When discussing transport links in the North, historically the conversation has veered towards the gulf between North and South and the perceived after thought the North appears to be.
However, we are in the midst of a revolution with over £300 million pounds investment agreed by the Chancellor in Northern Rail links connecting key northern cities with the multi-billion-pound HS2 project. Leading the charge for passenger experience on these routes are TransPennine Express who are undertaking a significant refurbishment and investment plan that will see the north leading the way with not only transport solutions but crucially customer experience.
Passenger first investment
We met with Fleet Director, Paul Staples and Business Account Manager, Susie Palmer to discuss the project.
What are your respective roles at TransPennine Express?
Paul: As fleet director, I am responsible for getting our trains out of the depot and into service for our customers every morning. We have a highly skilled and dedicated team of engineers and managers who oversee the maintenance of the fleet. We also manage the various contracts and partnerships we have with companies like Siemens in York to make sure we get safe, reliable and high-quality trains that are excellent places for our customers to travel on.
Susie: Here at TransPennine Express, my focus is ensuring that our trains and staff provide the best possible service to the business community on our routes. When it comes to the £32 million investment we are currently undertaking my responsibility is to guarantee those customers receive the best on-board experience possible.
Refurbishment of your trains is currently underway, what will it mean for customers?
Susie: Customers will see the introduction of a better overall product. From galley kitchens for our first class customers to a better-rounded catering offer for all customers as well as the inclusion of our new Wi-Fi and entertainment program.
Paul: There are now 51 of the Class 185 trains operating on our routes making them our primary fleet. This upgrade will include refurbishing seats and carpets along with well-positioned power sockets to all the seats and USB ports for quick and easy phone charging. All this puts us in an excellent position for the roll-out of Wi-Fi on our routes. TransPennine Express is a new franchise having only started in April in 2016, and we have a mission to transform the way people travel on our services. The first stage of our planned refurbishment is one of our most significant investments and with the total of half a billion pounds of investment in trains in the north of England, this project will be the first significant change our customers will see. We are taking a design that is effectively ten years old revamping it and modernising it for the modern customers’ needs.
What else do you have in store as part of your investment program?
Susie: What’s exciting is that this phase of the refurbishment is the start of a what will be a considerable amount of investment across the fleet over the next four years. The next step will be our new trains which will usher in a higher capacity while improving which from a passenger point of view means an increased onboard space and improved comfort. Something I am looking forward to the introduction of
more flexible fares available to the customer as result of the improvements. That means as a customer you will now be able to book tickets 24 weeks in advance rather than just 12 weeks which means there are a lot more restricted, or cheaper tickets available for customers to be able to save money. We know businesses need the best product at the best value, that is why we are introducing more fares that offer a greater value for money.
Paul: For TPE we have many different types of customer, and as well as our commuter customers, we have a large number of leisure and business travellers, for the business customer especially we recognise that the train is an important place to do business and work as they travel between locations. This Class 185 refurb will modernise the trains with features that the modern business traveller’s needs.
What does your investment as well as the government’s planned network improvements mean for TransPennine Express and customers?
Paul: One of the TPE franchise missions is to improve connections between the main cities in the north of England. This is just the first step alongside our significant trains project which will see three new fleets of trains and over 200 new vehicles and carriages introduced. For TPE it is a crucial step to improve the links between cities helping people to live in one, work in another and do leisure in a third place easily. I think we know that the long-term plan of HS2 and HS3 are part of a continuum of investment in the north of England. TransPennine Express has shown all the way back to the introduction of the Class 185 in 2006 that if you invest in common links and transport in the north of England, the payback is tenfold, this is part of our story
and always has been, and we are excited at turning the page on this new chapter.