Oh, Mr Conductor, what shall I do? I want to buy a ticket, but I can’t find you ….

Posted on January 1st, 2014, by The Chairman

(with acknowledgements to George Le Brunn)

It’s a common problem on the Mid Cheshire line.

The trains are getting fuller, the conductors are finding it harder to get through to all passengers to sell tickets, 9 stations on the line have no ticket buying facilities and apart from at Chester, there are no automated ticket barriers at our stations.

In the days of First North Western (up to 2004), we used to reckon that 30%-50% of passengers travelled without tickets, less in the off-peak, more in the peaks. Over the last few years, Northern have worked hard to reduce this. The Scholar Season Tickets have made big inroads into this percentage, as have the ticket checking staff introduced at Knutsford and Northwich. But more recently, we think it’s starting to get worse again.

Here’s a comment recently made on another Blog post ….

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24 December 2013

“The trains were busy yesterday but most were doubles; 13 of us travelled from Navigation Road to Plumley on the 12:44 (running about 15/20-mins late), a double 150.

We then came back to Mobberley on the 15:42 (a couple of minutes late) this was a double 142.

Then Mobberley to Hale on the 17:52 (a double 150) ….

Finally we caught the 20:59 back to Navigation Road (a single 142).

The disappointing thing was that we were not once afforded the opportunity to buy a ticket. 13 x £5.40 lost to Northern Rail!”

Mike Battman

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We get many complaints like this. It’s one of the most common complaints. There is no doubt in our minds that most people expect to and want to pay. Many feel they are being put in a position of dishonesty by the inability of the systems in place to give them an opportunity to buy a ticket.

The increased loadings have led to more of the trains at weekends being formed of 2 x 2-car sets, and they would be during the week if Northern had sufficient carriages. Whilst there is no doubt the extra capacity is needed and welcome, the busier trains and the double units have made this particular problem worse. A lot of the 2-car units have no corridor connections for people (and the conductor) to move between sets. Northern also have a rule, alone amongst train operators as far as we are aware, that the conductor must close the doors from the back of the train except in “exceptional circumstances” or when working a class 323 or 333 electric unit. This means the conductor will be in the rear 2-car unit. But many passengers get into the front 2-car unit. Thus, they are often given no opportunity to purchase a ticket, and that is also often the case for those in the front coach of a busy 2-car train.

We’ve put in our “wish list” for the replacement franchise (whenever that eventually happens, rather than just the continuing short franchise extensions) that there need to be effective systems put in place to collect the fares on offer.

But getting this to happen could be years away.

Meanwhile, those of you who’ve seen the excellent 8 page article on the Mid Cheshire line in RAIL Magazine (issue 738) will have seen the table of the comparison of station footfall between the ORR (Office of the Rail Regulator) figures and those from the MCRUA passenger counts. (We hear the figures provided by Northern’s on train Automated Passenger Counting [APC] equipment are similar to those from MCRUA). Of note is that the MCRUA figures cover a later 12 months, indeed the later 12 months when the free Cheshire East scholar transport had been withdrawn, but even taking that into account, the differences at many of the unstaffed stations are large. And as Sally, our CRO, is quoted in RAIL saying, this leads to a lack of appreciation in official circles of how busy our trains are, and that leads to it being harder to justify improvements to our services.

So, what should be done?

We’d appreciate your thoughts ….

Please leave a comment

  1. Vince Chadwick Says:

    I was told by a conductor that when two sets run as a double, the conductor always travels in the rear set. This because if an incident occurs, there will be a member of train staff present in each of the two units – the driver in the front unit, the conductor in the rear.

    I guess the only way for Northern to solve this is to have a conductor in each unit. Not very likely, I’d have thought!

  2. Edd Says:

    What about putting up posters at every station with a list of both single and return fares to stations on the same line and then fitting a permit to travel machine on all the trains?

  3. John Harris Says:

    As a former rail employee of Central Trains my experience with many customers was only pay if you have to.
    Therefore, its a case of get in the coach furthest away from the conductor.
    Witness the situation existing at Hartford the 16.04 London midland service to Winsford (4 minute journey) Conductor in the rear, Hartford High Scholars, not all I must emphasise, in the front.

    Sadly the kids don’t seem to see non payment as an offence, and no doubt have been given the train fare by their parents.

  4. Jen Says:

    In response to John Harris’ comment the same could be said of the Hartford High School pupils travelling between Greenbank and Northwich with a few pupils always standing next to the passenger doors at the very front of the train in the hope the conductor didn’t reach them. Although, some conductors went there first even though most started at the back and never got to the front.

    Northern Rail have apparently agreed a revenue protection contract with STM Security from April 2014 subject to getting the franchise extension signed off.

  5. Edd Says:

    I think Northern need to review the ticket office hours on Sundays. Knutsford ticket office opens at 12:10, too late if you’re catching the 11:47 or 12:01 departure while it closes at 19:40, so too early if you’re catching the 19:47 or 20:01 departure.

  6. Jen Says:

    Virgin Trains have submitted a planning application to install automatic ticket barriers covering platforms 3-7 at Manchester Piccadilly. They are also set to install barriers covering platforms 1-4 at Stockport by the end of the Summer.

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