These are causes of Harrogate's terrible rail performance figures

Train operator Northern Rail’s most recent performance figures lay bare a story of failure on the daily commute from Harrogate to Leeds and York.

Friday, 22nd November 2019, 3:15 pm
Updated Friday, 22nd November 2019, 4:18 pm
Complaints are growing over the poor performance of the Harrogate railway service.

The official statistics for the period between October 13 to November 9 reveal less than half of services ran to time.

Only 45.4 per cent of its trains across the north arrived within a minute of their scheduled time.

In fact, some individual trains on the busier routes, including Harrogate to Leeds, failed to arrive at all.

Not that frustrated Harrogate commuters need facts and figures to remind them of their daily woes.

They may sympathise with rail staff, who try their best in difficult circumstances not of their own making to be helpful.

When hundreds of thousands of commuters in the north suffered the worst chaos for decades last summer as a result of an ambitious attempt to improve railway timetables, the then-transport secretary Chris Grayling told the Harrogate Advertiser that performance was returning to normal.

The Government also pledged to replace all the disliked old Pacer trains on the Harrogate line with better, more recent models.

That was a year ago and that promise has yet to be met totally, though there have been some improvements.

Northern Rail’s own figures show the hangover from last summer is not yet over.

Behind the statistics lie distress and misery for passengers who end up being late for work, missing onward connections or getting home late.

What Northern Rail says

Northern Rail has apologised to the public for its performance. A spokesperson told the Harrogate Advertiser: “Our customers deserve the best possible rail service and we are working hard, alongside our partners, to improve industry performance.

“We are sorry to any customer whose journey has been disrupted.”

But, according to the mytrainjourney.co.uk website, none of the 7.34am or 7.46am trains arrived on time between October 13 to November 9.

It says a lot that punctuality has now fallen below the levels witnessed in the aftermath of the timetable chaos of summer 2018, campaign groups such as the Harrogate Line Supporters Group say major change is long overdue.

The root causes can be discovered in two different, but related, directions:

1. The rail operator’s daily issues which have not eased since the chaos across the north of the attempted timetable changes in early summer 2018.

2. The longer-term structural and infrastructure problems which have been identified by national government but not yet fully addressed.

What Harrogate Line Supporters Group says

A leading member of Harrogate Line Supporters Group, Andrew Whitworth said the major investment needed and promised on the railways had simply not materialised despite plans being announced in the past.

He said: “Train services on the Harrogate line are erratic and many are still not provided by the new ‘Class 170’ trains that have been promised.

“Fortunately the dreadful Pacers should disappear completely from this route by the end of next month.

“What is concerning is that improvements promised in 2016 continue to get pushed back.

“The reliability of our service could be improved by promised investment to upgrade the line to York - this is late but as was reported recently there is a danger now that this won’t happen at all.”

Without explicitly blaming Network Rail, Northern Rail’s argument is that its efforts to bring better services to Harrogate and across the north are being hampered by the infrastructure.

A Northern Rail spokesperson said: “There has been no real increase in track capacity since 2016, which has led to more congested railways across the North.

“This congestion has taken its toll on punctuality. This year has also seen a number of extreme weather events - including unprecedented flooding in September and November which have further hit performance.

Harrogate rail service campaigners acknowledge that infrastructure is a major factor in the probllems being experienced by Harrogate passengers.

Andrew Whitworth of Harrogate Line Supporters Group said: “In truth, some big projects down south - like Crossrail and the Great Western electrification - have gone massively over budget and several northern improvements have been deferred by Network Rail as a result.

“What is needed is the Government, who control Network Rail’s purse strings, to provide extra funds to get things back on track in the North.”