Arriva Trains Northern are the company which took over most (if not all) of Northern Spirit's routes. I used to travel regularly on Northern Spirit trains, and had very little to complain about. There was the usual occassional over crowding, but nothing really that bad (if you'd asked me at the time I might have had a few harsh words for them, though). We are now in the age of Arriva, however. If a journey with Northern Spirit was ever bad, I now sit in the Seventh Circle of Hell with Arriva, a company which couldn't organise the proverbial inebriation in a hostelry. They advertised themselves as a far better company the Northern Spirit because they brought in these brand-spanking-new trains from Spain. I must admit, they are swish: comfy seats, plenty of room, nice toilets, and the train even tells you, upon boarding, which train you are on and which the next station stop is - occasionally correctly. The trouble was, when they first bought them, there were not enough drivers trained in driving these new-fangled machines. So, for weeks, services were cancelled, sometimes with buses laid on but often not: they had a driver, a functioning train, and the two in the same place at the same time, but the driver was not allowed to drive said train. Doesn't this seem slightly odd to anyone? How could this situation have come about? The new trains were, eventually, in service full-time, and were, for a time, a real comfort. Things seemed to be going better.., BUT.... the new trains were built and designed in Spain. It is hot in Spain. The trains were operating in Yorkshire. It is cold in winter in Yorkshire. Each time the trains passed over an area where the electronic line had some ice on it, the on-board computer crashed and had to be reset, causing delays as the trains ground slowly to a halt. This was the winter of 2000-2001. This still happens this year. Wrong type of ice, I guess, but it is pretty poor that no-one thou
ght about this, and that it is yet to be fixed. Then, drivers realised that they could get paid a lot more by defecting to different companies, and a flood of them hit the highways and byways (the railways were not an option) and left. Arriva, again not seeing this eventuality, pumped up the drivers' wages, and began training hundreds of new ones. Of course, the train services were hit, trains were often cancelled, and a "Revised Time-Table" was brought into force. They, basically, cut loads of trains so that they couldn't be fined even more for not having trains running. Pretty good if you ask me. Perhaps we should all suggest that in the board-room - "Now, we haven't met our targets for last year, so, we can either make sweeping changes to efficiency, employ more staff, or we could change the targets to make it easier for us. What do you say?". Then, the conductors wanted a pay-rise comparable to that of the drivers'. They didn't get it, and so went on strike. I am in two minds about this - part of me thinks "well, if others are getting it, why shouldn't they?". The other part thinks "How dare they!!!!". After their company, and they are a representative of that company, has performed so poorly since it was forced upon the commuters of West Yorkshire, why should they be paid more? It was this latter part of me that read, in the Metro paper, that, after three years of service, Train Conductors can expect to take home more in their pay-packet than Nurses or Police Officers. Sympathy? I feel not a jot! I have mentioned these problems, several times, to them in letters. I have even recieved a couple of replies within a month (just) of writing to them (If you have a complaint write to the Customer Relations Officers at the Managing Director's Office, Arriva Trains Northern, Room M79, Main Headquaters Station Road York YO1 6HT and tell
9;em John Atkinson sent ya'). My most recent reply is a beauty, and I would like to quote a little if I may. This letter, of apology, is designed to keep me on the railways and off of the roads, to show that the future is bright, and that Arriva are doing their best to improve the service, and that they have, indeed, done so already. "Train performance has improved considerably as a result of the temporary alterations, which we introduced on 29th October [see the revised time-table and changing targets as outlined above]. So much so that cancellations throughout the network we serve [serve????] have been below double figures on a number of days". In short, after we decided we couldn't run as many trains as we said we could, we cut a vast number of them, and in four months, we have had several (SEVERAL!!!!) days with less than 10 cancellations. This, Mr Managing Director, is something that you should be ashamed of, not reporting to customers in order to blow your own trumpet. To sum up, in case you haven't guessed - I am not impressed by Arriva Trains Northern. "Pass the car keys, love, I'm going to make it to work on-time today if it kills the environment!!!"
My experience from Nothern Spirit has to do with its service to Manchester Airport.I should say that I'm totally satisfied and If companies want an example on how to run a service they must use Northern Spirit as an example. Polite staff,high punctuality (the delays I've experienced were infrequent)and reasonable prices.Ok car is always the best way to get there,but the timetable is quite good...However, I wish that they had another service between 3 and 5 in the morning for all those 8 o'clock flights...
I'm not one of these people that's only happy when moaning, although I do confess to being less than shy about complaining. That said, Arriva Trains Northern are particularly worthy of my scathing; in fact, you might even say that they are asking for it. Fact: Arriva Trains Northern are wholly unable to run a decent rail service. We're not talking Connex here with filthy trains and broken toilets - it's worse. The trains are filthy and the toilets (which should only be risked in times of extreme need anyway) are pretty hopeless - but that's if the train turns up at all, which is frankly unlikely. Arriva Trains operate their disturbing services around West Yorkshire and across the Pennines to Lancashire - routes including York to Scarborough and Manchester Victoria. The services are more often that not late - and this is at a time when "all the train companies" are "pulling together" to get services together again. What a load of twaddle. I see no evidence of this whatsoever. Maybe if the companies were not so concerned about expensive PR for the railways which is aimed squarely at non-rail users to buff up the government's lustre, they would have a bit more money to spend making the services themselves halfway respectable. For once, it seems that this is not the fault of Railtrack but Arriva Trains themselves. Railtrack are not responsible for the state of Arriva Trains' rolling stock. They are not responsible for the disturbing number of mechanical failures, nor the lack of drivers. The lack of trains for that matter. Arriva seem to think that so long as a train turns up within living memory of it's scheduled time it is OK to classify that service as being "on time". This morning, for instance, the 8:49 to Brighouse was still being posted as "On Time" at nine o'clock, the platform staff having disappeared as they performed a bizarr
e train joining ritual in the station. Cancellations are also commonplace - with services often being cancelled after the train has arrived and passengers on the service being told "their train is cancelled" - with absolutely no explanation given as to why this might be. So there we have it, a late, shoddy, dirty, faulty, mediocre service. So why not complain I hear you say? Well I have and do keep complaining. Do they refund your money? Do they chuff! First of all, you will find that there are plenty of platform staff available except when there are problems, which is when they hide. I have complained over the phone to Arriva about this and they admitted to me that this complaint is one they have heard before. When you do catch them, they are usually congregated in threes and fours with their backs to the passengers making it clear that they have absolutely no intention whatsoever of helping you. So you resort to writing to them for a refund. Cat in hell's chance, mate I'm afraid! It takes them up to three weeks to reply to your letter with a standardish reply - then to add insult to injury they enclose rail vouchers!! They might just as well say "We understand you're unhappy with our crappy service, have some more crappy service on us!" This last paragraph is from a recent letter they have sent me: "The company's senior level management are aware that focus is required to enhance methods of communication with our customers, and staff have recently been recruited to perform this function" Well now we know where John Birt went to after the BBC!! "Focus" doesn't solve anything. "Money" and "Staff" can. Arriva also helpfully explain "The communication of accurate real time information is of cruicial importance, more so [more so than crucial?] at times of disruption and delay. Wi
thout such communication, our customers are not empowered to make informed decisions about alternative travel arrangements...." blah blah blah. Basically you only have to experience their [lack of] service to be 'empowered to make an informed decision'. If you want to die of a stress-related disease, be bald by the time you're 28 and thrive off other people's incompetance, travel with Arriva - otherwise, frankly, you're better off walking.
If you use the TransPennine trains, or commuter trains in Yorkshire, you'll probably have noticed that little vinyl stickers saying "Arriva" have started appearing on your trains. Yes, the paint is barely dry on the shiny purple trains and it's time for a new name, and a new livery. So, given that Arriva have taken the same routes, trains and staff, can they actually make any difference? If you've read my other transport opinions (and if not, why not?) you'll know that I'm generally a supporter of rail and public transport in general. So, it may come as a surprise to find that this opinion is generally unfavourable. Let me explain: The TransPennine route is one of Britain's "premier" rail lines; not as important as the London routes, admittedly, but Liverpool and Manchester to Leeds and beyond generates a huge volume of traffic. The rail route competes with the M62, which is notoriously unreliable, and so this is one of the few routes where rail really can be faster door to door than the car. Northern Spirit rose well to this challenge, providing a good frequency on the core route (3 trains per hour in each direction between Manchester and Leeds) backed up with regular press and poster adverts. They introduced a good premier class service which, although it offers little more than a peaceful segregated area of the train and somewhere to plug in your laptop, is reasonably priced. The trouble is, being entrusted with potential rail converts brings with it responsibility. If someone fed up with the M62 decides to give the train a go and receives poor service, they'll be back in their car again quicker than you can say "tickets please". Unfortunately, this is where Northern Spirit, and now Arriva, falls down. It is often unfair to blame train operating companies (TOCs) for delays, because in many cases they are due to circumstances beyond their control, Railtrack being the wors
t offender here. However, delays and cancellations due to staff shortages and failed trains land firmly at the door of the TOC, and the Transpennine route has far too many of these. There are lots of niggling problems too; at the time of writing it is June and baking hot, but despite making several Transpennine trips per week I have yet to travel in one with working air conditioning, and the guard has had to open the few droplight windows to try to relieve the poor roasted passengers. Poor formations is another problem, e.g. the train that leaves Piccadilly at 17:12 is often formed of two cars, and is wedged full whereas the 17:33 is formed of four cars and almost empty. Perhaps it's too early to tell whether Arriva will improve the service, but so far it's business as usual and, I suspect, it'll stay that way. Despite all that, though, it still beats the M62 for me although I fear others will be less tolerant.
Northern Spirit hold the train franchise, believe it or not from the name, up north. They offer services as far south as Sheffield and travel to places like Wakefield, Leeds, Barnsley, Pontefract etc... I often use a Northern Spirit service or range of services approximately 4 times a month. It is normally on the 20 minute journey between Wakefield and Pontefract, however I have travelled between Sheffield and Pontefract on a Northern Spirit service, taking approximately an hour. I will be perfectly frank about the service and say that there is a distinct trade off. I have very rarely seen Northern Spirit trains late. They, in my experiance, are incredibly punctual very rarely arriving more than 2 minutes late than expected. The staff are very friendly and there fares are very respectable as well, allowing travel in Yorkshire very cheap. There is also the oppurtunity to purchase a Metro Card, which will see a cut in fares. I however don't possess one of these as I use a Railcard for more wide spread use. The one thing that isn't so impressive about Northern Spirit is their trains. Don't get me wrong, the trains aren't neccissarily dirty as in bits of litter around, but they are very old trains. I don't know what the situation is with Northern Spirit, whether they're waiting fro a stock of new trains being built at the moment, or if they are sticking with the present old BR stuff, trading off old trains for cheap fares. Whatever happens we must remember that you aren't going to expect Virgin luxury on a Northern Spirit because they are a local operator and hence you're not expected to be on their trains for very long as you would be on a cross country Virgin. However one local company, Central Trains, have some very nice new trains whereas the seating arrangement on Northern Spirit tends to be like bus seats and no arm rests. Overall, despite recent rail problems I have no problem using No
rthern Spirit instead of my car because they are good value and also punctual so go and give the train a go in the Yorkshire area.
Although I live in the Midlands and my regional rail operator is Central Trains, I travel on loads of Northern Spirit trains because im in Yorkshire a lot. I find myself using Northern Spirit between Sheffield sometimes and onto Wakefield and Pontefract. For starters what can I say about punctuality? Well on the whole apart from the once when it was 15 mins late, I find them to always leave the station within 3 or 4 minutes of the time they should do although most of the time they are pretty punctual. Right now for the staff, well all I can say is that they have all been friendly and polite and so I have had no problems there. Now for the condition of the trains. Well this is a slight failing point for Northern Spirit. My local operator, Central Trains have invested a fair amount in new trains and now have a decent amount of new trains operating. I havent seen any new Northern Spirit trains, in fact they are pretty old from what I have travelled on and seen. Although they are always clean inside I cant help but think they are a bit rickety. I dont know if it is just the Wakefield - Pontefract route that I travel on most, that is like this or if its the general situation with Northern spirit. However the trains do there job and as I said before are reasonably punctual so there well worth travelling on.
When I was living in England I took so many trains that now I even hate the sight of one, especially for how much it all costed me. I used to go about every weekend from Yorkshire to Merseyside with TransPenninExpress trains and back and, even with a Young Person Railcard which I suggest to everyone under 25, it was damn expensive. The service wasn't so good either. So many times I got stuck in Liverpool because the last train got cancelled,lots of times I got there late and, when I needed some information, all the staff has always been not so nice with me. The thing is that I didn't even had an alternative as TransPenninExpress is the only railway that connects Yorkshire with Merseyside!
I use this train to travel from Malton to Leeds: 1. It is usually on time in that direction but about one per month from Leeds are cancelled because they have no conductor. 2. Journyey time is 1 hour and frequently there are no seats - at 13 pounds per journey its an expensive way to stand and travel. 3. The food is awful - bring your own sandwiches. 4. The guards are friendly on the trains but I had a nightmare with oen at a station when I was trying to find somewhere to opark my bike - he refused to acknowledge the inadequate lack of provision of bicycle racks and didnt care where I parked my bike as long as it wasnt on station premises. 5. Overall better than using the car if you can get a seat. MOre carriages would solve the problem and other users should join me and submit a complaint form every time they have to stand - it will knock their complaints figures into the statosphere. Remeber they are banking on us being a docile society happy to put up with poor service.
I am unsure how I really feel about Northern Spirit running my local area of railways. Since privatisation prices have raised quite steeply on some routes, and the quality of service is declining. My local station, Goole, which has a local population of 20000 is only staffed for six hours a day, from 0700 to 1300. It is quite annoying. But saying that the trains are usually prompt and you can generally trust them for reliability. The trains are well cleaned and generally look smart. To conclude, I would say that I would recommend the company to a friend, as the local transport in the local area is very poor. It is a well run company