Emergency rail plan is welcomed

Steel masts for electric wires at Horwich.
Steel masts for electric wires at Horwich.
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An emergency plan and an investigation into the chaos that has made rail users’ lives a misery have been welcomed.

Train operator Northern’s timetable recovery plan has been submitted to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Rail Minister Jo Johnson after hundreds of trains were cancelled last week as the new timetable got under way.

Commuters across the Fylde and beyond faced delays, rail replacement buses and cancellations as a lack of trained drivers and problems in finishing the huge electrification project across the North West hit hard.

Blackpool Transport is still providing buses to Northern for the Blackpool North to Preston route and could be set to do so well into June.

Network Rail and Northern said they will be commissioning an independent report into the issues. Customer groups will be invited to contribute.

Rail Minister Jo Johnson is leading discussions with Transport for the North chief executive Barry White over the chaos, while officials are said to be working with TfN and Northern to improve services quickly.

Measures in the plan include, improving driver rostering to get more trains running, increasing driver training on new routes, bringing in additional contingency drivers at key locations, and putting extra peak services in along the Bolton corridor where electrification has been delayed due to poor foundations for the overhead wires.

Rail Minister Jo Johnson said his department was working to cut cancellations.

He said: “Northern is running hundreds more services now compared to last week, helping deliver the biggest change to rail timetables in a generation. But passengers have been disrupted and there is concern about performance among people who use the railway.”

Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “I very much welcome the increased working of the DfT with local councils in the Rail North Partnership and hope we seen continual improvement in services.”

Blackpool-based disability rights champion Stephen Brookes said: “I continue to be concerned that disabled people (particularly those booking or requiring travel assistance) are facing real problems during cancellations and delays. Communication has been minimal, in some cases with as little notice as three minutes.”