As rail fares rise, we ask Greater Anglia how can you improve trains?
- Credit: Archant
Rail passengers have been faced with fare rises averaging 2.6% across Greater Anglia’s network – but at the start of 2020 there are still major concerns about the region’s services.
On the first working day of the year, two Intercity trains failed before they could leave Norwich on rush-hour services, leaving passengers facing a long wait to get to London.
Cross-country services between Ipswich and Peterborough continued to face disruption - only one train was operating on the service meaning there were trains every four hours instead of every two. Greater Anglia's franchise requires the company to operate an hourly service on the route.
And there have been issues with the company's existing Intercity services between East Anglia and London as it waits to introduce the first of its new Stadler trains on the services.
We have asked Greater Anglia 11 questions about the rail service they operate - and which has left passengers, both commuters and occasional travellers, feeling increasingly frustrated.
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With travellers having to pay more for their tickets - some commuters travelling within Suffolk are facing fare rises of nearly 9% - there is a growing feeling that improvements need to come soon.
These are the questions we have asked and the answers received:
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1) At the height of the branch line chaos in December, Greater Anglia apologised on a daily basis, followed by statements the company didn't know why it had happened. What can you now tell rail users about the causes of the problems?
Our investigations showed that the signalling issues on rural lines in Suffolk and Norfolk, were not due to the design or performance of our new trains.
2) Were your new trains launched too soon - before full checks, including lengths of rural platforms, were made?
Absolutely not. The trains were only put in to service, starting in July, after a comprehensive programme of "route proving" that checked elements such as the stepping distance between train and platforms, signal sightings and platform length.
Just three of our lesser used stations were not served for a short period of time on routes from Norwich and two stations from Ipswich whilst software was approved that would allow longer trains to stop at short platforms. This move allowed thousands of customers every day to benefit from the new trains whilst alternative transport was provided for the small number of customers affected by the temporary missed stops.
3) Five weeks on from "third of a second" near miss of a train and car near Norwich, what can you tell the public of initial findings which Greater Anglia will now know?
An investigation is being carried out by Network Rail and the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, so we cannot comment about any initial findings. However, we are now running a full service on the Norwich-Sheringham line. On New Year's Day, we ran extra services on the route and made extra stops with our new trains, ensuring there were hundreds more seats available for customers travelling to the Cromer fireworks.
4) When will a fully-fit train service start to operate on all rural lines?
Currently there is a full service on every line except the two-hourly Ipswich-Peterborough service. Unfortunately, the signalling issues in December had a knock-on effect on training our Ipswich and Colchester drivers to drive the new trains, so it set back our roll-out plan. We apologise to customers affected by cancellations on the Ipswich-Peterborough route. We have ensured there are alternatives so customers can still complete their journeys. We are working hard to reinstate the service as soon as possible. Today half of the trains on the two-hourly service are running.
5) When will your new main line Intercity trains be rolled out?
We're expecting to start the roll-out shortly. New trains will replace all existing Intercity trains this Spring.
6) What is the latest on your much-delayed Bombardier suburban trains which have been ordered? Will penalty clauses be invoked?
Our first Bombardier train is expected to go into passenger service this spring. Bombardier has ramped up production at its Derby factory, after production of the new trains has taken longer than Bombardier originally expected, which has had a knock-on effect on our schedule.
7) Sometimes Greater Anglia has to apologise for problems not if its own making. Should the company be free to 'say it as it is.'
We will always apologise to our customers if they are affected by delays and cancellations, whatever the cause, whether it is due to signalling, track, overhead line and other infrastructure issues managed by Network Rail, including trespass or weather-related problems, delays caused by other train companies or faults with our trains or any other factor within our direct control. We try to explain what has caused the problem.
The railway is a partnership of different organisations and we work together to provide a service to passengers.
8)Throughout this crisis front-line staff have been bearing the brunt of criticism and anger - what has Greater Anglia said to staff and what help have you offered? What is morale like now?
We offer our frontline staff training so that they can provide the best possible customer service including during difficult periods.
The vast majority of our customers are friendly and polite.
Staff working on new trains are constantly heartened by the positive comments from customers, especially those with mobility issues, who appreciate the hugely improved conditions on board.
9) Will the executive team be foregoing their bonuses this year and, if so, will the cash be given to rail user groups representing those affected?
We encourage all customers affected by a delay or cancellation, whatever the cause, to claim delay repay compensation. In April 2019, we lowered the delay minutes qualification from 30 to 15 minutes.
We have also made it easier for people to claim delay repay compensation and increased the variety of repayment methods, including an option to donate compensation to the Samaritans.
10) How much has this fiasco cost Greater Anglia?
This is a very complex issue and we are unable to calculate an exact figure.
11) Will anyone resign over this ongoing situation?
Greater Anglia worked closely with Network Rail to investigate the cause of signalling issues and while doing so we provided alternative transport, where necessary, to our customers. At the same time, we ran services as normal across the rest of our network in Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and part of London.
The signalling issues have set back our roll-out of brand-new trains as we were unable to carry out new train testing and driver training for two weeks. However, we are working as quickly as possible to resolve this. We have already seen this Christmas how our new trains improve our ability to provide more seats and extra services for large events, including the Cromer fireworks on New Year's Day, and football fixtures. We apologise to customers for the ongoing disruption. However, we are confident that this year we will give our customers improved levels of service and the roll-out of new trains across the region will continue to bring benefits of state-of-the-art trains to thousands of rail passengers, boosting the local economy.
The company is hoping that services between Ipswich and Peterborough should improve within the next fortnight. The new Stadler trains have been passed to run on the route, now the company is teaching its Ipswich-based drivers to operate them on this route. It says the training schedule was disrupted by the problems in December but is now back on course.
The current Intercity trains have to be serviced at Bounds Green in north London because Greater Anglia's Crown Point depot is now dedicated to operating new Stadler trains.
It takes longer to carry out servicing of carriages at Bounds Green - meaning that many Intercity services are now shorter than before and are sometimes replaced by more basic suburban trains.
The company will not say when the first new 12-carriage Intercity train will enter service - but it is expected to be within the next few weeks. It plans to have all 10 Intercitys in full operation by the end of March when the new Disability Discrimination Act rules will come in at the end of a three-month extension for current trains.
Network Rail has been leading on the investigation of the problems that hit the network at the start of December - especially the incident at the level crossing in Norfolk.
A spokesman for Network Rail said engineers were hoping to give their findings to the Rail Accident Investigation Board soon. In the meantime safety measures introduced at that and some other crossings in the wake of the incident remained in place to ensure the safety of both trains and road users until the exact cause was proved and an interim report published for the rail industry to study.