Pledges to significantly improve services and buy new trains aren’t ‘PR fluff ’ but promises of real change, says Northern’s Alex Hynes (pictured right).
On 1 April, Alex was joined by TransPennine Express managing director Leo Goodwin, David Hoggarth, director of Rail North, and MP Andrew Jones to celebrate the start of the new Northern and TransPennine Express (TPE) franchises.
The occasion was marked with a launch event at Manchester Piccadilly station. Northern, now owned by Arriva, had a stand on the main concourse and TPE, which has been retained by FirstGroup until at least 2023, showed off a reliveried Class 185 on Platform 12.
The franchises promise more seats, better facilities and a combined £800 million investment in new trains.
The North has been given a £1 billion shopping list to transform rail services, says Alex. A stark contrast to the previous franchise, which assumed no growth and included limited investment. In fact, passenger numbers rose by 50 per cent.
The franchises will introduce 140 brand new trains between them by 2020. Prior to the launch, TPE, now minus the First, announced that it and Angel Trains had ordered the first batch of new trains for that franchise from Hitachi.
The majority of the 19 bi-mode trains will be built at Hitachi’s factory in Newton Aycliffe and will start to arrive on the network from December 2019. The arrival of these new units will see TPE relieved of half its Class 185 fleet by 2020. The half it keeps will undergo a complete overhaul.
Northern has already signed a contract with CAF for 281 new carriages – a combination of electric and diesel units. The last of these trains needs to enter service by the end of 2018 if Northern is to achieve the target of phasing out all of its Pacers within the next four years.
‘Even when a Pacer is clean and on time, and [has] great service on board, it’s still a Pacer. They’ll be gone in 44 months.’
Alex is not a fan and believes his staff and customers ‘deserve better’. ‘I will not be sad to see them go at all.’
But Northern’s rolling stock problems can’t all be blamed on the Pacers. ‘We do not operate a single train which meets the minimum standard for the next Northern franchise,’ says Alex. ‘So even our more modern trains, the 333s in West Yorkshire and 319s in the North West, which customers actually like, they’re not good enough.’
Northern and TPE are the first rail franchises to be managed in partnership by the Department for Transport and a regional transport body, in this case by Rail North, which will become the franchising arm of Transport for the North (TfN) when it becomes a statutory body in 2017. TfN described the devolution deal as ‘ground-breaking’.
‘This isn’t PR fluff; this is hard stuff,’ says Alex Hynes, who retained his role as managing director following Arriva’s takeover of the franchise. ‘Brand new trains; we’ve never had brand new trains. Thoroughly refurbished trains; we’ve never had thoroughly refurbished trains before.’
Alex says that by the end of 2019, every Northern passenger will be travelling on either a new or a fully refurbished train – all of which will offer free Wi-Fi. ‘This isn’t new seat covers,’ he says.
By 2019, Northern will operate 2,000 more services a week than it does today, with peak time capacity increasing by 37 per cent. TPE says it will deliver 20,000 additional peak seats a day and add 13 new destinations to its network in the same period of time.
BIG COMMITMENTS TO TRAINING
New trains are just part of the plan for the new franchises. Arriva’s Northern employs more than 5,000 people. The new franchise, which runs until 2025, will go much further than in the past in terms of recruitment and training, says Alex. Northern is making ‘big commitments in terms of training, big commitments in terms of development,’ he says.
Northern has specified minimum targets for new apprentices, graduates and trainees, has committed to scrapping zero-hour contracts and will make a concerted effort to recruit more people from disadvantaged backgrounds. There are also plans to invest more than £2 million improving staff room facilities.
Contrary to claims made by several of the trade unions, staff numbers will increase during the new franchise, says Alex. In fact, Northern’s staff numbers increased on the very first day of the new franchise. Following the event in Manchester, Alex travelled to Windermere to talk to former TPE staff who have been moved over to Northern. ‘There’s going to be absolutely no reductions in frontline staff whatsoever, and the number of people we employ is going to go up and not down.’
His opposite number at TPE, Leo Goodwin, echoed this, ‘We’re going to be investing in our team, our colleagues, as well to equip them with the skills and tools that they need to do the job to the best of their ability.’
He added, ‘We need to attract the next generation of railway professionals into our industry, so we’re going to be significantly expanding both our apprenticeship and graduate programmes. We’ve committed to hire 36 new apprentices in the next few years, for example, and that will hopefully attract the talent that our industry’s going to need to continue to grow and thrive.’