Rail bosses claim reliability statistics from under-fire operator TransPennine Express (TPE) are being 'masked' by its continuing use of 'infuriating' pre-planned service cancellations as late as 10pm the night before.
Transport bosses in Greater Manchester have now raised what they called 'the unacceptable long-term use of what was designed to be an emergency industry measure' with both TPE and the Rail North Partnership.
Pre-planned service cancellations - known as P-coded trains - are removed from systems by 10pm the evening before the trains are due to run, but crucially are not included in passenger delay repay schemes and do not count towards official performance figures. Transport for Greater Manchester has already said 'P-codes' were brought in for exceptional circumstances like derailments as a 'short term emergency', but claimed they were now 'being used every day' and TPE were 'pulling between 50 to 80 trains a day on some days with P-codes'.
A new report due to be considered by a committee says the operator's averages of around five per cent cancelled services 'are masked by TPE's use of P-codes'. The Local Rail Services Performance Report, due to go before councillors on the Greater Manchester Transport Committee on Friday, reveals TPE - between September 18 and November 12 - had pre-cancelled between 250 and 450 trains per week.
Combined with on-the-day cancellations, it means between a fifth and a quarter of all TPE trains being regularly cancelled, says the report.
It comes as the full, infuriating extent of train delays across Greater Manchester can be revealed. Just over a third of all trains running arrived late at their destinations over the near two-month period, latest data contained in the report by Simon Elliott, head of rail programme at TfGM, shows.
Official performance data for TPE reveals it finished the period to November 12 with a 'right time at destination' figure of 41.1 per cent - meaning less than half of all trains were on time.
"A total of 584 services were full or part cancelled on the day over this period," adds the report. "These figures, however, exclude pre-cancelled (or P-coded) trains.
"TPE has been pre-cancelling anything between 250 - 450 trains per week since summer across its network due to crew unavailability. When taken with on-the-day cancellations, this has seen total weekly cancellations averaging between 20 - 25 per cent of its entire contracted services.
"During the half-term week beginning October 23, 2022, TPE fully or part-cancelled over 30 per cent of its entire services."
Trains are classed as 'on-time' if less than five minutes late at their final destination.
On Northern services, the company ended the period to November 12 with a 'right time at destination figure' of 43.5 per cent. "Longer distance operators fared worse, with Avanti only managing a right time arrival on a quarter of its already reduced timetable, down from a third," said the report.
Public Performance Measure - PPM - is the percentage of trains which arrive at their terminating station 'on time' compared to the total number of trains planned.
The report goes on: "Operational performance for Greater Manchester train operators continued to decline over the two periods, with the average of the six train operating companies' 'right time at destination' falling from 51.6 per cent to just 37.4 per cent. In addition to crew resource availability as a result of Covid and other sickness, industrial action and the cessation of rest day working at various TOCs, autumnal railhead conditions have added to overall delays and cancellations across the network.
"Whilst the periods traditionally see declines in operational performance due to autumn, this year period 08 has seen Northern record a PPM of 7.3 per cent less than in 2021, TPE 9.7 per cent lower and Avanti 11.6 per cent worse.
"For Northern and TPE, PPM remains slightly higher than in period 08, 2019, although for Avanti it remains the same.
"Service cancellations increased over the periods overall, as a result of the above plus train crew declining to work rest days and overtime at various train companies. Official cancellations varied between TOCs ranging from around five - eight per cent of all services.
"TfGM has raised what we consider to be the unacceptable long-term use of what was designed to be an emergency industry measure with the operator and Rail North Partnership.
"TfGM continues to brief Manchester's mayor and calls have been made to cease this practise and for improvements in performance for both TPE and Avanti West Coast. If these improvements are not forthcoming, the mayor has demanded the termination of both of these operator contracts."
Chris Jackson, regional director at Northern, said: “All timetables are designed to accommodate a level of sickness absence, but the period from 18 September through to 12 November saw some of the highest employee sickness – far beyond reasonable assumptions – that we’ve ever seen.
"The impact of a rostering disagreement with the ASLEF union was felt up until its resolution on 30 October and on top of that, we had the much-publicised issue regarding voluntary Sunday working, which is something the industry needs to move away from in 2023 in order to make the railway ‘fit for customer need’.
"We apologised to our customers at the time and have since launched our new December 2022 timetable which is designed to be resilient against higher levels of sickness and offers some 3,000 extra services a week across the wider Northern network.”
The Manchester Evening News asked TransPennine Express for comment on the contents of the report.
A spokesperson said: "We are sorry to anyone that has been affected by disruption to our services in recent times and we continue to do everything we can to deliver a train service our customers can rely on. The prolonged disruption, which has been caused by a combination of factors including continued levels of high sickness and a training backlog following the pandemic has led to the need to remove services from the timetable on a day-by-day basis through pre-planned cancellations.
"We want to be as open and transparent as possible with our customers, and to keep them informed, any cancellations we need to make are shown in industry systems and any pre-planned cancellations are published online, in many cases up to 24 hours before. Anyone who is affected by their train being cancelled can apply for a refund."
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