Rail replacement buses to continue through June as chaos rolls along
Rail users on the Fylde have continued to blast train operator Northern as delays and cancellations continue into their second week of chaos.
The firm is continuing to struggle to have enough drivers trained on the upgraded lines following the delays to the Great North Rail Project.
The renewed criticism came after it was revealed Blackpool Transport has been contracted to continue rail replacement buses until at least Sunday, June 24.
Originally work was due to end and the Blackpool North line open on Sunday, March 25 but this was put back following bad weather to Monday, April 16.
But then only one train an hour could be run due to the shortage of drivers.
Replacement buses continued but hopes were raised they would no longer be needed after Sunday, May 20 when the new timetable for electrified lines came in.
However, chaos ensued, with hundreds of trains across the region cancelled and delayed and the palladium buses, which have been praised by users for their comfort, free wifi and reliability, were kept on.
Today, Sally Shaw, director of people at Blackpool Transport said: “Feedback on the services we have been running throughout the blockade and beyond has been extremely positive, and we will continue to provide the same premium rail replacement service, working in partnership to support the electrification programme.
“Current plans will see Blackpool Transport providing rail replacement buses until June 24.”
Blackpool-based rail champion and disability rights ambassador, Stephen Brookes, said it was frustrating the service delays and cancellations were continuing.
He said: “Northern disruption in and around Blackpool continues and the impact on disabled and older people booking travel assistance is once again seriously affected.
“We really do need to know when we can book and travel with confidence.”
Paul Nettleton, from the Blackpool and Fylde Rail Users Association, said: “This situation has now gone beyond the bounds of credibility.
“Between Network Rail, who were three weeks late completing the upgrade of the Blackpool North to Preston line, and Northern, who couldn’t train their drivers on the replacement electric traction in time, this issue has fallen to the poor rail user to take the brunt of a very unsatisfactory situation.
“It seems now that the train operating company is expecting the passenger to accept cancellations as the norm, and from their point of view, and on the face of it, is the easy option.
“Personally, I’ve never known anything like this and it’s not just this part of the country that’s suffering, routes round London are also in the same boat.
“Good old British Rail may have had its problems, which were mainly due to a lack of funding, but we never sunk to these levels and a service was cancelled as a last resort.
“It’s hardly surprising that calls have been made to re-nationalise the railways, at least when everything came under one roof, the left hand knew what the right one was doing.”
He said the knock-on effect was services such as on the South Fylde line, that still use diesel units that had been around since the mid – 1980’s, also being cancelled due to ‘crew issues’ or lack of drivers.
A spokesman for Northern said the timetable change involved changing the times of 90 per cent of its 2,600 daily services and the delays to the track work had hit driver training, which they admitted could have been handled better.
He said: “We are looking at a number of options to address our current performance, and whilst our training is progressing well we feel it is prudent to retain the operational resilience the buses provide.
“It has been difficult for many of our customers and I am truly sorry for this.
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure we minimise any service disruption and keep customers informed as quickly as we can through our website and social media.
“Northern customers are urged to check their train times before they travel on nationalrail.co.uk or at northernrailway.co.uk, and on twitter at @northernassist, where we will post notifications of known disruption as soon as we can.”
Passengers are entitled to a full refund if their train is cancelled, but delays to a service allow for people to claim compensation too.
Northern said those delayed by half an hour or more will be entitled to between 50 per cent and all of the cost of their single journey. Visit delay.northernrailway.co.uk
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard recently met with Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling to discuss the serious problems facing Fylde coast rail passengers.
They discussed the current issues facing Northern, which has cancelled a significant number of services on the Blackpool to Preston line due to ongoing driver shortages. The company’s
performance since the line re-opened following six months of upgrade works has led to huge numbers of complaints.
He said: “I spoke at length with [Mr Grayling]. He has tasked the Rail North Partnership and Department for Transport officials to work with Northern to address the challenges it faces.”
Northern and Network Rail have also commissioned an inquiry into the chaos.
On Monday, 254 Northern services were cancelled, 145 part-cancelled, and 84 trains ran with a reduced number of carriages.
However, passengers today spoke of their ongoing frustration on social media.
Gareth Edwards said: “Are there actually any trains running on time today @northernassist?
“Every announcement is “northern is sorry for the delay” #joke #20minslate.”
Jade said: “Northern Rail are trying to ruin my life this week.”
Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham tweeted: “Last 14 days on Northern Rail.
“Full cancellations: 1159. “Part-cancellations: 1048. “Short trains: 529.
“Public statements from Ministers: 0.”
Bolton North East MP Sir David Crausby has secured a debate on Northern services in Greater Manchester in Parliament on June 6.