Devolving our railways; Learning the lessons from a summer of Northern rail chaos


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One million hours lost: true scale of Northern rail chaos revealed 

  • Northern Powerhouse Partnership report reveals how the recent rail timetable fiasco had a major impact on businesses, commuters and families
  • £38m lost to the Northern Powerhouse on Northern Rail trains alone, with up to £1.3m a day at the height of the crisis
  • Half of trains seriously late or cancelled on some Trans Pennine routes on individual days; up to 6,000 trains in total
  • Government failed to intervene to prevent the disruption; now must devolve full powers of oversight to Transport for the North to stop this from happening again.

The chaos on the North’s railways earlier this summer cost businesses in the Northern Powerhouse more than £37m, a new report reveals.

The Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP) analysis reveals that £37.89m was lost, with up to £1.3m a day at the height of the disruption. Up to one million hours of lost time from commuting, work and leisure travel was lost on Northern Rail trains alone.

On some services on Trans Pennine Express, half of all trains were very late or cancelled, and even now more than 20% of services on the North Trans Pennine route were more than 30 minutes late or cancelled.

The full cost to the North is likely to be considerably higher, as while Northern Rail provided figures for their affected services, Trans Pennine did not. Over the entire period, using Northern Rail figures, 945,180 hours were lost to delays, an average of 22,504 per day.

The misery on the railways had a huge impact; employees were unable to get to work, resulting in many missing out on job opportunities or even losing their jobs. Parents faced with endless delays and services cancelled without warning missed out on putting their children to bed night after night. Many of our leading businesses had to deal with staff shortages and a drastic cut in productivity.

The Devolving our Railways report makes clear that none of the organisations involved in running the North’s railways emerge with much credit. The initial problem was sparked by Network Rail delays to engineering and electrification works, particularly between Blackpool and Preston and in the Bolton corridor. This meant train operators Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express were faced with an impossible task.

However, the operators did not do enough to communicate the scale of the disruption. Northern Rail acted swiftly to put in place an emergency timetable, but Trans Pennine Express did not; with some of their trains the worst performers. Just over 15% of their North Trans Pennine route trains were very late or cancelled trains; the worst day for performance being Tuesday 22nd May when just under 40% of services were in this category.

The Department for Transport (DfT) could have acted to mitigate or avoid the disruption, as they alone had the power to stop the introduction of timetables when it was clear the network was not prepared. It is apparent that DfT did not have nearly enough control or oversight over the Northern Powerhouse railway network.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to ensure problems on this scale is never seen again. The most urgent and important of these is government devolving far more power and authority to Transport for the North, allowing them to hold Network Rail and the train operators to account and act decisively and quickly to prevent disruption.

The report also recommends that TfN take control of the £3bn Trans Pennine Route Upgrade and is responsible for all Northern transport spending.

Northern Powerhouse Partnership Chair George Osborne said: “This report sets out a clear message to government – the Northern Powerhouse is crying out for more devolution.

“This is the very role we envisaged Transport for the North doing when we set them up; Northern leaders will support them in making sure the people of the Norther Powerhouse get the modern, connected network they deserve.”

Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison, who co-wrote the report, said: “The six weeks of utter chaos on the North’s railways caused misery and havoc for my fellow commuters and families; I know because my team and I fell victim to random delays and cancellations every single day.

“The bottom line is that this must never happen again. Our report makes it clear that devolving powers of oversight to Transport for the North is an urgent and non-negotiable priority. But we go further – TfN should drive the Trans Pennine upgrades and run the North’s railways.

“We will bring together the North’s business and civic leaders behind the proposals in our report, and feed them into the Blake Review to ensure government understand the depth of feeling across the Northern Powerhouse about how critical it is to sort out our trains.”

Tricia Williams, COO of Manchester Airport, said: “With more than four million rail journeys a year through Manchester Airport, it is vital that passengers can rely on high-quality, reliable services to get them to the airport.

“It has been hugely frustrating to see so many cancellations and delays to services just as we enter the busiest time of the year for international air travel. As the largest global gateway in the North, connectivity from the airport is vital for the success of the Northern Powerhouse and building confidence in onward travel choices is crucial factor in our ability to attract tourists and investors.

“Urgent investment in the rail network is now needed to maximise the potential of the airport over the coming years.”

Notes for Editors

A final draft of the report, Devolving our Railways, is available on request.

Henri Murison is available for interview.

Data in the report refers to services provided by Northern Rail and Trans Pennine Express only. It does not, for example, include any journeys within the North made on Cross Country, LNER or Virgin Trains West Coast as we do not have access to data about entry and exit stations for passengers using these services.

For more information contact

Daniel Cochlin; 07838 228052