancellations with Northern and just accept it as a fact of life that is never going to get better!
     

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