The ongoing disruption to Network Rail services is having “significant impact” on businesses in the North West as employees struggle to get to work, business leaders have warned.
Commuters continue to face delays or cancellations following the introduction of new timetables over two weeks ago. On Monday, Northern launched an eight-week interim timetable that removed 165 trains, or 6% of services.
Areas affected include Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool and the Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere, with newspapers in the north banding together to demand that Theresa May “get a grip” on the government’s response.
For one commuter, the timetable changes which sparked the disruption, coincided with his first day at his new job in Wilmslow, meaning he has struggled to get to work on time every day since starting.
Paul Metcalfe, a quality assurance consultant for a life and pensions company, who commutes daily from Chorley, said: “Every day that I’ve taken the train, I’ve walked into the office late. Luckily I have an understanding line manager who understands the issues I’m having, but it’s embarrassing to be late in front of other colleagues.
“Although I have an annual season ticket which I kept after I left my last job, there have been days when I just can’t face the delays, and so have filled my car with diesel and driven in instead, and have arrived in the office early.”
He said that it has impacted on his family life as well. “Coming home has been much worse, with two or three cancellations in a row sometimes, which is soul-destroying,” he said.
“We had to postpone a birthday meal for my daughter last week as it took me over three hours to travel back to Chorley, and it was too late to make the booking.”
He added that Northern should be “stripped of their franchise” and if Chris Grayling didn’t act, he should be sacked from his position as Transport Secretary.
The performance of businesses in the area has inevitably been affected, according to Mike Blackburn, North West regional chair for the Institute of Directors.
He said: “The problems affecting rail services in the North West have had a significant impact on businesses and their employees. The disruption of the past two weeks has left companies completely unable to adjust to the new timetables, which will inevitably have affected their performance.
“The new emergency timetables could reduce some of this uncertainty, but businesses may be less than convinced that this will spell an end to the disruption.”
He added that the cancellations of trains to stations such as Windermere will also hurt tourism companies, just as they enter the crucial holiday season. The Lakes Line between Oxenholme and Windermere, has been cancelled for at least two weeks, leaving passengers forced to use replacement bus services.
Employers “must show understanding” to those who are struggling to get to work on time, Frances O’Grady, general secretary for the TUC, said.
“Train delays happen to all of us at some point in our lives. No-one should be punished or docked wages if their service is running late or cancelled,” she said.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said frustrated train commuters in the North should get substantial compensation and fare reductions, claiming Northern is in the “last chance saloon”.
Burnham also called for Northern passengers on affected routes to be allowed to use their tickets on other modes of transport such as TransPennine Express trains, buses and Metrolink.
He said: “Northern have already left people seriously out of pocket and turned their lives upside down with their chaotic services.
“I have heard countless stories of people forking out for taxis, hire cars, hotels and extra childcare – but unable to get compensation for it.”
David Brown, Northern’s managing director, said shutting down the line into the Lake District was in response to stakeholders who need to make plans.
He told BBC Radio Cumbria on Monday: “We know that the service on the Lakes line just doesn’t meet the needs of residents and businesses. They need certainty, particularly to support the tourist trade there. What we have been doing is providing a substandard service.
“So we believe that it’s in the best interest of all parties that we put in place an alternative that people can plan and use and understand it’s going to be there for a period of time.”
On Monday, Grayling, apologised for the delays and cancellations and announced an inquiry into the failures of the new timetable.