Several weeks ago I asked for people to email me with any issues they have with the train services in and across the High Peak. Last year a new franchise was awarded to deliver rail services in the north – including to the High Peak - and the successful bidder was Arriva Rail North, who have adopted the previous Northern Rail name. The new franchise is far more rigorous than previous ones, asking for greater performance and investment from the successful bidder. Following their successful bid, Northern Rail now have a requirement to deliver a service that we expect on trains that are comfortable and fit for service.
They have now been running the franchise since April, so I felt it was time that I took them round the stations in the High Peak to discuss the service and improvements that they were looking to implement. To ensure that all the issues were raised, I asked for people to let me know of any ongoing problems they were having with the train service. People contacted me from different parts of the High Peak with issues around station access, train capacity, the condition of carriages and the frequency of services, to name but a few.
Together with two representatives from Northern Rail, I visited almost all the stations across the constituency and had far reaching discussions, sometimes quite frank, on the full range of issues. Whilst I am reassured that Northern are looking to improve both the service and the trains, I was robust with them about our expectations here in the High Peak. I felt by visiting all the stations it gave them a far better perspective on the needs of the constituency and the opportunities for them as a franchisee. They went away with a list of issues that I had compiled from residents’ feedback. Unfortunately space constraints prevent me from listing them in this column, but some issues I expect to see some rapid actions on, while some will take a little longer. We agreed, however, to have an ongoing dialogue with regular updates on the longer term issues.
I am supportive of the franchise model, however the operators must always put the customers first because, as I pointed out to Northern, a better service will lead to increase usage which in turn will allow them to keep the fares down to reasonable levels, which given recent fare increase announcements is something that I know concerns people who use the railways - especially for commuting.