Interviews

06.06.16

Transforming rail in the north

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 16

As part of RTM’s series of interviews with the those at the top of the TOCs, David Stevenson caught up with Alex Hynes, Arriva Rail North’s managing director, who comments on the plans for the new franchise and what will be delivered.

On 1 April 2016, Arriva took control of Northern, signalling the start of a new era for the franchise. Alex Hynes, the man who was at the helm during the last franchise, has remained in place as the managing director and now, with extra funding available, has big ambitions.

Meeting at Manchester Piccadilly Station, RTM asked him what the priority was for Arriva Rail North over the next nine years: “My most important priority is that we deliver on the promises which we made to government and stakeholders and to our customers,” he said. 

“And our promise is that in 2020 when you go down to the platforms at Manchester Piccadilly or any Northern station, the quality and capacity of our railway will have been transformed. As a result, northern England will be a better place to live and work. That is our mission. We are going to deliver it, the trains are being refurbished, and the new trains have been ordered.” 

Out with the old and in with the new 

Before taking over the franchise in April, Arriva announced that by the end of 2019 it will have replaced Pacer trains on its routes, with a new model featuring wi-fi. 

The Spanish manufacturer CAF was awarded the £490m contract to build the 281 carriages, which will be based on its Civity platform. However, this caused some unrest with RTM readers who called for the trains to “be built in Britain”. 

Asked about CAF being awarded the contract, Hynes said: “You run a procurement and you select the supplier who is best able to meet your requirements on quality, cost and schedule. One of the reasons they won is because they could deliver a tried-and-tested product in the timescale to deliver our business plan.” 

867 179 7 Civity

TransPennine Express (TPE) have also awarded CAF a contract to build 12 five-carriage Civity UK InterCity electric trains financed by Eversholt Rail, and 13 sets of five-car InterCity carriages financed by Beacon Rail Leasing. The new £230m fleet, which will provide an extra 13 million seats a year, will be delivered during 2018 and 2019. 

Although the two deals are not linked, Hynes said: “We have got a co-operation agreement with TPE. The client (DfT) wants us to collaborate, so that we deliver a better railway for the north of England. A customer doesn’t care if they are getting Northern or TPE, they want a train. 

“Given the recent news that TPE have ordered CAF stock, inevitably when we have our collaboration meeting [once a quarter] that is one issue of joint interest where if we can work together to work smarter, we will.” 

As well as transforming the rolling stock during the franchise, which includes a refurbishment programme, Arriva also has plans to improve the passenger experience at its stations, with every station that has a footfall of more than 3,000 people per year to get ticketing purchasing facilities, real-time information and retail facilities. 

“Most of our stations at the moment have no staff, no real-time information, no help point and no retail facility,” said Hynes. “In the future, pretty much every single station is going to get a retail facility, real-time information and a help point. 

“There are 53 stations that currently have no staff which are going to get staff, there are 45 stations which are going to have staffing hours extended, but I’d rather them not stand behind glass selling tickets; I want them delivering face-to-face customer services.

“Our retail strategy is about supported self-service, we want customers to either buy their tickets at or before they get to the station and we want our people freed up to deliver face-to-face customer service.” 

Greater collaboration across the sector 

As RTM went to press, Northern was in the process of signing an alliance agreement with Network Rail. In the Northern ITT, the DfT had made it a requirement that the franchisee would use “reasonable endeavours” to enter into an alliance agreement as soon as reasonably practicable, “but in any event within two years”. 

“We are about to sign our alliance agreement with Network Rail, which sets out what we’re going to work on together,” said Hynes. “In order for me to deliver my business plan, Network Rail needs to deliver its – so electrification, Ordsall Chord, upgrades to stabling facilities, all of this.” 

Hynes added that the creation of a new Northern route, as recommended by the Shaw Report, and currently being assessed by Michael Holden [the former CEO of Directly Operated Railways], is “critical”. 

“The benefit of creating a Northern Route is the alignment between Transport for the North, Rail North, the two northern TOCs and Network Rail,” he said. “I think that alignment could be awesome. I look forward to seeing how Network Rail is going to fulfil the Shaw recommendations to create the route.” 

He added that as well as raising the standard of delivery and strengthening links with stakeholders, Arriva has an ambition, as part of the alliance, to develop a more collaborative supply chain. 

“Britain was the first country in the world to have a standard on business collaboration, BS 11000. We are going to get that accreditation with Network Rail and with Carillion, our facilities management partner, and, every year of the franchise, we are going to collaborate with one more supplier each year.” 

Business regions 

As well as there being greater devolution of Network Rail’s routes, Northern has created four new business regions to oversee the improvements planned following the franchise integration with Arriva. 

The regions, which went live from 1 July, will be Central, based in Manchester and covering an area from Clitheroe and Colne to Crewe and Stoke-on-Trent. It will led by Liam Sumpter, formerly area director for the West Midlands and Chilterns. 

The East region, based in Leeds, will be bordered by Hull, Nottingham, Todmorden and Armathwaite and led by Paul Barnfield, who has worked for Northern since 2010 and is currently director of operations. The North-East region, based in Newcastle, will be led by Mike Paterson, who joins Northern from PA Consulting. The West region, based in Preston, will be led by Sharon Keith, previously managing director at Tyne and Wear Metro. 

“Northern is the second biggest TOC in the country,” said Hynes. “We want to get closer to our stakeholders, customers and communities. There is only one of me. I get spread relatively thinly and there are going to be five of me in the future, with four regional directors. 

“I’m hoping that this will raise the standard of delivery, strengthen and deepen the links we have with our communities and that closeness will help us go above and beyond the franchise bid to develop things mid-franchise to go even further.” 

However, it hasn’t all be plain sailing for Northern since the start of the new franchise, with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) confirming it is carrying out an in-depth investigation into Arriva’s integration with Northern. 

The CMA halted the full integration of Arriva and Northern on the grounds that Arriva owns so many UK transport businesses that there would be little or no competition against it on 38 train routes and 44 bus routes. The CMA is due to report back by November. 

“In practice it will have little or no impact on business as usual and the delivery of our franchise agreement,” said Hynes. “DfT always says that competition is a matter for the CMA. But the CMA does not do a pre-emptive investigation into the bidders; they do it after the franchise has been awarded. 

“But because Northern is so large, and because Arriva’s operations in the region are so substantive, the CMA weren’t able to definitely decide whether there was a significant lessening of competition within the phase 1 timescale. We have gone to phase 2 and that should be complete by November.”

Confident of what the future holds, Hynes said this is a brand new business plan with a new owner, “which is going to create a new Northern franchise, which is nothing like the old one”. 

“In 2004 there was little investment,” he said. “Fast-forward 12 years and you have the same franchise with a billion pounds. That is just incredible: new trains, faster journeys, more seats, more often. It is huge!” 

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Michael Still   30/08/2016 at 18:30

There is no doubt that Alex Hynes will deliver this brand new business plan and he will see it through. There is no one else that could do such a good job. You have only got to look at his past record and you will see what can be done. There are no end of routes in the North you can now travel on that would be doubtfull in the past. Chris Grayling should appreciate how lucky he is to have Alex part of his team. Michael Still

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