In the past two weeks there has, even beyond the disruption caused by the temporary closure of the line between Stalybridge and Victoria, been serious disruption on several days, in the form of multiple cancellations.
The reason given for this is “driver shortage”.
What this means is, quite simply, Northern do not have enough drivers to provide the service which their franchise obligation specifies.
The driver shortage is concentrated in the North West. Unfortunately our service is crewed by North West based drivers, so in this context we’re part of the North West. Apparently the terms and conditions of drivers based in Yorkshire are different so the problem is far less acute.
Provision of the train service in the North West is dependent on drivers being prepared to do rest day working (that’s voluntary overtime to you and I), and Northern’s outstanding management (we know they’re outstanding because they have a string of awards to prove it) have somehow managed to upset their drivers so much that they’re not prepared to do rest day working.
You might think that depending on voluntary overtime to provide the contracted service is something of a high risk option, and so it has now proved.
So, having a shortage of drivers results in a need to cancel some services. So which routes see the most cancellations? Logically you would think most cancellations would be on routes with a half-hourly or better service, because that would minimise the scale of disruption to passengers. Or maybe routes where bus replacement is relatively easy to do without much increase in journey times?
But no. Stalybridge to Huddersfield is one of the busiest hourly services, and we have been disproportionately affected by multiple cancellations. On Wednesday 25th, all trains on our route after 7pm were cancelled.
SMART has complained to Northern about the concentration of “driver shortage” cancellations on the Huddersfield-Stalybridge route, and also asked WYCA and TfGM (both of whom financially support the train service that we’re not getting) to follow this up.
There is a theory (it started as a joke but we’re beginning to wonder if there isn’t just a little bit of truth in it) that Northern Rail have given up on our route, because from 20th May most of us will be using First TransPennine’s trains instead. At the moment it appears we are Customers of Nobody.