Rail service under scrutiny amid passenger chaos

THE nation's faltering rail network is under intense scrutiny tonight after passengers endured chaotic scenes when hundreds of trains were cancelled or delayed yesterday and the Government faced renewed calls to step in to haul services back into public ownership.

Lord Adonis
Lord Adonis

There was major disruption across dozens of routes today (May 21) as seven times more alterations than normal were made to schedules due to new services being launched.

Northern, which runs services across Yorkshire and the North, said a shortage of train drivers was to blame for problems affecting destinations.

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The news came as Lord Adonis tonight said Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) should have been stripped of its franchise months earlier.

By 5.30pm today, 247 of Northern services were cancelled or very late, some 13.5 per cent of its schedule, according to the Trains.im open source website, while 373 were delayed by five to 30 minutes.

The majority of the disruption on Northern services was in the North-West, though the operator reported delays on trains in and out of several Yorkshire destinations.

The website showed that 26 per cent of TransPennine Express services and 54 per cent of Hull Trains had been cancelled or ran very late.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham described the situation as “appalling” and said Transport Secretary Chris Grayling “needs to intervene today”.

One Twitter user posted a message to Northern which read: “Total shambles - first day of new timetables and it’s even worse than before.”

A spokesman for Northern admitted it had been a “difficult morning” for some passengers, particularly on routes around north Manchester extending to Blackpool. Around 90 per cent of Northern’s timetable has changed.

The spokesman added that this “remains a significant operational challenge”, warning that “localised service disruption” is expected to continue.

Tonight Labour peer Lord Adonis said he would have brought services into public control “much sooner” than Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Delaying the decision may have cost taxpayers’ money due to the resulting “bonanza” for government consultants, he said.

VTEC - a venture between Stagecoach (90 per cent) and Virgin (10 per cent) - was due to run the franchise until 2023, but, after Stagecoach reported losses, Mr Grayling said in October that the agreement would end in 2020.

It was revealed last week that the Department for Transport will take over control of the East Coast Main Line from VTEC on June 24.

Lord Adonis, transport secretary when National Express withdrew from its agreement on the route in 2009, told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “It was abundantly clear when Stagecoach and Virgin said they intended to hand back the keys that this needed to be resolved quickly.”