Northerners giving up travelling on rail due to ‘appalling’ service

The botched introduction of new timetables on May 20 caused chaos for passengers in the North.
The botched introduction of new timetables on May 20 caused chaos for passengers in the North.
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Northern commuters are giving up travelling to work by train because the service is so “appalling”, the Commons heard yesterday.

It came as it emerged that the wide-ranging rail review announced by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling would consider whether more powers over the network should be devolved to Britain’s regions.

Mr Grayling told MPs the review marked a “time for change” on the country’s railways.

But northern MPs issued fresh demands to immediately improve services in the region, which are still causing misery for passengers.

Labour’s Kate Green questioned when the Transport Secretary and his ministerial team will “get a grip” of the Northern franchise, adding she would prefer it to be scrapped.

Stephanie Peacock, Labour MP for Barnsley East, also hit out at the use of “trains that belong in museums” on routes to Leeds and Sheffield from her South Yorkshire constituency.

A timetable overhaul implemented during the summer crippled services for tens of thousands rail passengers in the North, while concerns have been raised about plans to electrify the Leeds to Manchester route, amid warnings from Network Rail of years of disruption.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Green (Stretford and Urmston) said: “Every week I’m contacted by constituents who are giving up travelling by train to work because of the appalling service they receive from Northern Rail.

“When will Ministers get a grip of or preferably scrap this failing franchise?”

And Ms Peacock said: “It costs over £150 to commute to Leeds and Sheffield from Barnsley, yet trains that belong in museums are often delayed and packed to dangerous capacity. When will the Government get a grip and invest in northern transport?”

Rail Minister Jo Johnson said industry veteran Richard George, who has been hired to better coordinate train operators in the North including Northern and TransPennine Express alongside Network Rail, was working with a “hard-driving agenda” for change.

And he said the Government was investing in new rolling stock, noting this would result in all trains either being replaced or fully refurbished.

Meanwhile, Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald said his “sources” had told him Keith Williams, who has been hired to lead Mr Grayling’s major review of the railways, would only be working one day a month, telling MPs: “Hardly worth the bother, is it?”

The review was launched after an inquiry into May’s timetable chaos found “nobody took charge” during a period when Northern cancelled up to 310 scheduled trains each weekday during the disruption, which lasted several weeks.

Mr McDonald was replying to a statement from Mr Grayling about the terms of reference of the review, which revealed the panel would be “exploring options for devolution of rail powers” - something northern leaders including Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham have been calling for over the past few months.

Mr Grayling insisted the review would not pave the way for transferring Network Rail, into the private sector, and said he was proud of the Government’s “major” investment plans in the railway.

But he added: “But we cannot stand by while the current industry structure struggles to deliver the improvements that the investment should be generating, so it is time for change.”

A Department for Transport spokesman denied Mr McDonald’s claims about Mr Williams, saying: “It is simply wrong to say Keith Williams will only work one day a month.

“He is committed to working closely with a full-time team, using his vast experience to deliver ambitious proposals for reform that will make the rail industry more passenger-focused.”