Now and then, there comes a big change in society. The birth of the NHS, the closure of the steel and coal industries, the end of our partnership with the EU. However for most Northern Rail commuters, that big change would simply be a working toilet being available during a 2 hour journey to Newcastle.
It's fair to say that Northern Rail have become a part of our travelling culture in the county of Cumbria, operating a majority of the county lines (with a popular exception being the la'al ratty, whose fares seem extortionate given the limited cabin space and lack of a trolley service, like). But whilst using the Carlisle > Whitehaven service my entire life, I have to be honest and ask: have we seen any changes?
Other than some vanity upgrades on some of the carriages, the actual train hasn't changed since I was born. Nor has the single/double carriage format, which during summer, struggles to be enough for the heightened demand of commuters and travellers. It's also true that, according to Northern's own figures, 133 services were over capacity in Cumbria during the months of January and February 2018. Considering the fares have risen at around 2.2% a year... aren't we due an upgrade in quality of service.
The thing is though, if anything, we're about to receive what 75% of passengers view as a decrease in quality of service. This would of course be Northern Rail's controversial DOO (Driver-Operated-Only) scheme. You can read more about the effects of this on the RMT's document here.
In a bid to cut costs and fund newer trains, the company says that it will upgrade the trains but outweigh the cost by getting rid of conductors & train guards on a majority of services. That literally means that many will go without any conductor, and have only a driver on-board.
Now, I'm not sure about you, but I've witnessed many a dirty kebab and frolic on the 22:10 from Carlisle to Whitehaven whilst commuting back from work, and I admit have felt unsafe a handful of times during my commute. Match days and weekends make the situation even worse, but having a guard on the train has always ensured I feel a lot safer with someone responsible on board to calm any wiry moments and keep a bit of law & order about the place.
Another concern is that for those with disabilities. Passengers don't always help out if someone with a wheelchair needs to board, and this experience can be made worse for the person when they finally board and realise that the disabled area is full of luggage and no one is there to urge people to remove it. This alone is one fo many reasons why getting rid of conductors seems to be a bit of an idle move. Not to mention that, given rising fares, we would all be receiving far less in terms of safety and assurance.
Northern Rail has always had it's quirks. And it's fair to say that it's regular customers enjoy them. But as times move on, it can feel that given we're one of the most rural counties in England, we deserve a bit more in the space of train services. Northern have announced that they have plans to change over the next few years, and the fact that old pacer trains will finally retire by 2020 (can I get a 'whoop-whoop'?). But is this too little too late? Also bearing in mind that, given the trend of 2.2% a year, by then we will be paying 6.6% more per journey?
Let us know your thoughts, and if you have any personal experiences on that jaunty Whitehaven > Carlisle line. Also, what changes do you want to see on your trains?