Less than half of Northern trains now running on time as under-fire rail operator blames congested network

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Less than half the trains run by Yorkshire's biggest rail operator arrived on time last month as performance levels plunged to their lowest since last year's timetable chaos.

The most recent performance figures released by Northern show that between October 13 and November 9, only 45.4 per cent of its trains across the North arrived within a minute of their scheduled time.

The figures, described as "unacceptable" by a Yorkshire council leader, represent a decline since the summer, when around 60 per cent of trains arrived on time.

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And it means punctuality has fallen to below the levels seen in the aftermath of the timetable chaos of Summer 2018. In September and October last year, when a different recording measure was used, only 48.4 per cent of trains reached their destination at the right time.

A crowded station in Leeds. Northern says declining levels of punctuality have been caused by the congested network.A crowded station in Leeds. Northern says declining levels of punctuality have been caused by the congested network.
A crowded station in Leeds. Northern says declining levels of punctuality have been caused by the congested network.
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Northern today apologised to customers but said the 30 per cent increase in 'train miles' and extra services introduced since 2016, combined with no increase in track capacity, meant more congested railways in the North. A spokesman added: "This congestion has taken its toll on punctuality."

But Judith Blake, leader of Labour-run Leeds City Council, said: “It is completely unacceptable that passengers across Yorkshire have to put up with a worsening service like this.

Commuters at Leeds Station and sunset. Pic: Bruce RollinsonCommuters at Leeds Station and sunset. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
Commuters at Leeds Station and sunset. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

"Late trains have a huge impact on people’s daily lives, making people late to work, education or to spend time with family and friends. This is yet more evidence that significant reform of our railways is needed to ensure the needs of passengers are put first.”

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The punctuality for Northern services has steadily declined over recent months after a summer when rail officials have admitted performance was worse than the same period in 2018.

At a meeting in September, the decline was blamed on severe weather events such as the flood risk at Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire and issues relating to train crew shortages and problems with the fleet.

Some services have been affected worse than others, with the Harrogate-Leeds rush hour seeing poor punctuality rates in the last month.

According to the mytrainjourney.co.uk website, none of the 7.34am or 7.46am trains arrived on time during this period. The 7.34am train is a London North Eastern Railway service to London via Leeds.

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For the 7.04am train, eight out of 22 trains arrived within one minute of the scheduled time - a rate of 36 per cent - while for the 7.13am train, this fell to 29 per cent, and 14 per cent for the 7.23am train.

It is understood that during the October and November period there is a safety need to run trains at slower speeds because rails can be more slippery, something which causes a seasonal drop in rail punctuality across the UK.

A Northern spokesman said: “We are sorry to any customer whose journey has been disrupted. Our customers deserve the best possible rail service and we are working hard, alongside our partners, to improve industry performance.

“We have delivered on our commitment to increase the number of train services – we now operate 2,000 more services each week than at the start of the franchise.

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"This means we will deliver 30 per cent more 'train miles' in 2019 than in 2016. By the end of the year almost 110 million journeys will have been made using Northern trains in 2019 – that’s a record for the North.

“And yet there has been no real increase in track capacity since 2016, which has led to more congested railways across the North. This congestion has taken its toll on punctuality.

"This year has also seen a number of extreme weather events – including unprecedented levels of flooding in September and November which have further impacted performance.

“Looking ahead, Northern is delivering a £600m investment in new and refurbished trains and better stations which will improve service reliability and provide a much better journey experience for customers. We have also recruited hundreds of customer-facing people to improve the service we offer.”

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A report released by strategic body Transport for the North earlier this month stated Northern cancelled, or “part cancelled” around 116 trains every day between September 24 and October 21 this year. This represents just under one in 20 of its services.

It added that Transpennine Express (TPE) – the region’s other large commuter train operator – had an average of 24 trains cancelled per day. But, as this comes from a much smaller stock of services than Northern, this represented 7.5 per cent – or more than one in 14 – of its services.

The publication of the government-commissioned Williams Review, which is expected to spell the end of the current franchise system, was due this Autumn but has been delayed by the election.