Pressure mounting on Government to tackle 'inexcusable' train chaos in the North
Lord Patrick McLoughlin, chairman of Transport for the North, said it is “completely inexcusable” that millions of people are experiencing “such a dire level of service” and the Government must intervene.
It comes after West Yorkshire Mayor Tracy Brabin and four other Northern metro mayors called for action from Downing Street earlier this week and said urgent improvement plans for operators must be put in place.
The Department of Transport said the disruption is “unacceptable” and it is working with operators to find solutions.
TransPennine Express (TPE), Northern and Avanti West Coast have cancelled hundreds of services at short notice in recent weeks, despite introducing reduced timetables earlier this year to try and reduce disruption.
Transport for the North has also shared analysis, which shows just 57 per cent of TPE services and 63 per cent of Northern services arrived on time in September.
The operators have blamed a range of issues, including train driver shortages, high levels of staff sickness and problems with the infrastructure.
Lord McLoughlin, who is a former Transport Secretary, said: “It’s completely inexcusable that communities in the North of England are having to experience such a dire level of service. It requires an urgent intervention as it's undermining businesses and holding back economic growth.
“At present, one operator TPE, has two in every five trains not arriving on time and it’s becoming the new normal on a network with far too many trains being cancelled.”
He also said the Government must grant operators permission to agree a new agreement on rest-day working, to make drivers available to work more shifts, and set up a ‘Rail Academy’ in the North to train more drivers.
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “The Government is investing billions into Northern transport and is working closely with train operators to ensure new drivers are swiftly recruited and long term solutions are put in place.”
She also said Transport Secretary Mark Harper wants to meet with Northern leaders “as soon as possible” to discuss the disruption.
Avanti West Coast, owned by FirstGroup, cut the number of services it runs in August, to try and reduce disruption caused by a driver shortage. It came after they refused to stop volunteering to cover rest days.
TPE, which is owned by the same company, then introduced a reduced timetable between the North West and Scotland to minimise disruption in September.
Earlier this week, Rail Minister Kevin Foster told MPs Avanti is recruiting almost 100 new drivers and that it plans to increase the number of weekday services from 180 to 264 in December.
But he also said that if the operator fails to address ongoing issues its contract to run services on the West Coast Mainline may not be renewed in April next year.
Mr Foster admitted that TPE services “need to improve quite substantially” and said the Government is working with the operator to make improvements.
Northern, which is owned by the Department of Transport, cut services in May to limit disruption, but has said the majority will be restored in December.