#onenorth: How shambolic rail services united newsrooms across the North

Regional news titles from across the North tonight united in calling for immediate improvement to rail services after weeks of chaos.

Thousands of train services have been cancelled — either or for whole routes or part-routes — since Northern Rail launched a new timetable in the middle of May.

The Yorkshire Post

Almost 600 more services have been been shrunk to run with fewer carriages at short notice.

The combined effect has been tens of thousands of people struggling to commute to work, widespread chaos at train stations and, as of this week, an emergency timetable which has left some lines with no services at all for the next fortnight.

Titles including the Yorkshire Post, Manchester Evening News, Northern Echo, Bradford Telegraph & Argus, The Lancashire Telegraph, The Bolton News, Liverpool Echo, Sheffield Star, Blackpool Gazette, Newcastle Chronicle and Newcastle Journal have all tonight joined up to make a series of demands of prime minister Theresa May and under-siege transport secretary Chris Grayling.

The titles want the PM to:

  • Summon transport chiefs, and business leaders, to 10 Downing Street this week for an emergency summit to devise an action plan to get this region moving again;
  • announce a special compensation scheme for those passengers most affected by the delays and disruption;
  • give Transport for the North the necessary policy and financial powers so it can have full oversight of all local, suburban and regional services and work in tandem with Network Rail; it is clear our railways cannot be cared for properly from London;
  • commit the Government to a full and fundamental review of rail franchising — the Northern fiasco is yet another example of a franchisee over-promising and under-delivering;
  • demonstrate a commitment to fair transport funding for the North, with a pledge that the planned high-speed line across the Pennines — NPR — is an equal priority to Crossrail II in London.

It is the first time so many titles have united to send the same message to government.

On Tuesday, reporters from across the North will live blog commutes to work on trains. Northern’s rolling stock is among the oldest in the UK, with many routes relying on Pacer trains — buses on tracks — which are in use a decade beyond their supposed end of life.

Recently, new rolling stock arrived in the North, but were decried by campaigners as ‘hand me downs’ when it emerged the new trains had previously been used for years by ThamesLink in London, which is getting brand new trains.

The project has been led by Yorkshire Post editor James Mitchinson.

James said: “In recent weeks, The Yorkshire Post has carried an op-ed from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in which he said: ‘It is not up to me to sort out the North’s transport problems.’

“OK, Mr Grayling. Then it is up to we in the North and today, I am proud to be the editor of one of the newspapers that has decided: enough is enough.”

“Mr Grayling has let us down on the promised electrification of our railways, and has presided over a new timetable that has all but broken our railway. But, still, he will not answer questions. He repeatedly denies MPs questions; skulks out of Parliament when he should be fronting up; points the finger of blame at the teams around him.”

“The time has come to respectfully ask Prime Minister Theresa May for her leadership. Without a quality intervention from Mrs May, I cannot see how this government can restore the faith of the 15m people who live here, full stop.”

Manchester has been particularly badly hit by Northern’s new timetable, with 758 trains cancelled from Piccadilly in the last fortnight, and a further 133 subject to partial-cancellations mid route.

At Victoria station, 290 trains have been cancelled, and 52 subject to partial-cancellations. Almost 100 from the two stations in Manchester have been hit by carriage reductions, exacerbating often already packed services for commuters. 467 have been cancelled at Manchester Airport, and 149 subject to route reductions.

In Leeds, 177 services have been cancelled — and more than 400 hit by carriage reductions.

Liverpool Lime Street has seen 542 cancellations, and is now closed for pre-planned works, creating a double whammy in Liverpool.

Darren Thwaites, editor in chief of the Manchester Evening News, said: “The treatment of commuters in the North has been utterly disgraceful. There’s a strong feeling the government isn’t taking the crisis seriously enough because they’re stuck in a London bubble.

“This campaign is a Northern fightback, leveraging the power of towns and cities across the North. It’s a demand not only to end the current fiasco but to have a much fairer transport funding model to enable the region to drive jobs and prosperity.”

The cancellations have become a daily occurrence across the North, with 37 cancelled in Southport, 14 in Beverley, 37 in Chester, 41 in Grimsby, 113 in accrington, 54 in Newcastle, 43 in Huddersfield, 327 in Bolton and 381 in Blackpool.

Northern Echo editor Andy Richardson said: “The passenger railway was invented here in the north. It is a national disgrace that almost two centuries later we have to endure rail infrastructure which is almost at breaking point while billions are poured in to improve transport links across London and the South-East. George Stephenson must be turning in his grave.”

Lancashire Telegraph editor Steve Thompson added: “The trains in the North West have been a joke for some time, but it’s now getting beyond a joke.

“Hard pressed commuters are fed up and we know from speaking to our readers that they feel ignored, compared to passengers down south.

“The Northern Powerhouse is a fine idea but it’s starting to feel like Westminster is just paying lip-service to the North.

“If politicians really believe the North can be a business powerhouse then they need to back us not just with words but with the infrastructure to make the region attractive to investors and, more importantly, workers.”

Telegraph & Argus editor, Nigel Burton, said: “Bradford is already poorly served by the rail network and the chaos of the past few weeks has just rubbed salt into the wounds of commuters.

“Spending per head on transport projects is already pathetically low. At just £844 per person, Yorkshire has the lowest level of transport funding in England.

“On behalf of all our readers we are saying this lamentable service isn’t good enough.”

Mike Crutchley, Interim Editor at the Bolton News added: “For years, passengers in Bolton have been packed into trains like sardines and while fare prices have gone up and trains are late or cancelled.

“The Government wants to get people off congested roads and on to public transport, but for our commuters, this unreliable service is becoming less of an option.

“Over the past 16 months, passengers in the area have endured hell while the upgrade to rail electrification is being carried out and problems created with the new timetable change are the final straw.”

In the North East, the Chronicle and Journal titles are calling for action after the collapse of the East Coast Mainline franchise for a third time.