Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Britain’s worst train operator revealed – and why it’s shoddy service has left Northerners like me stuck down south

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THE state of our trains is a national travesty.

During the pandemic, like many others who have moved away from their home towns, I hardly saw my parents.

Train cancellations are at their highest level on record, with the proportion of such services more than doubling since 2015

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Train cancellations are at their highest level on record, with the proportion of such services more than doubling since 2015Credit: PA
Militant union boss Mick Lynch

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Militant union boss Mick LynchCredit: Getty

But now I see them even less, and that is all due to our scandalous train service.

I’ve had enough.

In the past six months alone, every time I’ve tried to get a train from Euston in London, where I work, to Lancaster, Lancs, where I’m from, the journey, which for years took 2hrs 25 minutes, has either been delayed for several hours or the entire service has been cancelled at a moment’s notice.

Now even though life is back to normal and I should be able to make up for lost time, it’s become practically impossible for me to get back to the North West.

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In fact, it’s getting harder and harder to get anywhere in Britain at all.

In the past year, one in 26 of all train journeys were disrupted, according to figures from the Office of Rail and Road — the equivalent of 860 a day.

Train cancellations are at their highest level on record, with the proportion of such services more than doubling since 2015.

A staggering 187,000 trains were fully cancelled and 127,000 party cancelled in the year to October 15.

I have been catching the same train for more than a decade and have seen this depressing demise in service first hand.

And while this chaos is playing out across most major networks, including LNER and Thameslink, passengers such as me, who are trying to visit the North, face the worst of the chaos.

Avanti West Coast — which operates the line between London and Glasgow and which stops at Lancaster — cancelled one in every 13 of its services in 12 months. That is double the national average.

Of those, 76 per cent were because of problems falling under Avanti’s remit — such as train issues — as opposed to network ones.

Not only that, the operator slashed its timetable from seven trains per hour to a minimum of four per hour in August, with trains between London and Manchester the worst affected.

Avanti — which ludicrously has relied on drivers working overtime and on their rest days to staff its timetables — said drivers suddenly stopped volunteering for overtime in the summer, prompting it to cut its timetable to reduce cancellations.

But those cancellations are still happening.

Just last Saturday, my 13.38 train from Lancaster to London was cancelled without reason, with every other service that day either massively delayed or axed too.

On the way up a week earlier, the train to Lancaster was delayed for an hour at Warrington then terminated without warning at Preston — more than 20 miles away from my final destination.

That same weekend I overheard two OAPs at the bus stop in Morecambe saying they had to take the bus to neighbouring towns to visit the markets as the trains were just not reliable.

How has it come to this?

What’s even more infuriating is there are rumours now that northern stations such as Lancaster might end up being removed as a “routine stopping station” on the West Coast Mainline for future HS2 services, which would bypass the town completely.

‘LEVELLING UP’

That is hardly a move towards “levelling up”.

Every time I book a ticket via the Trainline app and see the celebratory message: “You’re going to Lancaster!” I feel like I’m being gaslit.

And to add insult to injury, we pay through the nose for the privilege of all this stress.

When I moved to London in 2012, a return ticket to Lancaster cost £65. In a decade it has almost doubled to £109.

A friend told me recently that he can no longer afford to go home to Manchester to see his mum every six weeks due to tickets costing more than £150.

We are being priced out of seeing our families.

Another pal has bought a car just to guarantee getting home for Christmas.

I live in a car-free zone in East London, so that’s not an option for me, let alone anyone who can’t drive.

More people driving is hardly reducing our carbon footprint either.

With more RMT strike action planned this weekend — and rumours services could be disrupted well into December and over the Christmas period without breakthrough talks between the Aslef union and rail firms — booking a train to get anywhere is risky business.

Meanwhile, greedy train companies – including Avanti, the worst-performing rail operator in Britain — are making huge profits.

Last year Avanti paid out more than £11billion in shareholder dividends.

BETTER PAY DEAL

It is perhaps no wonder hard-working train staff are striking for a better pay deal.

Yet similarly, they will get little sympathy from the train-reliant public while their employers offer such a disgraceful service.

The Department for Transport needs to get a grip and start holding train operators properly to account, not rewarding failure.

It admits the bad service is “unaccep­table” but so far real remedies are slow to materialise.

It says it has earmarked more than £16billion to improve passenger services and is “working closely with operators to ensure long-term solutions are put in place so passengers can travel confidently without disruption”.

This money needs investing NOW and the changes need to come thick and fast.

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Hard-working people are missing out on seeing friends and family, missing hospital appointments and struggling to get to work due to these delays and cancellations.

We’ve waited two years to get things moving — why are our trains stopping us?





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