‘If we were in leafy Harrogate this wouldn’t be happening’: Fury over axed train services

Rail passengers across Pontefract and the surrounding areas have been left furious by Northern’s decision to wield the axe over several local services.

Vast Covid-related absence among Northern staff has forced the cutbacks, which according to its website will be in place until January 29 at the very earliest.
Vast Covid-related absence among Northern staff has forced the cutbacks, which according to its website will be in place until January 29 at the very earliest.

The company’s Leeds to Knottingley train, which also stops at stations in Wakefield, Pontefract, Featherstone and Streethouse, has been temporarily scaled back because of a driver shortage.

Meanwhile, all services from Pontefract Baghill appear to have been withdrawn for the time being, with only a handful of daily replacement buses to York and Moorthorpe put on to compensate.

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Vast Covid-related absence among Northern staff has forced the cutbacks, which according to its website will be in place until January 29 at the very earliest.

But passengers around the Five Towns say they’re sick of their trains being slashed, while Northern maintains a fuller service to other parts of its network.

The deputy leader of Wakefield Council, Jack Hemingway, said this week he would write to Northern about the problems.

The operator has told passengers the Five Towns has not been targeted for cuts and insist services across the North have been affected by the Omicron-enforced chaos.

Pontefract passenger representative Dave Hogg said: “People here are frustrated that we seem to be bearing the brunt of any problems Northern are encountering.

“Other services on other routes are going untouched and we seem to be at the bottom of the pecking order.

“We understand that drivers are off because of Covid, but Baghill particularly seems to be the first to be face cuts whenever a problem arises.”

Several daily services on the Knottingley to Leeds service have been pulled, with passengers who get on at Pontefract Monkhill, Pontefract Tanshelf and Featherstone among those affected.

The first train from Featherstone to Leeds on a weekday morning is now at 8.52am and doesn’t reach its final destination until 9.25am, leaving many commuters needing to get into the city for work stranded.

Paul Cartwright, from Pontefract Civic Society, said it was difficult to get “consistent and accurate” information out of the operator.

He added: “As far as Monkhill and Tanshelf are concerned, it’s about the timing as much as anything.

“It’s commuters who are particularly affected and they currently don’t have suitably timed trains given the early ones which have been cut.

“Going back over a number of years, it’s always been felt Baghill is very easy pickings and it gets targeted for reducing services.

“If we were in leafy Skipton or Harrogate this wouldn’t be happening.”

Liberal Democrat councillor for Knottingley, Tom Gordon, said many local residents in his ward had been deeply affected too.

He said: “When we’ve got an area with high levels of deprivation and people are already facing rising fuel bills, having to get a taxi to work because your train doesn’t turn up is going to push people over the edge.

“Having a replacement bus service when you’re a carer, or you’ve got children or other time-sensitive commitments, is no good.

“The train companies need to be conscious of the impact on not just individuals, but the wider network and businesses who rely on these passengers too.”

In an email to concerned passengers on Monday, Northern’s stakeholder manager Pete Myers, said, “We had to make savings at all our depots, including Leeds and Sheffield, which supply most of the trains into the Pontefract area.

“There was no plan to disadvantage any area more than any other, and there have been cuts in services right across the region this time.”

Mr Myers added that once the company’s workforce was stable, “We will reintroduce the December 2021 timetable, but I cannot currently give an estimation when that will be.”

Northern has not responded to repeated requests by the Local Democracy Reporting Service for comment.

An updated temporary timetable can be found here – https://d11vpqhghel6qd.cloudfront.net/images/timetables/bucket2/leeds-and-wakefield-to-knottingley-and-goole-pontefract-line-5246-r5jr9b.pdf .

David Spereall , Local Democracy Reporting Service

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