North East MPs' anger over plans to cut train guards and ticket office staff

MPs have criticised government plans to axe staff on the Northern and Transpennine Express rail franchises

TransPennine Express trains
TransPennine Express trains

Plans to axe guards from trains and put up fares have been slammed by MPs.

The Government has announced radical changes for the Northern and TransPennine Express Rail franchises. Ministers want the services to stop employing guards and move to “driver only” trains.

They also want to review the number of staff working at ticket offices and introduce more ticket machines, suggesting staff numbers will be cut.

And they have warned that the franchises receive too much subsidy - and passengers will have to pay more, particularly on the Northern franchise.

The planned changes were set out in a consultation published by the Department for Transport.

But the proposals have been condemned by North East MPs including North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon, Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham and Easington MP Grahame Morris, who signed a Commons motion demanding ministers think again.

Easington MP Grahame Morris
Easington MP Grahame Morris
 

The motion warns that “not only will there be the loss of hundreds of decent, relatively well-paid, skilled jobs in the North but also that passenger service and safety will be worsened by the introduction of driver-only operation, the sacking of train guards, conductors, station destaffing and ticket office closures.”

And the MPs said: “These type of cuts will particularly impact on disabled, older and women passengers.”

New franchises for both the both the TransPennine Express and Northern services are set to be awarded by February 2016.

The TransPennine Express franchise, currently operated by First TransPennine Express, runs from Manchester to Leeds and York and up to Darlington, Durham and Newcastle.

The Northern franchise, operated by Northern Rail, connects Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Newcastle and Hexham and other North East locations, as well as services across the North West.

The Government’s consultation document says: “Trains across the region are currently operated with both a driver and guard. However, on almost a third of train services in Great Britain, including many recently electrified routes, everything is controlled by the driver in what is known as ‘driver only operation’ (DDO) with no need for a conductor or guard to operate the doors, or for train despatch.”

It continues: “On the Northern franchise, we expect to require bidders to set out how DDO may be introduced onto suitable services. On TransPennine Express (TPE), this will be left at bidders’ discretion. Bidders will also be invited to set out how they will introduce more modern approaches to ticket retailing: making greater use of new technology, reviewing the opening hours of ticket offices and considering how best to deploy station staff and the duties they perform.”

The consultation also warns that subsidies on the Northern line are the highest in the country.

Ministers say that services across the region will benefit from extensive electrification and upgrades over the next 5 years as part of the government’s £1 billion investment in the northern network, paving the way for up to 700 extra trains every day and 44 million additional passengers a year.

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond
Rail Minister Stephen Hammond
 

Rail Minister Stephen Hammond said: “Rail travel across the North will be transformed over the next 5 years thanks to £1bn of government investment. That means more seats, improved connections and better journeys for millions of passengers travelling across this region.”

The consultation runs until August 18.

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