Reduced Metro timetable expected to remain in place until March next year due to driver shortage
The Tyne and Wear network’s operator, Nexus, has suffered an exodus of staff in recent years, with rival firms luring crews with the promise of higher pay.
But it is hoped a new bespoke training scheme for the service could help it to hold on to workers for longer and keep more trains running without delays or cancellations.
According to Chris Carson, Nexus’s Metro Services Director, the number of drivers quitting in the last two years has been ‘unprecedented’.
He said: “Metro has been particularly impacted by train crew shortages since around December 2018.
“The rest of the rail industry implemented some enhanced timetables and three of the larger train operating companies in this area has implemented new fleets, which has meant they needed more train crew.
“And we have a new operator running from Edinburgh on the East Coast Mainline which has told us they’re going to take a number of drivers from us in the New Year.”
Carson was speaking at this morning’s (Thursday, December 17) meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.
A report for the panel showed that out of eight reporting periods available for 2020/21 so far, Nexus had run five per cent fewer services than originally planned in six of them.
Carson insisted a revised timetable introduced on May 29 had ‘killed that issue off in one go’ however, and promised no more driver shortages until spring next year (2021) at least, when the current, reduced, timetable runs out.
This means services outside Metro’s ‘central corridor’ can only run up to every 15 minutes during the week, doubling to 30 minutes on Sundays.
It is hoped a huge increase in the operator’s training capacity will improve future reliability.
Carson added: “Historically, Nexus lost very few drivers and recruited between 12-16 drivers a year.
“That went up to 24, then 48 at the start of the pandemic and now we have 30 train crew in training in three schools of 10 and we could repeat that three times a year.
“So we could recruit, if needs be, up to 90 train crew in one year.
“I hope we never have to recruit 30 in one go again, but it shows we can do that.”