Northern Rail - what would have made them 'good'?

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alexl92

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As Northern Rail operated by Serco and Abellio comes to it's end, it seems that most people's opinon of them is that they were largely pretty poor. Not the worst, by any means, but certainly not great either.

I'm interested to know what forum users think Northern could have realistically done to improve the service they offered and have been considered a good TOC?

What do I mean by realistically? Well, for example, most of us would have loved to have seen the pacers replaced, but that was never going to happen in the last franchise. So that's not realistic. I'm thinking more maybe customer service, management, strategy, stock condition etc.

To get started, I'd personally have liked to have seen a branding refresh at some point (I've made my feelings on their livery clear many times!) as some of their stock looked incredibly tired. Furthermore, I think their interior refresh of the Pacers was badly thought out - the high backed seats were uncomfortable and offered no room for those of us who don't have the surname 'Baggins'. I also think their ticket barrier obsession didn't endear them to customers.

Fire away...!

Please can I ask that this does not become an extension of the 'Northern Franchise to Arriva' thread? Many thanks!
 
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1D53

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If the DfT gave them £10000000000 to spend.
 

61653 HTAFC

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The obvious answer would be a franchise agreement which allowed for growth. Included in this would've been a commitment from DfT to extend some of the ludicrously short platforms around here, and of course the trains that serve there.

Personally I quite like the Northern livery, and rebranding halfway through would've been folly, as they eventually managed to have a nearly unified ĺivery on the fleet in the north for the first time since the late-1970s.
 

yorksrob

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Well, they've done some good things. What more could they have done ?

Had a better saturday service on the Whitby branch, perhaps by borrowing a DMU used for the Monday - Friday peak elsewhere.

They could have offered some competitive route only fares, for example WYorks - Lancaster via Skipton.

Kept the 308's (or at least one for special occasions).
 
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Paul_10

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As Northern Rail operated by Serco and Abellio comes to it's end, it seems that most people's opinon of them is that they were largely pretty poor. Not the worst, by any means, but certainly not great either.

I'm interested to know what forum users think Northern could have realistically done to improve the service they offered and have been considered a good TOC?

What do I mean by realistically? Well, for example, most of us would have loved to have seen the pacers replaced, but that was never going to happen in the last franchise. So that's not realistic. I'm thinking more maybe customer service, management, strategy, stock condition etc.

To get started, I'd personally have liked to have seen a branding refresh at some point (I've made my feelings on their livery clear many times!) as some of their stock looked incredibly tired. Furthermore, I think their interior refresh of the Pacers was badly thought out - the high backed seats were uncomfortable and offered no room for those of us who don't have the surname 'Baggins'. I also think their ticket barrier obsession didn't endear them to customers.

Fire away...!

Please can I ask that this does not become an extension of the 'Northern Franchise to Arriva' thread? Many thanks!

Would seem a waste of time too me, when they eventually managed to get the whole of their fleet into the livery they eventually wanted in 2010, the franchise was planned to end in just another 4 years time before the 2 year extension kicked in. Also the high back seating on some of the pacers(Ex ATN ones) were installed in the ATN days, nothing to do with Northern Rail apart from changing the seat covers to the purple ones and fitted new lighting in as the interiors were incredibly dull before the Northern refresh.

I'm not sure what a TOC can realistically do when they got it on a no growth basis, infact you could say they done more than they should/could of done by getting the cascaded stock in the first place. Also the increadibly cheap fares in the PTE areas are very ideal although I appreciate the PTE areas only cover a fairly small part of the network.

I think cleaniness was there downfall at times, I don't mean the mess that passengers leave but the dirt side of things with the windows of the 156's being quite dirty at times yet the 142's windows were in general quite clean. Also whilst I appreciate its not always too easy to maintain but a little bit of a petty bug bear of mine would be how dirty the destination screens were therefore hard making it out what it says on the destination blinds at times, just think it could be more of a priority as many of Northern stations in the past especially did not have CIS so if they were at a station with many trains going to various locations, I could imagine some people would question where the train was going.
 

RAPC

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Based on the hand they were dealt, I would rate them as good.

As a commuter with them for the past 8 years, I haven't suffered too many major delays or disruptions, found the staff to be good and the service pretty reliable. I would have preferred better rolling stock, but that's my only real negative sometimes.
 

Xenophon PCDGS

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Well, they've done some good things. What more could they have done ? Had a better saturday service on the Whitby branch, perhaps by borrowing a DMU used for the Monday - Friday peak elsewhere.

Noting what you said about "borrowing a DMU, it brings to mind one particular item of "The Todmorden Chord Saga" where it was stated that they could not run the service for "X" months as there was no available rolling stock available to enable this to occur.
 

yorksrob

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Noting what you said about "borrowing a DMU, it brings to mind one particular item of "The Todmorden Chord Saga" where it was stated that they could not run the service for "X" months as there was no available rolling stock available to enable this to occur.

This is true, although the Todmorden curve would have required a week round service rather than a weekend enhancement.
 

daikilo

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This raises many questions:
1) did Serco-Abelio bid on the basis of no growth even if that was the DfT remit?
2) when there was growth, did they just pocket the difference?
3) what added value did Arriva provide to win this time?
 

507021

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I myself would rate Northern Rail as good, as in the last 14 months I've been using their services on a regular basis I have had very little (if anything to be honest) to complain about. The staff both on-board and in the stations have been polite and helpful, and like RAPC I've not had that many major delays or disruptions over the time I've been a Northern Rail customer. The social media team are great, too.

I think the refurbishments could have been better, and I think the lack of luggage racks on the 319s is a really poor idea. Despite this, I think they've done well by growing the fleet, and they did try to procure new stock but unfortunately, they were unable to do so. I think it's a really good platform for Arriva to build from, and although in a way I'll miss Northern Rail, I'm looking forward to the future of the franchise.
 
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Bevan Price

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I think that Northern did quite well, considering the resources they were allowed to use by DfT. The worst thing to happen was the introduction of afternoon peak hour ticket restrictions around Manchester, and in Yorkshire - and that main blame for that probably lies with DfT.
 

tbtc

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<facetious comment>In fairness to Serco/Ned - their Twitter team are significantly better than under Arriva Trains Northern :lol:</facetious comment>

Realistic comment - since farebox income only makes up around half of costs, I don't think we can blame the TOC for not taking huge risks with the number of services. Would you introduce extra services that cost you a million pounds a year, if you knew that it'd only bring in half a million pounds of money? No wonder most improvements came because of things like PTE funding.

To get started, I'd personally have liked to have seen a branding refresh at some point (I've made my feelings on their livery clear many times!) as some of their stock looked incredibly tired

Personally I quite like the Northern livery, and rebranding halfway through would've been folly, as they eventually managed to have a nearly unified ĺivery on the fleet in the north for the first time since the late-1970s.

I'm with 61653 HTAFC here.

On any thread about a new franchise winner, there's guaranteed to be a lot of posts along the lines of "What A Waste Of Money Rebranding Everything, Why Can't We Just Have One Simple Livery Like BR Did"...

(ignoring the fact that BR tinkered with liveries fairly regularly - I mentioned on another thread recently hat "InterCity" soon became Mainline/ Executive/ Swallow)

...but whenever there's a thread about a long running TOC (e.g. the Southern "green", the Northern "purple") you can guarantee that people are demanding it be repainted because it's boring/ tired/ dull! :lol:

Maybe if they'd known back in 2004 that the franchise would drag on for twelve years (i.e. twice the intended length) then they'd have "refreshed" the livery, but the second six year period has been one of relatively short term extensions - can't blame the TOC for not taking a long term approach when they were just getting extended for another twenty four months at a time.

(though if they had, we'd have had dozens of comments along the lines of "How Dare They Repaint Trains That Were Only Repainted Five Years Ago Rather Than Buy New DMUs" etc)

They could have offered some competitive route only fares, for example WYorks - Lancaster via Skipton

Surely the line through Bentham is already busy enough, or so you keep saying?

This raises many questions:
1) did Serco-Abelio bid on the basis of no growth even if that was the DfT remit?
2) when there was growth, did they just pocket the difference?
3) what added value did Arriva provide to win this time?

Well, they introduced around a third more seats. Not as significant as percentage as passenger growth (which would probably be in the region of 40-50%), and obviously not evenly on every line, but still significantly more growth than most TOCs have had in that time.

For all that "no growth" gets trotted out, we've probably seen more "growth" (in terms of passenger capacity) than a lot of franchises over the past decade - e.g. how many extra carriages have c2c introduced since the 357s were introduced in the late 1990s?

I'm sure that we'll see argument that the capacity "growth" was on the "wrong" lines (some of it was confined to the newly electrified lines around Manchester, some of the extra carriages were needed for services to Stoke/ Nottingham outside the heartlands, some of the extra carriages were 142s from FGW or 142s freed up by Metrolink expansion to Oldham), but you've got to accept that there was *growth* (with all the 142s/ 150s/ 158s/ 319s).

Worth remembering what things were like in 2004. We'd just seen the end of slam doored stock, we had some terrible frequencies (e.g. Barnsley had one train an hour to Leeds - the seriously slow stopper via Castleford), the "east side" drivers shortage was still a recent memory. Things may not be great, but we've still come a long way.

The problem is that the "no growth" tag will stick, and people unaware of the area will believe that we saw no additional carriages "up north" since 2004 - like in politics, people will believe the headline rather than worrying about the actual facts.
 

Xenophon PCDGS

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I think that Northern did quite well, considering the resources they were allowed to use by DfT. The worst thing to happen was the introduction of afternoon peak hour ticket restrictions around Manchester, and in Yorkshire - and that main blame for that probably lies with DfT.

Just a general query....will that particular "afternoon peak hour ticket" restriction be now translated to the terms of the new frachise operator?
 

Puffing Devil

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I've been very happy with the service from Crewe-Manchester and the 323s It's reliable and the rolling stock good. With the introduction of Advances, it's even affordable.

Shame the 323s are going and who knows what will happen to the advances and the mobile ticketing app?
 

tbtc

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I think that Northern did quite well, considering the resources they were allowed to use by DfT. The worst thing to happen was the introduction of afternoon peak hour ticket restrictions around Manchester, and in Yorkshire - and that main blame for that probably lies with DfT.

I think you are right with your second comment.

The problem is that, if you believe that there was a serious "overcrowding" problem then asking people travelling at peak hours to buy a peak ticket doesn't seem too onerous.

I know it's annoying, I know it's cost a few people a few quid (myself included!), but we can't have the "seriously overcrowded" argument whilst expecting to be able to travel for PTE-subsidised off-peak fares are rush hour.

Regrettable, but hard to argue against, I reckon.
 

exile

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On a parochial note - they could have stopped trains on Sundays at Sankey - Halewood and West Allerton now have Sunday trains despite much lower passenger numbers.
 

Scott M

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I know you said not to say it, but I have to say it...

seeing pacers go by, rightly or wrongly, just gave me the feeling that this was not a serious rail line, rather just some joke line carrying like 1 or 2 passengers per train.
 

Bletchleyite

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I'm interested to know what forum users think Northern could have realistically done to improve the service they offered and have been considered a good TOC?

From afar (mostly), my personal view is that they should be consistent in the area of revenue protection. Ideally that would mean a proper Penalty Fares scheme, but assuming that to be unaffordable they would need to properly address the issue of Guards selling tickets on board as if everything was OK, then another day you might get prosecuted or landed with a Penalty Fake.

Northern is by no means the only TOC with this sort of inconsistency - LM's Penalty Fare scheme (a real one) is decidedly theoretical on the south WCML in my observation - even the barrier staff do not seem fond of issuing them. But unlike Northern, LM do not seem to be overly prosecution-happy, so a PF is the worst that is likely to result from a misunderstanding caused by this.

Really, Northern should ban Guards from issuing tickets to barriered stations from staffed stations/stations with TVMs, or if that is not feasible they should be issued with a very clear statement, probably on paper to back it up, that the passenger has on that instance "got away with it" and will not necessarily be as lucky next time.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---
I think that Northern did quite well, considering the resources they were allowed to use by DfT. The worst thing to happen was the introduction of afternoon peak hour ticket restrictions around Manchester, and in Yorkshire - and that main blame for that probably lies with DfT.

Personally I support the idea of evening peak restrictions on a heavily overcrowded network. However, I think the implementation was bad - it would have been better to base it around a South East style of restriction based on trains leaving the key large cities/places of employment, rather than the way it was done, which left some very large and unreasonable gaps in many longer journeys.
 
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bramling

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As Northern Rail operated by Serco and Abellio comes to it's end, it seems that most people's opinon of them is that they were largely pretty poor. Not the worst, by any means, but certainly not great either.

I'm interested to know what forum users think Northern could have realistically done to improve the service they offered and have been considered a good TOC?

What do I mean by realistically? Well, for example, most of us would have loved to have seen the pacers replaced, but that was never going to happen in the last franchise. So that's not realistic. I'm thinking more maybe customer service, management, strategy, stock condition etc.

To get started, I'd personally have liked to have seen a branding refresh at some point (I've made my feelings on their livery clear many times!) as some of their stock looked incredibly tired. Furthermore, I think their interior refresh of the Pacers was badly thought out - the high backed seats were uncomfortable and offered no room for those of us who don't have the surname 'Baggins'. I also think their ticket barrier obsession didn't endear them to customers.

Fire away...!

Please can I ask that this does not become an extension of the 'Northern Franchise to Arriva' thread? Many thanks!

Personally I always found Northern Rail to be pretty okay.

The rolling stock was not always superbly turned out, but in my experience it was adequate for purpose. Much of the fleet has been very intensively worked, so it's understandable if there wasn't always time to keep the interiors spotless.

In terms of reliability my personal experience was also pretty good, generally Northern Rail trains have turned up when I've used them, and it's worth remembering the franchise has operated a massive number of train miles safely without major incident for the whole duration of the franchise.

More trains would have been good, but where would they have come from?

One negative thing is some of their revenue protection methods have been poor. It's a common experience, particularly in the Manchester area, to turn up at a station where ticket facilities are poor or absent altogether, and turn up at the destination to find a massive queue for fares before being able to exit the station. This combined with their well publicised sneaky tactics and the £80 'PF that isn't a PF' I think is one area they could have done better. There should have been more revenue protection, but also an emphasis on ensuring ticket issuing facilities were freely available.

All in all, sorry to see Northern Rail go as an operator. By and large they've operated a busy, large and complex network pretty competently. It's a shame there wasn't much investment in additional trains and keeping their existing fleet refreshed, as this would have made a big difference.
 

ANorthernGuard

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From afar (mostly), my personal view is that they should be consistent in the area of revenue protection. Ideally that would mean a proper Penalty Fares scheme, but assuming that to be unaffordable they would need to properly address the issue of Guards selling tickets on board as if everything was OK, then another day you might get prosecuted or landed with a Penalty Fake.

Northern is by no means the only TOC with this sort of inconsistency - LM's Penalty Fare scheme (a real one) is decidedly theoretical on the south WCML in my observation - even the barrier staff do not seem fond of issuing them. But unlike Northern, LM do not seem to be overly prosecution-happy, so a PF is the worst that is likely to result from a misunderstanding caused by this.

Really, Northern should ban Guards from issuing tickets to barriered stations from staffed stations/stations with TVMs, or if that is not feasible they should be issued with a very clear statement, probably on paper to back it up, that the passenger has on that instance "got away with it" and will not necessarily be as lucky next time.
--- old post above --- --- new post below ---


Personally I support the idea of evening peak restrictions on a heavily overcrowded network. However, I think the implementation was bad - it would have been better to base it around a South East style of restriction based on trains leaving the key large cities/places of employment, rather than the way it was done, which left some very large and unreasonable gaps in many longer journeys.

With the amount of different opening/closing times and different types of TVM that would be extremely difficult. HOWEVER Northern are trialling across a couple of lines the Conditions of Carriage rule that if you walk past an open booking office etc etc you will be charged Standard only. Personally on some lines I feel that would be unworkable but we will see how it progresses, and if thats what I get told by our management to do thats what I will do but I can't se it succeeding.
 

Bantamzen

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Based on the hand they were dealt, I would rate them as good.

As a commuter with them for the past 8 years, I haven't suffered too many major delays or disruptions, found the staff to be good and the service pretty reliable. I would have preferred better rolling stock, but that's my only real negative sometimes.

I'd agree with this. I've been a commuter for the entire franchise and before, and all in all the service is much better than at the end of Arriva's last term. Delays are at a minimum, despite the official "no growth" remit of the franchise they have sucred additional cascaded stock, and aside from the evening peaks the fare policy has been reasonable. Perhaps the sub-contracted revenue staff could have been a bit more efficient and consistent, but all in all Northern have done well I think.
 

yorksrob

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tbtc said:
Surely the line through Bentham is already busy enough, or so you keep saying?
.

My choice of the Bentham line is purely down to personal convenience as it's a route I use a lot.

I could have just as easily chosen Leeds Manchester via Hebden Bridge or Leeds - Sheffield via Barnsley.

Care to pursue an agenda against those routes?
 
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Bletchleyite

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With the amount of different opening/closing times and different types of TVM that would be extremely difficult. HOWEVER Northern are trialling across a couple of lines the Conditions of Carriage rule that if you walk past an open booking office etc etc you will be charged Standard only. Personally on some lines I feel that would be unworkable but we will see how it progresses, and if thats what I get told by our management to do thats what I will do but I can't se it succeeding.

This is a good point, and to me the alternative is that certain lines are designated Paytrains, whereby you can pay on board if you wish regardless of the TVM etc.

It's the inconsistency (one day you get sold a ticket, the next you get a RoRA prosecution and a criminal record) that I find to be a serious problem. And when you read through the Prosecutions forum, it seems to be mostly Northern coming up, over and over again, with this kind of issue. In those cases the guard would either have to come through, or could be issued with a book of "Permits to Travel" to prove you had come from a Paytrain line in the event of a reason they could not do tickets.
 
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DarloRich

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Northern is by no means the only TOC with this sort of inconsistency - LM's Penalty Fare scheme (a real one) is decidedly theoretical on the south WCML in my observation - even the barrier staff do not seem fond of issuing them. But unlike Northern, LM do not seem to be overly prosecution-happy, so a PF is the worst that is likely to result from a misunderstanding caused by this.

But there are 2 big holes in the LM penalty fare scheme: Marston Vale and the Abbey Flyer. They are similar problems to many of the Northern lines, rural, un staffed stations with basic facilities, no machines and guards unable to get through the train before door duties at the next station.
 

Carlisle

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I think cleaniness was there downfall at times, I don't mean the mess that passengers leave but the dirt side of things with the windows of the 156's being quite dirty at times yet the 142's windows were in general quite clean. .

Northern went through a spell a few years ago of at least attempting the cleaning of outside Windows fairly regularly during nightly maintenance periods
 
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The Ham

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But there are 2 big holes in the LM penalty fare scheme: Marston Vale and the Abbey Flyer. They are similar problems to many of the Northern lines, rural, un staffed stations with basic facilities, no machines and guards unable to get through the train before door duties at the next station.

Which is why a lot of people argue that trains should have the capability for guards to dispatch from an door as well as from the rear cab. It also means that guards tend to be seen so people a) feel safer b) feel more inclined to buy a ticket rather than risk it.

That's not to say that there will not be times when guards need to be in the rear cab, but they should be the exception rather than the rule.
 

aformeruser

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Based on my local line:

* Service enhancement - something that has been written in to the new franchise spec for December 2017
* More and more reliable TVMs
* Pacer replacement - written in to the franchise spec
* Refurbishment of other trains including 2+2 seating
* CIS at all stations - the smaller displays at busier stations moved to stations without ones and busier stations to get larger CIS displays
* Better waiting facilities at stations
* Advance fares from intermediate stations to Chester on quieter services
 

Bletchleyite

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Which is why a lot of people argue that trains should have the capability for guards to dispatch from an door as well as from the rear cab. It also means that guards tend to be seen so people a) feel safer b) feel more inclined to buy a ticket rather than risk it.

That's not to say that there will not be times when guards need to be in the rear cab, but they should be the exception rather than the rule.

When you're talking about a 153 they are one and the same :)
 

lejog

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Well, they introduced around a third more seats. Not as significant as percentage as passenger growth (which would probably be in the region of 40-50%), and obviously not evenly on every line, but still significantly more growth than most TOCs have had in that time.

For all that "no growth" gets trotted out, we've probably seen more "growth" (in terms of passenger capacity) than a lot of franchises over the past decade - e.g. how many extra carriages have c2c introduced since the 357s were introduced in the late 1990s?

I'm sure that we'll see argument that the capacity "growth" was on the "wrong" lines (some of it was confined to the newly electrified lines around Manchester, some of the extra carriages were needed for services to Stoke/ Nottingham outside the heartlands, some of the extra carriages were 142s from FGW or 142s freed up by Metrolink expansion to Oldham), but you've got to accept that there was *growth* (with all the 142s/ 150s/ 158s/ 319s).

Worth remembering what things were like in 2004. We'd just seen the end of slam doored stock, we had some terrible frequencies (e.g. Barnsley had one train an hour to Leeds - the seriously slow stopper via Castleford), the "east side" drivers shortage was still a recent memory. Things may not be great, but we've still come a long way.

The problem is that the "no growth" tag will stick, and people unaware of the area will believe that we saw no additional carriages "up north" since 2004 - like in politics, people will believe the headline rather than worrying about the actual facts.

The "no growth" contract argument is trotted out solely by people with little experience of business or management of contracts. It is a perfectly acceptable, standard way of setting the initial scope of supply of a long term contract, when subsequent growth (always a difficult thing to predict) can be handled by contract change procedures. The company I work for has several long term £multimillion contracts which could be termed as no-growth in that no assumptions in the contract about growth, they are all handled by contract change. That is all quite normal, quite standard, nothing to see here.

Management of contract change is one the most important aspects of commercial project management - arguably the most important.

We have been left with the impression that the DfT are not as willing to contemplate contract change as they should be, because occasions where they have refused contract changes cause the moaners to come out in force. However the moaners conveniently forget the examples you mention - Barnsley is a great example - as well as many others. My local Calder Valley line has seen a near doubling of services under the franchise, with improved and longer rolling stock.

The franchise has been anything but "no growth".
 

aformeruser

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<facetious comment>In fairness to Serco/Ned - their Twitter team are significantly better than under Arriva Trains Northern :lol:</facetious comment>

I don't know, when did ATN ever make a mistake on Twitter? ;)

I'm sure that we'll see argument that the capacity "growth" was on the "wrong" lines (some of it was confined to the newly electrified lines around Manchester, some of the extra carriages were needed for services to Stoke/ Nottingham outside the heartlands, some of the extra carriages were 142s from FGW or 142s freed up by Metrolink expansion to Oldham), but you've got to accept that there was *growth* (with all the 142s/ 150s/ 158s/ 319s).

One thing to remember when talking about extra capacity is how TPE changes have affected Northern. Bolton used to get 5 non-Northern services every 2 hours (4 TPE and 1 Virgin) 6 of the extra 150s secured were specifically for Northern to provide replacement capacity on the Bolton corridor. Instead of South TPE getting extra capacity in 2008 Northern were made to increase the number of peak time Chinley services they operated and to introduce an additional Airport stopper so that South TPE services just needed to stop at Stockport and Piccadilly between Sheffield and the Airport. TPE also reduced the number of Stalybridge calls they did (before reintroducing them on Hull services when North TPE went to 5tph), that resulted in an additional Northern service to Stalybridge.

Also worth remembering the cascades/loans away from Northern - 4 x 156s to EMT, 8 x 153s to EMT, 6 x 156s to TPE, 8 x 158s to Scotrail. Although, on your list of extra units you didn't include the 5 x 322s which West Yorkshire got which weren't obtained on a deal which involved Northern releasing units or taking passengers who previously would have traveled with another operator.
 
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