Northern blasted over ongoing weekend train misery for passengers

One of Northern's new trains to be seen on the county networkOne of Northern's new trains to be seen on the county network
One of Northern's new trains to be seen on the county network
Trains operator Northern has been told to "come clean" with passengers over ongoing cancellations and delays at weekends.

The company has run into difficulties over covering shift work and has recently had a temporary arrangement with unions to properly staff trains at the weekend.

However, it is reported that that has come to an end and the franchise operator has struggled to have enough staff in the right places to operate the scheduled services.

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Blackpool-based rails champion for disabled travellers Stephen Brookes, who advises on rail issues, said the problem had been going on for far too long now and told how he was caught up in the cancellations returning from a transport conference.

MP Paul MaynardMP Paul Maynard
MP Paul Maynard

The complaints come just days after a report showed that reliability of services over the summer were worse than during the timetable crisis in 2018. Transport for North said customers were disrupted by unreliable and overcrowded services from Northern and from Transpennine between July 21 to August 17.

For Northern, the number of trains running on time averaged 79.4 per cent in August, compared with 82.2 per cent in May 2018 and 91.2 per cent in August 2017.

Stephen Brookes said: "I am deeply dismayed that in spite of the publicity over new trains, my experiences and that of others over the last weekend demonstrated that Northern can't operate current services effectively noting particularly consideration of certain issues where older and disabled people book assistance for specific services.

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"My own experience was on Saturday night when I found that on returning from chairing a Railfuture access conference in Bristol I found the majority of services from Manchester to Blackpool were cancelled at short notice with little or no information.

Stephen BrookesStephen Brookes
Stephen Brookes

"Eventually I found that the term 'operational reasons' was the excuse. On Sunday, the live departures board for Blackpool showed 18 trains cancelled into during the afternoon and evening for the same reasons.

"However, on the eventual service I boarded at Manchester which terminated at Preston, not Blackpool, there were nine members of Northern staff travelling back to their depots 'out of operating time'.

"It is particularly difficult for those who have assistance or travel access needs, and in my case I spoke with two mobility restricted individuals who were supposed to be visiting Blackpool saying to me that they will never travel to our part of the world again because trains can't be trusted.

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"My role as Rail Sector Champion as well as being a disabled person with mobility requirements means that in this case I do challenge Northern to come clean about the situation we face, as the matter is now an unacceptable and disgraceful mess."

Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard, a former rail minister, said: "Northern continues to cancel far too many weekend services, not only into Blackpool but across the North West.

“I have made clear my concerns to the Minister responsible and to Northern and will continue to push for improvements.

“The operator needs to deliver a step change in performance now and address these long-running issues.”

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A spokesman for Northern said: “Each week, we are having to adjust our Sunday timetable and as a result, our on-board crew rosters, on a small number of routes in the North West.

"There are a number of factors impacting on our ability to run these services, including engineering work and being able to match employees’ availability within their working agreements.

“We do not cancel services lightly and routes with cancelled Sunday service are chosen carefully to minimise the impact on customers.

"On each of the affected routes, our customers will have a range of alternative options available to them including other Northern services, trains run by other operators or rail replacement road transport. All routes with pre-planned cancellations are advertised via the Northern website each Friday.”

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Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the transport union TSSA, said: “Sadly this comes as no surprise. Northern has been trying to offer reassurances of late but passengers are not buying it.

“The evidence on the ground tells us all we need to know – Northern remains a basket case and only bringing this franchise back in house will provide the travelling public with the service they require and expect.

“Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, should act to do so without delay."