Rail bosses were today condemned as “cack-handed” by a northern metro mayor after it emerged they were planning to to introduce a interim timetable that would cut short services in North Yorkshire.
Politcal leaders rejected plans by TransPennine Express for a timetable change from October 15 to see it through the autumn period to December, when longer-term changes are promised to improve its under-performing service.
The recommendations prompted a furious response from Ben Houchen, the Conservative metro mayor of Tees Valley, who brought them up at a Transport for the North board meeting in Sheffield today.
Mr Houchen said the changes would see five off-peak trains a day from Middlesbrough to Manchester Airport via Thirsk and Northallerton, terminate at York, while five trains in the other direction would start their journey in York.
On the route from Newcastle to Manchester Airport via Darlington, five direct services would be removed completely, with the following three trains starting at York. From Manchester Airport, eight services on this route would run to York only.
He called on TransPennine managing director Leo Goodwin, who was taking questions at the meeting, to withdraw the proposal and said the operator has not learned the lessons from this summer’s timetable chaos. The seven-week timetable change was later rejected at a meeting of the Rail North board, which manages the TransPennine franchise.
During the earlier meeting Mr Goodwin and representatives from Network Rail and fellow operator Northern were heavily criticised for their response to the botched introduction of a new timetable.
Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham said the performance of the two operators was still worse than this time last year, while fellow Labour politician Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds city council, criticised the continued short-forming of trains.
Mr Goodwin said changes planned for December would bring bring about “stable services for passengers” but that the operator had been asked to further stabilise service ahead of this point.
He said the proposal was a recommendation and would give customers extra flexibility. He added that arrangements like this had been put forward in previous autumns, where leaf fall often causes a problem for trains, and that this year’s was similar in scale to that 12 months ago.
He said: “We have put this proposal forward to give passengers a more predictable and reliable service ahead of the structural changes planned for December.”
But Mr Houchen said the proposal was “not good enough”, adding that his office had only been informed about the plans the previous afternoon.
“What you’re coming forward with is a cack-handed proposal which you is similar to last year but is actually very different.
“You are asking us to make a decision on something without all of the facts, it puts us in a very difficult position.”
A decision on whether the interim timetable would be introduced was due to be made this afternoon by the board of Rail North, which helps manage the Northern and TransPennine franchises.
Though Rail North meetings are held in public, today’s at the Mercure hotel in Sheffield city centre was held almost entirely behind closed doors as the items being discussed were commercially sensitive.