A woman took about as long to travel to Liverpool from Newcastle by train this weekend as it would have taken her to endure a long flight to Dubai.
On Sunday evening, Liverpool Echo reporter Charlotte Hadfield began her routine three-hour journey from the North East to the North West, expecting a clear commute, but when she arrived at Newcastle Central Station – she found a litany of trains cancelled, including all TransPennine Express services to her destination Liverpool Lime Street.
The Mirror reports that Charlotte had planned to return via Carlisle and Wigan instead, only to find that a full train derailment blocked the route.
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Train company Northern tweeted on Sunday: “Unfortunately we are advising customers not to travel between these stations on 23/10 as we are unable to find alternative routes following disruption involving a derailed train.”
Charlotte said she had “no other option” to change her plans for a third time and choose a route via York and Manchester. But when she arrived in Manchester at 7.15pm she faced further delays.
She recalled: “I’ve been told I can get a replacement bus from Northern if I want, but it will take three hours to get to Liverpool Lime Street, so I decide to wait for my delayed train.”
As Charlotte waited on the platform she heard a loudspeaker announcement explaining that the train to Lime Street had been delayed due to signaling and that a replacement coach was the best option. “But there’s no sign of any staff or even a bus driver when we get there,” she recalled.
“When hundreds of people line up outside the station, we look at our phones to see that the delayed train we were waiting for has arrived and left without us. People are genuinely in disbelief at the lack of communication or advice from station staff as we try to figure out how we are going to get home.
“One man turns to me and says ‘this is a real nightmare’, while a woman who has also traveled from Newcastle is panicking that we will be stranded overnight.”
Charlotte eventually managed to find a way back, partly thanks to the help of her fellow passengers.
She continued: “We took a train to Manchester Oxford Road before changing to a Northern train to Liverpool Lime Street which was scheduled to leave at 8.46pm. Unsurprisingly that train was also delayed. After a painfully long and broken journey I arrived at Liverpool Lime Street at 10.16pm – almost seven hours after I first set off.”
Although she may be at home now, Charlotte wanted to highlight the rail chaos and the problems many passengers regularly face when traveling between cities in the North.
“In the time it would take you to fly direct from the UK to Dubai, I managed to get from Newcastle to Liverpool by train,” she wrote.
“This seemingly endless journey will be all too familiar to ordinary train users and commuters, whose patience is tested daily. But this is the reality of what it’s really like trying to travel between two major northern cities by public transport – and why we deserve better.”
The flight from Newcastle to Dubai usually takes just over seven hours.
Engineering work, signaling problems, higher-than-normal levels of illness and a backlog of training as a direct result of Covid were some of the reasons train operators cited for the delays on a journey that should have taken just over three hours, Charlotte said.
A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We are sorry to passengers that they did not receive the service they expected or deserved when traveling through Manchester Piccadilly last night. It comes after a staffing issue at our signal center in Stockport led to trains being delayed in, redirected or delayed.
“We also regret that the resulting short-term changes to trains caused confusion and saw some passengers advised to get a replacement coach when their train was actually running. We understand how frustrating this is and are looking at how we can better share information with our frontline staff as situations constantly change during times of unexpected disruption.”
Chris Jackson, Regional Manager for Northern, said: “Due to scheduled engineering work we were unable to operate services between Manchester and Liverpool calling via Newton-le-Willows on Sunday 23 October.
“However, we were able to run all but one of our hourly services from Manchester to Liverpool which runs to Warrington. We apologize to anyone whose journeys were inconvenienced.”
A TransPennine Express spokesperson said: “Prior to December 2021, TransPennine Express (TPE) had posted its best ever performance results and was subsequently recognized as ‘Train Operator of the Year’ at the Rail Business Awards. Since then, prolonged disruption affecting our services has been caused by a range of issues , including ongoing high levels of train staff sickness, a persistent training backlog as a direct result of Covid and infrastructure issues beyond TPE’s control.
“Combined, these factors have seen a number of day or ‘night before’ cancellations made. Under normal circumstances we have enough people to fully run our scheduled timetable – and have more drivers now than ever before – but the combination of factors has put unprecedented pressure on our ability to effectively run our services.
“Our customers want, and deserve, reliable and punctual train services and we regret that we have not been able to provide this consistently due to the ongoing issues. TPE’s team continues to work hard to deliver higher levels of service delivery and to address the issues customers are experiencing.”
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