The next few weeks will see the biggest changes to the rail network in the West Midlands for over ten years.  London Midland, who’ve operated local services and semi-fast trains between Birmingham and Liverpool and on the Trent Valley line from Euston since 2007 are approaching their final station.  Abellio, who will be operating local services in the West Midlands under the West Midlands Trains banner and on Trent Valley as London Northwestern are mobilising to take over from Sunday 10th December.

However, London Midland leave a legacy of issues that have not been dealt with, which the new brooms will need to get to grips with rather quickly.

Firstly, staffing.  Last week was school half-term week.  It is a period when many workers want to take time away to spend with their families.  Most other businesses take this into account in their workforce planning and ensure they have enough staff available to deliver their services during their week.  London Midland was cancelling services left, right and centre owing to “a shortage of train-crew”.  Clearly LM’s complement of staff is not enough to deliver the advertised service.  No-one begrudges railway staff having time off over half-term, but families using the network for trips out may not repeat the experience if trains keep being cancelled.

CfR have also suspected for some time that London Midland mask cancellations for train-crew shortages for other reasons, such as “the late running of the inbound service”.  As an example, on the 24th October the 15:12 service from Birmingham New Street to Rugeley Trent Valley was cancelled owing to “the late running of the inbound service”.  The stock for this train is formed using that of the 14:45 from Walsall to New Street, due in at 15:08.  Curiously this late train arrived at New Street at 15:05, three minutes early.  Perhaps Pinocchio works updating the London Midland performance computer.

This week also marks the start of the “leaf fall” timetable on the Cross City line.  It means misery for commuters, as services see skip stops and often have 3 car trains on all station services where six would be better.  CfR understands leaves on the line are a serious problem, but the current timetable is, to put it frankly, a joke.  It is best illustrated by the trains that arrive at Longbridge – a station with a huge car park, a new college within walking distance and a growing district of Birmingham.  Rather than picking up passengers there then running non-stop to University which would help ease the pain for commuters, London Midland start two trains per hour from Selly Oak, running them empty from Longbridge.  The leaf fall timetable is not agreed with West Midlands Rail in Birmingham, but by DfT mandarins in London.  Presumably if the DfT Rail division was based in Birmingham and the staff there had to endure the non-passenger friendly leaf-fall service something rather different would be offered.

Abellio have promised new trains though for the Cross City line, with the 25 year old Class 323 units being replaced with 36 three car Aventra EMU’s.  Hopefully the specification will include a rather beefier traction package and a little bit more weight, so that they can cope with falling leaves rather better than the venerable class 323’s, so the leaf fall timetable, like London Midland, can be consigned to the annals of history.

Abellio have made a pledge to increase the Sunday service across the West Midlands, so that by May 2021 there are as many services on Sundays as there is on a Saturday.  Given that weekend services at present are reliant on rest day and overtime working, they need to ensure they recruit more drivers and conductors to the staffing establishment is larger than that bequeathed to them by London Midland.  As more and more people are travelling on a Sunday this pledge is one that we expect Abellio to keep.

31 October 2017

All Change and About Time Too