Northern - is the bad PR unfair?

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Gems

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Have to agree. Occasionally I have business travel to Leeds. I get the first train of the day from Carnforth. I'd say half the time it clearly hasn't been cleaned from the day before - litter strewn, dirty marks, etc., and sometimes the toilet is already blocked out of order. As it's first train of the day, Northern can't blame passengers - the blame lies fairly and squarely on Northern not cleaning/maintaining it overnight.

First train of the day from Carnforth to Leeds originates at Skipton. It is always cleaned.
As for the toilet, a multitude of sins for it to be locked out of use. That set is the set that has formed the last train from Lancaster to Skipton the night before. Like every other set it is booked to be tanked, however the problem comes if it needs other forms of maintenance, there is nobody at Skipton who can do this.
 
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Gems

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Northern cannot be blamed for all ill's. But you don't go around creating a whole raft of new ones. Taking crew diagrams almost to the legal limit because you can. Splitting up crews because you can. Creating questionable working environments for your staff. Non of these help.

Chasing the last pound, that is Northerns contribution to the chaos.
 

Gems

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I live in south London so use the railways around here a bit but I also spend a bit of time travelling in Northern-land. One difference that strikes me is that, whereas in the south, it's mostly 'suits' who use the trains, Northern passengers appear to be much poorer - broken-down old pensioners, students, people in grubby overalls - more the sort of people who you would see using buses in the South.

Like it or not, that colours perceptions of what is acceptable in terms of things like train cleanliness, comfort levels and so on. I don't think filthy Pacer-type trains would have tolerated for one minute in southern England but they're deemed to be OK for the sorts of ignorant oiks that use trains in the North. I'm NOT saying that everyone up North is poor, rather that, with parking in most cities still readily available, 'nice' middle class types there tend to go everywhere by car and hardly ever venture onto trains, or indeed any form of public tansport.
It's because we have poor bus services up here in Northernland. The buses don't have enough space for our wippets either.
 

RailFan89

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I think the PR is fair and justified.

I think Northen expect people to moan about cancellations, delays and whatever else and then just go about there day as normal. With the disastrous timetable change that happened earlier in the year and Northens awful handling of it and the outrage from commuters that it caused I think the calls for it to be stripped of it's contract is perfectly acceptable. Northens lack of customer care is another huge factor as well which warrents them losing the contract.
 

SteveM70

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I think the true level of the service isn’t widely understood.

I started commuting into Manchester on the Calder Valley line in 2014 and fairly early on I was surprised how poor the service was, mainly because my previous experience was largely off peak. I happened to have a conversation about this with a then director or Northern, and he suggested I keep a record of their performance as I directly experienced it “because you’ll see how much it improves during 2015”.

So that plus me being a bit OCDish with numbers saw me start recording stuff in a spreadsheet.

So far this year just over 60% of my trains have arrived within 5 minutes of time, and only 12% have actually arrived on time. Their performance is stunningly bad
 

Gems

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I think the PR is fair and justified.

I think Northen expect people to moan about cancellations, delays and whatever else and then just go about there day as normal. With the disastrous timetable change that happened earlier in the year and Northens awful handling of it and the outrage from commuters that it caused I think the calls for it to be stripped of it's contract is perfectly acceptable. Northens lack of customer care is another huge factor as well which warrents them losing the contract.

Reminds me of a incident a year or two back. A failed train in front, but at least we were at a station. A woman was going mental, she was adamant her 'tweet' to Northern's 'tweety club' was going to get results.
Once she got the reply, she suddenly realised what I was saying was right all along.

There's PR. Bad PR, and Northern's bull****.
 

SteveM70

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Reminds me of a incident a year or two back. A failed train in front, but at least we were at a station. A woman was going mental, she was adamant her 'tweet' to Northern's 'tweety club' was going to get results.
Once she got the reply, she suddenly realised what I was saying was right all along.

There's PR. Bad PR, and Northern's bull****.

There are only three surefire ways of getting a timely response from Northern’s twitter team:

1 - say something positive

2 - tweet a photo of a train

3 - reply to one of their inane quizzes
 

Gems

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This below is their latest fantasy. LOL. Funny how a tweet about heat is supposed to get results but a entry in the repair book is ignored for weeks.

Northern

@northernassist
️ Avoid the freeze, reporting a fault is a breeze! Heating on our trains is mainly controlled at our depots so if you do encounter an issue, please let us know so we can have it repaired. #DidYouKnow ️
 

Bantamzen

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There are only three surefire ways of getting a timely response from Northern’s twitter team:

1 - say something positive

2 - tweet a photo of a train

3 - reply to one of their inane quizzes

Not necessarily true, I use them occasionally to report issues and they are usually pretty good at confirming that the report as been submitted. Admittedly if people are just moaning for the sake of moaning, or demanding that their social media team give them a minute by minute update on unit moves then it might take a bit longer....
 

Gems

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Not necessarily true, I use them occasionally to report issues and they are usually pretty good at confirming that the report as been submitted. Admittedly if people are just moaning for the sake of moaning, or demanding that their social media team give them a minute by minute update on unit moves then it might take a bit longer....
But has the report been submitted though. Has it? This you will never know.
 

joke2711

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I have been using Northern to travel the short distance from Rainford to Kirkby for around a year now.

Rainford Station does not have any information screens although it does have a ticket machine but on the opposite platform to where most people are travelling towards (in the peak).

My usual morning service 0712 has been cancelled a couple of times but usually runs albeit a few minutes late. The problem with this service is that 4 carriages turn up but only 2 fit on the platforms. Often the doors are not opened and you have to make you way to the one door that the Guard has opened to access. No wonder it loses so much time between Wigan and Kirkby each morning. As for the Guards, one is very pleasant and always walks through and sells tickets, but that is the exception and most journeys there is no option of buying a ticket with cash as you don't get to see the guard.

The return journey is more problematic. The 1736 from Kirkby has been cancelled countless times and when this is an hourly service it is frustrating to say the least. Northern never mention this service on their social media and often the train is cancelled and the Merseyrail staff at Kirkby have not been informed. Once in about 15 cancellations we have had a replacement bus service, but that was only when the 1629 was cancelled also.

The one positive on this journey is that is tends to be refurbished stock, although Pacers do turn up. The morning is mostly pacers.

As for the Customer Service Teams, they are more interested in playing stupid missing word games and quizzes than providing updated and realtime travel information. I guess that standing on Kirkby Station for 70 minutes .. having a quiz that is "name the city beginning with "L" that is home of the Beatles" will pass the time .... that is if you can get a connection to 3G/4G ...
 

156420

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Take the “City Line” for example used to describe the routes radiating out of Lime Street.

Rewind 10 years and it was one of the constantly highest performing and reliable service groups on Northern. Probably the jewel in the crown for the former Serco/Abellio franchise!

Now; it’s a mess most days unfortunately, and 2 reasons spring to mind. Of course, I know these are very over-simplistic.

1. TPE.

2. The diversion of the former Lime St-Man Vic/Stalybridge services through the Castlefield Corridor to Picc & Crewe.
 

Carlisle

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One thing that should have been begun many, many years ago (IMO) is for all new recruits to be placed on a true 7-day contract
The unions would see that as a potential assault on bargaining power, which would’ve likley produced the same outcome as trying to introduce DOO did, & as others have stated previously there appears no consensus either within the industry or its political paymasters on how to address those kinda problems otherwise they’d have been specified as a franchise commitment years ago.
 
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Bantamzen

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But has the report been submitted though. Has it? This you will never know.

Well I've submitted reports about the TVM not working at my local station, then later on in the day it is. Have you any reason to suggest why there would be no correlation, other than the default RUK position on this particular TOC?
 

gazzaa2

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The brand reputational damage from 2018 omnishambles is hard to come back from. It doesn't help they're still using Pacers on the line and still regularly short form until they get all their new stock. The northern commuter has had a gutful in general with the railways. If you're not getting a train to or from London, or off peak away from the school holidays, you're unlikely to get a good service (or a seat half the time) and Northern arent to blame for that.

Are they any worse than certain other operators? No. LNR are having the kind of year Northern had last year and TPE have gone downhill. Cross Country trains always too few carriages and overcrowded.

Northern have had an ok year generally but 2018 was so bad they've took a massive hit.
 

Bletchleyite

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Imagine if an airline ordered new planes which were late into service and then turned out to be unreliable, resulting in cancelled flights.

Let's be fair, airlines have ordered new planes which have turned out to be unreliable and have crashed and killed people, and this has happened a few times in history.
 

Bletchleyite

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Northern cannot be blamed for all ill's. But you don't go around creating a whole raft of new ones. Taking crew diagrams almost to the legal limit because you can. Splitting up crews because you can. Creating questionable working environments for your staff. Non of these help.

Of course, this also occurs at London commuter TOCs - Northern are not the only one experiencing poor service for exactly the same reasons at the moment! Of course any "race to the bottom" (choose the cheapest) franchising system will always lead to this, because companies will make undeliverable bids as they have to to win.
 

northernchris

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I think the railways in general deserve the bad PR, but not all of it should be directed at Northern. Whilst they have made mistakes I don't believe anyone else, be it another TOC or a government run organisation would have made a better job. Over run engineering works, late delivery of stock and having to give way to other operators late running services is not something Arriva can be blamed for. Whoever signed off the timetable for the Castlefield corridor has to accept a large amount of responsibility for the daily carnage as there isn't the resilience to be able to provide a reliable service.

However, Arriva do need to improve on cleanliness (they have at least learnt flat cloth isn't practical!) and the information they provide during times of disruption. The amount of times short forms aren't reported on JourneyCheck is very high. I now use Great Northern's website as their excellent live times shows train formations which has always been accurate - little things like this should be easy for Northern to fix.

A lot of Northern's problems occur elsewhere, such as tight diagramming and cancellations through lack of available crew which makes me think these would have occurred no matter whose name was on the side of the trains. I've seen a lot of improvements over the past 12-18 months, and it is a little disappointing these have been overshadowed by the failures of the industry which must have had an impact in attracting new custom

Overall I'd say Northern are satisfactory, and compare quite favourably with the congested road network and unreliable bus services, particularly around Leeds and Bradford
 

SteveM70

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Casting my mind back to the 2018 timetable fiasco, the other thing Northern abjectly failed at was how to manage the PR element. In the immediate aftermath their directors were invisible (media interviews, social media, met the manager sessions) until a couple of weeks in David Brown did some interviews which were a half hearted mea culpa and a lot of finger pointing. I can’t remember the precise chronology, but it was around this time that Liam Sumpter started taking potshots at dissatisfied customers on twitter.

From memory the MD of GTR was on the ground talking and apologising to customers. Maybe it didn’t improve the service, but it probably helped their reputation a little.

It’s only recently that the meet the manager sessions have been reintroduced
 

Bantamzen

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Overall I'd say Northern are satisfactory, and compare quite favourably with the congested road network and unreliable bus services, particularly around Leeds and Bradford

Indeed, despite the daily moans & groans from some of my fellow commuters, we all generally get to work & home more or less when we expect to. Try doing the same on the buses in the peak hours, and you will lose the will to live. And even when things go bang, they are normally quite good at getting into recovery mode, particularly on the Aire & Wharfe services. It can be frustrating if your service is the one that is turned short to make up for it of course, but it does often mean you haven't got long to wait for your next service as the late runners jump our of the way.

That will be little consolation to commuters west of the Pennines of course, they can only hope that at least some of the lessons learned in Yorkshire could be applied there too. Of course this does mean the RMT engaging with such things, and that might be a sticking point there.
 

underbank

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First train of the day from Carnforth to Leeds originates at Skipton. It is always cleaned.

The few passengers on it must be scruffy buggers then, also surprised the Skipton McDonalds opens so early as when it arrives at Carnforth filthy, there's usually a couple of McD's bags/cups rolling around on the floor.
 

tbtc

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Ordering 2 and 3 coach trains instead of 3 and 4 gives greater flexibility for doubled-up working, because of platform lengths

They should have ordered them with corridor connections then.

the May 2018 timetable shambles was not the fault of Northern - they simply had to fit around new TPE services, the new poorly thought out infrastructure and their own franchise requirements, which inevitably led to delays and cancellations

I agree that, if NR had provided these paths to Northern then it's not entirely Northern's fault if they cannot run them - this isn't like a bus company introducing a new route without taking traffic congestion into account - if the paths were not reliable then they shouldn't have been granted.

But then, the paths are a mess. I don't know how much of the problem is down to Northern and how much down to the franchise requirements but the muddle of routes and the complicated interworking has been a disaster.

Mainly this is a "west side" problem. Yorkshire diagrams seem simpler than in the days of Abellio/Serco (remember the "Grand Tour" from Manchester to Wakefield via Selby, and the Sunthorpe to Adwick via Lincoln services?). Yorkshire has a number of "shuttles" which terminate in Leeds/ Sheffield (which keeps thing simple). But the "Lancashire" ones are a mess - Liverpool to Crewe via Oxford Road being one obvious example. Things could be a lot simpler but the desire for all of these cross-Manchester links means that if one bit of the network fails then everything else gets affected.

But is that Arriva's fault, or the fault of a franchise where the "Stakeholders" had a long list of through services that they wanted like Bradford to Liverpool/ Chester/ Manchester Airport (instead of a simple Calder Valley service which could have longer trains at a sensible frequency, instead of a lopsided timetable with big gaps in simple journeys like Halifax to Bradford)?

I know that the Liverpool/ Manchester Airport services haven't happened yet, of course, but that's an indication of the complicated franchise demands that anyone would inherit. Replacing Arriva wouldn't resolve things - it'd just give the job to another organisation who had to deal with squabbling "Stakeholders" each with their own unrealistic demands about how important their local station/line was.

Of course, this also occurs at London commuter TOCs - Northern are not the only one experiencing poor service for exactly the same reasons at the moment! Of course any "race to the bottom" (choose the cheapest) franchising system will always lead to this, because companies will make undeliverable bids as they have to to win.

In fairness, more of the recent franchise awards seem to have gone for an element of "quality", rather than the lowest subsidy (or highest premium) - this seems less of an issue nowadays than it used to be.
 

geoffk

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Taking crew diagrams almost to the legal limit because you can. Splitting up crews because you can. Creating questionable working environments for your staff. Non of these help.
I realise that drivers and guards don't stay together for a whole duty and wondered why this was. The result is often that a train is waiting for one or the other, rarely both. I assume the maximum permitted hours on duty without a break are different but don't know what the rules are. I've only done bus crew scheduling and that was 50 years ago!
 

LowLevel

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This below is their latest fantasy. LOL. Funny how a tweet about heat is supposed to get results but a entry in the repair book is ignored for weeks.

Northern

@northernassist
️ Avoid the freeze, reporting a fault is a breeze! Heating on our trains is mainly controlled at our depots so if you do encounter an issue, please let us know so we can have it repaired. #DidYouKnow ️

Weeks? Years. Or never, more accurately. Some class 156 vehicles at various TOCs haven't had working heating in many, many years if not decades. Not easy to fix due to obsolete parts but that shouldn't be an excuse.
 

oscarthecat92

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I think it is broadly justified in the east side. I commute on the Airedale line into Leeds on a daily basis. Despite the big marketing campaign about the introduction of the 331s, there seem to be very few in service. Reliability has also taken a nose dive since the alleged 331 induction with regular morning and evening peak cancellations, leaving people unable to board rammed, aging class 321s.

There is also a perception around broken promises, the big franchise promise was more capacity and 6 car trains - these have been delayed by 2 years due to network rail not completing platform 0 at Leeds on time. The bigger own goal however is specifying the 331s with a low density layout so they have fewer seats (as a 4 car) than the outgoing 321s they will replace. This has not gone unnoticed by commuters
 

thejuggler

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The main observation, especially around Leeds where I have been commuting for almost 30 years, is there appears to have been little consideration of how the use of rail in 'Northern land' has increased, especially in the last ten years which has seen Leeds grow massively.

I can't believe in the 1990s there weren't people paid to look 10-20 years ahead and plan for the future.

30 years ago I was travelling on 2 car Pacers between Leeds and Bradford/Halifax. I still am. Then came the two car 158s. I'm still on those.

The timetable hadn't changed much until 2018, then Calder Valley times were totally messed with. 4 trains between Leeds and Bradford in half an hour or so, then nothing for almost half an hour. Is it any surprise with such tight timetabling knock on delays occur?

Station management has fallen apart since Carillion's demise. Full bins and no sign of gritting on cold mornings.

TVMs issues are covered elsewhere, but how can a connected system have a clock which is three minutes slow?

No more on platform announcements and on train PIS which hardly ever works.

I agree about the 331s. On a service which has a max running time of about 40 minutes from Leeds to Skipton why order trains with tables? Its a high density commuter route!

Thats a few random thoughts and whilst I accept Northern were dealt a lot of the cards before they won the bid, they knew what they were bidding for and the management simply haven't stepped up to the mark.
 

Bevan Price

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I live West of the Pennines, and yes - Northern are not brilliant - but Trans Pennine are equally poor, with cancellations, trains terminated short of destination, etc. But I think that much of the blame lies with DfT, for specifying service levels that are almost impossible to operate. Pre-decimal readers may recall an old saying - "you can't fit a quart into a pint pot". DfT & co have tried to do the railway equivalent - too many trains to be fitted reliably into the available network. Just a few minor delays, and you get a sort of "system overflow" - effectively the timetable collapses into chaos.....
 

js1000

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Northern aren't exactly flavour of the year with many rail passengers right now for various reasons, but are they really doing a bad job or do people just need something to whip in order to vent their frustrations at the recent problems? Northern are not the mighty all-conquering king of the railway, that title belongs to Virgin, so perhaps it is easier for people to blame Northern?

Northern have invested in new rolling stock which is to their credit, within the costs they can afford to pay. Ordering 2 and 3 coach trains instead of 3 and 4 gives greater flexibility for doubled-up working, because of platform lengths. And it is not their fault that the new trains are suffering teething problems - surely CAF are to blame here? Equally the May 2018 timetable shambles was not the fault of Northern - they simply had to fit around new TPE services, the new poorly thought out infrastructure and their own franchise requirements, which inevitably led to delays and cancellations. The lack of Sunday working is down to traincrew not working their Sunday, which they're entitled not to, and this current arrangement goes back to well before Northern (or even the old Northern) were around. Some of the trains don't have the cleanest of interiors, but you can put some of the blame on the passengers for this, and the mess they create.
Hmm. My thoughts for what their worth...

Northern: persistent staffing, diagramming and rolling stock problems.

Network Rail: for creating an unsustainable timetable that simply does not have operational resilience to adequately absorb delays particularly through Manchester.

Department for Transport: for allowing politicians to make unrealistic promises of improved services for the North by going along with an completely over-ambitious timetable. At the same time not releasing funds to make this possible such as Oxford Road upgrade, Piccadilly platforms 13/14, Lakes electrification etc.

CAF: for building unreliable trains which are not fit for purpose. Dodgy couplers, brake problems, convoluted door mechanism, rubbish windscreen wiper motors etc.

Transport for the North: for blindly encouraging more city to city services which have detrimentally affected commuter services (which Northern are overly dependent on) creating irregular calling patterns and increased cancellations.

Let's be clear Northern aren't blameless - they're staffing and diagram issues are atrocious - but it would be fair to say other parties have got off scot-free while Northern is the one that has to face passengers' ire. My concern is how endemic many of these problems have become , it's not one single party, it's multiple parties who are blindly making unrealistic promises and delivering a rubbish service.
 
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