'Deep concern' as 'hundreds' of Northern trains are cancelled during Christmas week - with just a day's notice

Picture: Gerard Binks.
Picture: Gerard Binks.

Fresh criticism has been heaped on Northern after "hundreds" of trains have been cancelled during Christmas week as travellers scramble to get home to their families.

Transport for the North is continuing its calls for the rail operator to improve its service to passengers amid cancellations today and the coming Friday, mostly affecting journeys in the north west.

David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North.

David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North.

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Northern said "unprecedented levels of sickness" and annual leave entitlements led to pre-planned cancellations and apologised to travellers.

But the operator only made people aware of its reduced services yesterday morning (Monday), and was unable to provide the Post with the details of exactly how many cancellations were planned.

A spokesman said today: "Regarding customer information, we normally advise customers one day or more in advance of any pre-planned cancellations. This can vary according to the operational complexity of the planning we have to do."

David Hoggarth, Strategic Rail Director at Transport for the North, said: “We are deeply concerned that, on top of ongoing poor performance and heavy disruption during the first week of the new timetable, Northern is having to cancel hundreds of services in the North West on Christmas Eve and Friday 27 December.

“It is totally unacceptable that passengers once again do not have a full service they can rely on, especially at this busy time of year.

“We have made our concerns clear to Northern and reiterated that passengers deserve better. We will continue to monitor performance over the Christmas break and expect to see comprehensive preparations in place to enable a return to a more reliable and robust service as people go back to work in January.”

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The North’s leaders, as part of Transport for the North’s Rail North Committee, are to meet in Leeds on January 8 2020 to discuss the issues and way forward, and have called for senior leaders from both operators to attend.

They have previously recommended to the Secretary of State that an Operator of Last Resort - dormant operators whose licences are only to be used in the event that they need to take over certain rail operations- for the Northern franchise would help restore public confidence.

It comes after more issues with mechanical problems caused cancellations last week after the star of the new winter timetable.

In a statement Northern said: "Alongside the annual leave entitlements at this time of the year, we currently have unprecedented levels of sickness. That means we expect there to be some pre-planned cancellations on certain lines. We are sorry for any disruption customers may face. Please check before you travel.

"We do not cancel services lightly and routes with cancelled services are chosen carefully to minimise the impact on customers. On each of the affected routes, our customers will have a range of alternative options available to them including other Northern services, trains run by other operators or rail replacement road transport.

"We are sorry for the inconvenience this will cause our customers. Please check immediately before you travel.

"All the planned cancellations will be fully updated on the Northern website or National Rail Enquiries websites and apps overnight, so customers should check on Tuesday morning for the latest information."

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Anyone whose journey is delayed by 15 minutes or more can apply for compensation through the Delay Repay scheme, said the operator.

A total of 386 engineering projects are being carried out across Britain's rail network over the festive period.

Northern's planned cancellations will affect:

Lancaster – Morecambe: A reduced rail service will be in operation and a replacement bus will also be serving the route.

Manchester Piccadilly – Hadfield: A reduced rail service will be in operation.

Liverpool Lime Street – Wigan North Western (stopping service): A bus replacement service will operate every hour.