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Rail passengers ‘invisible’ amid train timetable chaos, says Burnham

Hundreds of services have been cancelled by Northern and Govia Thameslink since departure times were rescheduled on Sunday.

Rail passengers suffering disruption following the introduction of new timetables are “invisible” to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, according to Labour mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

Hundreds of services have been cancelled by Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) since departure times were rescheduled on Sunday.

Mr Burnham asked for an “urgent meeting” with Mr Grayling on Monday, but on Wednesday he claimed he was still waiting for a response.

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Andy Burnham

The mayor posted on Twitter: “Last 14 days on Northern Rail. Full cancellations: 1,159. Part-cancellations: 1,048. Short trains: 529. Public statements from ministers: 0.”

He added: “Ongoing chaos on Northern trains and not a word from the Transport Secretary. Northern commuters are invisible to them.”

Around one in every 10 trains due to be run by Northern has been cancelled since Sunday, with many more delayed.

Steve Rotheram, mayor of Liverpool City Region, claimed there is a “lack of care and consideration for the travelling public”.

Luke Raikes, senior research fellow at think tank IPPR North, urged Mr Grayling to “stop denying investment in the North”.

Planned transport investment in London is two and a half times higher per person than in the North, according to recent analysis by the think tank.

The Government described the figures as “misleading” and “highly unrepresentative”, adding that Transport for London projects should not be taken into account as they receive no central funding.

A spokesman for Northern accepted it has been a “difficult few days” and apologised for the delays and cancellations.

He added that the timetable shake-up is “the biggest change to local rail for many years” and remains a “significant operational challenge”.

GTR – which consists of Southern, Thameslink, Great Northern and Gatwick Express – has also seen major disruption after the timetable relaunch.

This is probably the world's most incompetent railway company. They don't deserve to hang on to this franchise Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps, Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield, urged Mr Grayling to immediately strip GTR of its franchise.

“They must be breaching their contract,” he told the Press Association.

“We want the Secretary of State to look at ending the franchise now rather than in 2021.”

Mr Shapps claimed he is “not in the least bit surprised” at this week’s disruption.

“This is probably the world’s most incompetent railway company,” he said. “They don’t deserve to hang on to this franchise.”

Sir Oliver Heald, Tory MP for North East Hertfordshire, has written to Mr Grayling “asking for a full explanation of how this has occurred”.

He said: “There was no advance notice that there was going to be this scale of disruption. For my constituents it really came out of the blue.”

Stephen McPartland, Tory MP for Stevenage, said “there are no excuses for Govia not being ready”.

He continued: “There does need to be significant improvement quickly.”

A GTR spokesman said new services are being added “incrementally” due to the “scale and complexity of the task” which involves redeploying drivers and trains as well as changing operating practices.

He insisted passengers will benefit from an “overall increase in capacity with immediate effect”.

The Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We’re investing in the biggest modernisation of the rail network since Victorian times to improve services for passengers across the country.

“We are working closely with train companies to ensure they keep inconvenience to a minimum and operators such as GTR and Northern are running hundreds more services now compared to last week.”

The rail timetable is updated twice a year, but the latest update has seven times more changes than normal due to the introduction of new trains and a bid to make existing services more reliable.

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