The continuing travails of passengers wanting to travel on the Tyne and Wear Metro has hit the headlines in the area again with a new report stating that only 68% of trains were on time in November and December. The concerns of how poorly the service continues to operates is very much in Nexus’ sights with the operator of the network saying they will be taking all steps to improve the reliability.
In a report to the North East Joint Transport Committee Nexus state: “We recognise the role that Metro plays in Tyne and Wear and the importance of providing a reliable Metro service to our customers and stakeholders and the adverse impact on daily lives and businesses when we don’t. We are concerned about the disappointing levels of punctuality and we are taking all possible steps to tackle its underlying causes as described in this report. However members are also requested to note the overall context, which is that the Metro system is now 39 years old. As a result the Metro’s rolling stock and other critical parts of the railway are showing signs of age and suffer from increased failures as a result.”
Of concern here is that Nexus are firmly putting the blame on the age of the infrastructure and trains – something which although on the radar for rectification is some time off with the new trains currently being procured not due to start arriving until 2021 and then take a further three years before the whole fleet is running across the network. Of the current fleet 11 of the trains haven’t been noted in service during 2019 so far which goes to show how hard pressed the remainder are to operate the normal service especially when you consider the normal train maintenance requirements.
78 units are needed to operate the morning peak with 76 required for the evening peak. The daytime service needs just 56 sets. At all times sets run in pairs with the combined fleet total being 90 trains. With 10 units not seen at all so far during 2019 this really does show how even a minor fault can cause disruption to the service.
In response to opposition councillors in the area Nexus have come out to say they have no current plans to reduce the peak service. There had been fears that with the continued reliability issues there would be no choice but for this to happen – and it in the recent past at times this has been what is on offer – but Nexus have claimed they remain fully committed to operating the full service. A spokesperson quoted in the Newcastle Chronicle said: “Our programme for a £362m new fleet is on schedule and reflects the fact that new trains need to be designed and built specially for Metro. We have been clear from the outset that we face a big challenge maintaining our existing trains until the new fleet is brought fully into service, and we have taken clear steps to achieve this. We are investing an additional £900,000 this year to deal with the most common causes of train failures, and we are also taking on 14 additional engineers to ensure trains that do fail are put back into service more quickly.”
The Newcastle Chronicle have also recently reported that Metro have struggled to retain drivers who are lured to work on the main line railway for higher salaries once they have finished their training with the Tyne and Wear Metro. Metro can only train 24 new drivers a year but they hope that in the lead up to the new trains they will be able to increase this number.
Another complaint recently has been concerning communication at times of disruption with Nexus also vowing to improve this. During the recent overhead line issue at Gateshead passengers were said not to be kept informed on what was going on and Nexus have now apologised and stated that a new social media team is now providing information 24 hours a day and although they had started just before the aforementioned incident they were still “bedding in” at the time.