Commuters in Bolton and elsewhere in Greater Manchester and Lancashire have endured a miserable few days since the ‘timetable change’ on Sunday, which heralded a period of increased chaos on the region’s railways. The majority of scheduled trains between Bolton and Manchester on Monday morning were cancelled or delayed, with Northern (Arriva Rail North) blaming a shortage of drivers. Passengers took to social media to express their anger and frustration, noting not only the cancellations but the fact that many trains that did run had been reduced to two carriages and were dangerously overcrowded. Others reported that trains scheduled to stop at certain intermediate stations were not doing so, leaving dozens stranded.
The situation did not improve on Monday afternoon or on Tuesday, by which time many were complaining that the appalling service was putting their jobs at risk as they faced being late for work yet again. The flood of complaints on social media on Wednesday morning suggested there has been little, if any, improvement and things are unlikely to get any better in the next few days, with RMT strike action planned for Thursday 24th and Saturday 26th May.
Sir David Crausby, MP for Bolton North East, has long been outspoken over the issues of overcrowding, rising fares and poor customer service and even before this week’s dramatically worsened situation had berated rail companies over the issues of trains being frequently late, completely cancelled or not having an adequate number of carriages. On the 17th May he issued a press release saying that he had backed a Parliamentary Motion calling for an investigation into Northern’s failures and for the Government to consider stripping Arriva of the Northern franchise and to bring the service into public ownership.
On Tuesday 22nd May Sir David said:
“I have been granted a debate in Westminster Hall on 6th June on ‘Northern Rail services in Greater Manchester’. A Government minister will have to listen to our concerns about the unacceptably poor service and I will urge them to take action. They cannot keep ignoring the problems.”
On Monday the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, posted this message on Twitter:
“I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary this week to discuss the Northern Rail chaos. Things can’t go on like this.”
On Wednesday morning, replying to someone who asked if he received a response from Chris Grayling, he said:
“No, I didn’t. No reply to my letter. No date for a meeting. No public statement on what he’s going to do to end the chaos.”
Stats issued by Northern for the period from 9th to 23rd May indicated that during that 14-day period 1,159 services were fully cancelled, 1,048 were partially cancelled (trains still running but some station stops omitted) and 529 trains had a reduced number of carriages.
Northern said in a statement:
“The May 2018 timetable change, which went live on Monday for commuters, has seen around 90% of our service change and an extra 1,300 train services a week introduced across our network; the biggest change to local rail for many years. This remains a significant operational challenge and we continue to expect some localised service disruption, which could happen at very short notice.”
A spokesman for the company added:
“We will continue to do everything we can to ensure we minimise any service disruption and keep customers informed as quickly as we can through our website and social media.”