Rail staff '˜fear for their safety' as TransPennine Express passengers' frustrations boil over, says Yorkshire MP
Passengers on trains run by under-fire TransPennine Express have become so frustrated at the widespread delays and disruption on their services that the rail operator's staff are fearing for their safety, a Yorkshire MP claimed today.
Conservative Kevin Hollinrake told a Commons debate that more joined-up thinking between Network Rail and rail operators TransPennine and Northern was needed after a summer where the Thirsk and Malton MP said he had received “letter after letter from frustrated passengers”.
He spoke as new statistics showed that an average of 32 TransPennine services were cancelled or part cancelled every day last month, with the proportion of trains arriving on time more than 15 per cent lower than the same period in 2017.
Leading a Westminster Hall debate, Mr Hollinrake said the operator, which runs services from Manchester to York, Leeds, Scarborough and Hull, had seen its punctuality slump from 91.5 per cent in April 2017 and 85.1 per cent this April to as low as 62.1 per cent the following month.
He told MPs: “First, it was the delayed completion of engineering works in the North-West by Network Rail and the lack of notice for operators to the new timetables, which had a knock-on effect right across the North.
“We then have incomplete signalling works at Leeds station and also significant congestion on Manchester services.
“In addition, in August, further disruptions were caused by a new policy to cut the number of late-running trains on the East Coast mainline, which prioritised trains and passengers travelling North-South over those travelling East-West.
“One passenger told me that ‘Since the end of May, because of the new timetables, his train had been cancelled or delayed nearly every single day’. Another complained ‘Whether I get to work now is a painful lottery’.
“Yet another frustrated rail user described how, on one day, two trains were cancelled with one hundred people left, without warning, on the platform at Malton, including the elderly and infirm with no toilet or café facilities.”
Quoting another passenger, he said: “TransPennine seem to cancel trains regularly to Malton and Scarborough which should not be happening. The frustration of passengers is starting to boil over and I know that some TPE staff are fearing for their safety.
“One of the staff told me on Sunday that nurses and doctors from Malton working at Scarborough Hospital were not getting to work on time on a regular basis. People are losing their jobs over the delays and cancellations.”
Mr Hollinrake said that although punctuality had since improved to 80 per cent, there were still “unacceptable delays”.
He added: “If ever there was an example of why we need more devolved powers in the North to resolve exactly these kind of issues ourselves, this is it.
“So, for the strategic, longer-term approach, Transport for the North are keen to be given more powers over infrastructure in the North of England, so that the region can take responsibility for the delivery of a much better, more efficient and more tailored service. This call is supported by many including the train operators themselves.”
Responding for the Government, Rail Minister Jo Johnson said it was the Department for Transport’s priority to “make sure the industry restores reliability to passengers as soon as possible”.
He said changes to improve TransPennine’s performance included changing drivers’ schedules to reduce the number of trains being terminated before getting to Scarborough, and informing passengers from York if their train was to be terminated at Malton.
He said the interim findings of the report by the Office of Rail and Road into the timetable chaos would be delivered later this month.
Political leaders on the Transport for the North partnership board will this week discuss the performance of northern rail service as operators bid to recover from the chaos caused by the botched introduction of a timetable by Northern on May 20.
Figures produced by TfN show that TransPennine’s performance recovered after measures were introduced to tackle the disruption, but that only 74.5 per cent of its trains ran on time in August, compared with 89.6 per cent 12 months earlier.
Between August 2 and August 29, an average of 32 TransPennine Express services were cancelled or part-cancelled every day, with 58 per cent caused by Network Rail or other operators.
During the same period, 52 Northern services were cancelled or part-cancelled each day, on top of the 50 services per weekday that were removed from the timetable and pre-planned cancellations on Sundays in the North West.