Train companies vow to address driver shortages that are causing severe disruption
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.
The operators have blamed train driver shortages and a range of other issues, including high levels of staff sickness.
Transport for the North has been working with operators to address these issues and said plans are in place to reduce disruption in reinstate services.
The organisation is also calling on the Government to provide funding for a new driver training academy in the North, to “end the reliance on overtime working”.
It comes after five Northern mayors urged the Government to grant operators permission to make new agreements with train drivers about covering shifts on their rest days.
TPE, owned by FirstGroup, has seen a high number of drivers leave the company in recent months and it is now working to clear a training backlog which was built up during Covid.
The operator said there has been significant disruption after drivers decided to stop working on their rest days in December last year and members of the drivers’ union ASLEF have taken part in a number of strikes, as part of an ongoing row about pay.
Transport for the North said the situation for TPE passengers “should improve” before a new timetable is introduced next month as a number of newly qualified drivers are being brought in.
It also said the operator “continues to make headway with its significant driver training programme”, but it takes up to two years to train each recruit.
Passengers travelling with Northern, which is owned by the Department of Transport, have also been hit by disruption after some drivers decided to stop working overtime.
But the operator recently resolved a rostering dispute with drivers, which led to a fivefold reduction in cancellations, and it is planning to reinstate the vast majority of services that were cut earlier this year with a new timetable in December.
However, Transport for the North said Sundays are still an issue for Northern, as around 95 per cent of drivers and conductors in the Central and West regions are not contracted to work that day, so it is heavily reliant on volunteers.
Avanti West Coast, which is also owned by FirstGroup, slashed the number of services it runs in August, to try and reduce disruption, after dozens of drivers stopped volunteering to cover shifts on their rest days.
But the operator said it has been working to recruit almost 100 new drivers and it plans to increase the number of weekday services from 180 to 264 in December.