Sheffield rail services cancelled due to lack of staff - on day new northern franchises launched

A First Transpennine Express train.
A First Transpennine Express train.
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Several Transpennine Express rail services through Sheffield have been cancelled today due to an overtime dispute with drivers - on the day the company’s ‘new look’ franchise was launched.

The company has confirmed 11 services have been cancelled today across its network as a result of train crew not being available - including six services on the Manchester to Cleethorpes route which runs through Sheffield, Meadowhall and Doncaster.

It comes on the day of the biggest change for train services in northern England for more than 10 years, with FirstGroup taking sole control of Transpennine Express, having run the previous franchise in partnership with Keolis.

Arriva has taken over Northern Rail from Abellio and Serco.

A source told The Star of the Transpennine dispute: “They do not have enough staff to operate the trains from Day One and are instead relying on staff overtime. However due to a dispute with drivers no one is working overtime.

“Personally I think it’s a disgrace.”

A Transpennine Express (TPE) spokesman said: “We can confirm that unfortunately we have had to cancel 11 TPE services today. This is a result of train crew not being available.

“Six of the cancellations occurred on our South Route between Manchester and Cleethorpes.

“Whilst we have enough drivers and spare capability to deliver our timetable, services can on occasion be affected by increased levels of sickness at depots.

“Previously we have been able to resource uncovered services by offering voluntary overtime. Disappointingly and unfortunately for our customers, ASLEF, the representing union have withdrawn from what is known as a Rest Day Working agreement. We have offered a number of resolutions to the areas of dispute to ASLEF but unfortunately no agreement has yet been reached.

“We will continue to make ourselves available for further discussion and we look forward to finding a resolution together that means we can get on with providing an improved service for customers and delivering the massive benefits and investment of the new franchise.”

It comes as the new franchises were officially launched in Manchester today.

TPE say they will invest more than £500m in services over the next seven years, introducing extra seats and faster trains.

Managing Director Leo Goodwin said: “This new franchise will lead to a complete overhaul of train travel in the North and Scotland. Over the next four years the customer experience on our services will be reimagined with improved catering, more seats, faster trains, innovative ticketing systems and improved journey times.

“While some things will take time to implement, customers will notice some changes immediately. The catering across our services will begin to improve from today, while the refurbishment of our Class 185 rolling stock will start later this year. We are also committed to improving our response to delays and cancellations, with an automatic delay repay system implemented within 12 months and Wi-Fi at all TPE stations in 2017.

“We will be working hard over the next four years to achieve these major changes and create an outstanding intercity rail service that will take the North further.”

Meanwhile Arriva has taken over Northern Rail services, pledging 281 new carriages and free wi-fi within three years, more than 2,000 extra services, new through-journeys across Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield and longer trains.

Chris Burchell, managing director of Arriva’s UK Trains division, said: “The journey towards a complete transformation in services for customers in the North starts now. Throughout the term of the franchise we will be injecting a multimillion-pound investment to deliver a step-change in quality and are excited to now have the opportunity to start delivering on our promises to passengers.

“We are investing in new and refurbished trains, journeys will be improved through refreshed networks and timetables, and our trains will offer more capacity and comfort.”

Unions complained that Arriva is a subsidiary of Germany’s nationalised Deutsche Bahn, so profits would go back to Germany.

Rail, Maritime and Transport union leader Mick Cash said: “It may be April Fool’s Day but it is no joke for railways across the North to have their services set up for plundering by Deutsche Bahn at the expense of investment here in the UK. It makes a total mockery of George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse nonsense.”

Manuel Cortes, leader of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “Arriva has promised to expand and improve services for passengers and we will be holding them to those promises.

“But don’t be fooled into thinking Deutsche Bahn are in business in Britain for our benefit when their objective is to make profits out of British commuters so they can subsidise fares at home.”