'˜Sack rail firm' call after third Sunday of cuts

Wholesale Cancellations to Northern Rail services for a third Sunday running were described by a civic leader yesterday as 'chaotic and unacceptable', as the country's biggest union repeated calls for the company to be stripped of its franchise.

Baroness Beverley Hughes, the deputy mayor of Greater Manchester, sent a sharply-worded letter to Northern’s managing director, David Brown, after the company took an axe to Sunday trains for a third successive week.

The operator cut 80 services in the North West, claiming that ongoing engineering projects had caused “severe difficulties around the short-notice scheduling” of train crews.

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But Baroness Hughes said the cancellations were due to the firm “failing to meet an adequate standard”.

Passenger satisfaction with rail punctuality and reliability has fallen over the past decade, figures show.Passenger satisfaction with rail punctuality and reliability has fallen over the past decade, figures show.
Passenger satisfaction with rail punctuality and reliability has fallen over the past decade, figures show.

She asked for reassurances that services would run next Sunday, questioned what urgent steps were being taken to address staff shortages and whether compensation would be available for travellers affected.

Under Government-enforced rules, anyone whose journey is delayed by 30 minutes or more can apply for compensation.

Northern said in a statement that it was “sorry” passengers continued “to experience some disruption to their weekend services”, and advised travellers “to plan their journey carefully”.

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The company – whose services have been decimated by the botched introduction of a new timetable in May – was ridiculed by unions for attempting to blame last Sunday’s cancellations on some staff making themselves “unavailable” for work, with Mick Whelan, general secretary of the train drivers’ union, Aslef, saying it “prefers to run on voluntary overtime rather than employ enough staff to operate the services it promised”.

Last night, the RMT union – whose members will strike on three successive Saturdays from August 25 – called for Northern to be “kicked off the tracks”.

The RMT general secretary, Mick Cash, called the operator a “basket case franchise lurching from crisis to crisis”, and said it had “chosen to declare war on their passengers and staff alike”.

The union is in dispute over the roles of train guards, even though the Government has guaranteed their jobs with pay reviews for the next eight years.

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Meanwhile, a survey out today shows trust in the rail industry approaching its lowest point in the last six years.

Fewer than one traveller in four said they trusted rail firms last month, down six per cent from a year ago, the consumer group Which? said.

Passenger satisfaction among commuters has fallen by 10 per cent over the over the past decade, it added. Which? chief executive Peter Vicary-Smith, referring to “unprecedented disruption” this year, said: “With persistent poor service, delays, cancellations and the hassle of getting compensation for their journeys, it’s unsurprising that trust in the rail industry has been consistently low and is only getting worse.”

Comment: Page 10.