It is just one small part of our rail network, but the train shambles in one Lancashire village highlights the bigger problem in a nutshell.
Croston villagers say they have been left stranded by months of rail chaos.
All trains between Preston and Ormskirk were cancelled again yesterday morning because of points failure, and for the villagers of Croston - half way along the line - the latest cancellation was the final straw.
The village had already been cut off for a week in November after all trains were cancelled, with Northern blaming leaves on the line.
Parish Council councillor Kath Almond says the catalogue of problems stem from when the train timetable changed in May.
She said: “The other week, the first time since the line came to Croston in 1849, we had no trains - not a single train.
“Imagine how workers feel. Students, people who have missed exams, or people on jury service. People just starting jobs have lost them. Hospital appointments missed.
“I have endless examples of hardship.”
The problems for the people of Croston have been echoed across Lancashire, with strike talks between north and rail union the RMT breaking down this week, meaning more cancelled trains in the run up to Christmas.
Meanwhile there have been calls for Transport Minister Chris Grayling to resign over the fiasco of Northern’s new timetables in May.
In a scathing report, the Transport Select Committee said the “chaotic rollout” of alterations to services in May, which included Northern Rail, should be the catalyst for “genuine change” for people who rely on the railways.
Lillian Greenwood, who chairs the committee, said: “It is extraordinary, and totally unacceptable, that no-one took charge of the situation and acted to avert the May timetabling crisis.
“Instead of experiencing the benefits of much-needed investment in our railways, around one in five passengers experienced intensely inconvenient and costly disruption to their daily lives.
Coun Almond said: “We had long looked forward to the new timetable as it would give us an hourly service.
“But when it came into effect trains were constantly being cancelled, or if you were lucky replaced by a bus, and then they didn’t always call at the stations to collect passengers.
“You can imagine, one hiccup and the timetable was out of the window, and Croston, as the least used line, was the one that was cut.
“It’s the only train we have got and apart from that we have a bus service which is limited.
“Somebody stopped me the other day: her daughter is a nurse. To get to work it costs her £30 to get a taxi one way. She said it wasn’t worth claiming the money back, it wasn’t worth the hassle.
“I always say complain, but what good has that done?
“What are we to do, we complain to Northern and we don’t get anywhere. We have told the MP Seema Kennedy and we don’t get anywhere. It’s just too bad.
“We need more carriages, more staff and more flexibility in the routes if a coach breaks down. That all needs addressing and it does mean more money.”
Chris Jackson, regional director for Northern, said: “I’d like to apologise to anyone who has faced disruption or cancellations as a result of the recent track conditions.
“Leaves on the line, whilst often joked about, are a serious problem and can significantly affect the braking and acceleration of trains. In the worst cases the black ice-like conditions the leaves create can cause flat spots on train wheels which means the carriages have to be taken out of service and repaired.
“Of course, these conditions happen every year and we work closely with Network Rail to try to ensure the tracks are in the best possible conditions for our trains. Unfortunately the conditions of the past fortnight have been unprecedented and, on some days, have resulted in more than 30 carriages having to be removed.
“Cancelling an entire route – as we had to do with the Preston to Ormskirk Line – is not a decision we take lightly, but the unusual circumstances called for extreme measures. The trains which operate the Ormskirk line were those most affected by the autumn conditions, and the route itself was also problematic. When we were unable to operate trains we did provide a reliable rail replacement service which ensured our customers on the line were still able to get where they needed to be.
“We remain absolutely committed to providing the best possible service for our customers, but know more needs to be done. That’s why we are investing more than £600m which will see the introduction of 98 brand new trains onto the network, the refurbishment of the remaining 243 trains in our fleet, and the retirement of all Pacers by 2020.”
Strike set to continue
The ongoing saga for Northern is amid a breakdown in talks aimed at averting more strikes by rail workers in the long-running dispute over guards on trains.
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union said walkouts on Northern, which have affected trains between Blackpool, Preston and Manchester, will now go ahead on every Saturday until the end of the year.
Meanwhile our sister paper the Yorkshire Post has revealed that rail punctuality in the North of England is now even worse than during the immediate aftermath of the May timetable rollout fiasco - with almost 80 trains per day being cancelled by the region’s two biggest operators and overcrowded services frequently running with reduced numbers of carriages.
New analysis - published six months to the day that the Lancashire Post joined other regional newspapers in a One North campaign demanding urgent improvements - shows that only 62 per cent of TransPennine Express services and 67 per cent of Northern services arrived on time last month, their worst figures in the past two years.
According to figures collected by the performance tracking website trains.im, the previous lowest point for TPE was in July when 65 per cent were on time, while Northern’s worst previous month was in May when 77 per cent were on time. Both operators today blamed ‘autumnal conditions’ leading to carriages needing repairs and trains needing to run at slower speeds for the problems.
‘Disruption has been unacceptable’
Rail minister Andrew Jones said: “The disruption that passengers across the north have experienced has been unacceptable. So I am pleased that the Secretary of State and Andrew Haines have agreed that Network Rail will spend an additional £15 million on an enhancements package for Northern and TransPennine Express customers.
“Network Rail will now work with Transport for the North and passenger groups to decide how best to deliver improvements for passengers.
“Working alongside Transport for the North and Richard George, we are also driving forward with a joint recovery project for performance across the north of England – focused on delivering reliable and punctual services that people can have confidence in.”
Trains to Manchester Christmas Market are badly affected
The rail strike by Northern which means severe delays and cancellations on trains between Preston and Manchester on Saturdays will continue up until Christmas.
So if you want to head to the Christmas Markets in Manchester....how can you get there?
As train strikes look set to run until Christmas this is how you can still get to the Christmas Markets in Manchester
By coach.....National Express still has some availability on Saturdays and a return journey costs £11.20
Taxi. You can get a taxi for four for around £68 each way. For the round trip it works out at £34 each.
Train. Forget Northern. Take a Virgin West Coast train to Crewe, then pick up the Manchester Virgin train from there. You’ll pay around £38.
Drive. Not the best of options. You’ll need to get into Manchester early to get a parking space in any of the major car parks...and be prepared to pay an arm and a leg. Between £21 and £28 for the day.
Alternatively, why not forego the Christmas markets in Manchester and head into Preston instead.
Take the bus - cost is around £1.50, enjoy a pint or a glass of wine and a lunch in one of the many great venues in the city. And spend your money locally!