Unfortunately, we have experienced a particularly challenging autumn and our performance has suffered for a wide variety of different reasons, many of which have been out of our control.
Of course, you will be very aware that our performance has not recently been where we would like it to be and we appreciate the frustration this has caused for customers. At this stage, I want to clarify that this is not down to one single issue but rather a culmination of different issues happening simultaneously.
What are the key challenges we’re facing?
The number one cause of our recent poor performance, network wide, has been issues with infrastructure. As Network Rail is responsible for the maintenance of the infrastructure that our trains run on we are continuing to meet with them on a daily basis to discuss service recovery and asset reliability.
The popularity of rail travel continues to increase in the UK and our network is no exception. We have the highest seat occupancy of any UK rail operator so our network is congested at normal times of operation and even more so during disruption.
Last month saw an increase in the number of trespass incidents and fatalities on our network. Network Rail have put suicide prevention methods in place at stations and known hotspots but sadly there are still a high number of incidents. We continue to support Network Rail on preventative measures and our frontline colleagues attend Samaritans training.
In recent weeks, our performance has also suffered as a result of a particularly bad leaf fall. In our case, the issue is largely caused by the significant impact this has on Northern Rail’s fleet and our own trains getting stuck behind affected units. We continue to meet with industry colleagues, working together to see how we can better address seasonal issues.
Leaves also cause challenging driving conditions for train drivers. After being pressed on to the tracks, leaves create a Teflon-like coating which causes the lines to become slippery –similar to black ice on the roads. When a train passes over a particularly slippery piece of track and the brakes are applied, this can cause damage to the wheels which develop a flat spot, or a ‘wheel flat’. When this happens, the train needs to be taken back to the depot for repair.
Although overall our fleet is performing reasonably well, we are experiencing some issues with our Class 185 engines. To address this, an engine improvement programme is currently underway and the fleet team are looking at opportunities to speed this up to resolve issues as soon as possible.
The radiators on our Class 185 units are also proving problematic, due to an issue with their mountings on the vehicle. To mitigate this we are performing checks on each train every 48 hours. Long term, we are embarking on a full overhaul progamme, a lengthy process which will ensure these trains are returned to their optimum condition.
The last period also saw the cessation of our Driver Rest Day Working (RDW) agreement by lead driver union, ASLEF, which has resulted in just over 5% of journey cancellations thus far.
As I’m sure you appreciate, this is a difficult situation for all concerned and at present, this issue is mainly affecting our route between Sheffield and Cleethorpes, a direct result of short term sickness at the latter location.
There are currently 65 drivers who drive trains on the route between Sheffield and Cleethorpes, however at our Cleethorpes depot, currently only 23 (out of 30) are productive, while the remainder are unable to drive due to sickness or medical reasons.
To give us more flexibility, we have already taken on two new qualified drivers at Cleethorpes and three new drivers at Sheffield, with both currently receiving training which will be completed by the end of the year. Offer letters have been sent out to four, more qualified drivers who will subsequently begin their training with us. This will result in us carrying a surplus of between 10-15% at our Cleethorpes depot.
We have recently reached an agreement with the local union to widen driver route coverage on the South route.
The safety of our staff and customers takes priority at all times and we would like to assure you and our customers that we are doing everything we can to keep overall delays to a minimum.
We have issued communications to both our staff and customers regarding this matter and information is available on our website: tpexpress.co.uk/about-us/news-blog/news/2015/11/apology-letter/