Northern leaders have warned there is a “real risk” of the May 2018 rail chaos repeating if timetable talks with the Government fail as the Friday deadline approaches.
Crunch negotiations began last Tuesday after Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris refused to budge on infrastructure demands made by Transport for the North (TfN) in return for their agreement to a slew of timetable cuts set to be introduced next December to ease rail congestion.
He said that mayors must decide by Friday whether to accept the new timetable, or face being stuck with the even worse Covid timetable until at least 2023.
READ MORE: Family’s heartbreaking tribute to Manchester Arena bombing hero Darron Coster killed in crash near Skipton
Today a TfN spokeswoman told YorkshireLive that leaders are “determined to keep talking… up to the last minute” to find a solution.
But they warned there is a “real risk” of big disruption line the May 2018 timetable chaos if the Government does not agree to Northern demands.
Leaders had demanded concrete commitments including infrastructure for new services from Bradford and the Calder Valley to Manchester and the eventual reinstatement of direct trains from Sheffield to Manchester Airport, which will be scrapped in the December 2022 timetable changes.
“[TfN members] are concerned that if they do not have these assurances, then there is a real risk of a repeat of the May 2018 debacle reoccurring that was largely due to previous infrastructure commitments not being delivered upon,” the TfN spokeswoman said.
The planned December 2022 changes were drawn up by the Government’s Manchester Recovery Task Force, which was set up after the mass disruption of May 2018 to tackle rail congestion in central Manchester that impacts services across the North.
“The railways in and around Central Manchester are a major congestion pinchpoint impacting on the reliability of services across a wide area of the North of England,” a previous TfN report said.
“Not only does it drive poor performance across the North, it also prevents service enhancements from being delivered and constrains economic growth.”
Northern leaders found out their demands had been rebuffed when Mr Heaton-Harris’s email arrived in TfN chief executive Tim Wood’s inbox mid-way through last week’s board meeting – with Mr Wood declaring an “impasse” in the dispute.
Chief executive Mr Wood said the current Covid timetable – which runs 80 per cent of pre-pandemic services – will soon cause problems for passengers as more people in the North return to rail travel.
However, it introduced the new December 2022 timetable would mean no direct services between Sheffield and Manchester Airport – while trains from York, Leeds and Huddersfield to the airport would be reduced from two per hour to just one.
Download the YorkshireLive app to customise the news that matters to you and get the latest updates first.