Rail minister faces backlash after labelling Northern Rail issues as “teething problems”

The government has promised to prioritise Northern rail issues and ensure a plan of action to fix the train operator’s poor service is implemented after a week in which passengers have continued to vent their anger about delays and cancellations.

Northern Rail has come under fire this week with customers and even the mayor of Greater Manchester lambasting the rail firm for severely overcrowded trains and cancelled services. Dozens of trains were cancelled or delayed on Monday (21 May) after the introduction of the new Northern Rail timetable over the weekend. The persistent problems have caused local politicians to call for Northern to be stripped of its franchise.

The train company also said a shortage of drivers was disrupting services with numerous services running significantly late on routes between Blackpool, Southport, Wigan and Manchester airport.

Despite the severe problems faced on a vast number of services, the rail minister Jo Johnson has said the operator is just suffering from “teething problems” and was confident passengers would soon see the benefits of efforts being made by the government to improve transport links in the north.

Urgent plans to tackle poor performance on Northern Rail services have been submitted to the transport secretary Chris Grayling and Johnson. 

Measures to improve services include driver rostering to get more trains running, increasing driver training on new routes, additional contingency drivers and putting extra peak services in the timetable along the Bolton corridor, including between Buckshaw and Manchester Victoria, and Preston and Manchester Oxford Road.

Following a meeting for Conservative MPs from northern seats, organised by Bolton West and Atherton MP Chris Green, Johnson said: “At a productive meeting this morning I was able to hear about local concerns regarding the new rail timetable and capacity on the lines in and around Manchester, and along the route to Carlisle. We are significantly improving passengers’ journeys across the North by investing over £1bn in improvements, and I am confident that once the current teething problems subside, commuters will start to see those benefits soon. We have agreed an action plan with Transport for the North and I am determined to continue working with Conservative MPs to get the best service.”

The metro mayor for Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has spoken out saying he has no interaction with the government on the issue, despite the government issuing a release to say Johnson had met the mayor. 

Burnham tweeted following Johnson’s statement, he said: “Right on cue, minister speaks and reveals how out of touch they are. “Teething problems”? Try telling that to commuters at Oxford Road tonight. No reply to my letter. No date for a meeting. No public statement on what he’s going to do to end the chaos.”

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