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Annual Report 2019

Chairman’s Report for the year 2018/9.

 

 

This was the year when great strides were expected to be taken in expanding the North’s railways especially in the field of electrification.   The Manchester-Bolton-Chorley-Preston-Blackpool route seemingly straightforward became much more complex than anticipated.   Underground rivers of sand, old uncharted mine workings were just a couple of the problems which were to set completion day back by twelve months.    This delay threw the whole Rail North Big Bang into confusion.  Diesel units which were planned to be replaced on the newly electrified routes had to remain on their original lines so delaying the benefits of cascading units to other lines in need of a more frequent timetable.   It wasn’t just the infrastructure which is managed by Network Rail rather than the Train Operation Company that created problems, new trains on order were very late in delivery.  

 

Northern had met STORM representatives over the proposed new timetable due in May 2018.   Storm made a number of minor suggestions, most of which were adopted.   This consultation was in stark contrast to the secrecy adopted by British Railways  and Transport for Greater Manchester in previous years.   Their approach to consultation had been poor to non-existent.

 

However the May 2018 timetable was not confirmed by Network Rail until thirteen weeks before it was due to be implemented instead of the normal six to nine month period.

 

Northern opened a new train servicing and crew point at Blackburn.   One of the trains from Leeds via the Calder Valley was run through to Manchester Oxford Road station from Victoria from December 2018 but withdrawn in May 2019.   TransPennine Express diverted most of its services from Manchester Piccadilly via Guide Bridge and started to run them via Victoria, with some also serving Piccadilly via the Castlefield chord line, for example the Airport trains.

 

The period from May 2018 was a disaster.   There were insufficient diesel units available to run the planned service.   There were insufficient crews to work all the trains and west of the Pennines chaos reigned with cancellations and much late running.    Things began to improve slowly but the leaf fall season from mid October to late November was longer and more serious than ever before – a legacy of a failure of the various infrastructure managers to keep tree growth under control after the demise of the steam locomotives which had done much of the job with their sparks.   A FOI request revealed that over 5% of trains were cancelled at Mills Hill and Castleton during Mondays to Fridays in November 2018.    In Yorkshire the typical cancellation rate was three per cent.

 

Although Northern railway received much of the flak and criticism, on a percentage basis TransPennine North had a much higher percentage of cancellations and late running but because they run only a fraction of the trains that Northern railway do, the number of cancellations and unpunctuality was much lower and therefore seemed to be largely ignored by the media.

 

A slightly altered timetable introduced in early December 2018 considerably eased the situation and the performance through the five Rochdale area stations improved considerably.

 

The Rail and Maritime Union called over forty days of strikes by guards latterly only on Saturdays when only a skeleton service could be run and some lines and stations were without trains at all.    These strikes were postponed in February 2019 after the intervention of ACAS.

 

Another serious problem is that there are differences in the conditions of employment of some categories of employees (notably drivers) between Yorkshire depots and Greater Manchester and |Lancashire drivers, which dates back to the earliest days of privatisation when what is now Northern was split between North West Trains in the west and Northern Spirit in the east.   Notably those in Yorkshire have Sunday working incorporated in the working week whilst in the west Sunday work is voluntary.     As a result from late summer 2018 and early in 2019 many lines in the west had reduced or non-existent schedules on Sundays.   On a number of Sundays no Rochdale area stations other than Littleborough and Rochdale had any trains at all.

 

Freight traffic, all through trains, remain at a high level.

 

The continual criticism of the Railway Companies and their employees (especially when it is unjustified and wide of the mark) must surely take a toll on them and the media should bear this in mind.

 

 

 

Although our main focus in the 12 months ending March 2019 has been the matters discussed in the Chairman’s report above we have not neglected other matters.

 

We expended more time and effort than  we expected in resolving a problem of serious diesel fume pollution at Manchester Victoria, especially on Platform 6. This has been a problem since the Arena construction reduced the open air space, but got considerably worse after the May 2018 timetable change led to more trains standing with engines idling. Finding someone prepared to deal with it was surprisingly difficult .Northern said it was the Arena’s problem as they owned the extraction equipment; Manchester City Council said railway stations were nothing to do with them. Persistence pays though and the Office of Rail and Road prodded Northern into action as station Manager. Northern has persuaded Network Rail to upgrade the extraction equipment. There will also be a Review of the engine idling Policy.

 

We continued to Liaise with local Councillors, some being more amenable than others

 

Our campaign to electrify the Calder Valley was energised (!) by joining forces with HADRAG (Halifax and District Rail Action Group) to formulate and publicise the Electric Railway Charter. Details about this were published in the autumn 2018 Eye of the STORM.

 

One area of continuing concern that we have been unable to make any progress with is turning trams back at Freehold when there is disruption on the Oldham Metrolink line. Freehold has just one bus per hour whilst continuing to the next stop at Westwood is adjacent to a taxi office and is within sight of Oldham bus station.

 

The Committee met at Woolworths Social Club in Castleton (AGM venue) on the second Tuesday of each month and I am grateful for the assistance from my colleagues in keeping STORM running smoothly. The monthly meetings are open to all and you will be most welcome.

 

It would be remiss of me not to thank our Webmaster Frank Salt who has produced the STORM Matters email each week for the last ten years.

 

Richard S Greenwood Chairman STORM

Peter  V Dawson, Whitefield March 2019

 

Contact Information

STORM

Meeting Place: Woolworths Social Club
Gipsy Lane
Castleton
Rochdale
OL11 3HA

Meeting times

7.30pm 
2nd Tuesday of each month at Woolworths Club, Gipsy Lane, Castleton, Rochdale OL11 3HA.