Northern Rail today cancelled another 170 train services, following a disastrous few months for the company.
A spokesman for the operator warned of the cancellations earlier in the week, suggesting that a large number of staff had booked the day off to watch the World Cup final leaving a shortage.
Northern Rail apologised for this most recent spate of cancellations today, saying: “Unfortunately we have had to cancel more than 170 services across our network and it is likely more will be cancelled as we continue to plan our services.”
In the first week of the supposedly improved Northern Rail timetable brought in at the end of May, over 2,000 trains were cancelled across the Northern franchise. Among other reasons, lack of drivers was cited as a contributor to the collapse of services.
Now eight weeks later, it appears the same, small aspects such as staffing are still yet to be rectified.
Despite major cuts to services on a daily basis and calls from the public to hand the franchise to another company, the management at Northern Rail have remained committed to the aim of removing all pacer trains in the next two years, as well as carrying out an upgrade on all the rolling stock by 2022.
Yet with the lack of success in resolving basic difficulties in recent weeks, doubt has been cast over these ambitious hopes for the future – a doubt endemic to the region’s rail system.
Although there has been a fixation on Northern Rail’s service (or lack thereof), wider transportation issues across the region have not been forgotten.
Moreover, the amount of planning at stake for the North as a whole is far from insignificant if the vows of increased efficiency and modernisation continue to slide as they have in recent years.
The electrification of Transpennine route, linking Manchester, Leeds and York, has been halted by ministers since 2015 due to escalating costs. Now, recent reports in the Sunday Times indicate that upgrade could well be cancelled altogether, though this has been rebuffed by the government.
Conservative Transport Secretary Chris Grayling came under intense fire after rumours surfaced, particularly by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham who published a scathing open letter.
“If the report in the Sunday Times today is true, it will spark real anger and outrage across the North of England.”
Andy has responded to a newspaper report this morning which suggested the Government wants to ditch plans to electrify the railway between Manchester and Leeds pic.twitter.com/2fVrnRZuhC
— Mayor Andy Burnham (@MayorofGM) July 1, 2018
The Mayor commented on the importance of the route to the region: ““People here have been at the back of the queue for transport investment for as long as any of us can remember and this would leave promises of a Northern Powerhouse in tatters.”
In the letter, he also pointed to previous disappointments for Northern transport, saying: “A few years ago, it was hard to escape Conservative Ministers heading North to promise use the earth. Now all we get is excuses, back-tracking and Ministers cancelling speeches at the last minute.”
Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cheshire might have been the worst affected this Sunday, but this may only grow as rail in the region is facing complications not only from a local level, but also nationally.
Mayor Burnham’s remarks ring true as the current Northern Rail crisis steams ahead, as he commented: “At a time when we are looking to phase out diesel cars, it seems that this Government thinks it is acceptable to have diesel trains running across the North of England for decades to come. That tells you all you need to know about how they view the North.
“The decision to prioritise transport projects in the South – such as Crossrail 2 and investment to support the expansion of Heathrow – is creating a real fear that the North is being pushed to the back of the queue once again.
“I sincerely hope that this is not the case but the onus is now firmly on the Government to prove it.”
Indeed, the reputation of major operators is in freefall and the investment schemes are seemingly on shaky ground, passengers are now asking: Is it just about Northern Rail, or rail in the North?