Rail company Northern cancels 487 services in just 27 days bringing travel misery to passengers in south and west Cumbria
A SPATE of "unprecedented sickness" at beleaguered rail firm Northern led to the cancellation of more than 480 services in just 27 days.
The figure for November 13 to December 10 was more than double that for the period immediately before.
It relates to services on the Cumbria and Lancashire local and inter-urban networks, which includes the Furness and the Cumbrian Coast lines.
Bosses last night made moves to explain why the cancellations had been necessary – as members of the public spoke of their railway woes.
A spokesman for Northern said: “We understand the frustrations of passengers in and around Barrow and the south Lakes who have experienced delays to their journeys.
“Unfortunately, as a result of unprecedented levels of sickness absence, we experienced a number of staff shortages in November and December which had a significant impact on the service we were able to offer to our customers.
“Of course, we do plan for and seek to mitigate certain levels of absence, but those we experienced towards the end of 2016 were over and above those which would normally be expected."
The figures show that 334 inter-urban services – those which include stops at either Lancaster Preston Manchester or Blackpool – were cancelled in the November 13 to December 10 period, while more than 2,800 services (56 per cent) were late.
Of the services classed as local – those which do not stop at the larger exchanges 153 were cancelled, and more than 1,370 (37 per cent) were late.
Robert Parker is the honorary secretary of the Furness Line Action Group which campaigns for better rail services in the area.
He said: "Performance is not good in any areas. It is not just in the lateness and cancellation of services where we are suffering.
"One of our major issues is with revenue collection. So many stations are unstaffed or do not have ticket machines that people have to buy a ticket from a guard.
"But they often do not come out or struggle to sell tickets because of poor mobile reception for the new devices they are now using."
Mr Parker also raised concerns that broken information screen at stations along the Furness line were not being repaired in a timely fashion.
But he did point to a brighter future: "By mid-2018 we should be seeing new rolling stock on the Furness line and an increase in services so that 14 times a day there is a train from Barrow to Preston, eight of which will go on to the airport."
Plans for the next few years were also outlined by Northern.
The spokesman said: "Northern is in the very early stages of an ambitious programme to modernise rail travel for our customers which will deliver better journeys and improve customer service in the North.
“By 2020 everyone travelling on the Northern network will benefit from brand new or completely refurbished trains through our multi-million-pound fleet investment.
"All the unpopular Pacer trains will be gone by the end of 2019. We will also further modernise our stations and facilities, all forming part of a significant modernisation designed to deliver a rail service fit for the 21st century."