Route performance update
Performance on the Great Northern route has consistently improved over winter and into early spring, with over 90% of train regularly arriving on time on a daily basis (90% Public Performance Measure). The periodic average was 87.1% PPM between April – June, but we appreciate that performance last summer/autumn was very challenging for our passengers. Whilst performance is still subject to daily challenges including fleet reliability, infrastructure failures and external factors such as trespassers, our operational teams have worked hard to achieve the noticeable improvement in reliability and performance.
Together with Thameslink, Great Northern has been awarded £100 million of government funding to improve the rail infrastructure. Led by Network Rail, the funding supports the delivery of the Thameslink Programme, however, with targeted spend on key areas such as track renewal work, improving signals and overhead lines and enhancing fencing to prevent trespassers, the funding will also help to improve the reliability of services on the Great Northern route.
Modern trains for a modern railway
Passenger numbers have almost doubled in the last 15 years on Great Northern. We have already taken steps to improve our service provision over the next few years - the successful delivery of 18-month old Class 387 trains that are now running on Peterborough, Cambridge and King’s Lynn services and the opening of a brand new depot at Hornsey. The Class 387s are the first of three new train classes to be introduced on the route, ultimately replacing 75% of the train fleet. Great Northern will go from having some of the oldest fleet in the country to the newest, featuring air-conditioning and modern passenger information systems to keep our passengers up to date on the move. The opening of the new depot in Hornsey last summer provides the latest operational technology to support the modern train fleet.
From autumn of this year, we will also be introducing the Thameslink Class 700 trains to Peterborough and Cambridge services. These new, spacious trains will enhance our passengers' experience, with the latest passenger information systems and air-conditioning. Additionally, the new fleet will create a much-needed step change in delivering increased capacity on the route as we near 2018. The new timetable will create new journey opportunities for passengers - interchanging with Crossrail services at Farringdon and services running to Kent and Sussex and, for the first time, providing direct services to Gatwick Airport.
A total of 122 new drivers have qualified in the last two years, however there will still be some shortfalls and risk of cancellations due to the driver training requirements for the new trains and routes (in particular during periods of high annual leave such as the summer holidays). This coming summer there will be some risk due to the delay of Class 700s arriving on Great Northern from Thameslink. The fleet cascade programme has been delayed due to fleet reliability problems, which we are addressing with Siemens – the train manufacturer. More drivers are also needed to run the new services to Cambridge North station, but as our recent levels of performance have shown, we are steadily addressing this.
The impact of multiple driver training requirements last summer put a huge strain on our driver resources. After identifying areas for improvement, the driver training programme has been reviewed to incorporate lessons learnt - for instance reducing the total number of drivers taken off day-to-day activities by spreading the training over a longer period of time for the Class 700s.
Longer term benefits
The end of next year will see the new Class 717s introduced on Moorgate services - a metro version of the Class 700s, fully accessible and featuring the latest passenger information systems that passengers have rightly come to expect from our new fleet of trains. The new trains will be fixed length 6-carriages, providing much needed additional capacity on the Moorgate line.
Once Crossrail opens in 2018, passengers using this line will be able to interchange at Moorgate, creating greater journey opportunities for both work and pleasure. Furthermore, drivers will only be required to complete a two/three day training conversion course for the new Class 717s due to the similarities to the Class 700s. This, compared to the current eight days, means a significant reduction to the impact of driver training on services.
We continue to run the UK's biggest driver training recruitment programme and new drivers continue to join the Great Northern team. We now have 375 qualified drivers and continue to recruit more - there are currently 66 trainees in the system.
In the longer term, we will be doubling capacity between King’s Lynn & Cambridge once Network Rail has completed essential upgrade works to power supplies and lengthened platforms at Littleport and Waterbeach. This work is expected to be completed in late 2018/early 2019 and will allow us to increase the length of carriages from four to eight.
The investment in new trains and infrastructure upgrades is essential to provide Great Northern passengers with a train service suitable for now and in the future. New journey opportunities to Gatwick and Kent and the ability to interchange at Moorgate and Farringdon with Crossrail will provide greater professional and leisure opportunities for passengers.