Opinion: Customers deserve better from appalling rail service

TransPennine Express train waiting at Platform five at York Station.
TransPennine Express train waiting at Platform five at York Station.

What an appalling service I and many other passengers had to endure at the hands of TransPennine Express on the afternoon of Tuesday 29 January whilst awaiting trains from York to Scarborough.

The 16.40 service appeared on the electronic noticeboards as delayed by 26 mins. At 17.06, when the train came into York station, the destination was shown on the front of the leading coach as “Malton,” not “Scarborough” as expected. Enquiries made to passengers getting off the train and to TransPennine staff showed that the service scheduled to Seamer and Scarborough was to terminate at Malton, which was confirmed by this stage on the electronic noticeboards.

You can imagine the scene at platform five at York. The train is always very busy and had many passengers waiting for the 16.40 service. In addition, there were further passengers who had arrived early for the 17.40 service, so the platform was crowded. These were added to by the passengers bound for Seamer or Scarborough who disembarked from the train at York. I heard a TransPennine member of staff saying that there was “another train to Scarborough following.” It was also very cold and windy.

The train to Malton left the platform and the next scheduled service arrived on time at 17.40. The platform was very crowded containing passengers for both the 16.40 and 17.40 services, both of which are normally full trains. There was a scramble to get on the train and it was clear that there would be 
insufficient seating available for the number of passengers.

Luggage occupied every free section of floorspace and I observed passengers stacking luggage so that they had space in which to stand. They precariously balanced this luggage for the whole journey to Scarborough. Students travelling from York were sitting in the aisles and elderly people were standing throughout the journey to Scarborough.

There was no reduction in crowding at Malton because the departing passengers were more than offset by those who had chosen to stay with the 16.40 service which terminated at Malton and 
rejoined the later train.

You may ask why the 16.40 train terminated at Malton? After all, there are no sidings for the train to go to and it would need to go to Scarborough. So, why were the passengers removed at York and Malton when the train had to go to Scarborough, passing Seamer on the way?

By the time the 16.40 left York it was already approaching 30 minutes late.

This same train would be used for the 17.50 return journey from Scarborough to Liverpool Lime Street, calling at all intervening stations.

The only explanation I can think of for terminating the service at Malton is that the train could then make a dash for Scarborough without the inconvenience of passengers, and avoiding stopping at Seamer, to depart within the 30-minute delay time.

If that is the case, it would be an appalling way to treat fare-paying passengers. From the evidence available, it appears that an operational decision was made by TransPennine Express to abandon their passengers at York and Malton so that they could depart from Scarborough within 30 minutes of the scheduled departure and, crucially, without having to pay any compensation for a delayed service.

Who are TransPennine Express? They were awarded the franchise to operate from 2016 to 2023 and are part of the American owned First Group plc. According to Network Rail’s public performance tables to January 6, 2018, TransPennine Express achieved a (Public Performance Measure) of 82.1%, down from 87.6 the previous year and amongst the lowest percentile of all train operators. I am unable to find information about operating profits sent to the parent First Group in America. However, I question whether passengers have benefited from the transfer of rail assets to an American company.

I am now retired, so do not experience these conditions on a day to day basis, as was clearly the case on this train. Commuters travelling to York, Leeds and beyond deserve a better service than this.