Mayors in the north of England have called for immediate government action to tackle continuing rail misery, warning time is running out to avoid a Christmas of chaos.
The five metro mayors for Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and North of Tyne met Mark Harper, the transport secretary, in offices near to Manchester Piccadilly station on Wednesday.
Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, attended remotely because the trains from Newcastle to Manchester are so unreliable. Tracy Brabin, the West Yorkshire mayor, was delayed because her scheduled train from Leeds was cancelled.
Speaking afterwards, the mayors said the meeting had been constructive.
South Yorkshire’s Oliver Coppard thanked Harper for travelling north. “We are heading though, if he does not get a grip on this, into a Christmas of chaos and our communities can’t put up with that any longer.”
Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, said the current chaos, with service cancellations on a daily basis, was “nowhere near good enough. Lives are being turned upside down. Businesses are being damaged. We will not accept it any more. We will not accept people in the north of England being treated as second class citizens when it comes to transport.”
The mayors said an agreement on rest day working needed urgently to be made with the unions. “I hear from the industry that there is a deal there to be done,” said Burnham. “It needs to be done as an interim step. Just get things back to a functional level. The danger is people have lost trust in our railways.”
He also said Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express needed to be put on notice that contracts will be terminated or not renewed unless services improve.
Thousands of trains have been cancelled at short notice in recent weeks with countless stories of people not being able to get to work, young people unable to get to college and holidays being ruined. When passengers do get on a train it is often unbearably crowded.
After the meeting Harper said he was not blocking any agreement on rest day working. He said the mayors agreed “that getting a rest day working agreement is only a short-term solution. I made it very clear … a railway that depends delivering a timetable on people having to basically come in on their day off and goodwill isn’t a long-term solution, which they agreed with.”
In a joint statement the mayors said: “The absolute bare minimum of levelling up means being able to get to work and college on time – but northerners have been robbed of this basic right because of the chaos on our railways. That must end.
“This was a positive meeting and we welcome the new transport secretary saying he will grip this crisis, which is causing misery for millions and damaging our regional economies. But the time for warm words is over. We’ve had enough of broken promises – passengers are rightly demanding action now.
“We made it clear to Mark Harper that he can and must step in and clean up this mess, which was made worse by his predecessors.”