Liverpool and Greater Manchester Mayors demand Government action on trains

  • Ann O'Connor reports from Manchester Piccadilly Station

Northern metro mayors have said their meeting with Transport Secretary Mark Harper to discuss rail services in the region was "positive" but they now needed action to deal with the issues.

In a joint statement following their talks, the five mayors said: "The absolute bare minimum of levelling up means being able to get to work and college on time - but northerners have been robbed of this basic right because of the chaos on our railways...that must end.

"This was a positive meeting and we welcome the new Transport Secretary saying he will grip this crisis, which is causing misery for millions and damaging our regional economies.

"But the time for warm words is over. We've had enough of broken promises - passengers are rightly demanding action now.

"We made it clear to Mark Harper that he can and must step in and clean up this mess, which was made worse by his predecessors."

A number of trains have been cancelled or delayed due to staffing shortages and strikes. Credit: PA Images

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said his meeting with Northern metro mayors was "positive" and "constructive".

He said: "We mostly talked about trains because of the ongoing issues. We did talk a little bit, for coming back to in the future, around their plans for buses.

"It was a positive, constructive meeting."

Mr Harper stopped short of saying he would seek to facilitate a new rest day working agreement to ease the disruption blighting Northern England's rail services.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said his meeting with Northern metro mayors was "positive" and "constructive". Credit: ITV News

However, he insisted he was not "blocking" any such arrangements.

Following a meeting with Northern metro mayors, he told the PA news agency: "First of all, I mean, I didn't have to be persuaded that there are some really important service delivery problems to solve.

"On the rest (day) working issue ... they agreed that getting a rest day working agreement is only really a short-term solution.

"I made it very clear ... a railway that depends delivering a timetable on people having to basically come in on their day off and goodwill isn't a long-term solution, which they agreed with.

"Their argument was that it was a way in the short term of improving things.

"I made it clear I certainly wasn't blocking anything and it was certainly my interest to see that short-term improvement."

Mayors from across the North speaking to the press after the meeting. Credit: ITV News

Pressed on whether that meant he would not be pushing for a rest day working agreement, he said: "No, I do think ... it could potentially make a difference in the short term. I'm certainly not blocking such an agreement."

As part of the meeting Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also asked the Transport Secretary for a deadline for Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express to both improve their services or be stripped of their franchises.

He said "This is not about politics, it's about people.

"People have lost trust in our railways and that can't continue.

"These operators have been failing people here in Greater Manchester.

"Both Avanti West Coast and TransPennine Express, the service has been poor.

"Services being cancelled at short notice, facilities not working on the trains, it's been an unacceptable state of affairs for a long period of time.

"I have told the Transport Secretary these operators need to be put on notice, we need a clear date by which if they have NOT improved they will lose their contracts".

Avanti West Coast has apologised to passengers Credit: PA images

Avanti West Coast has responded with this statement: "We know in recent months our customers have not been getting the service they deserve.

"We are sorry for the enormous amount of frustration and inconvenience this has caused and are grateful for the patience our passengers have shown.

"Over the last few months, our sole focus has been to do everything we can to return to a more resilient operation which delivers more services for our customers and communities.

"Crucially, the new timetable is based on a robust and sustainable roster for our people without reliance on overtime, and has been achieved by working with our people and the unions.

"It provides a better working pattern for staff and our customers will benefit from more trains, greater connectivity and tickets on sale much earlier."

TransPennine Express has apologised to customers Credit: PA images

TransPennine Express has also given ITV News a statement in response to the comments.

It said: "Prior to December 2021 TransPennine Express (TPE) had posted its best ever performance results, and was subsequently recognised as 'Train Operator of the Year' at the Rail Business Awards.

"Since then, prolonged disruption affecting our services has been caused by a range of issues including ongoing high levels of train crew sickness, a persisting training backlog as a direct result of Covid, and infrastructure issues outside of TPE’s control.

"Combined, these factors have seen a number of on-the-day or ‘evening before’ cancellations being made.

"In normal circumstances, we have enough people to fully operate our scheduled timetable – and have more drivers now than ever before – however the combination of factors has put unprecedented pressure on our ability to effectively operate our services.

“Our customers want, and deserve, reliable and punctual train services, and we are sorry have not been able to consistently provide that due to the ongoing issues.

"TPE’s team continues to work flat-out to deliver higher levels of service delivery and to tackle the issues that are being experienced by customers."