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Council leader slams transport body over ‘avoidable’ rail ‘disaster’

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Wakefield Council leader Peter Box has branded the severe disruption suffered by train passengers in recent weeks an “avoidable disaster”.

Train users across the north have had to tolerate weeks of cancellations and delays after the botched introduction of a new timetable on May 20.

Coun Peter Box.

Coun Peter Box.

The chaos prompted strong criticism of operator Northern and the government, who said that the problems stemmed from unfinished electrification work around Greater Manchester.

But Transport for the North (TfN), which works with the Department of Transport to oversee trains in the north of England, has been forced to defend its role in the saga.

At a West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Commitee meeting on Friday, TfN’s strategic director David Hoggarth said that the new Northern timetable had to be implemented because of changes to services all over the country.

He added that TfN had been given no warning from Northern about the issues that followed and that “it was only on May 20 we realised we had a problem”.

But Coun Box said: “This was a disaster that was wholly avoidable. That’s the truth.

“You say to us that Northern couldn’t have anticipated what happened. They could.

“You allowed a timetable to be introduced that couldn’t be delivered because there weren’t sufficient drivers. That’s the reality.

“I don’t accept for one single second that Northern did their best.”

Mr Hoggarth said that TfN had no powers to reject a new timetable and that three reviews had begun to establish what had gone wrong.

He said that although Northern had had enough drivers, many of them had not been trained on the new routes, which contributed to the chaos.

Coun Box said: “The public aren’t overly fussed about reviews because the damage has been done. Can you give an assurance this won’t happen again?”

Mr Hoggarth replied: “That’s exactly what we want to get from the reviews. We have to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“There are certain things we can request in terms of changes to service levels in timetables, if we find funding for them.

“The operators are responsible for delivering the timetable.”

Wakefield West councillor Kevin Swift told the meeting that services between Wakefield and Huddersfield had “sharply deteriorated” since May, even when the timetable was running properly.

He added: “As someone with a ward that’s 15 minutes from Dewsbury Station, I’m not sure the service we get from Transpennine Express hasn’t in some respects got worse.”