'Severe rail disruption' expected this weekend as 'winter illnesses' drive staff shortages

Passengers in Paddington station in London, during a strike by train driver members of Aslef and the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) in a long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions. Picture date: Friday February 3, 2023.
Customers have been warned to expect cancellations this weekend. Credit: PA

Passengers have been warned to expect delays and cancellations to rail services in and out of the capital this weekend and to check ahead before they travel.

Today Thameslink warned of "significantly reduced" services, adding that "winter illnesses" have had a particular impact on "train crew shortages".

While there will be trains in the morning on Sunday, December 31, Thameslink says services will be significantly less frequent north of London and south to Brighton in the afternoon and evening.

It adds that there will be no Thameslink trains across the network at all overnight. Sutton, Rainham and Sevenoaks Thameslink trains will continue to run. Southern and Gatwick Express trains are not affected and Gatwick Airport will continue to be served.

People heading to Luton Airport will be able to use East Midlands Railway (EMR) trains and Luton Express, although these finish earlier on Sunday. Passengers are urged to visit Thameslink's website for the latest updates to services.

Customer Services Director Jenny Saunders said: “As with train companies in other parts of the country, this is because of train crew shortages, with winter illnesses having a particular impact.

“We’re doing our best to limit the impact and spread services but, regrettably, we strongly advise passengers to check their journeys before setting out.

"On Sunday, the service will be particularly affected in the afternoon with no Thameslink trains overnight."

Thameslink is not the only operator affected, with a number of others warning of similar disruption this weekend as people head out for New Year celebrations.

London North Eastern Railway (LNER), whose services are controlled by the Department for Transport, cancelled at least six long-distance trains on Friday due to a lack of available staff. The same reason meant several other services were severely delayed or only ran part of the planned route. Avanti West Coast axed several of it services to and from London Euston due to a staff shortage. London Northwestern Railway warned passengers it is “anticipating crowding and disruption to services on New Year’s Eve”. It said this is due to the “combined impact of recent storms damage across the network, higher than usual rates of sickness absence within our teams as well as reduced capacity within our Sunday timetable”.

Avanti West Coast axed several of it services to and from London Euston due to a staff shortage. Credit: PA

The operator has cancelled all services between Stafford and Crewe, and warned that trains on other routes such as between London Euston and Northampton are “subject to alteration and possible cancellation”. Chiltern Railways, which runs between London Marylebone and the West Midlands, said “a shortage of train crew” means there is “a high risk of short notice cancellations and disruption on the day across all routes” on Saturday and Sunday. LNER also suffered disruption on Friday due to “severe weather”, with strong winds affecting parts of the East Coast Main Line. This meant a service due to run from Aberdeen to London King’s Cross started from Newcastle. A fault with the signalling system between Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed means some southbound lines are blocked. This is affecting LNER, CrossCountry, Lumo and TransPennine Express services.

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