Northern Rail who unfortunately are my local rail operator have ran the service into the ground over the past few years. Battered old trains, a non existent Sunday timetable, trains cancelled at whim, no real increases in capacity despite major increases in demand……I could go on. When you point this out to them they remind you that the franchise was let as a steady state, no growth franchise and they’re not obliged to do anything! That’s OK then, thanks for clearing that up. We won’t mention the other franchises who have gone over and above their franchise agreements rather then concentrate purely on the purse strings! Hopefully the new Northern franchise will bring the type of local rail services the North deserves. Although it is unsettling to note the three short listed bidders are Arriva ( who ran it into the ground before the current operators although now as part of DB Germany’s national railway operator they’re is some hope!), Serco and Albelio. A joint venture between Serco and Albelio currently run the franchise so either way we are stuck with an incumbent of some form or another!
Despite my overall negativity to Northern I have been impressed with their recent revenue protection push with armies of high viz clad revenue protection inspectors (RPI) at unstaffed stations. Ticketless travel is rife on the network and it was always annoying spending £130 a month on a season ticket whilst so many people are blatantly dodging fares. It is relatively easy to fare evade on Northern. Most stations are unstaffed, they’re short distances between stations and with most of Northern’s battered old trains only having door controls at one end of the train meaning the guard would never make it through the train. Crowding in the peaks means a guard couldn’t physically get through the train even if he so desired. Even innocent looking old grannies would pile into the front pacer of a double train wise to the fact that she would be unlikely to have to pay.
The problem is even this welcome revenue protection push is typical half hearted Northern Style. An army of RPI’s have traditionally worked weekday mornings on trains to support the guards. This is the same shift pattern as the new on station RPI’s. On a typical morning I get my ticket checked 3 or 4 times. Then we get to the afternoon and the on train and on station RPI’s have finished their shifts and that’s it. The great Northern Rail free for all starts. School kids heading home, shoppers returning, workers doing the evening commute. It was pointless changing the evening peak ticketing rules because there is no staff to enforce them. And after dark the guards don’t even bother leaving the back cab (not mentioning the safety issue if late night trains/drunks/ anti-social behaviour and a lack of visible on train staff!) so you can always guarantee a free night out on Northern. The only station in Yorkshire with a 24 hour ticket barrier is Leeds so as long as you’re not heading here you’re ok. Even people travelling across Yorkshire to Leeds know they can buy a Bramley to Leeds single for about £1 on arrival which is sufficient to get them through the barrier! The half hearted ticket gates at the likes of Wakefield Westgate (East Coast) and Bradford Interchange are open from about 6pm each evening even though research suggests links between ticketless travel and anti-social behaviour on an evening.
To top it all off, when I arrived at my local station the other day on a wet and windy October morning the RPI’s had given up and were huddled in the waiting shelter! And late last night I caught the train from Leeds. The guard checked tickets on leaving Leeds ( where we had to have a ticket to enter the station even at the late hour). At all the other unstaffed stations on the journey the guard remained in the back cab never to be seen. Bizarre!!