An emergency meeting of metro mayors has been convened to discuss the “shambles” affecting rail services across the north of England which is “inflicting misery on millions of people”.
West Yorkshire mayor Tracy Brabin has called Thursday’s meeting after weeks of disruption which has seen hundreds of services cancelled by a number of rail operators, including TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast and Northern.
As well as Ms Brabin, the meeting will include the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham; the mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Steve Rotheram; mayor of the North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll and mayor of South Yorkshire, Oliver Coppard.
The mayors are expected to make a direct plea to the new Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, to intervene, saying the hundreds of last minute cancellations affecting the network is creating a direct challenge to the regional economy.
Last-minute train cancellations have inflicted misery across the North. That’s why I’m holding an emergency meeting with my fellow Northern Mayors today.
— Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire (@MayorOfWY) October 27, 2022
Labour said more than 40 services were cancelled on Tuesday and more than 60 on Wednesday on TransPennine Express as this operator has seen 100s of cancellations in recent weeks due to staffing issues.
On the other side of the Pennines, Avanti West Coast has been under fire for months over cancellations, delays, slashed timetables and a lack of advanced tickets for journeys on the West Coast Main Line.
Ms Brabin said she met with TransPennine Express earlier this week.
She said on Thursday: “Today, we as Northern Mayors come together to send a clear message that we will not stand for this shambles.
“This is inflicting misery on millions of people, derailing our plans to build a strong northern economy and putting us in the slow lane.
“The North has been left behind for far too long, and we’re calling on the third transport secretary in as many months to step in with an immediate intervention.”
On Wednesday, shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh urged ministers to intervene, saying they have “refused to lift a finger to tackle the chaos”.
Ms Haigh said: “This ongoing fiasco is causing real damage to the public, passengers and the economy.
“It’s time for ministers to put the country first, stop washing their hands of responsibility, and intervene.
“They should demand a binding plan from TransPennine Express for the urgent improvement of these vital services, claw back taxpayers’ money being handed over for trains that are no longer running and, if they cannot deliver, begin withdrawing the contract.”
On Tuesday, the then rail minister Kevin Foster said the Government is making preparations to intervene if Avanti fails to deliver “significant” improvements on the West Coast Main Line.
Avanti West Coast has been given until April 1 next year to improve its services following a reduction of its trains in the summer.
Mr Foster said the six-month extension provides a “clear opportunity” for Avanti to improve its services to the “standard we and the public expect”.
But Mr Foster also signalled that the Government could take over Avanti’s network, which includes services from London to the West Midlands, the North West of England and Scotland, via its Operator of Last Resort.
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “It’s unacceptable that poor levels of service and strikes are preventing hard-working people from going about their daily lives.
“The Government is investing billions into northern transport and is working closely with train operators to ensure new drivers are swiftly recruited and long term solutions are put in place so passengers can travel confidently without disruption.
“The Department has written to northern leaders inviting them to meet with the Transport Secretary as soon as possible so, together, we can provide the reliable service passengers across the region deserve.”