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A clear vision for rail in the North

Posted: 4 December 2013 | Alex Hynes, Managing Director, Northern Rail | No comments yet

Operating 2,500 services every day, Northern Rail serves an area stretching from the Scottish Borders down to Nottingham and Stoke and from Southport and Sellafield in the West to Whitby and Hull in the East. It’s a wide ranging landscape of rural communities, market towns and bustling urban centres where rail services are at the heart of economic regeneration. The franchise was let in 2004 and originally set to run until September 2011 with no forecast of significant growth in passenger numbers. Fast forward nine years and customer journeys have increased by an impressive 42% with journeys on target to total 96 million by the end of the year. After an automatic extension for meeting performance targets, and a seven period continuation enacted by the Department for Transport (DfT), the latest review of the franchising programme means the team at Northern is now talking to the DfT about potentially operating for a further 22 months until February 2016. Enter new Managing Director – Alex Hynes. Previously Commercial Director at London Midland and most recently MD Rail Development for Go-Ahead, Alex joined Northern in August and in an exclusive interview with Global Railway Review discusses the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“Before I took up the role, looking at the scale and complexity of the Northern network, the natural assumption was that it shouldn’t really work, but it does,” comments Alex. “The size of the network, the complex fleet with 13 differ – ent classes of train, and interfaces with over 10 different train and freight operators, all present their own challenges but the team has worked hard to develop and maintain a service that meets customer, stakeholder and client needs.”

Operating 2,500 services every day, Northern Rail serves an area stretching from the Scottish Borders down to Nottingham and Stoke and from Southport and Sellafield in the West to Whitby and Hull in the East. It’s a wide ranging landscape of rural communities, market towns and bustling urban centres where rail services are at the heart of economic regeneration. The franchise was let in 2004 and originally set to run until September 2011 with no forecast of significant growth in passenger numbers. Fast forward nine years and customer journeys have increased by an impressive 42% with journeys on target to total 96 million by the end of the year. After an automatic extension for meeting performance targets, and a seven period continuation enacted by the Department for Transport (DfT), the latest review of the franchising programme means the team at Northern is now talking to the DfT about potentially operating for a further 22 months until February 2016. Enter new Managing Director – Alex Hynes. Previously Commercial Director at London Midland and most recently MD Rail Development for Go-Ahead, Alex joined Northern in August and in an exclusive interview with Global Railway Review discusses the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.“Before I took up the role, looking at the scale and complexity of the Northern network, the natural assumption was that it shouldn’t really work, but it does,” comments Alex. “The size of the network, the complex fleet with 13 differ - ent classes of train, and interfaces with over 10 different train and freight operators, all present their own challenges but the team has worked hard to develop and maintain a service that meets customer, stakeholder and client needs.”

Operating 2,500 services every day, Northern Rail serves an area stretching from the Scottish Borders down to Nottingham and Stoke and from Southport and Sellafield in the West to Whitby and Hull in the East. It’s a wide ranging landscape of rural communities, market towns and bustling urban centres where rail services are at the heart of economic regeneration. The franchise was let in 2004 and originally set to run until September 2011 with no forecast of significant growth in passenger numbers. Fast forward nine years and customer journeys have increased by an impressive 42% with journeys on target to total 96 million by the end of the year. After an automatic extension for meeting performance targets, and a seven period continuation enacted by the Department for Transport (DfT), the latest review of the franchising programme means the team at Northern is now talking to the DfT about potentially operating for a further 22 months until February 2016. Enter new Managing Director – Alex Hynes. Previously Commercial Director at London Midland and most recently MD Rail Development for Go-Ahead, Alex joined Northern in August and in an exclusive interview with Global Railway Review discusses the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

“Before I took up the role, looking at the scale and complexity of the Northern network, the natural assumption was that it shouldn’t really work, but it does,” comments Alex. “The size of the network, the complex fleet with 13 differ – ent classes of train, and interfaces with over 10 different train and freight operators, all present their own challenges but the team has worked hard to develop and maintain a service that meets customer, stakeholder and client needs.” 

Operating in five Passenger Transport Executive (PTEs) areas, all of which (Merseytravel, Transport for Greater Manchester, Metro – West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Nexus – Tyne and Wear) are co signatories to the franchise along with the DfT, Northern is a heavily subsidised TOC.

“The team has had much to prove; not only to our industry partners but also to our customers,” explains Alex. “They are very aware that as a heavily subsidised TOC delivering good value for money is something on the tip of everyone’s tongue.”

Alex continues: “Independent research estimates that each year our services generate at least £690 million of economic and other benefits for the UK economy, providing a 2:1 return to the north of England on the subsidy we receive. It’s good but we know that we need to work hard to find new and innovative ways of delivering better value and improved services and facilities at lower cost. Partnerships are essential to helping us achieve this. With Network Rail we are focusing on how we can work together to deliver a better railway, looking at processes and systems to ensure we get the best value for money and reduce waste. A great example of this is the depot at Allerton which reopened on Merseyside in 2011. From an initial estimate of three years construction, it went from derelict site to fully-operational in six months and it was a collaborative effort. People were willing to take a fresh look at how we do things and come up with new streamlined safe ways of working – it was a real will and desire to deliver.”

Allerton is just one example of where Northern’s partnership with Network Rail has resulted in value for money and efficiency improvement and is a text book case for the argument that shows TOCs could have a stronger role to play in developing and implementing major projects.

And it’s not just a good working relationship with Network Rail, as Alex explains: “Northern’s relationship with its stakeholders and the engagement and investment that delivers was one of the things that really attracted me to this role. I was really struck by the level of support stakeholders showed for Northern, its employees and customers – they really fight in our corner. In my first month I attended some of our annual stakeholder thank you events. It was a real privilege to meet station adopters, ‘friends of’ groups and community rail partnerships who give their time and effort to help make their local stations and services more welcoming places for their community. Whether it’s those that volunteer their time, campaign for improve – ments or corporate partners such as local authorities and the PTEs their commitment and determination to deliver a better railway for the north of England is clear. These relationships have realised over £100 million of investment into services and facilities, which is great news for our customers. Our stakeholders aren’t afraid to challenge us either when they believe we can do better.”

A prime example of this is the recent consultation Northern held for its May 2014 timetable change proposals. The introduction of a fifth transpennine path between Manchester and Leeds means that the local service patterns need to be recast.

Alex continues: “As a result of our consultation some of our stakeholders challenged us to do more for our customers on the Calder Valley as we had removed some stops at some smaller stations. With their local expertise we were able to revisit the plans, and while we know we won’t please everyone the overall service pattern is better as a result.”

It’s this understanding of rail as a driver of economic regeneration, and a commitment to deliver a better deal for customers across the north of England that has meant stakeholders and Northern have been part of a formidable force that campaigned for the Northern Hub and other infrastructure enhancements.

“It’s such an exciting time to be joining a business like Northern,” says Alex. “The rail network in the north of England is benefitting from the biggest levels of investment since the Victorian era.”

He continues: “The Northern Hub will deliver significant capacity enhancements. Allowing an extra 700 trains every day it will enable better journey times, frequency and connectivity. Coupled with 300km of track between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Blackpool and Leeds being electrified, it’s clear to see the progress well underway. The first phase of electrification is already complete with new electric trains being introduced in the North West by the end of the year.”

These are just some of the schemes delivering capacity enhancements to cater for an expected 23% national growth in passenger and freight demand over the next five years. And it’s not all about track enhancements. The roof has quite literally been raised at Manchester Victoria, which is benefitting from a £44 million investment to restore its position as one of the jewels in the UK rail crown.

“All these enhancement projects are vital to increase capacity on our network but it is important that we have the right quantity and quality of trains to support this,” says Alex. “Passenger journeys on our services have grown by 42% since the start of the franchise but our fleet has only grown by 19% and it is well documented that our trains are some of the oldest in the UK. Our engineering teams do a fantastic job day-in day-out of maintaining our fleet – they’ve used lean thinking to help to reduce the time taken on exams and enhance processes to drive real improvements in miles per casualty and availability of units. It’s essential as even with every available carriage out on the network, there are still times when we are leaving customers standing on the platform and that is just not good enough.”

Alex continues: “Yes I want new trains for our customers but that is not something we will achieve in the short-term. Electrification will allow faster more reliable and sustainable journeys but it could also, in the short and medium-term, enable a cascade of vehicles to help provide much needed capacity elsewhere. I want to work with our stakeholders to campaign for and secure the volume and quality of trains our customers need and deserve. This work needs to start now, and must tackle the critical question of funding. Fare box income alone has not yet proven itself capable of supporting increased rolling stock procurement, and it is clear that affordable finance in a competitive market is key to easing these capacity constraints.”

“Northern has a vision for rail in the North, it’s one shaped by our customers, one that supports our communities. We need to work together; to deliver a strategic plan that converts the challenges of capacity into a blueprint leveraging the opportunities in growth.”

With the future of Northern’s operation not yet confirmed by the Department, some might want to take a cautious approach. On the contrary, says Alex: “We have to look to and plan for the future for the good of our customers and the economies of the north of England. We need to act and make decisions now or the momentum created by infrastructure investment will be lost.”

Biography

Alex Hynes joined Northern Rail as Managing Director in August 2013. Having spent his early career as a consultant for Halcrow Fox, Alex worked with the Office of Rail Regulation before joining the Go-Ahead Group in 2005 as Strategic Planning Manager and, in 2007, as Commercial Director at London Midland, and finally, as Managing Director – Rail Development. Here Alex sat on the Executive Committee and led the development and delivery of Go-Ahead’s rail strategy including all franchise bidding activity. As Managing Director for Northern, Alex’s industry experience positions him well to implement the next programme of improvements that will drive excellence and deliver greater satisfaction for customers and stakeholders across the Northern network.

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