During the seven weeks following the freight derailment at Carlisle, Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership’s officer and volunteers committed over 250 hours to a multitude of tasks as a result of the incident. The community rail partnership’s focus was the passenger, be they local residents or longer-distance travellers.
Inevitably, prioritising the derailment issues impacted on other work with some projects and events being postponed until 2023.
Emergency blockades are not new to the rail industry, each one poses a different scenario. On this occasion, the incident closed the route into Carlisle for the Tyne Valley and Settle-Carlisle routes. Haltwhistle became the terminus of the Tyne Valley Railway with transfers to/from rail replacement buses at this unstaffed station. Wetheral and Brampton stations, both unstaffed by train company or bus coordinators, are inaccessible to rail replacement coaches.
It soon became obvious that the CRP’s local knowledge and presence were needed to help those people impacted by the disruption. Some struggled to travel to work, some were uncertain of onward travel arrangements, whilst others had issues with rail replacement buses or the ever-changing information about the re-opening of the route.
The Partnership’s volunteers, helped by members of the Station Adoption team at Haltwhistle, provided a prompt response. From the first social media post on the evening of the incident, the first opening of the Old Booking Hall at Haltwhistle for passengers stranded waiting for a rail replacement bus to arrive at 2045 hours, a diverse range of tasks were undertaken:
- Daily research of incident and timetable updates from Northern and Network Rail
- Provide feedback to Northern about inaccurate or missing information on their website
- Publicise derailment timetables and travel information with daily update of TVCRP website and social media
- Respond to social media and email enquiries
- Highlight social media feedback to Northern, including damage limitation exercise with local school who had been booked on trains not scheduled to run
- Check rail replacement bus information, highlighting need for signage at bus stops and at stations and feeding back to Northern that coaches were unable to access the publicised bus stop at Brampton.
- Updating Northern about inaccurate rail replacement posters displayed at stations
- Supporting Northern by collecting rail replacement bus stop signage from Hexham and erecting at the bus stops at Haltwhistle, Brampton and Wetheral
- Creating incident-specific rail replacement bus stop information uploaded to TVCRP’s website and social media
- Receiving in-person feedback from local communities and passengers and feeding back to Northern
- Facilitate an interview with Northern by local press
- Liaised with Network Rail, contributing to content of their media releases
- Supporting rail replacement bus coordinators – providing toilet and refreshment facilities in the Old Booking Hall and arranging for further facilities in the NWR yard.
- Opening the Old Booking Hall at Haltwhistle to provide toilet facilities, complimentary drinks and a safe, warm space
- In the absence of Northern staff or bus co-ordinators at Haltwhistle, providing a physical presence providing information and reassurance to passengers unsure about onward travel options. This included support given to an elderly passenger, who having booked Passenger Assist, had to wait more than an hour for a taxi to arrive at Haltwhistle
- Responding to Northern’s last minute Do Not Travel messages, providing information to Northern about the 685 bus as a possible solution for passengers
- Publicised availability of delay repay and ticket refund procedures
- Contacted local radio station about incorrect advice being broadcast about rail replacement buses and notifying Northern of the issue
- Preparing and displaying posters at Haltwhistle, in social media posts and on the TVCRP website about the 685 bus and bus stops
- Liaised with Northern when, as a result of the closure of the East Coast Main Line, diverted passengers were stranded at Haltwhistle with no opportunity for onward travel when insufficient rail replacement buses were available
- Collated feedback and prepared an interim report about the issues arising following the incident, together with suggested solutions specifically dealing with the numerous communications and rail replacement bus issues, circulated to Northern and key local elected representatives
- We highlighted the need for a special offer when the route re-opened to encourage people back to the train. Sadly, the advance purchase offer made available did not benefit the communities most affected by the curtailment of services as no AP tickets were available for Haltwhistle, Brampton and Wetheral.
Key learning points, particularly in relation to effective communications and rail replacement buses, have been identified. These are being addressed with Northern and rail industry partners with information being made available to elected representatives and partner organisations.
There have been some positive outcomes for TVCRP –
- Highlighted our presence within our communities and beyond
- Increased social media followers and improved visibility on numerous Facebook group pages
- Positive website stats
- Reinforced our “we can and we do” philosophy
- Enabled good interaction with passengers
- Developed new contacts within the rail industry
- The emergency derailment timetable identified it is possible to have more services calling at those stations with limited service eg Bardon Mill without a negative impact on the overall timings