The British railway system falls over the minute there is bad weather, metro mayor Andy Burnham tells northern rail bosses after "terrible" summer

Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.

A leading northern metro mayor has claimed that the British railway system "all falls over the minute there is bad weather" as rail bosses admitted the summer had been "terrible" for passengers in the North.

Officials from Network Rail and operators Northern and TransPennine Express faced angry questioning from political leaders today after it emerged performance on the North's railways over a month this summer was worse than the same period last year.

Greater Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham said leaders were "in disbelief" that this summer was even worse than in 2018, when the botched introduction of a new timetable caused chaos for commuters.

Read more: ‘Enough is enough’ as rail services go from bad to worse across the North – The Yorkshire Post says

Read more: Flooding misery will be Yorkshire’s new normal without urgent climate action: Simon Bowens

As reported in The Yorkshire Post this week, the worsening performance has been blamed on severe weather events such as the flood risk at Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire and issues relating to train crew shortages and problems with the fleet.

Anna-Jane Hunter, director of north of England rail at Network Rail, told a meeting of Transport for the North's Rail North Committee in Manchester that July and August represented an "exceptionally poor period" after several months of continuous improvement.

She said a number of issues "conspired against us" and cited the 65 serious flooding incidents, three periods of very high winds and a major power cut in August.

She admitted passengers "have had a terrible time of it" but that "we don't shy away from how awful [this period] was".

Ms Hunter said a comprehensive review had been launched and that £240m was being spent on improving embankments and cuttings as well as better drainage to reduce flood risk.

Mr Burnham told the meeting that the weather this summer "hasn't been that bad" and that there were many sunny days in the affected period.

He said: "Surely you have to have a level of resilience in your system so if there is bad weather you've got drivers you can call on and you've got a plan.

"It feels like the minute there is bad weather in the British railway system it all falls over. We'll make some allowances for the weather but what percentage of this was the weather and what percentage was you?"

Ms Hunter said the conditions experienced in the summer of 2019 "have previously been the exception but they are increasingly becoming the norm".

She said: "We acknowledge that we can't keep saying we are having exceptional weather. That is not good enough to say we have had exceptionally high temperatures and exceptional levels of rainfall.

"Whatever is causing these conditions is increasingly making it the norm, not the exception. We have been slow to react in terms of some of our standards and some of our regimes and that is what we are looking into at the moment."

After operator Northern said a shortage of drivers - with many being trained to use the firm's new rolling stock - contributed to the problems, Leeds city council leader Judith Blake told the committee that local councils were responsible for delivering front line services 365 days a year.

She added: "What would happen to us if we were talking about shortages in the summer and not delivering services? So it is a bit tough for us to take, that one."

She added that even if all the trains were running on time, many passengers wouldn't be able to get on board because of the regular short-forming of trains.

The Labour councillor criticised Northern for failing to record accurately how many people had been unable to get on trains and asked when the promised longer trains would be arriving in West Yorkshire.

Rob Warnes, the performance and planning director at Northern, said longer trains would come in with the introduction of the firm's new rolling stock.

New trains have already been brought in to replace the hated Pacers, with the last of the 1980s vehicles being retired next summer.