Unreliable train services in north of England ‘ruining people’s lives’

Avanti and TransPennine Express users ‘badly let down’ by cancellations and delays

Commuters and local leaders in the north of England have spoken out about the “ongoing fiasco” of cancelled and delayed trains, which are “ruining people’s lives”.

The mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said users of Avanti and TransPennine Express train services were being greeted with “a shrug of the shoulders” when complaining about services.

“And we can’t allow that to happen,” he said, speaking to LBC.

“I was a minister and I would have rightly been dragged over the coals if this was the performance of a service that I was responsible for.”

The West Yorkshire mayor, Tracy Brabin, and the shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, also criticised the train companies.

The government should “claw back” taxpayers’ money being used to subsidise trains that are not running, Haigh said, after a third of TransPennine Express trains were cancelled on Tuesday.

Haigh said: “This ongoing fiasco is causing real damage to the public, passengers and the economy.

“Ministers must stop washing their hands of responsibility and intervene.

“They should demand a plan from TransPennine Express for the urgent improvement and restoration of vital services, and claw back taxpayers’ money being handed over for trains that are no longer running.”

Brabin said Tuesday’s train cancellations were “typical of the daily struggles faced by commuters in the north of England” and that her own TransPennine Express train home was cancelled.

She said: “We’re fed up with being badly let down by a failing rail network that isn’t meeting our needs. This is especially unacceptable when our economy needs all the support it can get.”

She called for the government to “urgently” step in but said that “nationalisation is the only real answer”.

Adam Major travels between Scunthorpe and Leeds a couple of times a week to visit his girlfriend.

He said: “It used to be two an hour and then it was reduced to one an hour. And now it’s an hour if you’re lucky. Sometimes there could be two in a row cancelled. So you’re stuck in the station three hours.

“I’d be at a station waiting for it to come in and it’s come up on the board saying ‘cancelled’. The only reason they ever give is a last-minute change to the timetable. No one really knows what that means.”

The pair are moving to Australia early next year “because we’re just sick of this whole situation, to be honest”, he said.

Some commuters are trying to find workarounds to be sure they arrive at their destination.

Sam Babrovskie said she moved to Stalybridge for an easy commute as her train should take 14 minutes to Manchester. But she now drives to Ashton-under-Lyne and gets the tram – a journey that takes more than double the length of time – because the trains are so unreliable.

“It took me three hours to get home by train a few weeks ago, and that’s when I just gave up.”

Babrovskie has seen people crying at Manchester Piccadilly station because they could not get to the airport and would miss their flight.

She added: “I always joke to my friends, saying the Victorians would turn in their graves with what we’ve done to the railways.”

This comes as a plan to create a public-sector body to oversee Britain’s ailing rail network has been delayed.

Great British Railways, which would take over from the infrastructure management company Network Rail and be responsible for handing out rail contracts, will not go ahead in 2024 owing to the scrapping of the transport bill.

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: “A track defect at Huyton continues to cause disruption to our services between Liverpool and Manchester, with the impact also being felt further afield across our network – as far as Newcastle and Glasgow.

“Coupled with this, sustained high levels of sickness and a training backlog as a direct result of Covid continue to affect our services and these factors have seen a number of on-the-day or ‘evening before’ cancellations being made.

“In normal circumstances, we have enough people to fully operate our scheduled timetable, however the combination of all these factors has put unprecedented pressure on our ability to operate a consistent service.”

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “We know we’re not delivering the service our customers rightly expect and we apologise for the enormous frustration and inconvenience caused. Our customers and communities we serve deserve a dependable train service, so we’re currently working hard to rebuild our timetable in a resilient and sustainable way.”

Avanti added that it had recently stepped up its timetable with extra services on the Manchester route and a further increase due in December, which it said would result in three trains an hour to and from the city.

“Resolving this situation requires a robust plan that will allow us to gradually increase services without being reliant on train crew overtime, which has fallen dramatically in recent weeks. We would like to thank our customers for their patience and understanding.”

• This article was amended on 21 October 2022 to include a response from Avanti West Coast.


Robyn Vinter North of England correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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