Vernon Barker, Managing Director of First TransPennine Express addressed a large audience of the Scottish Region at the November Glasgow meeting on his company's services. He began by briefly outlining the history of the company. The original service began in 1998 with the then Northern Spirit, later transferring to Arriva Trains Northern, before becoming a separate railway franchise on 1 February 2004 and including long distance routes formerly operated by First North Western. The current 8 year franchise is operated by First TransPennine, a joint venture between First Group and Keolis, and has an optional 5 year extension.
Vernon Barker, Managing Director of First TransPennine Express at the Glasgow meeting when he spoke on his company's operations.
© John G. Fender 2011
The company operates 279 services a day and employs just over 1,000 staff. It has 60 trains consisting of 51 three car class 185 units and 9 two car class 170 units. The company carried 20.7 million passengers last year and is now extending it's operations north of the border with new services to Edinburgh and Glasgow commencing in December 2007.
When the company started operation it carried some 13.5 million passengers per year and has achieved organic growth of around 40% in three years. This has been achieved by investing in new trains and the fleet of new trains represents a £250 million investment. The key to the growth in patronage is the development of services to Manchester Airport along with improvements in reliability. In terms of the rail mode share, in 2006 - 2007, FirstTranspennine Express accounted for 9.2% up from 6.5% in 2003 - 2004.
The company has achieved consistent improvements in customer satisfaction and National Passenger Survey results show improvements in overall customer satisfaction from 74% in 2003 to 89% in 2007. Customer satisfaction is above the railway industry average. Other key figures show 90% of passengers are satisfied with the fares, 92% like the ease of boarding and alighting from trains, and 92% like the ease of finding a seat. Comfort of the ride scores 90% and 88% expressed satisfaction with the seating space available. These figures from the National Passenger Survey show that the company has achieved many of the objectives it set itself when it took on the franchise.
A significant factor in achieving the high passenger satisfaction figures is the investment in new rolling stock. The 59 class 185 trains are amongst the best performing trains in the country averaging 18,456 miles per casualty. These trains are capable of 100 mph and have 166 standard class seats, along with 15 first class seats. Performance is assured as each carriage is powered by a 560kW engine (750 hp). Facilities for passengers include power sockets for laptops throughout the train and windows are aligned with seating. Luggage areas are designed for ease of use and there are 7 CCTV cameras providing security per train. There are two toilets per train, one being wheelchair accessible.
Challenges facing the company are encouraging more people to use the services. The major competitor is the private car, usually the automatic choice for many people. Other competitors include bus services, many of which take far longer for a similar journey although they are cheaper. There is also Virgin Trains' competing services and the airlines, especially on the new Glasgow and Edinburgh Services. However, research has shown that for a journey from Manchester city centre to Edinburgh or Glasgow city Centres, travelling by air no no quicker, due mainly to the time taken to get to and from the airport and the time taken in passing through the various airport procedures.
The new services to Glasgow and Edinburgh are the result of extensive consultations and meet the DfT specification that was laid down. The service consists of 7 trains each way per day, 4 being to and from Edinburgh, the rest serving Glasgow. Preparations for the service have included checking gauge clearances for the trains, driver training and arranging diversionary routes for periods when engineering work is being carried out on the tracks. Trains will be serviced at Glasgow's Corkerhill Depot.
There will be a catering service on all trains with new trolleys being provided. Tickets can be purchased at railway booking offices, ticket machines and via the First TransPennine website. These include advance purchase tickets and single leg tickets. Student Getaway tickets are also available. The company is working with First Scotrail on fares and marketing opportunities.
From December 2008 there will be improved journey times and the long term aim is to reduce the journey time between Manchester and Glasgow or Edinburgh, with a target of getting the journey time down to three hours. The company will continue to work with the various stakeholders to achieve this. Mr. Barker rounded off his presentation by answering many questions from the audience on many different aspects of First TransPennine. At the conclusion of the evening, the Chairman presented Mr. Barker a Quaich as a memento of the evening.
Further information on First TransPennine Express can be found on their website at www.tpexpress.co.uk
The Scottish Region would like to thank Mr. Vernon Barker for addressing the meeting and Atkins Global for allowing the Scottish Region to hold the meeting in the boardroom of their Glasgow offices.
Report by John Fender.
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