Today was the first day of the new winter timetable for the railways and a visit to my local station and a perusal of social media tells me it’s not gone well in a lot of places. Certainly not across Lancashire and Yorkshire where both Northern and Trans-Pennine express seem to have had a difficult day judging by the lists of cancellations, delays and pictures of overcrowded stations posted to Twitter. The industry’s not exactly covering itself in glory right now, despite there being so many good news stories.
The truth is, our rail network is trying to cope with massive increase in trains and passengers without the same growth in infrastructure to take them. Sure, there’s also other (human) problems like train-crew issues and training plus the technical problems of introducing new trains – and let’s not even talk about the mad 27 day strike on South-Western Railway!
However, the real problem is resilience. We’re trying to fit too many trains on a network with very little spare capacity and tight timetabling of both trains and crews which can easily lead to a ripple effect, especially at choke-points like Leeds and Manchester.
Understandably, passengers are getting pissed-off. They’re not interested in the causes, they just want a reliable service that’ll get them to work/home on time every day. It’s hardly too much to ask, but it is the biggest challenge facing the railways right now and I’m not sure the new timetables are going to help. At least the red-herring of rail renationalisation and fears of a complete political and managerial reorganisation of the rail industry has disappeared as a consequence of the election result.
On the plus side, more and more new trains are entering service across the network. LNER retired the last of the venerable diesel High-Speed Trains (HSTs) yesterday and Northern continue to make inroads into the BR built Pacer fleet, which is why I popped down to Sowerby Bridge station this morning. Three more Class 142 Pacers were working under their own power from Newton Heath Depot in Manchester to be stored at the old colliery sidings at Gascoigne Wood near Selby. Here they are on their way.
On Wednesday Scotrail finally dispense with yet another of the old BR built fleets, this time it’s the Class 314 EMUs which have worked around Strathclyde since 1979. I’ve looked back at their lives and times in this blog. As this graphic from the Rail Delivery Group shows, our trains are getting younger. Now all we’ve got to do is make them run on time…