Only Chris Grayling has power to halt return of Northern timetable after summer chaos, says Yorkshire leader

The emergency timetable on Northern services is ending on July 29
The emergency timetable on Northern services is ending on July 29

A Yorkshire council leader has questioned whether the rail industry fully understands the reasons for the Northern timetable chaos after saying she was “dismayed” by the response from senior officials.

Judith Blake, the leader of Leeds City Council, said she and other northern leaders had “fundamental concerns” about the return to a normal schedule on Northern services following the botched introduction of a new timetable on May 20.

On the basis of what was presented it was far from clear that the rail industry has a thorough understanding of all the issues which contributed to the chaos following the introduction of the new timetable and therefore whether they have been properly addressed.

Judith Blake

She said it was down to operators such as Northern to decide if the emergency timetable introduced on June 4 would end on July 29, and that “only the Transport Secretary [Chris Grayling] has the power to direct them otherwise”.

Coun Blake and Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham yesterday quizzed officials from Rail North, the public sector body responsible for managing the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises, at a public meeting in Leeds.

A report prepared by Rail North for the meeting said performance levels by the two main operators have deteriorated after a period of improvement from the start of June, when the temporary timetable with fewer trains was introduced.

It said: “Performance on TransPennine Express’s North Route is a concern for Transport for the North member authorities, particularly in the North East. Newcastle, Middlesbrough and Scarborough services have been subject to cancellation following late running.”

It added that although the emergency timetable to stabilise services had been beneficial in the North West, “negative performance impacts have also been felt in other areas through the shortage of diesel rolling stock”.

Coun Blake, a member of West Yorkshire Combined Authority, is leading a review into the management of Northern in the run-up to the timetable chaos and may recommend more powers being given to local leaders to scrutinise the introduction of services.

She said: “I was dismayed by what I and fellow Northern leaders heard today about the ongoing rail disruption, the continued poor performance of Northern and TransPennine services, and the proposed return to a normal timetable on July 29.

“On the basis of what was presented it was far from clear that the rail industry has a thorough understanding of all the issues which contributed to the chaos following the introduction of the new timetable and therefore whether they have been properly addressed.

“It was made clear to I and my fellow Northern leaders that despite our fundamental concerns it will be down to the operators themselves to determine whether the full timetable is resumed and only the Transport Secretary who has the power to direct them otherwise.

“I urge the operators, Network Rail and the Transport Secretary to consider carefully whether resuming the timetable on July 29 is in the best interests of passengers.

“Today’s meeting has underlined in the most comprehensive way possible the need for strengthening the democratic and passenger voice in the regulation of rail services in the North of England through a reformed Transport for the North which will be a key focus of my review recommendations.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “Since Northern began running an interim timetable we have seen an improvement in reliability, so passengers can better plan ahead. But we are clear that this must accelerate as there is a long way to go until performance is good enough.

“Decisions on whether to implement the timetable change are a matter for the operators working with Network Rail. We expect them to have robust plans in place to enable the introduction of additional services from the end of July.”

A spokesman for Northern said: “Since the introduction of the interim timetable on 4th June we have seen improvements in the number of our services arriving on schedule (using the industry PPM measure). We have also significantly reduced the number of short notice cancellations – stabilising our service and giving our customers greater certainty about their journeys.”

The spokesman added: “We continue to work on our ongoing review of the interim timetable and what we may do regarding services on 29 July. This review involves our client, Rail North Partnership, which reports jointly to the Department for Transport and Transport for the North.”