10 November 2021
Our Chairman Derek Stuckey started our meeting on 10 November with the shocking news that friend of the branch Paul Abell, who had presented our October meeting had sadly died at the end of the month. He then introduced our speaker Pete Myers from Northern, the company that operates local and regional trains across the North of England. Pete started his talk 'All Things Northern’ by telling us briefly about his career to date on the railways. He began under BR as a guard at Doncaster and has since worked for several different franchises, always in the North. After a reminder of some recent history, particularly in relation to the problematic May 2018 timetable which led to Arriva losing the Northern franchise in 2020, Pete moved on to talk about the challenges faced by Northern (now operated by the Department for Transport's Operator of Last Resort) during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. During the initial lockdown the "key worker" timetable was reduced to 60% of the normal service. Since then there have been at least seven further timetable changes, placing strain on train planners (there are only normally two timetable changes per year). All future timetables will be resource led but the December 2021 timetable was set to reach 93% of the pre-pandemic service and it was planned that the May 2022 timetable would reach 96%. The leisure market has been returning quicker than commuters or business travel, and during the summer months some routes, particularly to the coast, saw a higher demand that pre-pandemic. At the time of Pete's presentation Northern had returned to around 75% of pre-pandemic passengers overall.
There were many challenges that the operator has had to face, not least staff shortages owing to some staff shielding early on in the pandemic and the inability to train either existing staff on new trains or new staff on any trains for some nine months. Train cleaning had been stepped up across the franchise. The pandemic has had some unexpected consequences: there has been a significant shift towards digital tickets - before the pandemic 32% of tickets were purchased digitally, such as via the Northern app, but by 2021 this had risen to 55%. Pete concluded by talking about how the change to Great British Railways could affect Northern and the possible risks going forward. Whilst the new Class 195 DMUs are now very much in evidence around Sheffield, he said that much of the DMU fleet (such as Class 150s, 155s, 156s and 158s) will need replacing in the next 10-12 years. While some more electrification is likely, it will not be suitable for all lines so hydrogen trains could be another option that will be explored. There are also a number of new stations coming in Yorkshire over the coming years. Pete then took questions from the floor on a variety of subjects including overcrowding on some local services in the area (an early morning Nottingham-Leeds service is currently Northern's most overcrowded service) and the future of printed timetables before heading home (by Northern train, of course!) to east Yorkshire. We thanked Pete for his time and presentation to Sheffield branch!