Sunday 29 June 2014

Are East Midlands Trains really a suitable operator for the Barton Line?

In the current Department for Transport (DfT) consultation into the next Northern and TransPennine Express Rail franchises, one of the questions posed is:
NTSR5: What are your views on retaining the route from Cleethorpes and Grimsby to Barton-on-Humber within the Northern franchise? What evidence do you have to support your views?
Currently the service between Cleethorpes, Grimsby Town, Habrough and Barton is the responsibility of the Northern franchise. A single Northern Rail Class 153 Diesel Multiple Unit is usually used, operated by Cleethorpes based TransPennine Express crews; the exception being the first service in each direction on weekdays (and Saturdays?) which is worked by stock that then forms a Scunthorpe to Doncaster morning peak service. Services operate two hourly Monday to Saturday daytime and evenings (plus an extra early morning service) and there are four return services on Summer Sundays. When Northern need to rotate their stock to/from the Barton service they have to use their early morning service or their Saturday only Cleethorpes-Brigg-Sheffield service, which is the only other service they operate to Cleethorpes.

As can be seen the current operational set-up is not ideal.

As part of the DfT consultation one of the options is that TransPennine Express would cease to serve Cleethorpes, with a replacement service being operated by Northern Rail. This would not at all be welcome, but under these circumstances Northern Rail would remain the operator of the Cleethorpes to Barton service. They would inherit the TransPennine Express Cleethorpes crew depot and would have more options to swap the Barton Line stock as and when required. The current operational circumstances of the service would be greatly simplified.

However if TransPennine Express do continue to serve Cleethorpes, then the DfT proposes transfering the Cleethorpes to Barton service to East Midlands Trains. Here is the DfT's preamble to question NTSR5 explaining their thinking on the potential change:
In addition to the proposals for transfer of TPE services set out in Chapter 5, we are seeking views on the future franchise responsibility for the route from Cleethorpes and Grimsby to Barton-on-Humber. Since the previous 're-mapping' in 2004, this service has been operationally separated from the rest of Northern, making it difficult for the franchisee to develop the service strategically and for it to handle service disruptions.

These difficulties would be resolved if the main south Humberside service between Sheffield and Cleethorpes was transferred to Northern (see chapter 5), but if this change does not proceed we propose the transfer of the route from Cleethorpes and Grimsby to Barton-on-Humber to East Midlands Trains (EMT). EMT operates other local and regional services in Lincolnshire, and the route appears to fit better in its portfolio.
However would transfer to East Midlands Trains really solve the issues surrounding the current arrangements?

The following arguements should be prefaced with the fact that the operational arrangements that any East Midlands Trains operation would involve are not known. However I would assume the status quo of TransPennine Express crewing most services would be unlikely since it would retain the current complexity of having two franchises involved in the service, and would not improve on the current operational arrangements. I would also assume that East Midlands Trains setting up a Cleethorpes crew base of it's own would be unlikely due to increased costs, and this could also be done under Northern Rail control. Therefore I am assuming that the use of Lincoln based crew, and possibly Lincoln 'overnighted' stock.

Firstly there needs to be a recognition that railway geography means a unit failure for example during the day on the Barton Line is not going to be quick to recover. There is no major depot or stabling point nearby with standby stock. Service disruptions will always be difficult to handle, whatever the operational arrangements.

We also need to look at East Midlands Trains current services to Cleethorpes. Two weekday departures, one weekday arrival (plus an empty stock working) and three Summer Sunday return services. Not much of an improvement on the current Northern Rail services to Cleethorpes excluding the Barton Line. Of course East Midlands Trains operate more regular services to Grimsby Town, however to maximise options for swapping stock between the Barton Line and the rest of the East Midlands Trains network either some Barton Line services would need to terminate/start from Grimsby Town not Cleethorpes, or more Lincoln-Grimsby services would need to extend to Cleethorpes. Times would also need to be altered to facilitate swaps between stock. Is East Midlands Trains really better placed to handle service disruptions? Would some Barton Line services need to be cutback to Grimsby Town? How easily can the Lincoln-Grimsby timetable be recast to facilitate more regular extensions to Cleethorpes if required? And if Lincoln based crew were used the ability to recover service disruptions quickly would be even less than at present with Cleethorpes based crew used.

It's not just about service disruptions or routine stock swapping. If you had Lincoln based crew, and potentially Lincoln based/ouststationed stock how do you get them home at the end of the day without adding extra cost? While there is an existing early morning empty stock working that arrives in Cleethorpes before the start of the days service (Mon-Sat), in the evening the last East Midlands Trains working is the 2116 from Cleethorpes on weekdays and 1945 on Saturdays. The last Barton line service arrives in Cleethorpes at 2248. So what would the options be? Cut the evening Cleethorpes to Barton service? Add, at cost to the taxpayer, a new 2250-ish Cleethorpes to Lincoln service? Taxi, at cost to the taxpayer, crew back to Lincoln at the end of the day? A similar sitation also surrounds the Summer Sunday service where the first Barton Line services leaves Cleethorpes at 0958 yet the first East Midlands Trains arrival at Cleethorpes is at 1316.

Am I making a case for an East Midlands Trains Cleethorpes depot to operate the Barton Line and the North East Lincolnshire-Lincoln service. Maybe. But what savings would that bring? It would eliminate the early morning Lincoln-Cleethorpes empty stock move but either a new late Lincoln-Cleethorpes service would have to be added to compensate, or the last service of the day from Cleethorpes/Grimsby to Lincoln would need to be withdrawn.

There is also the additional early morning service that requires an additional train to be considered; as already mentioned this is efficiently linked to a Scunthorpe-Doncaster peak service at present. What East Midlands Trains service could this be linked too without requiring an extra unit? There isn't one unless the 0740 Newark-Grimsby Town (0815 Lincoln-Grimsby Sat) was cancelled so to allow the stock to work the extra Barton Line services and then return on the 0920 from Grimsby to Lincoln. The only other option I can see is to get TransPennine Express to operate the extra early morning service as happenned for a number of years. Nothing wrong with that but it hardly simplifies operations. The current arrangement also supports an early morning Scunthorpe to Cleethorpes service.

Has the DfT actually done any analysis of how an East Midlands Trains operation of the Cleethorpes to Barton line would work in reality? Could this mean cuts to the Barton Line service by stealth as East Midlands Trains operation could increase operating costs? If so please hold an open consultation on cuts rather than trying to inflate costs first to try and justify them.

It is also worth pointing out the Barton Line is not within the East Midlands, and the DfT comment "EMT operates other local and regional services in Lincolnshire" is largely irrelevant. Relationships with Lincolnshire County Council are irrelevant. It is also worth noting that Community Rail Humber, the umbrella brand of the Barton Cleethorpes Community Rail Partnership and Yorkshire Coast Community Rail Partnership (Northern Rail operated Hull-Scarborough line) has recently advertised for a community rail officer to work across both partnerships. It is hardly going to help that officer if they have to work with two rather than one franchises.

The current arrangement for the Barton Line is far from ideal, but would East Midlands Trains be any better? Is the current arrangement the least-worst arrangement? Personally I think so. I would be interested to hear any opposing views however.


Vic Green said...

If you study the timetables carefully,and use Realtime Trains you can see that the Barton unit is changed each day. The only Northern service from Doncaster to Cleethorpes at 0530 facilitates this change.
Only done via Brigg in last year's Stainforth disruption

Anonymous said...

You want get any opposing views here, Northern run a very good service on the line. And the Scunthorpe train in the early morning is quite well used as it's the first train back from overnight working in Scunthorpe. What people want from the consultation is an improved rail service via Brigg more than anything else. East Midlands are rubbish, their times are awkward and they don't run enough trains on the current overcrowded service.

Anonymous said...

East Midlands Trains are the worst train company I've ever had to suffer over the years - can't remember what they were called until they changed name 3 or 4 years back but they were notorious for running one carriage trains on rush hour in the busiest cities.

Have had zero complaints with Northerns' running of the Barton line. At least they do bother to have replacement buses when trains can't run. East Midlands would be content to leave everybody sat on the platform all day without any replacement.

Anonymous said...

My impression from the consultation document was that, Northern would only keep the Barton service if the TP Cleethorpes service were transferred to Northern. My reading was that if TP keep Cleethorpes, then the Barton branch would continue to be operated by TP crew, but operating as EMT.

I wondered whether this was ultimately more to do with the fact that the Barton branch will require something akin to a DDA complaint 153, which as far as I can make out Northern won't have a requirement for, but EMT will.

Humber Transport said...

If there is an issue regarding DDA compliant stock, why not say so in the consultation, even if it can only be in very general terms? It makes it impossible for consultees to come to a balanced opinion if all the factors contributing to the DfT's thinking are not revealed.

Anonymous said...

the advantages of privatisation .NOT
its time to bring back BR

David Barrett said...

Of course if done well the EMT option would be beneficial and could lead to an improved Lincoln service. So as to enable through diagrams all day the Lincoln service would have to be regularised to a frequency of every two hours and extended to Cleethorpes. The stock of the early Barton could be put to good use as part of its cycling to Eastcroft for attention by attaching to the 09.20 Grimsby to Newark North Gate, itself extended to start from Cleethorpes around 09.10. This service is notoriously prone to overcrowding and, likewise the 16.45 from Newark could be strengthened using one of the two additional 153s gained from the transfer of the branch. Ideally a traincrew presence would be established at Cleethorpes but, in the absence of this, an additional late working from Cleethorpes would be a small price to pay, especially if that could be connected to a later Lincoln departure than is now the case. I wouldn't hold my breath though as we are talking EMT and the DfT here but if used in an imaginative way the combination could be of great benefit and, at worst, most likely be cost neutral given the revenue potential of a reasonable service over the Lincoln route.

Joe said...

Bad news everyone. The ITT came out today and says EMT get this line in 2017. :(