State rail operator hunts for staff to run failing routes

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AndrewE

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What do these very small franchises do about the costs of maintenance, or the risk of the service collapsing if a small number of staff are ill or trains break down (like Hull Trains with their 180s)? Or, in the Transdev example, is it a case of winning batches of adjacent routes to create economies of scale - which would presumably restrict the number of bidders?
Perhaps they are designed to be micro-franchises, so that existing rolling stock "leases," maintenance facilities, timetables and other fundamentals can't be interfered with?
 

158756

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As mentioned above it is a commercial necessity to run the railways as lean as possible and therefore some franchises would be expected to struggle as an element of optimum bias is going to be prevalent in a blind bidding process. It does appear that there is a direct correlation between the level of trouble a franchise is in and the amount of changes they have committed to in their agreement.
This does seem to be the common factor in all the problem TOCs. The problem I think is that the previous round of franchises did so little in terms of investment, and then the extensions caused by the West Coast debacle did even less, so by the time these contracts were let we had a government keen to be seen to invest in rail, acknowledgment that rail services had not kept up with the growth in demand or public expectations, and a huge amount of rolling stock that really should have already either been scrapped or modified for PRM. This was also before it turned out that Network Rail's costings weren't worth the paper they were written on. So ambitious programmes of improvements were promised by government - and then there was the need to reward 'quality' in bids - meaning bidders promising even more ambitious schemes.

Perhaps because so little rolling stock had recently been bought, and most of that models in production for years already people had forgotten the teething problems of new trains - every manufacturer seeming to have moved on to new products at about the same time can't have helped either. Then you have the question of whether the expectations of continuing high rates of growth built in to every franchise were ever realistic or sustainable even if everything had gone smoothly.
 

AndrewE

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Perhaps because so little rolling stock had recently been bought, and most of that models in production for years already people had forgotten the teething problems of new trains - every manufacturer seeming to have moved on to new products at about the same time can't have helped either. Then you have the question of whether the expectations of continuing high rates of growth built in to every franchise were ever realistic or sustainable even if everything had gone smoothly.
Maybe BR had limited numbers of designs, introduced one by one and de-bugged before fleet-scale roll-out.
A good strategy if you ask me, and one that franchising might have been designed to disrupt. Of course the current system enriches far more players (layers and parallel suppliers.)
 

devonexpress

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To me it seems that the DFT are the ones screwing up and it's the TOC's paying the price.

By the way it's going, i think 3 or 4 companies want out of the rail industry in the UK altogether.

If it wasn't for GWR I think First Group could have been added to that list.

What we might find in 5 years time is that franchises will come up for renewal and nobody is going to bid for them.

The problem we have now is that the DFT want railways to run like a bus service, fast and frequently, which goes against how the railways have been working for years fairly successfully. You now have several train companies, buying expensive new trains to run, over ambitious new timetables, on networks not built to cope. It's a recipe for disaster.
 

Failed Unit

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This does seem to be the common factor in all the problem TOCs. The problem I think is that the previous round of franchises did so little in terms of investment, and then the extensions caused by the West Coast debacle did even less, so by the time these contracts were let we had a government keen to be seen to invest in rail, acknowledgment that rail services had not kept up with the growth in demand or public expectations, and a huge amount of rolling stock that really should have already either been scrapped or modified for PRM. This was also before it turned out that Network Rail's costings weren't worth the paper they were written on. So ambitious programmes of improvements were promised by government - and then there was the need to reward 'quality' in bids - meaning bidders promising even more ambitious schemes.

Perhaps because so little rolling stock had recently been bought, and most of that models in production for years already people had forgotten the teething problems of new trains - every manufacturer seeming to have moved on to new products at about the same time can't have helped either. Then you have the question of whether the expectations of continuing high rates of growth built in to every franchise were ever realistic or sustainable even if everything had gone smoothly.
London midland and TPE sort of break that mould. Both of them had a very modern fleet and they are getting more new stock.

Greater Anglia’s was ok. Mixed bag. Better regional fleet then many that certainly didn’t need wholesale replacement.

South West Railway also didn’t need to go as heavily on the rolling stock as it did.

Northern and EMR are the 2 that fall unto the lack of investment category.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Maybe BR had limited numbers of designs, introduced one by one and de-bugged before fleet-scale roll-out.
A good strategy if you ask me, and one that franchising might have been designed to disrupt. Of course the current system enriches far more players (layers and parallel suppliers.)
It also had a large fleet under it's direct control and could re-allocate vehicles directly - when the 142 Skippers were taken out of service in Devon and Cornwall , they rapidly shuffled the pack and sent stock down to run the TT , even more so when the 155's went wrong ....etc etc ..(there was a lot more resiliance in train crew and depot knowledge then)
 

AndrewE

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It also had a large fleet under it's direct control and could re-allocate vehicles directly - when the 142 Skippers were taken out of service in Devon and Cornwall , they rapidly shuffled the pack and sent stock down to run the TT , even more so when the 155's went wrong ....etc etc ..(there was a lot more resiliance in train crew and depot knowledge then)
Exactly.
Please can we have our one railway back?
 

ChiefPlanner

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Exactly.
Please can we have our one railway back?
Too many people do not want such "simplicity" - some on here of course.

One looks back nostalgically on simple cost reduction / meeting the budget / growing the business / meeting real customers face to face and sorting out operations with relative simplicity - all of which could be encompassed in a working week.
 

fabs

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So the problems are nothing to do with the Tories' doctrinaire policies then?
I can hand on heart tell you that the issues my (failing) TOC have are little to do with anything government (of any persuasion) have done.
Ps I’m about as far away from Tory as you could imagine.
 

ChiefPlanner

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Why? weren’t FGE & Anglia arguably a superior operation
He is not referring to East Anglia - but to an integrated , controlled and all these boring things that encompass an organisation that (much derided by many) , actually was pretty bereft of political interference at the level where customers and staff could be involved.
 

Failed Unit

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It also had a large fleet under it's direct control and could re-allocate vehicles directly - when the 142 Skippers were taken out of service in Devon and Cornwall , they rapidly shuffled the pack and sent stock down to run the TT , even more so when the 155's went wrong ....etc etc ..(there was a lot more resiliance in train crew and depot knowledge then)
You do make a good point. The 158s didn’t have a smooth introduction but at least BR could drag out loco hauled stock to cover. I am sure the recent problems would be much better handled under BR. Likewise diversions via Lincoln if the ECML were much more quickly set up. Nostalgia:)
 

Bertie the bus

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Lots of stock hasn't had a smooth introduction and there have been numerous TOCs that have introduced major timetable changes. At least 2 - SWT and VTWC - both introduced new stock and major new timetables. The current problems of TOCs going into meltdown didn't happen in the past so change can't be the only, or even major, factor. More likely those people who are managing the change.
 

ChiefPlanner

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You do make a good point. The 158s didn’t have a smooth introduction but at least BR could drag out loco hauled stock to cover. I am sure the recent problems would be much better handled under BR. Likewise diversions via Lincoln if the ECML were much more quickly set up. Nostalgia:)
I had almost forgotten about the "cracking" issues on that fleet - one which has excelled itself , to the extent of the HST fleet in "saving" much of the better earning Regional routes. A fleet which could happily manage runs such as Carmarthen to Waterloo , Glasgow to Aberdeen etc.

And at a very much better cost per mile than loco and coaches and all that stuff which is so precious to hard core traction afficionados.
 

Meerkat

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It also had a large fleet under it's direct control and could re-allocate vehicles directly - when the 142 Skippers were taken out of service in Devon and Cornwall , they rapidly shuffled the pack and sent stock down to run the TT , even more so when the 155's went wrong ....etc etc ..(there was a lot more resiliance in train crew and depot knowledge then)
So BR had spare stock (more likely on a contracting railway)...do you think DfT would allow that now? And anyway there is spare stock now, but rules have moved on and you can’t just roll out any old crap that is lying around somewhere.
BR could also just take stuff away from other routes without bothering about service commitments on those routes. Just do what was most convenient and cheapest for BR.
 

w1bbl3

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Lots of stock hasn't had a smooth introduction and there have been numerous TOCs that have introduced major timetable changes. At least 2 - SWT and VTWC - both introduced new stock and major new timetables. The current problems of TOCs going into meltdown didn't happen in the past so change can't be the only, or even major, factor. More likely those people who are managing the change.
Previous transitions rarely had the timetable and stock changes happen simultaneously there would be a lag between introduction of new stock and then timetable changes to take advantage of the stock. I expect in a couple years once the new stock has bedded in and the staff re-training process over the problems at Northern and TPE will to some extent melt away leaving only the issues where the timetable is unrealistic.

The VTWC changes where progressively rolled out between 2004 and 2009 on trains introduced 2001 to 2004.

Virgin XC with operation princess went through similar problems and saw the service meltdown solved by cancelling routes and reducing services.
 

CeeJ

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It would be quite a challenge for OLR to operate SWR, GA, Northern and TPE - alongside their existing commitment with LNER. Though I imagine GA/SWR being slightly easier to take over as (despite the rolling stock problems with the former, and the staffing dispute with the latter) the timetable is not in a total shambles. Would DfT make the same profit they do from franchise premiums?

Think it's time with got Big Sam in, he's be free for quite a while now
 

158756

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London midland and TPE sort of break that mould. Both of them had a very modern fleet and they are getting more new stock.

Greater Anglia’s was ok. Mixed bag. Better regional fleet then many that certainly didn’t need wholesale replacement.

South West Railway also didn’t need to go as heavily on the rolling stock as it did.

Northern and EMR are the 2 that fall unto the lack of investment category.
TPE's fleet was modern, but it had clearly been too small for some time, and they had nothing long term for the Scottish route. Also in trouble reportedly are TfW with their basket case fleet and Scotrail.

Greater Anglia and South Western did need substantial orders, or at least as key London commuter routes were always realistically going to get some, but might have fallen into the more ambitious = better trap. Of course when 'no growth' was normal any ambition would be better than none, but Greater Anglia did seem to be taking that a bit too far.
 

tbtc

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Previous transitions rarely had the timetable and stock changes happen simultaneously there would be a lag between introduction of new stock and then timetable changes to take advantage of the stock. I expect in a couple years once the new stock has bedded in and the staff re-training process over the problems at Northern and TPE will to some extent melt away leaving only the issues where the timetable is unrealistic.

The VTWC changes where progressively rolled out between 2004 and 2009 on trains introduced 2001 to 2004.

Virgin XC with operation princess went through similar problems and saw the service meltdown solved by cancelling routes and reducing services.
Good points.

I think that there's a danger that any attempt at a timetable change or a frequency increase will elicit a response of "what about Operation Princess"... (even when it's a clear upside with no downside, such as the new Avanti trains that will increase the frequency from London to Liverpool)... and similarly that any introduction of new stock will elicit a reaction of "what about the Voyagers" (despite the fact that BR had to take some entire fleets out of service... and that various other modern trains were introduced without many problems, like the 390s that you mention for VTWC)§

It would be quite a challenge for OLR to operate SWR, GA, Northern and TPE - alongside their existing commitment with LNER
Would it require *that* many staff though? Wouldn't most of the managers stay with the franchise from one operation to the next, so no need to replace them all if the parent company is stripped? And LNER is just some hired management consultants?
 

Meerkat

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Do you reckon the DfT is incompetent enough that the current managers of the franchises end up still managing them, though not necessarily the same one, but after an inter-OLR bidding war means they are all getting more money?
 

Starmill

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I think it's dawned on them that franchising is a failure. "BR plc" might well have worked - BT, for instance, has always been reasonably OK, and the water companies by and large behave themselves too.
Neither of those have performed outstandingly well from a management perspective - it's merely that they look good because they're not collapsing, unlike the railway industry.

There are several examples of commercially successful state-owned capitalist enterprises from around Europe. There was and probably is every opportunity for that as you point out on UK Railways, with some capital and enough care.
 

ivanhoe

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Whilst I’m sure that the Cadre of Retired Railway Officers may think they could provide some expertise, the current situation requires more than a sticking plaster. It first requires a Plan for the future operation of the Railway. In many industries( and indeed in office environments) time moves on extremely quickly ,from retirement. The situation today is rather different from the situation, only 5 years previously.
There are enough serving Rail Officers who could be part of the solution, provided that Government comes up with a credible plan. Rest assure, that there will be no going back to BR as we knew it. Governments rarely admit failure but ‘offer solutions ‘ to the ‘new decade’.
I have been retired 5 years now (non railway employment environment) and I use to think that I could fit back in pretty quickly. However, 5 years on, I have realised that I have probably forgotten more than I care to wish to admit. I have been replaced by younger people who bring a different perspective to the job I did . This is not a criticism of any past Rail Officers but more of a a general opinion.
 

Peter Sarf

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So BR had spare stock (more likely on a contracting railway)...do you think DfT would allow that now? And anyway there is spare stock now, but rules have moved on and you can’t just roll out any old crap that is lying around somewhere.
BR could also just take stuff away from other routes without bothering about service commitments on those routes. Just do what was most convenient and cheapest for BR.
I think BR had plenty of spare stock. It was old stock that had been replaced on more important routes by newer stock. A lot of old stock was scrapped but the better examples were kept as backup and for summer Saturday extras. These old coaches could be formed up with a locomotive as and when required. My feeling is that, being coaches, there was not much to go wrong with them if they were left idle in sidings for weeks/months. As freight was declining there were lots of locomotives available. there were also a lot of sidings in the past where stock could be kept.

The parallel now would be keeping any Pacers that are in good condition as backup. But we have too higher standards to let that happen !. Of course multiple units have more to go wrong with them if they are left idle for too long. We are going to see a lot of serviceable EMUs left idle in the next five years btw.

Another process that could help is a steady replacement of fleets. At the moment we are stretching manufacturing by ordering a large amount of stock. This in turn will need replacing 30-40 years down the line all at the same time. We did it when we replaced steam with all those DMUs in a hurry. We did it again when we held off replacing those first generation DMUs until all were done quickly. It could have helped that the Pacers were not expected to last as long as the 150s but the Pacers have hung on for so long that the sprinters cannot be far behind in needing replacement.

It is alarming to see how many 80Xs had been ordered when the first ones had hardly done any work. No proof they were capable - just promises. We have ordered so many that Newton Aylcliffe cannot cope so we are importing them. There will then be a lack of orders and Newton Aylcliffe might well close down. That is the sort of thing that happened under BR days anyway.

The electrification boom and bust cycle is just about to go South as well. The common factor is government control. That has been the same since BR was formed. Only difference is that under BR the state recruited/chose the higher management and held the purse strings. Under privatisation the state micro manages the railways and still controls the finances via subsidy.
 
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CeeJ

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Would it require *that* many staff though? Wouldn't most of the managers stay with the franchise from one operation to the next, so no need to replace them all if the parent company is stripped? And LNER is just some hired management consultants?
I would imagine most managers would stay with the franchise initially, but it depends on what DfT's plan would be - particularly for Northern and TPE if OLR are recommending a major changes to the management. LNER was a well run operation, with VTEC getting the maths wrong during the bid, so almost no changes were required.
 

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