FoAL Chair AGM Statement 2023

On Saturday 29th April 2023, it was the AVRUG & FoAL AGM for 2023. Here is what FoAL Chair Graham Mitchell had to say to those gathered in Saltaire.

For those who are new to our meetings, FoAL is “a federation of Station Adoption Teams” working in co-operation with AVRUG, but financially independent of AVRUG, with its own Constitution and Bank Account. FoAL membership consists only of the Station Adopters approved & appointed by Northern Rail, but if you would like to join one of the Station Adoption Teams, please talk to me or any other Adopter after the meeting.

FoAL’s purpose is :-

· To support the individual Station Adopters between Shipley & Skipton, bringing concerns about stations to Northern.

· To raise funds, seek grants & act as banker for individual Station Groups.

Post-Covid, we have held very few face-to-face meetings with AVRUG but I have maintained regular electronic contact with Adopters by forwarding the Northern Bulletins supplied by Stake Holder Manager Pete Myers, and subsequently Darren Allsopp. We have been informed as to problems on our Line and beyond and I greatly appreciate this level of communication and heartily thank Pete Myers and latterly Darren for these efforts.

At the last AGM I was able to report on 2 really positive Station developments:

A new relationship with the Canal & River Trust resulting in large, colourful interpretive boards on several stations, and the fitting of defibrillators at stations.

I am afraid there is very little similar I can report this year, apart from Shipley toilets. It has been a somewhat depressing period of RMT & ASLEF strikes, and cancelled train departures on Northern caused by crew shortages.

Although the Trans-Pennine Route Upgrade is producing significant infrastructural improvement in the Huddersfield area, with the relocation & rebuild of Morley Station now in progress, nothing similar has happened on the Airedale Line, indeed the promised refurbishment of our busiest station – Keighley – is already 4½ years behind schedule, and I wonder if I will see this refurbishment in my lifetime?

The talk of extending our Airedale Line Station platforms to take 6-car trains seems buried deep in the long grass as post-Covid passenger loadings have spread across the day and across the week, with Saturday now often being the busiest day. The GBR Transition Team states that 54% rail industry revenue now comes from leisure journeys. Whilst this better utilises existing rolling stock, it would not seem to require longer local trains and longer station platforms, except on the Settle & Carlisle, which is beyond FoAL’s remit.

Four of our Airedale Stations have staffed Booking Offices – Shipley, Bingley, Keighley & Skipton. What will happen to them? Mark Powles, Commercial & Customer Director for Northern, states his inspiration is the petrol station. He is quoted in RAIL magazine as saying: “Can we do for stations what the petrol retailers have done for forecourts? Lots of people who go into petrol stations do not go there for petrol.” Perhaps Darren can tell us?

All our Airedale Stations now have Ticket Vending Machines but they were installed without any customer training. When supermarkets install automatic tills, they also provide a staff member to assist customers. It would have been helpful if Northern could have done likewise. Not for the first time, I feel that Northern, and all our TOCs could learn a lot from the retail trade, and hopefully, with Mark Powles coming to Northern from a background in food retailing we may see change.

I love the Railways, I really do; I was Chairman of our local Heritage Line for 12 years; and I know that Railways can provide a major solution to Climate Change. I use my own car at least 50% less than 2-3 years ago and I enjoy rail travel throughout the UK and across Europe, but it is not easy to be enthusiastic about the Great British Railways which we are promised, and unless Westminster Politicians and Whitehall Mandarins in the Treasury & Dept. for Transport actually show that they understand and appreciate and will fund the priceless asset of a comprehensive rail network.…. we may in future see only ‘Smaller English Railways’.

As Lord Peter Hendy said in his maiden speech in Westminster: “Our Railway has great challenges to confront and the nation deserves better than we currently achieve.”