Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been set aside to refund passengers impacted by Merseyrail delays.
After a period of delays and disruption, as a new fleet of trains has been rolled out, it was announced last month that the rail operator would offer a full refund to commuters impacted at three stops. Last January, passengers on the Kirkby line became the first on the region’s rail network to commute on the new £500m publicly owned trains.
During this initial roll out and the opening of the £80m Headbolt Lane line, services were reduced from four an hour to one every half hour with a large number of cancellations affecting journeys. Now, it has been revealed how much it will cost to recompense frustrated rail users.
The scheme was introduced to recognise “the patience and understanding” shown by passengers. Writing to those eligible, Mr Rotheram has admitted Merseyrail needs to win back passenger trust.
He said, “As with the introduction of any major new technology, we anticipated that we would encounter some teething issues and disruption during the delivery of our new station and trains. We have been working around the clock to overcome a lot of these hurdles – but I’ll be the first to say that services on the Headbolt Lane line have fallen short of the standards that our passengers deserve.
“I’m aware that you’ve experienced significant delays, uncertainty, and cancellations for a prolonged period and it’s not lost on me that these can have impacts on lives and livelihoods. You deserve to have a public transport network that you can rely on – and I know that we need to rebuild your trust in the network.”
Speaking last month at the Liverpool City Region transport committee Neil Grabham, managing director at Merseyrail, said it had been a “challenging year” for the operator. He said, “Clearly a time of huge transformation in rail across the city, probably the largest for a generation.
“Despite what were some challenging times, as is always the case when you bring a new fleet into operation, Merseyrail has maintained its place in the top five operators in the country.” As it stands, 31 new trains are available for service, including battery-operated stock that operate between the new £80m Headbolt Lane station and Kirkby – not without issue – but Mr Grabham said they were “a truly great example of Liverpool leading the way.”
Around 200 new drivers have also been fully trained.
New data revealed through the Freedom of Information Act has revealed how nearly £300,000 is being set aside to finance the potential 1,235 claims for passengers at Headbolt Lane, Kirkby, and Fazakerley. As of 1 February, more than 700 passengers had been repaid.
In total, £282,831 has been made available to refund passengers eligible for the scheme. As of the start of the month, £226,762 had been given out.
Rice Lane is the next stop along from Fazakerley and Merseyrail explained why the refund was being capped at three stations. In an online Q&A, the operator said, “Customers travelling to and from Rice Lane have had the option to travel from the nearby station at Walton on the Ormskirk line.
“Services on this line have not been impacted by the disruption or timetable changes to the same extent, therefore they are not eligible for this scheme.”
Addressing the battery-powered fleet, which removes the need for the use of the electrified third rail, Steve Dodd, chief operating officer at Merseyrail, said, “A number of months ago the reliability levels weren’t where we wanted them to be, where our standards are and what our customers expect.”
Mr Dodd added how the operator, while improved, expects “more work to do”. He said, “The introduction of the new trains has brought significant change to the railway.
“As with any period of significant change, we do expect some challenges, especially embedding new technology and adopting new processes.” Mr Dodd admitted Merseyrail had not expected all of the challenges it faced but teams had worked “tirelessly” with Merseytravel and Stadler to “address them as quickly as possible.”
Suzanne Grant, commercial director at Merseyrail, told committee members officials were aware of the problems commuters had faced. She said, “Our standards did drop, particularly on the Headbolt Lane line and that is below the standards we’re used to offering our passengers.”