Shambles on the rails: Burnley Council leader demands answers from Northern

Northern's timetabling issues have continued into a second week.
Northern's timetabling issues have continued into a second week.
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With Northern's nightmare timetabling catastrophe extending into its second week, the Leader of Burnley Borough Council has written to the company's Managing Director to express his dissatisfaction and demand answers.

Since rolling out its updated rail schedules on May 20th, Arriva Rail North (AKA Northern) have overseen a spate of cancellations and delays which have wreaked havoc for commuters across the North of the UK, with the company blaming a shortage of drivers or train staff.

With the swathes of cancellations hitting Burnley Manchester Road's major services to Blackburn, Leeds, and Manchester particularly heavily, Councillor Mark Townsend, the Leader of Burnley Borough Council, has written to David Brown, the Managing Director at Arriva Rail North (Northern), to raise his deep concern at the state of affairs.

"Northern Rail is in meltdown," said Cllr Townsend. "I have been extremely disappointed with the poor service, which over the last week has reached a breaking point with the majority of peak time services being cancelled.

"I notice that today [Tuesday, May 29th], all morning peak services to Manchester were cancelled and based on the information on your website it looks as though the evening peak services will be also," he wrote in a letter to Mr Brown. "This cannot be described as a service. Many of the borough's residents have been significantly inconvenienced by the situation and it is totally unacceptable."

The service along the Todmorden Curve linking Burnley and Manchester was reintroduced in 2015 after more than a decade of lobbying by Burnley Borough Council, with its first three years' operating costs subsidised by Lancashire County Council, removing any risk from Northern as train operator, according to Mr Townsend.

In spite of a 2015 report on the Government’s National Infrastructure Pipeline published by the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute showing that infrastructure investment in the North West per member of the population (£1,946) is over two-and-a-half times lower than what it is in London (£5,305), Burnley Manchester Road station has undergone recent redevelopment as part of the council's Growth and Prosperity Strategy, with ticket sales increasing by 180%.

But despite this, the rail operator has failed its customers.

"The situation at Burnley Manchester Road is not an isolated incident but part of a complete failure across the Northern network," Mr Townsend wrote. "I would like to know when residents can expect a normal peak time service to resume, what Northern are doing to resolve its driver recruitment and/or training problems, and how they are planning to deploy sufficient resource to support a robust timetable for this service.

"[I would like to know] what Northern will be doing to rebuild confidence in the service to ensure, after a significant investment by the public sector, that the service will be viable going forwards," he continued. "A future report is no good to people who are relying on the trains today to get to work."