Commuters in “open revolt” over rail delays and cancellations in Lancashire and Cumbria

Rebecca Herissone-Kelly
Rebecca Herissone-Kelly
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A commuter from Warton who lectures at the University of Manchester says rail passengers are in “open revolt” over the “total collapse” of some services in the north of England.

Professor Rebecca Herissone-Kelly, head of Division of Art History, Drama and Music, has joined other commuters from Carnforth and Lancaster in launching a campaign to hold rail service providers to account.

Sharon Keith, regional director of Norther

Sharon Keith, regional director of Norther

She says the problems on the lines between Carnforth and Lancaster into Manchester and Salford have become so stressful that passengers are considering quitting their jobs.

Tim Farron, MP for South Lakeland, has also called on Northern to give up its Lakes Line franchise following 160 cancellations on the Windermere Oxenholme line in April.

Sharon Keith, regional director at Northern, has apologised to customers for the frustration.

Prof Herissone-Kelly describes a total collapse of Northern Rail and Transpennine Express’ shared route to Manchester from Lancaster and Barrow-in-Furness.

Problems with rail services in the north have come to national attention.

Problems with rail services in the north have come to national attention.

She says that it is now “almost impossible” to get into the city by 9am.

She said: “The experiences of commuters on this line has deteriorated to such an extent that we are now in open revolt.

“The stress of the daily commute has become so bad that passengers are considering quitting their jobs.

“As we were evicted from the train at Preston last Wednesday we discussed our plights.

South Lakes MP Tim Farron is calling on Northern to give up its Lakes Line franchise

South Lakes MP Tim Farron is calling on Northern to give up its Lakes Line franchise

“One fellow traveller from Lancaster reported to me that she had spent £300 on hotels in the past few months because she could not guarantee to be able to get into work in time to do her job.

“Another woman said she was too embarrassed to send yet another text to her boss to apologise for lateness.

“This sort of situation is far from abnormal, it has become the norm.

“The new timetable will make matters considerably worse.”

Sharon Keith, regional director at Northern, apologised to customers following the delays and cancellations.

She said: “We are currently working towards the delivery of our May timetable change which will see more services introduced with additional direct trains from Barrow to Manchester Airport.

“To achieve this we are taking some drivers out of normal duties to provide the necessary training in readiness for the timetable change.

“To tackle the existing delays and cancellations we are working with our staff to develop the best possible solution for our customers; one which enables us to increase the availability of our drivers to operate as many services as possible.”

She added: “Our original timetable for May 18 was critically dependent on the successful delivery of the Manchester to Preston Electrification Project, which has been significantly delayed.

“Unfortunately, the knock-on effects go way beyond the North-West region, and as a result we have had to make changes elsewhere across the network to reallocate diesel trains to cover the Manchester to Preston route, which would otherwise have been served by electric trains.

“Our original timetable plan for May had 10 direct services from Barrow to Manchester on the Furness Line. Sadly all but four of these have had to be deferred until at least December, until the electrification is completed between Preston and Manchester.

“From May the through services to Manchester and Preston from Barrow need to occupy certain train slots en-route via, the West Coast Mainline, as they have to fit with other passenger and freight services. It is these fixed slots that determine the departure times from Barrow and unfortunately these cannot be altered.”

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said that changes from May 20 would result in a range of enhancements for customers across its network.

But trains from Lancaster will no longer call at Oxford Road, meaning commuters would need to get off at Picadilly.

The spokeswoman pointed out that the 6.20am train from Lancaster arrives at Manchester Piccadilly at 7.28am, and the 7.25am from Lancaster arrives at Manchester Piccadilly at 8.27am, meaning people could still get into Manchester before 9am.

She added that it would make the journey ten minutes faster, and there are free connecting buses from Picadilly to Oxford Road.

She said: “As part of the changes, our trains between Scotland and Manchester will no longer call at Wigan North Western and Manchester Oxford Road, they will run straight through from Preston to Manchester Piccadilly.

“From May, we were due to begin operating our Anglo-Scottish trains via Bolton however the delay to the electrification of this line means our trains will need to continue running via Wigan for the time being.

“Because of the delay, we had to apply to run our trains via Wigan instead. However, the railway in this part of the world is very congested, with lots of other passenger and freight trains also running.

“We were given permission to run on this route, but not to stop at Wigan North Western and Manchester Oxford Road. This means our Scotland to Manchester trains will now run direct from Preston to Manchester Piccadilly and then on to Manchester Airport in order to fit into the time slot available.”

Tim Farron said, MP for South Lakeland said the situation on the Lakes Line is now “beyond a joke”.

He said: “The huge volume of cancelled trains over the past few weeks is leading to local people being forced to turn up late to work.

“The Lake District is Britain’s second biggest tourist destination, and this is starting to do damage to its reputation, with people visiting our part of the world who were expecting a first-class service being given no service at all.

“Well enough is enough - Northern need to give up the franchise immediately, and if they don’t then the Government needs to take the franchise off them and give it to a new operator who will actually value this line and invest in it.

“If you agree that this cannot go on any further, then please sign our petition – let’s fix this problem and get the Lakes Line back to what it used to be.”

Prof Herissone Kelly kept a diary of her commute to Manchester from Warton in Lancashire in April:

Commuter-Train journey details 18 April to 27 April 2018

Wednesday 18 April

Outward journey: 07.40 Carnforth (CNF) to Manchester Oxford Road (MCO) no problems

Inward journey (MCO to CNF):

Arrived to catch 16.31, but this was showing as 40 mins’ late.

Boarded 16.19 Manchester Airport (MIA) to Edinburgh train (stops at Lancaster (LAN)), which arrived at MCO at 17.10.

Changed at Lancaster but only available train was the original 16.31 from MCO in any case, which arrived 30 minutes late at Lancaster (18.15).

Thursday 19 April

Outward journey (CNF to MCO):

07.40 boarded at CNF but cancelled at Preston (PRE) so all passengers told to disembark.

Next available train to Manchester should be Hazel Grove (HAZ) stopping service from PRE at 08.20, but in fact the 07.17 HAZ service was still on the platform at PRE when we arrived at 08.16, and in fact left at around but actually 07.17 was still there at 0816 so got that instead to arrive into Manchester at about 09.20 (nearly 30 minutes later than original arrival time)

Inward journey (MCO to CNF):

Arrived to catch 13.19 MCO to LAN, but found extensive train cancellations and delays at MCO due to broken-down train on Platform 2, and various other reported problems.

13.19 was cancelled, but 13.07 stopping train to Preston was still there – just too full to board.

The following Preston train (going to Blackpool) was also cancelled. The 14.07 Preston train did arrive, late, but I decided to take a chance on the 14.19 arriving – it did, at 14.36, thus arriving into LAN nearly 20 minutes’ late.

Connecting train to Carlisle via CNF was held by staff at Lancaster (so left ten minutes late but at least got to Carnforth).

My husband was due to get the 17.15 from Preston to Carnforth, which was cancelled, so he had to get 17.41 Virgin train to Lancaster. He arrived there to find no train to Carnforth advertised until 18.40, but that train didn’t exist, so eventually got one at 18.55.

Friday 20 April

I did not have to travel

Monday 23 April 18

Outward journey (CNF to MCO)

Caught 07.40, which arrived into MCO 10 minutes late, so no serious problems.

Inward journey (MCO to CNF change at LAN): caught the 19.19 with change at Lancaster; no significant problems encountered.

Inward journey (PRE to CNF): My husband’s journey home at lunchtime was disrupted by a cancellation at Lancaster so he had to wait there for the following train.

Tuesday 24 April

I did not have to travel, but fellow commuters report that there was chaos on the line.

Wednesday 25 April

Outward journey (CNF to MCO):

Caught 07.40 at Carnforth, but it was again cancelled at Preston due to no driver being available.

Next available Manchester-bound service was the 08.20 HAZ train, but this was also cancelled. We therefore had to board the 08.47 service to MIA, which was heavily overloaded with commuters from both cancelled services as well as its own.

Inward journey (MCO to CNF):

Arrived to catch the 16.31 direct train. This did arrive, but we left MCO 22 minutes late because we had to wait for the arrival of the train manager.

Both following trains to Carnfoth, the 17.15 and 17.49, were cancelled.

Thursday 26 April:

Outward journey (CNF to MCO): Caught 07.40, which arrived at MCO about 15 minutes late, so no major problems

Inward journey (MCO to CNF):

Needed to catch 17.49 for childcare reasons, but this was cancelled.

Caught 18.19 Lancaster service, which arrived at LAN 10 minutes late, but just in time for the connection to CNF.

Friday 27 April:

Outward journey (CNF to MCO):

I did not travel, but fellow commuters report that the 07.40 was cancelled.

They took 08.03 to LAN and then had serious delays getting further south due to a failed unit (the next MCO train) and late Virgin train behind it.

Husband’s outward journey from CNF to MCO on 13.05 Lancaster-bound service was delayed by 11 minutes, so the connection at Lancaster would have been missed had that train also not been seriously delayed.

Inward journeys from MCO and PRE northwards were seriously affected by signalling problems and the cancellation of 16.31 from MCO.