Andy Burnham calls on government to help end rail ‘chaos’ in the North

Greater Manchester’s mayor has said ‘enough is enough’ and asked the government to increase its efforts to improve rail services in the region.

Andy Burnham has called for an immediate cash injection from the government for rail operators in the North, calling the current services “unfit for purpose.”

The Greater Manchester mayor held a press conference yesterday (22 October) together with his Liverpool counterpart Steve Rotheram at the city’s Lime Street Station. Both were late to the event, having travelled by train to get there.

Burnham said that rail “chaos” is turning away passengers and disruptions to rail services are impacting lives and businesses of people in the North.

He said: “Growing the economies of our city-regions is simply impossible if rail services are so unfit for purpose that they act as a barrier rather than a gateway to growth.

“Appalling levels of service are also turning people away from the railways at a time when, to meet our economic and environmental ambitions, we urgently need to make sure public transport is always a viable – and even a preferable – alternative to cars.

“But it is not just operators who are responsible for the North’s failing rail system. Successive governments have failed to invest in vital infrastructure improvements that could make a significant difference to reliability.”

The two mayors asked for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary on lifting financial restrictions on operators TransPennine Express (TPE) and Northern and imposed a one year deadline on making improvements. If the deadline is not met, they say the government should strip TPE of its contract.

Andy Burnham said: “Enough is enough. Today, we are calling for immediate action from the Government to deliver a funding injection into the TransPennine Express and Northern contracts.

“Both have a long way to go to win back the trust of passengers in the North, but they will never do so if they are being hamstrung by the financial constraints imposed on them by Whitehall.”

“Millions of passengers in the North need to know that the Government has their back when it comes to the delivery of reliable, functioning public transport. They need to ensure that operators have the financial and negotiating room to breathe in order to start fixing our broken system, including by supporting a resumption of rest day working.”

A spokesperson for TransPennine Express 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.”