Fear of more train chaos in North when timetables change
There are fears that disruption to rail services in northern England will continue when new timetables are introduced on Sunday.
A number of routes which suffered cuts earlier this year will get more trains scheduled.
But there is concern that the failure to resolve staffing issues means the cancellation of thousands of trains in recent months will continue.
Many rail workers are refusing to volunteer for shifts on their rest days amid long-running industrial relations disputes.
There is also a backlog with training new staff due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Operators have often resorted to removing trains from schedules the night before, meaning they are not officially classed as cancelled.
Timetable changes by TransPennine Express (TPE) – one of the companies affected by staffing problems – include reintroducing services between Manchester and Scotland via the West Coast Main Line and extending the route between Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire and Manchester to serve Liverpool.
Henri Murison, chief executive of business group Northern Powerhouse Partnership, expressed concern that the changes will not lead to improved performance.
He told the PA news agency: “We needed a rest day working agreement by the end of last week in order to speed up the training process for new drivers, which is the root cause of this chaos on our railways.
“Having missed that deadline, TransPennine Express will not have enough fully trained drivers ready when the timetable change comes into effect this Sunday, meaning we’re likely to see continued disruption for the foreseeable.
“Instead of cancelling trains the night before, TPE should avoid putting in the timetable the services they know they won’t be able to run.”
Mayor of West Yorkshire Tracy Brabin said she has been “pushing operators and Government to reinstate rail services that provide a lifeline to so many people in our region” as post-pandemic demand for train travel has “recovered more quickly in the North” than elsewhere.
She went on: “The revised timetable must deliver a more reliable service for passengers because our communities need a network that they can rely on to get to work, school or college.
TPE customer service and operations director Kathryn O’Brien said its new timetable is “designed to give our customers improved connectivity”.
She added: “The changes mean we have had to make some adjustments to existing services and we need all customers to make themselves familiar with the timetables and to check carefully before travelling.”
Avanti West Coast is planning a 40% increase in services from around 190 daily trains to 264, after cutting its schedules in August to limit short-notice cancellations.
In each direction, the London Euston-Manchester route will return to three trains per hour, while London Euston-Birmingham will get two trains per hour plus a third at peak times.
There will also be more direct services between the capital and North Wales via Chester.
Operators will be heavily restricted in using new timetables next week due to strikes by members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union on December 13, 14, 16 and 17.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper told the Commons Transport Select Committee on Wednesday it is a “tragedy” that Avanti West Coast passengers “are not going to see the benefit” of its new timetable when the walkout happens.
Train operator Northern said it is making “significant changes” to the times and routes of its services in north-west England.
This is partly aimed at improving the reliability of trains in the Manchester area, and making them more regularly spaced.
Northern warned passengers that “a small number of trains” may be temporarily cancelled up to 48 hours before the date of travel while “we adjust our resources to the new timetable”.
Customers are urged to check for updates on their day of travel.
Rail timetables are changed every May and December.
The May 2018 version sparked major disruption across large parts of the network, particularly on the Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway routes.Published: by Radio NewsHub