You must step up and be honest with passengers, rail operators Northern and TransPennine Express warned amid timetable chaos
Yorkshire's two main rail operators have been told by northern transport bosses that passengers are paying the price for their failures after a new timetable led to widespread disruption and cancellations.
TransPennine Express has been the worst-performing operator in the country this week, with fewer than half of its trains meeting punctuality targets on Thursday. Its performance prompted managing director Leo Goodwin to issue an apology to passengers.
Fellow operator Northern has failed to get 70 per cent of its trains arriving within five or ten minutes of the scheduled time at any point this week.
A timetable change which came into effect on December 15 saw already poor performance deteriorate even further, according to strategic body Transport for the North (TfN), with a high volume of pre-planned and last-minute cancellations, as well as shortened trains and overcrowding.
David Hoggarth, TfN's Strategic Rail Director, said: “Already weary passengers are being tested to their limit and Christmas cheer is running short. The services from both operators have been way below par, with so many delays and cancellations.
"The impact of that is northerners being late for work, missing their children’s bedtime, spending hours to travel short distances and simply avoiding trains.
"Too often they are left standing on the platform with little or no idea of what is happening – a rough welcome home for Christmas.
“As part of our Rail North Committee, the North’s leaders have been scrutinising operators intensively throughout the year ahead of this timetable change.
"We repeatedly urged the changes to be realistic and deliverable; for detailed contingency packages to be in place; for the rollout of new trains to be intensively monitored; and for staffing issues to be ironed out well in advance.
“We were repeatedly reassured that these matters would be effectively tackled. They weren’t. Passengers are again paying the price.”
The North’s leaders, as part of Transport for the North’s Rail North Committee, are set to gather in Leeds on January 8 to discuss the issues and way forward, and have called for senior leaders at both operators to attend.
They have previously recommended to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that an Operator of Last Resort for the Northern franchise would help restore public confidence.
In a statement this week, Leo Goodwin, Managing Director for TransPennine Express said: “I am really sorry for the disruption to our customers journeys this week. I know what a busy time it is whether people are trying to get to work, trying to get home to see school plays, visiting loved ones or trying to go out and enjoy their Christmas parties.
“Due to a number of issues with crew training caused by the late delivery of some of our new trains, a maintenance backlog and some infrastructure issues we have had to implement a temporary timetable, cancelling a number of journeys along one of our routes.
"This has unfortunately made a number of other services a lot busier. We are working really hard to sort this for our customers and as we introduce more new trains we should see an improvement to people’s journeys.”
His statement came after an urgent conference call with three Yorkshire MPs, Kevin Hollinrake, Robert Goodwill and Jason McCartney, where Mr Goodwin promised performance would improve from Monday.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has also written to both Northern and TransPennine due to the poor performance of the operators in his patch.
In an open letter to Mr Goodwin he said: "By your own admission, you state that recent performance has not been at the acceptable level. However, reliability has been particularly bad, and I have received a considerable amount of complaints from local constituents due to the cancellations.
"This has occurred despite assurances from you that appropriate planning had taken place, and despite running a reduced version of the new timetable at present."
Manuel Cortes, General Secretary of the TSSA union, said: “The travelling public deserve so much better than the escalating chaos on TransPennine and Northern this week.
“However, it’s nothing new and what’s needed is wholesale change. There can be no passing the buck, apologies and excuses won’t cut it.
“If the Tories are serious about the North of England let’s see them really act for the people and bring these failed franchises into public hands. The ball is firmly in Grant Shapps' court.”
Henri Murison, Director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: “Last year’s rail chaos was partly the fault of poor infrastructure.
"This time, Trans-Pennine Express knew exactly what they needed to do but have extended themselves too far competing with rival operators to run services as far as Edinburgh from Newcastle despite warnings not to from northern leaders until they had enough trained drivers to run a competent service.
"This mess is caused, not by an act of God or an engineering problem, but commercial pressures unduly influencing behaviour so rather than passengers coming first, they get a disgraceful level of service as northerners start the Christmas get away.”
“Deepening devolution is the only option and is at the heart of the Williams Rail Review. If we can bring together here in the North democratic responsibility for overseeing infrastructure priorities and accountability for delivery alongside specifying and monitoring outcomes for services, then the North can have the basis for a London style transport network with decisions reflecting local economic and social interests, all to secure customer betterment.
"If this government is indeed determined to repay their new-found Northern voters and back the Northern Powerhouse, then devolving powers of oversight of infrastructure and services to Transport for the North and our Mayors needs to be acted on early next year.”