Rail passengers stuck in 'Groundhog Day' as they are hit by more cancellations

RAIL passengers in the North of England feel like it is “Groundhog Day” as they have to deal with widespread disruption and new timetables with fewer services, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has claimed.

He said services have “deteriorated again” in the run up to the busy Christmas period, as Northern, TransPennine Express (TPE) and Avanti West Coast are responsible for frequent delays and “high levels of cancellations”.

It comes after the operators, which have blamed the recent disruption on train driver strikes, bad weather and signal failures, introduced new timetables with fewer services over the weekend.

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Mr Burnham cited the latest public performance measure (PPM) figures which show 27 per cent of Northern services do not arrive at their scheduled stop within five minutes, so they are not classed as “on time”, while 10 per cent are cancelled.

Passengers at Leeds station.  Picture Bruce RollinsonPassengers at Leeds station.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Passengers at Leeds station. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Speaking at a Transport for the North board meeting, he also said around a quarter (23 per cent) of TPE trains are not arriving on time and nine per cent are cancelled.

“That can’t be the new normal. It cannot be right that you only expect three out of four to be on time,” said Mr Burnham. “It doesn’t get better. It’s like Groundhog Day sometimes. You take the detriment and you never get the benefit they promise.”

The Labour mayor also said it is “shocking” that less than half of Avanti West Coast’s trains (49.5 per cent) run on time and 27 per cent are cancelled or significantly delayed.

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“That is absolutely appalling at this time of year when people are trying to get around to see family,” he said.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy BurnhamGreater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham

Mr Burnham said he “cannot understand” why the government renewed Avanti’s contract to run services, claiming “they should be removed”.

“We’ve had year, after year, after year of it now and we simply won’t put up with it any longer,” he said.

Avanti has apologised for the disruption, claiming it is the result of “a shortage of train crew due to historic leave agreements”.

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The Government renewed Avanti’s contract in December, claiming it had made “significant improvements” by addressing a driver shortage, reducing cancellations and reinstating dozens of services.

It came after FirstGroup lost the contract to run TPE services in May, following 18 months of severe disruption, and the government’s Operator of Last Resort (OLR) took over.

Managing Director Chris Jackson said there has been “a significant reduction in cancellations” since a new rest-day working agreement for drivers was reached in June. It allows them to cover for absent colleagues and train new recruits.

“Cancellations have dropped to an overall figure of 7.49 per cent – a 36 per cent improvement to the six months before OLR ownership,” he said.

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“Sadly, over the last week there have been several incidents outside of our control – including line flooding, a tree on the overhead line between Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road, a set of points failure at Huddersfield Station and a signalling failure at Preston – that have caused disruption.”

Northern’s Chief Operating Officer Tricia Williams also apologised, claiming the operator’s performance has “not been up to the high standards we aim to achieve”.

“Last month, we welcomed agreements with the trade unions but we continue to face other industrial relations issues and serious weather events that are impacting our ability to run the service our customers deserve,” she added.