A mayor in north-east England who was due to attend a meeting with the transport secretary to discuss train cancellations in the region has said he will have to take part by Zoom – because he cannot be certain he will be able to get there by train.
The Labour mayors from West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, Manchester and Liverpool are due to meet Mark Harper in Manchester on Wednesday, but Jamie Driscoll, the north of Tyne mayor, said he would not attend in person.
“The trains are so unreliable that I might not have been able to get there, and it was probably a good call,” Driscoll told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday.
Thousands of trains have been cancelled at short notice in recent weeks across northern England, with TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast and Northern services all affected.
Driscoll said he had with him details of 61 train cancellations from TransPennine Express, and the operator had warned of further short-notice cancellations.
“This is standard practice, I’ve had it before. We’ve had a transport for the north meeting in Manchester and the mayors couldn’t get there because the trains were cancelled. The irony of it, it would be funny if it wasn’t so serious,” he said.
“We’ve got the secretary of state coming to meet metro mayors because of the terrible rail services and we can’t get there. There are so many people missing their trains, we have schoolkids standing on cold dark platforms for hours at a time. We have rail services where if they’re not being cancelled, they are routinely late.”
He said that during the meeting with the transport secretary, he would make clear his view that the government had not acknowledged the problem.
“The first step of recovery is admitting that you have a problem, and I haven’t heard the government admit that the rail infrastructure is creaking,” Driscoll said.
Last week, rail cancellations reached their highest level on record, with more than 314,000 trains fully or partially cancelled across Great Britain.
On Monday, business leaders said rail services in the north of England were facing collapse unless the government intervened.
The West Yorkshire mayor, Tracy Brabin, said: “Enough is enough. The transport secretary has promised to get a grip on this crisis and we welcome that. But the people of the north need more than warm words. We need a concrete plan that will get our rail network back on track.
“This chaos is having a devastating impact on the northern economy and our attempts to rebuild from the pandemic, while we try to support our communities against the cost of living crisis with record levels of inflation. The secretary of state is the person who can step in and has a fresh opportunity to help solve the problem, and that’s exactly what we’ll be telling him today.”
Along with Brabin, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, Steve Rotheram, the mayor of the Liverpool city region, and Oliver Coppard, the mayor of South Yorkshire, are due to attend the meeting.