A new policy to cut the number of late-running trains on the flagship East Coast Main Line route has had the knock-on effect of causing further disruption and delays for other rail users in Yorkshire, it is claimed.
Conservatives Kevin Hollinrake and Robert Goodwill have written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling about the ongoing delays and cancellations for passengers using TransPennine Express services to and from Manchester, Leeds, York, Malton, Filey and Scarborough.
They say matters have been made worse by a Network Rail policy that late-running east-west trains would not be able to stop at York station, put into place in order to “protect the operation of the East Coast Main Line”.
A letter from a TransPennine Express manager, seen by The Yorkshire Post, says the policy introduced in mid-August meant Network Rail “refused to accept any train arriving East or West that is several minutes late” because of the number of late-running trains on the newly-formed London North Eastern Railway between the capital and Edinburgh.
Network Rail has denied there is any such policy at York station but says trains which are running on time are given priority, regardless of train operator, to stop delays accumulating further along the network.
I have received a number of letters from frustrated passengers, who, understandably, are fed up with the very poor service they have had all summer.Kevin Hollinrake
The letter from TransPennine’s Regional Development Manager Graham Meiklejohn said the policy “overlooked the requirements of on-time trains” and “initially severely affected our operation”.
He wrote: “In the first week of the policy we had trains for Middlesbrough that were cancelled at York with the unit remaining there for a number of hours having been refused access to proceed north by Network Rail.
“We also had the other Monday when there was cricket at Scarborough an instance where a delayed train had to be turned back at Malton as otherwise Network Rail would not have allowed it to cross the East Coast Main Line towards Leeds for the return working. This train was conveying a number of spectators for the cricket.”
The letter adds that the policy has since been relaxed and “Scarborough services have been excluded from the severest implementation”.
But it adds: “That said, we are disappointed that delays which have the root cause in the London North Western part of Network Rail are not understood by the London North Eastern part of Network Rail.
“We have impressed the need for both these areas of Network Rail to work together on cross Pennines services and policies.”
Mr Hollinrake wrote: “It is clear that there needs to be a more efficient collaborative approach to delivering services between Network Rail and the train operators. The whole situation needs to be urgently reviewed.
“I have received a number of letters from frustrated passengers, who, understandably, are fed up with the very poor service they have had all summer.
“Robert Goodwill and I are determined to do everything we can to bring the relevant parties together to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.”
TransPennine Express was among the operators whose services were badly affected by the botched introduction of a new timetable by Northern on May 20.
Both operators were heavily criticised for their response to the chaos and were accused of not doing enough to communicate the scale of the disruption.
In July, 4.9 per cent of trains were very late or cancelled while a further 11.4 per cent trains were up to 30 minutes late, meaning only 83.7 per cent of services arrived within ten minutes of their scheduled time. The operator’s performance has been improving gradually since then.
Mr Hollinrake said: “I have already taken the issue up with TransPennine Express and plan to meet them again in early September.
“They tell me that some of the recent problems have been caused in Central Manchester where there is currently significant congestion on the Castlefield corridor between Manchester Oxford Road and Manchester Victoria, causing delays and affecting services towards Scarborough, via York, Malton and Seamer.
“But this is no consolation for my constituents who are experiencing regular delays preventing them from getting to work and to other appointments on time or facing general ongoing inconvenience.”
A Network Rail spokeswoman said: “Keeping trains running reliably and safely is our top priority and we work closely with all train operators on this and keeping disruption to a minimum for all passengers.
“The best way in which we can do this is to give priority to trains which are on time, regardless of the train operator, as opposed to those already experiencing delays, as this stops further disruption along the railway.
“We appreciate that any delay to a journey does impact on passengers and we continue to work collaboratively as a rail industry to reduce these instances. We’d like to thank passengers for their patience when disruption does occur and assure them that we are working as hard as we can to get them where they need to be on time.”
A spokeswoman for TransPennine Express said: “We recognise that there is still more that needs to be done however we have seen notable improvements to our service in recent weeks. We continue to work with our partners including Network Rail on train regulation in the York area.”