It goes without saying that 2018 has been the most difficult year for Hull Trains’ customers and team since its inauguration in September 2000.
Issues have affected our customers earlier in the year with the Beast from the East, which adversely affected the trains to decimate our small fleet, as well as train faults in May and October - which caused severe disruption to our services. Despite this, there was a consistent period of four months of reliability during the summer, in which we topped reliability charts on the East Coast Mainline.
Hull Trains remains the UK’s smallest train operating company, which means the fleet is significantly smaller than other operators and the team is also smaller than others, with many taking on numerous roles to drive this strong business.
Despite these challenges, Hull Trains is now in a stronger position than it has ever been, as everyone gears up to the introduction of five new 802 trains later this year. In the meantime, a HST will be introduced to strengthen service reliability alongside the current fleet of 180s until the new trains are in place. The timetable requires three trains to be in service, with one train undergoing scheduled maintenance each week, so an additional train adds further resilience should there be any future disruption.
Hull Trains is an open access operator, which means that rather than being franchised, we purchase slots on the East Coast Mainline in which to travel – we are a private business and not publicly funded.
If the city was to lose Hull Trains, it would result in the termination of the only frequent direct link to the capital. In contrast to franchised train operating companies, Hull Trains would not be replaced. This is why we need our customers’ support - we will always do our utmost to provide the great service Hull Trains is renowned for.
We summarise the key points of 2018 and the challenges faced.
January – March 2018
The Beast from the East caused a significant amount of issues after the ingress of ice and snow into electrical systems caused damage to the trains. This left us with two trains – with one due for scheduled maintenance.
As a result, we had to significantly reduce our service and ticket acceptance was hard to secure as other operators were affected by the bad weather too. We made decisions to not run services on selected days where the weather was worse – if we were to do so, it would have caused disruption for a greater period of time.
From the Beast from the East we learned some valuable lessons on running our trains during inclement weather – lessons which we have implemented in challenges to further improve our service during bad weather.
During this time, Louise Cheeseman took the helm as interim Managing Director after her predecessor, Will Dunnett, resigned.
April – May 2018
After returning to a full timetable after Beast from the East, it was frustrating for all when a thermal incident resulted in one of our services terminating at Welwyn North in May. During this incident, our on-board team acted swiftly to ensure people travelled onwards to their destinations shortly after detraining.
June 2018 – October 2nd 2018
At the end of May, Louise Cheeseman was appointed as Managing Director on a permanent basis. Once we returned to a full timetable after the May disruption, Hull Trains was the leading train operating company on the East Coast Mainline for reliability and punctuality over those four months. It was a return to the position which saw the company regularly top charts in the UK.
October – December 2018
Disruption in the last three months of 2018 left the Hull Trains team faced with some of the most difficult challenges it has had to face in its existence. A series of unrelated train faults on two of our services on the 3rd and 5th October resulted in a long period of severe disruption up until December.
Again, the team had implemented lessons learned from the Beast from the East to further reduce the amount of disruption – one of those was to introduce an amended timetable to give customers assurance about which services would be running, while bearing in mind that one train would have to go into scheduled maintenance each week.
Towards the end of this disruption, one of the trains had to run with a reduced carriage, which was deemed a preferred scenario for customers rather than cancelling a service altogether, especially during such a busy time.
Ultimately, the Hull Trains team is deeply sorry for the disruption caused to customers and everyone shares the frustration during this time.
The Hull Trains team added processes above and beyond requirements in order to ensure that the trains would return to service with less chance of a fault happening. However, the current fleet is ageing, and faults do happen on all trains over time. Due to this, there were instances where further faults caused the disruption for longer. Safety is the most important aspect of our services, and faults which cause cancellations can be as minor as a door not closing properly – we have to make sure the trains are safe for everyone.
Unfortunately, because the fleet is smaller, when a train develops a fault, this has more of an adverse effect on our other services than it would affect other operators.
This length of disruption meant that those that were already busy completing a variety of roles within the business had more work to ensure the service could get back to normal as quickly as it could. It was decided to mainly focus on two areas – getting the service back to normal and communicating directly with customers.
Introducing a HST – the challenges
Work in the background was taking place to introduce another train into the fleet. With train availability in the UK already low, this was more of a challenge than it may seem.
On top of this, train drivers had to be trained and teams had to be aware of new processes and procedures – this takes weeks to complete and this training was started as soon as we were able to do so.
The addition of this train now strengthens our fleet to ensure that if a train does develop a fault, then we have an additional option to reduce the number of cancellations, right up until the introduction of the new trains.
The October disruption has also resulted in compensation claim resolution taking longer than usual as we deal with the claims we have received. To try and reduce this further, we have added more staff to address the backlog and process changes are taking place to reduce that further in the coming months.
We are very sorry for the extended time it is taking to get back to you all, but we will respond to you.
Looking Forward – Late December 2018 – Now
A full service was restored just before Christmas and Hull Trains has experience the busiest Christmas in its history. We are now looking towards increasing that service reliability.
There is a huge level of demand for these services in Hull – they are hugely important to the city and we have seen the passion for Hull Trains through our customers.
The reliability of the services is now our focus as we gear up for the most exciting year in our history – taking the lessons of those challenges with us to shape what we provide to our customers for the better.
We are excited to share with you all the developments and the changes that our new trains will bring and we will share them with you when we can. These new trains are a £60m investment to the city of Hull – a demonstration of our dedication to the city - and we’re determined to make absolutely everyone proud of our service.
Thank you for your passion and dedication to Hull Trains over the last year and we’re excited to take you on our journey with us in 2019.