ITV News political correspondent Harry Horton reports from what shaped up to be a frustrating journey to a major meeting on northern rail woes
Delayed, cancelled, reduced service - announcements all too familiar for rail passengers in Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and other northern towns and cities in recent weeks.
“It’s appalling. Absolutely appalling,” one passenger told us today. “I’m really annoyed that the north is being treated so badly. As always.”
So what’s going on? Train operators say staff shortages, strikes and the need for reforms of working practices has led to a perfect storm.
Critics of the rail companies say bad management is also to blame.
And unlike in London, where passenger numbers are at around 70% of pre-Covid levels, there are now more rail passengers travelling through Leeds station than before the pandemic.
Frustrated at what they see as inaction in Westminster, northern Labour mayors have summoned the Transport Secretary Mark Harper for a meeting in Manchester to discuss a solution to the chaos.
We joined West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin as she travelled to the meeting from Leeds. As we were filming on platform 16 - the Transpennine Express train on the opposite platform was cancelled and the train due at our platform was delayed.
Minutes later, the 12.07 from Leeds to Manchester - the train Tracy Brabin was due to catch for her meeting with the Transport Secretary - was cancelled.
'It is not good enough, we are sick of it, and we want a solution': West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin demands stop to daily rail disruption
Waiting passengers glared up at the departure boards in frustration as the platform swelled with more and more people hoping to get to work, see friends or go on holiday.
Official figures show that cancellations are at record levels: 3.8% of all trains were cancelled in the past 12 months.
The worst offenders are Avanti West Coast, who cancelled 8% of their services. Behind them are Govia Thameslink on 6.5%, and TransPennine Express on 5.8%.
But these figures only show trains cancelled on the day they were scheduled. Figures shared with ITV News, show that the total cancellations for TransPennine Express rise to 17% for cancellations the day before and earlier. That’s more than 1 in 6 trains.
Business groups say this near-constant disruption is costing the northern economy more than four hundred million pounds a year.
The Labour mayors and the Transport Secretary all described their meeting on Wednesday night as positive.
Co-operatives UK chief executive Rose Marley warns businesses will struggle even more due to 'unnecessary' poor performance on the railways
One source said Mark Harper had taken a “fresh approach” and was more engaged than his predecessor, Grant Shapps.
“If thousands of trains were being cancelled in London and the South East, we know this would be dealt with as an emergency - and we expect that same level of urgency,” said the mayors in a joint statement.
“That means putting operators – such as Avanti, Transpennine Express and Northern – on notice to improve. The government mustn’t reward these appalling levels of service by signing-off on contract extensions when they come up for renewal.”
Transport Secretary Mark Harper says he wants to see a 'reformed railway system that's fit for the 21st century'
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said he understood the scale of the problem and was determined to fix it.
He said: "I want to get to a reformed railway system that's fit for the 21st century and delivering a better service for passengers.
"And I think actually there was a lot of shared agreement in that meeting with northern mayors, that that's what they want to see as well."
Rail operators will implement a new timetable next month with more services. northern mayors and business leaders are worried they won’t have the staff to cope, and the disruption could in fact get worse.
With a busy Christmas of travel ahead, passengers and businesses fear rail services in the north could yet get worse, before they get better.
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