‘Back to drawing board’ on rail franchise system

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 12 Jun 2018

ONE of Hull’s most senior business and political figures says the problems on the North’s rail network could see the entire privatisation model ripped up.

Lord Christopher Haskins, the parliamentary representative for the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and a member of the Transport for the North (TfN) board, said Hull’s issue with First TransPennine Express was part of a more deep-rooted issue.

Hull politicians and business leaders have been left incensed by the decision by Transpennine, as part of its timetable shake-up, to add four stops to the train service to Manchester, adding  at least six minutes to the journey time.

Lord Haskins said, even if the timetable chaos in the North is sorted, he feared “much bigger weaknesses” in the franchising system were going to be exposed.

The Government  operates a rail franchising system, where it leases out regional sub-sections of the railway network  to be run by private companies, while often paying them a subsidy over the course of the contract.

But in recent months, the franchise model has come under heavy criticism after it was deemed that private companies had promised too much.

Lord Haskins said: “The whole viability of the franchise system is in question now.

“I think the issue is much more serious than just about an extra six minutes [on the Hull-Manchester route].”

“I think they will have to go back to the drawing board on it.”

The cross-bench peer’s comments follow a meeting between a Hull delegation and rail minister Jo Johnson last Tuesday about the decision to downgrade the route between Hull and Manchester.

Lord Haskins said Hull should have double the number of direct trains into Leeds than it does currently.

“I think the important thing is frequency. To have one direct train to Leeds every hour is not good enough,” he said.

“I would like to bring Hull and Leeds closer, so people are moving much more easily between the two cities and their economies.

“Transpennine might say it would cost millions more, but it would generate its own traffic and it would be a good thing to do.

“But I would expect the State, rather than Transpennine, to invest in that. It is about economic development.”

Rail minister Mr Johnson recommended that Hull put forward a “robust business case” to TfN – the new body responsible for recommending transport improvements in the region – so the recently created body can press for changes with Transpennine.

A spokesman for Transpennine Express said, despite the changes to the route, journey times had increased by no more than “by two to four minutes”.

“Two weeks ago, we introduced a significant timetable change which has seen us increase our services by 20 per cent across our network, including a new hourly evening service between Hull and Manchester.

“We are committed to working with stakeholders and industry partners to secure the funding required to develop rail services further to and from Hull.”

A spokesman for Department for Transport said passengers across the North were experiencing “totally unacceptable” service levels, but   the Government was “committed” to upgrading the Transpennine route.

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