Weather Icon 5.5°C Partly Cloudy
Mayor warns rail operators facing ‘last chance’ over performance
Wednesday 6th March 2019 @ 10:05 by Lauren Entwistle

Andy Burnham has warned rail operators Northern and TransPennine Express they face being stripped of their franchises if they fail to ‘substantially improve’  their performance when the new train timetable comes in from May.

By Nick Statham, local democracy reporter.

The GM mayor said the companies had ‘one final chance’ to get things right, after criticising them for continuing problems with over-crowding and cancellations.

Last year’s May timetable was hailed as ‘the most ambitious in recent railway history’ – but went disastrously wrong after upgrades to the Blackpool and Manchester-Preston lines were delayed by Network Rail.

Northern and TransPennine bosses said in December it would take until at least May for passengers to see the full benefits of the Manchester-Preston electrification.

However,  a paper on the operators’ performance between December and  February reports improvements for both Northern and TransPennine.

But, addressing local leaders at a meeting of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) on Friday, Mr Burnham said this did not reflect reality for long-suffering passengers.

He said: “It actually illustrates that the statistics by which the industry is held to do not correspond with the day-to-day experience of the travelling public,  who are seeing short-form trains , over-crowding  and continuing cancellations – particularly at a weekend and on a Sunday, where that issue remains unresolved.”

The Sunday before the meeting (February 24) saw Northern cancel 240 services, according to Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) – a figure seized on by the Mayor.

He said: “We still don’t have a train service on a Sunday in Greater Manchester that people can rely on. The level of cancellations last Sunday hit another high. It’s an ongoing story of misery I’m afraid for many people here.”

And issuing a warning to the two operators he said: “As far as I’m concerned we do need to see substantial improvements with the May timetable changes.

“And if we don’t, then I believe we should call for a franchise removal.”

Tameside council leader Brenda Warrington said rail services  across the region continued to be ‘a disgrace’, and called for ‘tougher’ action.

She added:  “We really do have a duty to make sure things are not allowed to continue to drift along in the way that they are.”

Mr Burnham agreed the problems could not be allowed to continue unchecked and that the May 2019 timetable was the ‘final chance’ for the operators to prove themselves.

He told the meeting it was ‘frankly appalling’ that problems remained on Sundays, adding that cancellations were  having a ‘particularly detrimental impact’ on Manchester Airport.

The Mayor continued: “It’s not an acceptable state of affairs.

“We are at the final point where things need to either change and change very quickly -certainly with May as a deadline –  or there has to be a change in terms of the operation of railways in the north of England; it’s as simple as that.”

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said: “We are pleased that the changes we made to our timetable in December have significantly improved the reliability of services for customers.

“We realise there is still more work to be done and will continue to build on these enhancements as part of the May timetable change.

“We recognise that some of our services can be very busy and we are delivering an investment of £500million in 220 brand new Nova carriages which will start to enter service later this year.

“By 2020, we will have introduced 13million extra seats on to the rail network.”

A spokesman for Northern said: “Last year was very difficult for our customers for well-known reasons, particularly the ongoing impact of delays to infrastructure upgrades.

“This meant we did not meet people’s expectations. However, timetables introduced in December have brought more stability and reliability, and performance has improved.

“We are working very hard to improve our customers’ experience with the introduction of £500m of new trains, and further investment in refurbished trains, additional services and better stations.

“Customers are also now benefiting from Delay Repay 15 – providing compensation for delays of 15 minutes or more.”