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29.01.19

Anna-Jane Hunter: A blossoming north

Source: RTM Dec/Jan 19

Much has been achieved across the north in the past few years, but there’s still a lot of work left to do. As the third generation in her family to work on the railways, Anna-Jane Hunter, director of north of England rail at Network Rail, is keen to be at the forefront of this transformation.

Having spent a few years in the world of a train franchise owning group, I missed working across the north and was keen to play a part in the ongoing transformation of its railways. When the newly-created ‘director for north of England rail’ role at Network Rail came up in spring 2018, it was an exciting opportunity to make a difference that I simply couldn’t miss.

Now in the role, it’s really clear just what a lot of change is going on! We are witnessing the multibillion-pound Great North Rail Project in action, with new infrastructure in place and a game-changing amount of new trains about to be introduced on our network in 2019. This will help transform customer journeys across the north. The political landscape has changed, too, with the creation of metro mayors and the first statutory transport authority, Transport for the North.

But alongside this, it’s been a very a tough year for passengers following the introduction of the May 2018 timetable. Challenging upgrades, ongoing strike action, and poor train performance caused widespread delays and cancellations for our customers, who just want to get from A to B and on time. The north is quite rightly under the spotlight in a way it has never been before.

Above all, we’re very sorry for our recent poor performance. What is abundantly clear to me is that the rail industry must do much better to meet passengers’ expectations.

The good news is that the north is catching up on investment after decades of being left behind. In 2018, we completely remodelled Liverpool Lime Street to fit longer trains, so that the station can accommodate a greater number of passengers expected over the coming decades. We have also electrified the line between Manchester and Blackpool North via Salford, Bolton and Preston. This is to pave the way for bigger, faster, greener, and more reliable electric trains from 2019. We’ve built a brand-new piece of railway, known as the Ordsall Chord, that links Manchester’s three main stations for the first time and provides better connectivity to Manchester Airport from across the north. We’re learning how to operate a busier and more demanding railway in this region. We recognise this hasn’t always happened to the standard expected of passengers in the past six months, but we’ve worked hard to introduce improvements to make things better. These are starting to have an effect on performance in and around Manchester.

The investment and pace of change doesn’t stop there. Over the next two years, at more than 100 stations across the north, we’re lengthening platforms to provide more waiting space for passengers and allow bigger, wider, and longer modern trains to stop there. In 2019, we’ll see the wholesale replacement of Northern’s 142 Pacer trains. This alone is transformational for passengers, but it’s taking place at a time when TransPennine Express is also upgrading its fleet. ‘Transformational’ barely seems to cover it, especially with the TransPennine Route Upgrade and Northern Powerhouse Rail on the horizon too.

But we’re not getting too carried away. The rail industry is working hard to ensure the service we deliver lives up to passenger expectations and increased political scrutiny. In the short time I’ve been back here at Network Rail, I’ve been proud to work with rail industry colleagues to improve performance and explain our challenges more openly to stakeholders and the travelling public.

As the third generation in my family to work for the railway, I do take it personally when things don’t go right for passengers. I know many of my colleagues feel the same way. We remain passionate about improving our delivery to customers in the region.

I’m delighted to say that the 9 December 2018 timetable change may already be delivering on some of our hard work. While not wanting to count any chickens, the performance results for the first week for TPE and Northern services were just above 80%. But we know passengers in the north expect better than this, and we continue to work together with the train operators to identify further opportunities.

Clearly, there is still room for much improvement, but I know with continued efforts and passion, we will be able to deliver the benefits of the Great North Rail Project. We remain committed to delivering a better-performing railway that northerners can be proud of just as much as they are about their own towns and cities, accents, and football teams!

 

Anna-Jane will be speaking at this year's installation of TransCityRail North, taking place at the Principal Hotel, Manchester on 3 October 2019. Don't miss your chance to attend, visit the website here. 

 

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