Northern and TransPennine Express blame ‘leaves on the line’ for latest rail woes

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Autumnal weather has been blamed for repeated train cancellations and services running with fewer carriages than normal by Yorkshire’s two main rail operators - despite punctuality levels plummeting compared to the same time last year.

Both Northern and TransPennine Express said issues such as “leaves on the line” were to blame for recent problems which have seen an average of 79 services per day cancelled by the two operators, the frequent running of shorter trains and the percentage of on-time services dropping below even what was seen at the time of the chaotic rollout of the May timetable changes.

The North's rail services remain in the spotlight.

The North's rail services remain in the spotlight.

Rail delays worse than at height of May timetable fiasco

According to figures collected by the performance tracking website trains.im, last month only 62 per cent of TransPennine Express services and 67 per cent of Northern services arrived on time - the lowest point for both in the past two years.

Last November, 78 per cent of TPE trains were on time, along with 82 per cent of Northern services - considerably higher than last month’s rates.

A spokesman for Northern said: “We would like to apologise to any customer who face delays, cancellations or a reduction in carriages.

“Issues related to the time of year – excess leaves on the line and damp weather – continue to cause problems for the rail industry and have caused several carriages to be taken out of service.

“Large numbers of leaves on the track, as well as other seasonal problems, can cause damage to train wheels. When wheels are damaged, the carriage has to be taken out of service and the wheel repaired before the problem becomes more serious.

“We currently have more trains out of service than normal and have had to alter some of our services deal with the reduced number of carriages.”

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The spokesman added that trains are fitted with sanders to treat the tracks and Network Rail is using “leaf-busting maintenance trains” to minimise problems.

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: “In the last four weeks, autumnal conditions, infrastructure incidents and delays caused by getting stuck behind other trains have severely affected the reliability of our services.

“It may sound like a cliché, but the combination of rain and leaves create challenging driving conditions for our train drivers which sometimes mean trains need to run at slower speeds.

“We are aware of the frustration this causes our customers and hope that the end of autumn plus further improvements being made to our train plan from December 9 will help improve the reliability of our train services.”

Northern has also announced it is to introduce an “extra fast” service between Leeds and York from next week as part of December’s timetable changes.

Leader of Calderdale Council, Tim Swift said today: “We deserve a 21st century rail service. It isn’t good enough that services are frequently late. We need people to choose to travel by train as it’s a more sustainable form of transport but that’s not realistic if the service is unreliable. And all too frequently passengers are squeezed into two carriages when four should have been provided.”

Lives being damaged by unreliable services

Family life and the local economy are being damaged by the region’s unreliable rail network, Leeds Council leader Judith Blake has said.

Responding to a damning report by MPs on the botched timetable rollout in May, Coun Blake, who leads on transport for the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, said: “Six months on from the timetable change, rail passengers across the North continue to endure cancellations, delays and trains with too few carriages, with damaging impacts on family life and our economy.

“We need a system of railway management which ensures the operators and Network Rail deliver their promises and work together in the interests of passengers in the North.”