Today we take a stand against rail chaos: Enough is enough

Following a period of unprecedented misery and upset for thousands of people, caused by a broken railway, the regional Press across the North of England is today making an historic united stand to demand: enough is enough.

Tuesday, 5th June 2018, 7:25 am
Updated Tuesday, 5th June 2018, 8:52 am
Chaos on the tracks
Chaos on the tracks

In a week where the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling blamed everyone bar himself for the chaos and confusion that has hit train operator Northern, The Gazette is putting years of rivalry with our publishing peers to one side for the good of our proud regions.

We say to Prime Minister Theresa May that she must now accept responsibility for the interminable disruption, and lead the Government’s response, after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said ‘sorry’ for the first time as he ordered Network Rail, and the train operators, to ‘fix’ the crisis.

The Gazette and our colleagues across the industry today, on behalf of the 15 million people who are proud to call the North home, table a vote of no confidence in the Transport Secretary.

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Chaos on the tracks

Our unprecedented show of unity by more than 20 titles is in direct response to the disruption suffered by hundreds of thousands of passengers since new timetables were introduced on the Northern network a fortnight ago.

With passengers bracing themselves for weeks of further delays as a result of these cack-handed changes, Mrs May, you, will be jeopardising the credibility of the Northern Powerhouse, and alienating the regions for good, if you do not intervene now on behalf of passengers.

Given its over-riding objective is to improve public transport between the North’s major cities in order to transform the future economic prospects of this region, we together urge the Prime Minister to:

summon transport chiefs, and business leaders, to 10 Downing Street this week for an emergency summit to devise an action plan to get this region moving again;

challenge train operator Northern to specify, in full, its promised compensation scheme for those passengers most affected by the delays and disruption;

give Transport for the North the necessary policy and financial powers so it can have full oversight of all local, suburban and regional services and work in tandem with Network Rail. It is clear our railways cannot be cared for properly from London;

commit the Government to a full and fundamental review of rail franchising – the Northern fiasco is yet another example of a franchisee over-promising and under-delivering;

promise that the planned high-speed line across the Pennines - NPR - will take precedence over or equal to the Crossrail II scheme being drawn up in London.

Before the introduction of an emergency timetable yesterday which saw 165 services scrapped until the end of July, more than 2,000 trains had been cancelled – and even more subjected to long delays. The resulting inconvenience suffered by passengers ranging from top business executives to commuters, jobseekers, students, tourists and many others has been, and remains, incalculable as Mr Grayling announced an inquiry into how the introduction of the new timetable was so mismanaged by the industry.

Unlike London and the South East, this region’s transport infrastructure has been under-funded by successive governments and the North simply cannot sit and wait for the completion of HS2 and better links to and from London.

If we are to make a greater contribution to the prosperity of the whole country, we need a transport network fit for the 21st century with improved east-west connections and the North’s great cities linked by the quantity and quality of services being introduced on London’s state-of-the-art Crossrail line.

This needs to be Mrs May’s number one transport policy – Chris Grayling’s promises are, frankly, worthless because he’s so bereft of credibility across the region – and she needs to take affirmative action now before the North’s economy is put at unnecessary risk.

Rest assured, The Gazette along with other media in the North, will not ease up until it is satisfied with the answers provided by Mrs May and her Government’s level of commitment to the North.

What do the politicians think?

lackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said: “This morning I have been picking up even more disturbing news with the cutting of trains to Blackpool South.“Northern has now reduced the number of trains on that line, but many of the trains which are supposed to be running there are not.“This is bad news for residents and businesses in the area which rely on these services, but also bad news for Blackpool Pleasure Beach too since many of the visitors come straight off the train at Pleasure Beach station.” He added: “I think the time has come to consider financial penalties for both Northern and Network Rail and senior management.”Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “I remain concerned that passengers still do not have the reliable rail service they expect. I have repeatedly made clear to Northern the importance of operating the advertised timetable and communicating properly with passengers when delays occur.“It is important all those working to put things right prioritise the needs of the travelling public and ensure all is done to keep them moving and adequately informed.“Although the interim timetable reduces the number of services I believe it is a necessary step towards restoring stability. I am, however, concerned that cancellations are still happening on the Blackpool branch and I continue to closely monitor the situation. “It is disappointing that a great investment in Blackpool, a brand new £255m rail line, is being overshadowed by the current mismanagement.”

Case studies

Father-of-two Chris Halliwell, 30, from Poulton, paid £3,700 for a season pass to take him from Poulton to Manchester where he works for a law firm.

Before the problems with Northern struck, he would get the 7.22am service from Poulton to Piccadilly, returning on the 16.47 which got him home for 6pm.Now, he says it is simply ‘pot luck’.Chris said: “I am having to check the train schedules 30 minutes before I finish work and sometimes having to ask my boss if I can leave early. It’s embarrassing. And often I’m late by 20 or 30 minutes - it’s like being back at school telling the teacher ‘my dog ate my homework’.“I’m not getting home until 8pm - I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old and I often don’t see them at night. It is causing people anxiety - I’m far more worried each day about the trains than my job. When a train does arrive it is often only two carriages and it is packed, often dangerously so. If you can’t get on you are waiting for half an hour for the next one and there is no guarantee that will arrive either. “And I don’t accept the excuses either - Northern knew about this a long time ago and the electrification of the line between Blackpool North and Preston overrunning and lack of train crew is a smokescreen.“A conductor was telling me last week that he was on the platform at Blackpool North with the driver of the train ready to go then it was cancelled suddenly. They were looking at each other, confused.“I feel sorry for the staff, they get yelled at each day and it’s not their fault - it’s Northern’s and the Government. People are understandably upset by this on a daily basis and I have heard stories of people losing their jobs because of it.“The replacement buses add time to my day but at least Blackpool Transport are reliable and the buses are efficient. It looks like we’ll have to use them for some time yet.”Chris says Northern should focus on the key commuter routes - such as Blackpool North to Manchester and Liverpool to Manchester - instead of still servicing smaller routes in Yorkshire until the problems subside.

Steph Monk, 21, from Chorley, said: “Last week I was getting a train from Preston to Poulton and when I was on the train they announced the next stop was Blackpool so I had to come back on myself to get to Poulton.“The trains have been a nightmare.”Kath Reddington, 62, from Poulton, said: “I rely on the trains to get to work and the amount of times I have been late because of them has been ridiculous.”Jacob Walker, 25, from Poulton says the cancellations have been routine.He said “My train has been cancelled again and I’m waiting for another replacement bus.“I don’t think Northern care at all otherwise they would be doing something about it.”Craig Butler, 38, from Blackpool, said: “I am just fed up with it now. It’s been going on since last year and it should have been done by now.“I have relied on getting taxis sometimes because of the trouble and I probably won’t see any of that money back.” Heather Megson, 29, from Blackpool, said it has been “chaos”. She said: “I have been waking up each morning and the first thing I have been doing is checking if my train has been cancelled or delayed.”John Hardman, 57, from Preston, says he has to plan his routine around the timetables. He said: “As long as I’m not late for work I don’t mind, but I know that I have to get up early to make sure that the trains are running or not.”

What is the impact on staff?

Rail staff are continuing to bear the brunt of passengers’ anger over delays and cancellations to services, a union has warned.The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said its members have faced abuse since new timetables were introduced last month and continued yesterday.General secretary Mick Cash said: “From the feedback on the ground and the stream of comments on social media it is clear that the so-called emergency timetables on both Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) have just piled failure onto failure.“Once again it is RMT members at the sharp end, bearing the brunt of public anger at this latest shambles. If you draw up an emergency timetable that cancels trains to avoid cancelling trains and yet still cancel trains, you are not fit to run a bath, let alone a railway, and that is the absurd position that passengers are in this morning across both the north and the south. On any measure, Northern must be in breach of their secret contractual obligations to provide a service to their fare-paying customers. They should be removed and the private franchises brought under public control.”

What’s happened?

In just two weeks between May 17-31 a total of 381 trains from Blackpool North were cancelled, 199 part-cancelled and 15 ran with reduced carriagesNorthern launched an eight-week interim timetable on Monday, removing 165 trains - six per cent of services.Areas affected include Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere.The reduced timetables failed to stop Monday becoming the start of a third week of rail chaos with the number of trains either cancelled or more than 30 minutes late for Northern reaching 69 (seven per cent).The timing of all GTR and most Northern trains was changed on May 20 with the launch of new services and capacity.Since then, hundreds of trains have been cancelled, with Mr Grayling blaming Government-owned Network Rail for delaying the approval of the new timetables amid late-running engineering projects.Even before the new timetables, Northern services suffered frequent delays and cancellations.New Network Rail punctuality data shows that between April 29 and May 26, more than one in three (35 per cent) trains on the operator’s Lancashire and Cumbria routes were delayed by at least five minutes.This is the most since Arriva Rail North took over the franchise in April 2016. Rail replacement buses areset to continue between Blackpool North, Poulton, Kirkham and Preston until the end of June.

Can I claim my money back?

Frustrated train commuters in the North should get “substantial” compensation and fare reductions after a new timetable brought chaos to the network, the Mayor of Greater Manchester said. Andy Burnham said train operator Northern was in the “last chance saloon” after axing hundreds of services, delays and cancellations following the new timetable introduced on May 20.Northern has apologised and last Friday evening introduced an “interim” timetable, starting on Monday, removing 165 trains - six per cent of services. In a letter to the Chairman of Transport for the North (TfN) John Cridland, the mayor says that Northern is likely to benefit financially from the operation of the reduced timetable and if the company is not prepared to fund the compensation package and reduce fares voluntarily, then fines should be imposed to pay for it.Mr Burnham also called for Northern passengers on affected routes to be allowed to use their tickets on other modes of transport such as TransPennine Express trains, buses and Metrolink.

Grayling urged to quit

Chris Grayling faced repeated calls to resign and was branded “utterly pointless” during a Commons savaging last night.Labour accused the Transport Secretary of being “asleep at the wheel”, with shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald telling MPs that if Theresa May was “not so enfeebled” Mr Grayling would have been sacked.He advised Mr Grayling to “do the right thing and step aside”, drawing cries from the Labour benches of “resign, resign”. But Mr Grayling laid the blame for the chaos firmly at the door of the rail franchises. He said: “I feel for every single passenger who has waited for a cancelled train in the last week.“The reality is this is the consequence of change that results from a massive investment programme in the railways.”Mr Grayling said the benefits of the changes must be seen “pretty quickly”.He added: “The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves.“It’s right that the industry has apologised.” for the situation that we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future.”