‘Shambolic’ train bosses carpeted
GRILLING FOR NORTHERN AND TRANSPENNINE CHIEFS AS TOWN HALL BOSSES BLAST SERVICES
TRAIN chiefs have been blasted for ‘woeful,’ ‘shambolic’ services over Christmas by senior northern figures - but Northern Rail has insisted it could not have ‘made better decisions’ over the past four years.
Bosses from both Northern and Transpennine Express faced a ferocious grilling at a meeting of mayors and council leaders, with both companies told patience had now run out.
In TPE’s case, Greater Manchester’s mayor Andy Burnham said after the meeting in Leeds that the firm - which cancelled nearly one in five of its services daily in the month before the new timetable came in last month - was in the ‘last chance saloon,’ while Northern was slammed for having operating a ‘sixday rail service’ ever since getting their franchise in 2016. Senior figures from both firms apologised, with TPE blaming a nosedive in performance at the back end of last year largely on new trains arriving late and suffering technical problems.
Northern Rail - which cancelled more than 200 services a day in the month to December 7, or 8 per cent - said it had been hit by a winter vomiting bug that had seen staff sickness rise by 30pc.
However Chris Burchell, managing director of the firm’s parent company Arriva, also blamed delays to planned infrastructure improvements in the centre of Manchester for continued poor performance, arguing that without them the existing set-up is ‘undeliverable.’
“I don’t think any train company could have made better decisions than we have,” he added. Mr Burnham said that did not account for the firm failing to run Sunday service obligations, however.
Steve Montgomery, managing director of TPE’s parent company First Rail, apologised ‘unreservedly’ for the firm’s performance, arguing that while it had been improving up until the summer, afterwards the position had declined - with a specific drop-off at the end of the year due to the delayed arrival of new trains, some of which had suffered technical problems. Mr Burnham refused to accept the explanation, however, telling him: “We’ve had two years’ of poor performance and I think the first thing to point out is it’s not just the shambles we’ve had over Christmas. It was a terrible year, the whole of 2019.”
Council leaders lined up to slam TPE’s performance across the north, variously describing it as ‘woeful,’ criticising the lack of apologies on trains for delayed services.
They agreed to set a deadline - or a series of deadlines - for TPE to improve, although the detail has yet to be finalised.
Mr Burchell, argued that Northern had faced ‘a range of external difficulties.’ A new proposal for Sunday working - rejected by the rail union Aslef last year - was currently out to members, they added. However, Mr Burnham responded with scepticism.
“You talk about progress but I’m sorry, the residents of Greater Manchester don’t feel it,” he said.
After the meeting Mr Burnham said: “We’ve heard it all before ... we’ve had broken promise after broken promise,” he said of both firms, adding that TPE was now in the ‘last chance saloon.’
Of Northern Rail, whose franchise is currently set to be ripped up by government and potentially nationalised, he added: “For me, Northern’s time has run out.”