Northern Rail - A Suburban Service for Cities ?

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yorksrob

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Northern Rail has lots of publicity about people swimming, and how it's supposed to link together the North. This seems to be the case for suburban settlements near or between the major cities, but is this the case for the rest of the North ? I can only speak from my own experience, but as a regular traveller on the Settle & Carlisle and Little North Western routes West of Skipton, I have to say no.

Northern Rail treats these routes as an afterthought:

  • The strikes- all services stopped on the S&C. I think there might have been a bus. Not much more to Lancaster.
  • Lockdown 1. We were all allowed out in June. S&C services finished at 17:00/18:00 in the afternoon - untill about August as I remember, by which time the war drums of lockdown 2 were beginniong to beat.
  • Lockdown 3 - Lockdown timetables implemented swiftly in January, yet when lockdown is eased at the end of March, we're told that abysmal lockdown timetables on the S&C and LNW won't be improved until May at the earliest.
The reality is that Northen rail aren't fit to, or interested in running longer distance inter-regional services. They will cut them at the drop of a hat. They're only interested in suburban services between the cities, egged on by Transport for the North and the Department of Transport.
 
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tbtc

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Yeah, these private companies are terrible; it'd be much better if the Northern operation was taken over by the Gover... oh, wait, yeah, I remember...

Maybe have a think about *why* Northern treats these lines as less of a priority than the busy ones around the cities... maybe that tells you something about revenue from long rural services...

(that said, all routes saw some reductions during strikes/ lockdowns - not just your favourite ones - it's just that a diagram removed from an irregular rural service leaves a large gap in the timetable, whereas a gap in a half hourly or hourly service elsewhere doesn't stand out as much (but may inconvenience more passengers)

What's your alternative though? If Northern are only operating half the staff/ trains/ diagram due to strikes etc, you'd rather that they ran a full service not he Bentham route, which would mean disproportionately more reductions on other services? But those other routes are fine to suffer as long as people have a scenic day out?

Or is this just a general rant? Fair enough - everyone thinks that their favourite routes are disproportionately cut - maybe this is just another complaint about Covid - but I don't know where you think they should make cuts during events like a strike - should Normanton - Leeds drop down to every two or three hours instead?
 

DB

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It's worth noting that with people being confined to this country the S&C is likely to be very busy pretty soon!

Let's hope they don't restart that other annoying practice on that line of reserving a load of the seats for a coach party (usually between Settle and Appleby), whereas there is no ability on any Northern service for 'normal' passengers to reserve seats at all.
 

yorksrob

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Yeah, these private companies are terrible; it'd be much better if the Northern operation was taken over by the Gover... oh, wait, yeah, I remember...

Maybe have a think about *why* Northern treats these lines as less of a priority than the busy ones around the cities... maybe that tells you something about revenue from long rural services...

(that said, all routes saw some reductions during strikes/ lockdowns - not just your favourite ones - it's just that a diagram removed from an irregular rural service leaves a large gap in the timetable, whereas a gap in a half hourly or hourly service elsewhere doesn't stand out as much (but may inconvenience more passengers)

What's your alternative though? If Northern are only operating half the staff/ trains/ diagram due to strikes etc, you'd rather that they ran a full service not he Bentham route, which would mean disproportionately more reductions on other services? But those other routes are fine to suffer as long as people have a scenic day out?

Or is this just a general rant? Fair enough - everyone thinks that their favourite routes are disproportionately cut - maybe this is just another complaint about Covid - but I don't know where you think they should make cuts during events like a strike - should Normanton - Leeds drop down to every two or three hours instead?

I've made no mention of ownersip of the company !

I think that generally - given the circumstances I don't dissapprove of railway companies cutting down on routes with frequent services.

I'm glad you've mentioned Normanton. We (the Hallam line) have dropped from a stopper and two semi-fasts an hour to just the stopper. Normy has lost some peak time services. I think that this is an acceptable reduction because the route still has an acceptable day long service.

The same can't be said for services west of Skipton where everything stops past 18:00. This is not a usable day long service.

It's worth noting that with people being confined to this country the S&C is likely to be very busy pretty soon!

Let's hope they don't restart that other annoying practice on that line of reserving a load of the seats for a coach party (usually between Settle and Appleby), whereas there is no ability on any Northern service for 'normal' passengers to reserve seats at all.

Yes, that was annoying, but at least they ran the trains for the rest of us.
 

DynamicSpirit

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  • The strikes- all services stopped on the S&C. I think there might have been a bus. Not much more to Lancaster.
  • Lockdown 1. We were all allowed out in June. S&C services finished at 17:00/18:00 in the afternoon - untill about August as I remember, by which time the war drums of lockdown 2 were beginniong to beat.
  • Lockdown 3 - Lockdown timetables implemented swiftly in January, yet when lockdown is eased at the end of March, we're told that abysmal lockdown timetables on the S&C and LNW won't be improved until May at the earliest.

Frustrating as I understand it is, would I be correct in thinking that the services around Liverpool/Manchester/Leeds are more likely to be carrying commuters who still need to travel in the lockdown, while lines like the S&C are more likely to be carrying leisure travellers, who therefore shouldn't be travelling anyway during the lockdown? That could account for a higher priority given to maintaining inter-urban routes.
 

yorksrob

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Frustrating as I understand it is, would I be correct in thinking that the services around Liverpool/Manchester/Leeds are more likely to be carrying commuters who still need to travel in the lockdown, while lines like the S&C are more likely to be carrying leisure travellers, who therefore shouldn't be travelling anyway during the lockdown? That could account for a higher priority given to maintaining inter-urban routes.

You're absolutely right - there will be more workers and key workers going from St Helens to Lime street, but there will still be workers from Appleby to Carlisle and Settle to Leeds, so it's not an excuse to cut the service half way through the day any more than for St Helens - Liverpool.

In terms of lockdown, "stay at home" ends on Monday, so railway timetables should reflect that.
 

SuperNova

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In terms of lockdown, "stay at home" ends on Monday, so railway timetables should reflect that.
And they will at some operators, strangely not Northern - at least according to their social media, they're waiting for May. However, TPE are.

But one to remember - the ease of restrictions changes to stay local, so any leisure travel isn't really permitted, so we shouldn't see a surge in passenger numbers. They should be introducing more services from 12 April, should the roadmap not change.
 

sportzbar

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Another issue is the lack of trained drivers. Covid has really put back the training programme for new drivers, route learning, traction training etc by over a year now. Add to that staff isolating/shielding and retiring and the number of qualified drivers starts to shrink. On training courses for traction where there used to be 5 or 6 trainees there is now only a maximum of 2 trainees.

On top of all of this training bubbles need to be formed which sounds simple but actually takes time with Covid testing etc.

I know all this because I'm one of those trainees, still waiting to get all my traction training finished so I can go out with an instructor. I've been stuck waiting over 12 months now...
 

STEVIEBOY1

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It's worth noting that with people being confined to this country the S&C is likely to be very busy pretty soon!

Let's hope they don't restart that other annoying practice on that line of reserving a load of the seats for a coach party (usually between Settle and Appleby), whereas there is no ability on any Northern service for 'normal' passengers to reserve seats at all.
The trains on the SCR do seem to lack enough carriages sometimes, I got on one at Shipley going northwards and it was rammed, we did have seat reservations, but people where sat in our seats, it did not make a good start to the trip. This was on the Saturday of one of the May bank holiday weekends. Would TPE be better at running the SCR trains and the other service from Leeds to Morecombe/Heysham perhaps?
 

Neptune

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Most routes have had a cut in service and have earlier timetabled finishes. What makes the S&C so different or is it the usual Northern bashing.
 

Ianno87

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Also worth noting that on, say, the Bentham line, the resource utilisation is poor.

A round trip from Skipton to Morecambe and back takes just over 3 hours. And that's not even reaching Leeds.

That same unit could, for example, make more round trips on a shorter route in the same time.

Northern are having to deploy their finite resource where they of greatest overall benefit. And that's not the Bentham line.
 

SteveM70

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The trains on the SCR do seem to lack enough carriages sometimes, I got on one at Shipley going northwards and it was rammed, we did have seat reservations, but people where sat in our seats, it did not make a good start to the trip. This was on the Saturday of one of the May bank holiday weekends. Would TPE be better at running the SCR trains and the other service from Leeds to Morecombe/Heysham perhaps?

Intrigued by this - how did you have seat reservations? I thought Northern didn’t do them?
 

Johnny Lewis

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I guess what's also sad is that the "Northern Connect" concept, which would have finally seen some proper investment in, and development of, a genuine inter-regional network to complement that provided by TPE, has been quietly dropped, with presumably no likelihood of resurrection. So farewell to regular direct services from Bradford to Liverpool, Manchester Airport and Nottingham. Even well-established services such as Liverpool to Manchester Airport are potentially at risk, due to the ongoing need to reduce train services through the Castlefield corridor in Manchester.

There seems to be a growing consensus of opinion that long distance trains always suffer with poor performance, so we can't have them. (Except on Crosscountry where there'd be howls of protest if someone suggested that perhaps a 2 hourly service from Glasgow to Plymouth via Newcastle were NOT the optimum use of resource...)

But back to Northern. At least their introduction of new and refurbished rolling stock is now complete and I think they're doing the best they can under what has been extraordinary circumstances during the last 12 months. I only hope that, in time, they ARE able to introduce some of Arriva's original franchise commitments. Certainly, in "normal" times, there's a strong need for a second train per hour between York and Scarborough. A third fast train per hour between Manchester and Sheffield is also likely to fall into Northern's remit. And going back to three (or even four) trains per hour on the Atherton line would be great to see - a proper, turn-up-and-go service frequency. I'm sure there's still untapped potential for faster trains on the Calder Valley, although the need to call at the intermediate stations so frequently, and a lack of passing places, makes this much more difficult to achieve. And ultimately, wouldn't we all like to see some genuinely "fast" services on the S&C - perhaps a two-hourly limited stop service interworked with a two-hourly stopping service. Maybe it will still be possible, post-Covid.
 

yorksrob

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And they will at some operators, strangely not Northern - at least according to their social media, they're waiting for May. However, TPE are.

But one to remember - the ease of restrictions changes to stay local, so any leisure travel isn't really permitted, so we shouldn't see a surge in passenger numbers. They should be introducing more services from 12 April, should the roadmap not change.

I would say "strangely" with regard to Northern, but sadly not untypical, particularly west of Skipton which they clearly can't be bothered with. It's almost as though Northern would rather not have the hassle of running trains.

The issue is that you could well have someone living in Appleby who wants to go for a ramble with their friend in Kirkby Stephen, which anyone reasonable would count as staying local. Or someone in Horton visiting their aunt in Settle etc, so there's absolutely no justification for not running a day long service on the basis of non-local travel not being allowed.

Another issue is the lack of trained drivers. Covid has really put back the training programme for new drivers, route learning, traction training etc by over a year now. Add to that staff isolating/shielding and retiring and the number of qualified drivers starts to shrink. On training courses for traction where there used to be 5 or 6 trainees there is now only a maximum of 2 trainees.

On top of all of this training bubbles need to be formed which sounds simple but actually takes time with Covid testing etc.

I know all this because I'm one of those trainees, still waiting to get all my traction training finished so I can go out with an instructor. I've been stuck waiting over 12 months now...

They come up with this excuse every time.

They were running an almost full day service prior to January (albeit with some trains missing since last March).

I just don't believe that there has been such a precipitous reduction in headcount since then to make them have to cut the service half way through the day. And if there has been such a loss of staff, how come all the other lines seem to have not suffered such a loss in staff.

This is all about convenience to Northern Rail.
 

HarryL

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The trains on the SCR do seem to lack enough carriages sometimes, I got on one at Shipley going northwards and it was rammed, we did have seat reservations, but people where sat in our seats, it did not make a good start to the trip. This was on the Saturday of one of the May bank holiday weekends. Would TPE be better at running the SCR trains and the other service from Leeds to Morecombe/Heysham perhaps?
Speaking from experience, the line basically becomes commuter when it gets beyond Skipton towards Leeds, or upto Skipton the other way, especially in the mornings and late afternoons.

Not sure it'd do much better under TPE, it does soak up a good number of people waiting on platforms at peak times, just needs more carriages as it fills up quickly.
 

yorksrob

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Also worth noting that on, say, the Bentham line, the resource utilisation is poor.

A round trip from Skipton to Morecambe and back takes just over 3 hours. And that's not even reaching Leeds.

That same unit could, for example, make more round trips on a shorter route in the same time.

Northern are having to deploy their finite resource where they of greatest overall benefit. And that's not the Bentham line.

They ought to run the 20:30 from Lancaster in that case - which at least connects with the rest of the network and has always carried far more passengers than the 21:30.

Most routes have had a cut in service and have earlier timetabled finishes. What makes the S&C so different or is it the usual Northern bashing.

I'm sorry - which other routes have seen four hours of the day lopped off of the timetable ? None around here, I can tell you.

I guess what's also sad is that the "Northern Connect" concept, which would have finally seen some proper investment in, and development of, a genuine inter-regional network to complement that provided by TPE, has been quietly dropped, with presumably no likelihood of resurrection. So farewell to regular direct services from Bradford to Liverpool, Manchester Airport and Nottingham. Even well-established services such as Liverpool to Manchester Airport are potentially at risk, due to the ongoing need to reduce train services through the Castlefield corridor in Manchester.

There seems to be a growing consensus of opinion that long distance trains always suffer with poor performance, so we can't have them. (Except on Crosscountry where there'd be howls of protest if someone suggested that perhaps a 2 hourly service from Glasgow to Plymouth via Newcastle were NOT the optimum use of resource...)

But back to Northern. At least their introduction of new and refurbished rolling stock is now complete and I think they're doing the best they can under what has been extraordinary circumstances during the last 12 months. I only hope that, in time, they ARE able to introduce some of Arriva's original franchise commitments. Certainly, in "normal" times, there's a strong need for a second train per hour between York and Scarborough. A third fast train per hour between Manchester and Sheffield is also likely to fall into Northern's remit. And going back to three (or even four) trains per hour on the Atherton line would be great to see - a proper, turn-up-and-go service frequency. I'm sure there's still untapped potential for faster trains on the Calder Valley, although the need to call at the intermediate stations so frequently, and a lack of passing places, makes this much more difficult to achieve. And ultimately, wouldn't we all like to see some genuinely "fast" services on the S&C - perhaps a two-hourly limited stop service interworked with a two-hourly stopping service. Maybe it will still be possible, post-Covid.

They need to get the day job right before the aspirational stuff.
 

alistairlees

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They were running an almost full day service prior to January (albeit with some trains missing since last March).

I just don't believe that there has been such a precipitous reduction in headcount since then to make them have to cut the service half way through the day. And if there has been such a loss of staff, how come all the other lines seem to have not suffered such a loss in staff.

This is all about convenience to Northern Rail.
It's all about all the TOCs being told by DfT to reduce the number of services running from lockdown in January so as not to cart fresh air about, and potentially save some costs. Different TOCs were able to reduce services at different speeds, and some (all?) are now ramping up services again on the flows where it is most justified. Most services that previously ran (extra peak hour services possibly excepted) will be running again from the May timetable change, or thereabouts, I expect. There will inevitably be some local (within TOC) and between TOC variations. All in time for the promotion of rail travel again in summer.
 

Glenn1969

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Some Northern suburban services are still reduced. Leeds-Bradford-Halifax has lost one train in most hours and our last train has been withdrawn. I admit to being disappointed in this
 

peters

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The Mid-Cheshire line has got a bad deal under both the RMT strikes and the COVID timetables.

The strikes were either a very limited Chester to Altrincham train service or a very limited Chester to Altrincham rail replacement bus, at best around every 3 hours, at worse around 3 or 4 services per day.

The COVID timetable has generally been 2 hourly from around 7am to 7pm, not even increasing to hourly at peak times. The last time a full weekday timetable ran was around 25 March last year.

Note that this is a route which should have gone half-hourly at the main stations in 2017 and a route which serves the largest city on Northern's network, as well as there not being suitable normal bus services, unlike on many of the other routes around the big cities on Northern's network. For example, Buxton has retained an hourly service both during the strikes and during COVID despite hourly Buxton to Manchester Airport via Stockport buses, which run a similar route to the train and extremely frequent Hazel Grove to Manchester via Stockport buses. It almost seems like they prioritised retaining a service on routes where there's competition to prevent losing their passengers to a competitor.
 

yorksrob

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It's all about all the TOCs being told by DfT to reduce the number of services running from lockdown in January so as not to cart fresh air about, and potentially save some costs. Different TOCs were able to reduce services at different speeds, and some (all?) are now ramping up services again on the flows where it is most justified. Most services that previously ran (extra peak hour services possibly excepted) will be running again from the May timetable change, or thereabouts, I expect. There will inevitably be some local (within TOC) and between TOC variations. All in time for the promotion of rail travel again in summer.

They're doing it wrong.

Going from 3 trains in an hour to two or even one is an acceptable way to achieve this. Lopping four hours off the day isn't.

We had the ludicrous situation last year where outdoor activity was enabled in the summer and Northern didn't even reinstate a day long service on the S&C until the next lockdowns were beginning in August. Such a situation is unjustifiable.
 

Glenn1969

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All trains are showing in the May RTT Rob. Have just viewed the all day schedule for Skipton on 19th May and it looks like Northern have restored the full service on the Bentham Line including the late train that turns round at Ribblehead and the 2244 Skipton arrival from Lancaster?
 

skyhigh

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I'm sorry - which other routes have seen four hours of the day lopped off of the timetable ? None around here, I can tell you.
Leeds-Harrogate the last train is now 21.29 v 23.39, not quite 4 hours but still a decent cut. Leeds-Doncaster is generally every other hour now. A lot of lines have suffered service reductions.
They're only interested in suburban services between the cities, egged on by Transport for the North and the Department of Transport
They're not being "egged on" by the DfT. In the brave new world, the DfT make the decisions and tell Northern what to implement. Northern don't have much choice in the matter. You might think Northern are doing it wrong, but I can tell you there's no point complaining about them, because they're not the ones making decisions here. If you're unhappy, speak to your MP.
 

alistairlees

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All trains are showing in the May RTT Rob. Have just viewed the all day schedule for Skipton on 19th May and it looks like Northern have restored the full service on the Bentham Line including the late train that turns round at Ribblehead and the 2244 Skipton arrival from Lancaster?
You beat me to it. I can see an increase in services between Skipton and Lancaster, and between Skipton and Settle, from Sunday 16th May. There are six services between Skipton and Lancaster on weekdays. I don't know what the service was like before the pandemic, but I'm sure I recall a recent time when it was only four trains a day each way. Obviously more trains would be nice, but it's probably unlikely to happen given the current state of things. Skipton to Settle has nine trains on a weekday from the timetable change. Which seems pretty good.
 

Ianno87

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You beat me to it. I can see an increase in services between Skipton and Lancaster, and between Skipton and Settle, from Sunday 16th May. There are six services between Skipton and Lancaster on weekdays. I don't know what the service was like before the pandemic, but I'm sure I recall a recent time when it was only four trains a day each way. Obviously more trains would be nice, but it's probably unlikely to happen given the current state of things. Skipton to Settle has nine trains on a weekday from the timetable change. Which seems pretty good.

A more frequent service between Skipton and Lancaster only strikes me as better than a less frequent service running through to Leeds.
 

Iskra

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I think it’s unfair to criticise the operator that tried to implement (probably) the best ever service frequencies on the Bentham Line and S&C, that didn’t come to fruition due to a global pandemic.

It’s probably a very difficult task providing a usable service at the moment while controlling costs, and let’s face it even pre-pandemic evening trains on these routes were quiet outside of the summer- I speak as someone who has lived in Lancaster, Carnforth, West Yorkshire and even had Garsdale as my local station over the last 30 years so have used these trains frequently. I’m also normally a great champion of these two routes and a basher of Northern, but a bit of realism wouldn’t go amiss in the present climate.

It is however a great shame that the pandemic killed evening service usage just as a decent timetable was arriving.

And I think it’s right that Northern prioritises services where people actually live.
 
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HamworthyGoods

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I’m not quite sure what the issue is here, Northern are ramping up the S&C service to what looks like a full timetable at the May change which is when the majority of operators are having their post timetable uplift..
 

MrEd

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In terms of lockdown, "stay at home" ends on Monday, so railway timetables should reflect that.
Not necessarily- first of all, even though you are no longer legally required to stay at home under English law, you are required to stay local until at least April 12, which would rule out travel from Leeds to Carlisle (although admittedly a journey from e.g. Skipton to Settle or Ribblehead might be just about OK). I must say I’m losing track of all these restrictions now- is the English ‘stay local’ one comparable to the Scottish one which forbids you to leave your council area without a good reason, but will allow you to travel freely within it from 5 April? A slightly unbalanced rule, as some Scottish council areas are the size of Belgium while others are just one city. Presumably ‘local’ in England can also be defined as within your local authority area?

Also, the Department for Transport in England may well continue to stipulate that public transport is for essential journeys only, not for recreational activities. They may continue to stipulate this even after shops, pubs and accommodation reopens- I noticed that when the first lockdown eased, the ’essential journeys only’ rule was not dropped by the DfT (and not removed from TOCs’ websites) until 15 July, even if the ‘stay at home’ order expired in June. How this rule is enforced I am not sure, as the police can no longer force you to return/stay at home. Could they still stop you boarding a train if you didn’t show an essential need to use one? I don’t know. That said, if the ’essential journeys only’ rule persists, the TOCs will do no more than is required to facilitate essential travel (often because they don’t have the staff or logistics to do so, however much they might want to) and will do their utmost to dissuade non-essential use of their services to avoid ovecrowding.

Given that there are still significant restrictions on our activities until May 17th, when we see the full reopening of hospitality and most other leisure activities, it wouldn’t surprise me if operators like Northern kept the ‘essential travel only’ rule until then and then restored a full timetable at the May timetable change.
 
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HamworthyGoods

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Not necessarily- first of all, even though you are no longer legally required to stay at home under English law, you are required to stay local until at least April 12, which would rule out travel from Leeds to Carlisle (although admittedly a journey from e.g. Skipton to Settle or Ribblehead might be just about OK).

Also, the Department for Transport may well continue to stipulate that public transport is for essential journeys only, not for recreational activities. They may continue to stipulate this even after shops, pubs and accommodation reopens- I noticed that when the first lockdown eased, the ’essential journeys only’ rule was not dropped by the DfT (and not removed from TOCs’ websites) until 15 July, even if the ‘stay at home’ order expired in June. How this rule is enforced I am not sure, as the police can no longer force you to return/stay at home. Could they still stop you boarding a train if you didn’t show an essential need to use one? I don’t know. That said, if the ’essential journeys only’ rule persists, the TOCs will do no more than is required to facilitate essential travel (often because they don’t have the staff or logistics to do so), and will do their utmost to dissuade non-essential use of their services to avoid ovecrowding.

Exactly and the ending of the stay local message on April 12th does not coincide with a timetable change. For the majority of operators DfT have asked for the ramp up on service to happen on May 17th.

Demand isn’t going to go from very little to everyone back overnight - there is still a pandemic going on!
 

willgreen

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The S&C and Bentham lines are probably the biggest basket cases under Northern's remit. That's a pretty solid reason why they shouldn't get as good a service as, say, local services around Manchester. It's also worth noting that neither route really links any cities together in a meaningful manner (what little traffic there is Leeds-Carlisle is adequately dealt with the WCML. And Appleby isn't exactly a city!), so I think your premise is a bit off anyway.
 

peters

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Exactly and the ending of the stay local message on April 12th does not coincide with a timetable change. For the majority of operators DfT have asked for the ramp up on service to happen on May 17th.

Demand isn’t going to go from very little to everyone back overnight - there is still a pandemic going on!

There needs to be more engagement if the train operators want to run a service which meets passenger demand. Northern could easily email those who have purchased smart card season tickets since March 2020 with a survey link to find out if they still need to travel and when they need to travel. It could also identify which lines should be priority for flexible season ticket roll out.

With the schools being back and Northern running fewer services, there are some services which have the same or more demand than they had in March 2020.

Also, the Department for Transport in England may well continue to stipulate that public transport is for essential journeys only, not for recreational activities. They may continue to stipulate this even after shops, pubs and accommodation reopens- I noticed that when the first lockdown eased, the ’essential journeys only’ rule was not dropped by the DfT (and not removed from TOCs’ websites) until 15 July, even if the ‘stay at home’ order expired in June.

I observed they asked people to avoid travelling on the busiest peak trains where possible. That would be easier to do if they didn't have gaps of up to 2 hours between services.
 
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