Metro boss 'confident' driver shortages will be a thing of the past
A Tyne and Wear Metro boss says he is “confident” that long-standing problems with train driver shortages are now a thing of the past.
While Metro officials have recently been forced to regularly cancel services due to the impact of drivers having to self-isolate, the network has faced issues for years with its staff being lured away by rival operators offering higher salaries.
The Covid pandemic exacerbated the problem further after the closure of testing centres meant that new driver training schools had to be cancelled, before Metro operator Nexus took on a record 30 recruits at once to plug the gaps last autumn.
Martin Kearney, Nexus’ chief operating officer, told councillors that the Metro is currently fully staffed in terms of drivers, with 174 employed.
Asked by Gateshead Council transport chief Coun John McElroy whether the Metro was still being affected by the long-term problem of other rail companies poaching its drivers, Mr Kearney replied that the train driver market remains “competitive”.
However, he said that Nexus bosses are able to plan well in advance because larger rail companies inform them of how many vacancies they are likely to recruit for and that last year’s 30-strong intake proved Metro’s ability to attract large numbers of new trainees in one go if needed.
At a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Tyne and Wear Sub-Committee, Mr Kearney added: “With our close contact with other operators and our ability to train drivers in greater numbers, I am confident we won’t see a dip in driver numbers in the near future.”
Metro drivers had staged strike action in 2019 over a dispute between Nexus and unions over proposed changes to their contracts.
Mr Kearney also reported Metro was now seeing “healthy” passenger numbers jump above 70% of pre-Covid levels, though there remains “still some way to go”.
The Government has agreed to cover the cost of the network’s major losses until April next year, but warned that there would be no more emergency cash beyond a final £13m package announced in July – following almost £40million of previous support to prop up the Metro since March 2020.
Mr Kearney warned that an absence of government help beyond April would create “significant financial challenges”, with Nexus officials currently lobbying the Department for Transport for continued help.