BELEAGURED train operator Northern was last night challenged to offer commuters “substantial” compensation and fare reductions as it starts to scrap scores of scheduled services.
The call came from Greater Manchester’s metro mayor, Andy Burnham, who warned that the firm was in the “last chance saloon” as a new “interim” timetable is introduced from today.
It comes as Labour demands an emergency Commons statement from under-fire Transport Secretary Chris Grayling before the Minister holds a series of private meetings with the region’s MPs this evening.
Those due to attend include Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Deputy Speaker of the Commons, who has written a scathing letter to Mr Grayling about the disruption being suffered by his North West constituents.
Challenging the Minister to “take control” of the rail franchise and, like the East Coast Main Line, bring it back under public control, he warns: “The Government has placed huge emphasis on the value of the north of England, yet the much vaunted powerhouse can never be taken seriously if people cannot travel by train.”
This is backed up by Henri Murison who is head of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership set up by George Osborne, the former Chancellor. In a tweet, he said Mr Grayling may “come under even greater pressure” and “be unable to continue” in his role if he does not give Transport for the North the power to hold Network Rail, and train operators, to account.
In his uncompromising letter to TfN chairman John Cridland, Mr Burnham said that Northern was likely to benefit financially from the operation of the reduced timetable.
“Northern have already left people seriously out of pocket and turned their lives upside down with their chaotic services,” he added. “I have heard countless stories of people forking out for taxis, hire cars, hotels and extra childcare but unable to get compensation for it.
“Now that Northern are unilaterally cancelling thousands of services – that many season ticket holders have already paid for – passengers must be properly and fully compensated. If they are not providing the promised new May timetable by early August, then steps should be taken to strip the franchise from them.”
Despite cancelling 165 services from today, Northern insists it will still run more trains than it did before last month’s timetable change, and expects to “get back to a full timetable service by the end of July”.
Asked to response to Mr Burnham’s remarks, a spokesman said passengers could apply for compensation in the normal way. “We are exploring ways of extending it, but I can’t give you any details because we don’t have them.”
A Department for Transport spokesman said Mr Grayling was in “regular discussions” with train operators and the new timetable will ultimately deliver more services.
Quality test in fares review
Rail passengers will be asked whether fares should be based on quality of service in the future.
The consultation on ticketing comes as commuters brace themselves for another week of chaos on the region’s railways
Other possibilities included in the consultation are abolishing peak and off-peak fares so passengers are charged the same throughout busier and quieter periods, giving discounts to regular travellers and reducing prices for e-tickets.
The consultation is being launched today by the Rail Delivery Group (RDG) alongside passenger watchdog Transport Focus.