UK travel chaos: widespread train cancellations add to Christmas crush

Simon Calder
Going places? Northern Rail is one of several train operators to make widespread cancellations, with travellers to and from Manchester badly affected: Simon Calder

On the eve of large-scale shutdowns of the rail network for engineering work, hundreds of trains across the rest of the UK have been cancelled or curtailed due to staff shortage.

TransPennine Express has cancelled 37 long-distance services so far, including many links between Scotland, Tyneside and Manchester airport.

The train operator, which is part of FirstGroup, has curtailed at least 10 others – for example terminating a Manchester-Glasgow train at Preston.

Leo Goodwin, TransPennine Express managing director, told The Independent: “I am really sorry for the disruption to our customers journeys. I know what a busy time it is with people travelling during the festive period.

“We have had a number of issues to contend with; crew training caused by the late delivery of some of our new trains, a maintenance backlog and the implementation of a temporary timetable along one of our routes. This has unfortunately had a knock on affect to other services. We are working really hard to sort this for our customers and as we introduce more new trains we should see an improvement to people’s journeys.”

Northern Rail, which covers much of the same territory from Cheshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire to southern Scotland, has so far cancelled 28 trains on Monday, including some long-distance services such as Leeds to Carlisle, York to Blackpool North and Dumfries to Newcastle.

A further 26 Northern trains will run for only part of their journey – such as the Leeds to Lincoln service, which instead will start at Sheffield.

On the trains that are running, the train operator has warned that many services will have fewer carriages than usual – with many Manchester airport services formed of three rather than six coaches.

Transport for Wales (TfW) has cancelled two dozen trains and curtailed 65 more. For example the trans-Wales service from Swansea-Crewe service, which is scheduled to take over five hours, in fact lasted only 21 minutes before terminating at Llanelli.

TfW warns of “severe delays” on the lines from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Swansea, links from Swansea and Carmarthen west to Pembrokeshire, and from Barry to Bridgend.

On Sunday GWR cancelled dozens of inter-city express trains, blaming a shortage of train crew, and cancellations have begun to disrupt Monday’s services – with the 9.15am express from Penzance to London Paddington among the casualties.

An early-morning train from Cardiff to Paddington was cancelled, as well as two services from London to Bristol Temple Meads.

The London-Great Malvern train started instead from Oxford, missing out Slough and Reading, and the Gloucester to Taunton service ended its journey at Bristol – cutting out 10 planned stops.

Many inter-city expresses are being run with five carriages rather than nine, due to “train faults”.

There is extra pressure today, because from the close of service on Monday no trains will run in or out of London Paddington until Saturday 28 December.

Options for travellers between London and the west are being further reduced by the strike by members of the RMT union working for South Western Railway.

The stoppage, affecting trains from London Waterloo to southwest London, Surrey, Berkshire, Hampshire and beyond, has entered its fourth week.

The stoppage is set to continue to early January – ending just as rail fares rise across Britain.

West Midlands Railway has told travellers between Nuneaton and Leamington Spa that there will be no service on the line after 3.30pm on Monday because of staff shortage.

Greater Anglia has cancelled a dozen services to far today, mainly because of staff shortage and signalling faults.

The train operator warns that the 10.02am from London to Ipswich and the converse return service at 11.48am will have no toilet facilities – for a journey of over 70 minutes.

From London St Pancras, six Eurostar trains are cancelled to and from Paris on Monday, together with one round-trip to Brussels.

While no Eurostar staff are involved in the nationwide general strike in France, the industrial action has cut the number of trains that can run on high-speed lines.

No rail services will run anywhere in the UK on Christmas Day, and few train operators will operate on Boxing Day.

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