Overcrowding tops list of CrossCountry franchise issues

Business group identifies 10 problem areas with franchise

I enjoyed the good and wide-ranging feature about the CrossCountry franchise in the August RM, but let’s not force passengers off CrossCountry to solve the fares problem.

At Sheffield Chamber of Commerce & Industry we recently submitted our response as the station is CrossCountry’s fifth largest by passenger numbers.

A busy platform scene at Leamington Spa on August 8 as a mix of commuters and long-distance passengers prepare to board a four-carriage Class 220 DEMU running as 1M18, the 05.15 Southampton Central-Manchester Piccadilly.

Here are our 10 key areas of concern:

  1. The franchise suffers overcrowding in many areas, in particular on the core route. Overcrowding can be resolved in many ways, whether it is by leasing new trains with more seats, by reforming ‘Voyagers’ into longer sets, coupling ‘Voyagers’ together, or procuring more trains. Truncating the network to remove the extremities is superficially attractive, but this is a leisure franchise, and a range of destinations is more useful to the public than clock-face truncated routes? Overcrowding must be tackled by the DfT and not fudged.
  2. Do not try to force commuters off CrossCountry to free up capacity. Other operators cannot cope, and extra train paths and sets are not necessarily available. That is 20th century thinking and not valid for 2018.
  3. Solve the fares problem. It is deceiving the less-knowledgeable passenger to charge them exorbitant fares. Award the new franchise on fair and equitable revenue flows to the chosen operator from the outset, where no one will be fleeced and split ticketing will not be necessary. The Rail Delivery Group’s interim findings should guide Government before the award of this franchise. Sorting out anomalies afterwards will be much more difficult.
  4. For the DfT to ignore the environment on this consultation is shocking, after the East Midlands franchise made such a big play on it. The consultation makes no mention of bi-mode (or indeed tri-mode) obligations; no mention of battery power to arrive and depart major stations and reduce pollution; and no mention of avoiding long-distance e.c.s. moves to servicing locations away from terminating stations, which wastes fuel, creates more pollution and uses staff hours.
  5. Do not rip up the timetable. Pathing is not easy on our overcrowded network.  Work to improve what we have.
  6. Put CrossCountry help desks at concourse or platform level at the top 10 stations by passenger number to assist with journey problems and connections.
  7. After increasing the number of seats, utilise some of the capacity for luggage stacks, improve disabled access/space, and so much more.
  8. The seat reservation system is not fit for purpose, and allowing seat reservations for seats occupied is just ridiculous.
  9. Improve train formation and
    seat-location information on platform monitors, which could reduce dwell times.
  10. Ensure the Southampton to Newcastle service is not terminated at Doncaster, but runs at least to York for better onward connections north.

This is just a flavour of what we, as a business support body, have been saying.

The present CrossCountry franchise has a number of serious problems, and we hope the opportunity is taken to address them to the economic benefit not only of our city region stations in Sheffield, Chesterfield and Doncaster, but also around the UK.

Peter Kennan
Sheffield Chamber of
Commerce & Industry

For anyone who has travelled on CrossCountry, Mr Kennan’s points are very pertinent ones that the new franchisee will ignore at its peril – Ed.

Read more letters on this subject in the September issue of The RM – on sale now!

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