New Year’s Eve rail chaos warning as staff ‘won’t do overtime’ in row with firms

Train passengers face travel misery this New Year’s Eve after rail firms warned staff shortages and extreme weather would lead to widespread cancellations across the network.

Nearly all of Britain’s major train operators have predicted extensive disruption to services, throwing plans into doubt for hundreds of thousands of people this weekend.

Passengers have been urged to complete journeys early. Ministers vowed to hold firms “to account if they let passengers down” over the busy weekend.

It was claimed that an industrial dispute between the train drivers’ union Aslef, rail operators and the Government would compound staffing problems, with some workers unwilling to work overtime.

Northern, the Government-controlled operator which serves nearly 550 stations, has issued “do not travel” notices across six key routes and urged customers to complete their journeys before Sunday. Services on its other lines will finish earlier than usual at around 4pm.

Companies including Avanti, CrossCountry, Chiltern, London Northwestern Railway and Thameslink have also warned of delays, last-minute cancellations, early finishes and overcrowding on trains.

Andy Burnham says he is ‘fed up’ with poor rail services in the North of England (Photo: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

ScotRail said that its services would begin to wind down at around 7pm on 31 December, just as millions of revellers across Scotland gather for their traditional Hogmanay celebrations.

Andy Burnham, Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester, told i he was “fed up” with the “excuses culture” for poor rail services, particularly in the North of England, and that there needs to be a “moment of reckoning”.

A senior rail source said that because New Year’s Eve is a Sunday this year, some train companies are relying on staff to offer to work overtime. But because of longstanding employment agreements, companies are unable to force drivers to work on Sundays.

A source at the drivers’ union Aslef said: “It may be that because industrial relations aren’t very good at the moment, there are fewer drivers prepared to work overtime.”

They added that train companies should have resolved such issues weeks ago. Aslef remains in dispute with the rail industry and the Government, although no fresh strike action, or action short of a strike action, has been agreed.

Staff shortages started to bite, with cancellations on a number of routes including Avanti on the West Coast Main Line and London North Eastern Railway (LNER) on the East Coast Main Line.

Posting a picture of a packed Avanti train on social media, passenger James Smith wrote: “Cancelled and delayed trains all day. Now a three-hour stand-up to London from Birmingham.”

LNER, whose services are also controlled by the Department for Transport, cancelled at least six long-distance trains because of a lack of available staff.

‘It’s bad management’: Passengers fume over cancellations and crowded trains

Train companies have been indundated with complaints from passengers about their poor experience on Friday.

James Smith was among those to complain to Avanti after numerous trains from Birmingham from London were cancelled.

He posted an image on X of the crowded train he managed to get on adding: “Cancelled and delayed trains all day. Now a 3hr stand up to London from Birmingham.”

An Avanti customer services agent later confirmed the cancellation was due to “shortage of train crew.”

Mike Trow received an email from Avanti telling him his train from Rugby to Birmingham on New Year’s Eve has been cancelled due to “unforseen circumstances”.

“A shortage of crew, 17 hours in advance, isn’t unforeseen. It’s bad management and planning,” Mr Trow said.

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “Storm Gerrit caused severe travel disruption, including multiple cancellations and delays across the entire rail network.

“As a result, some of our trains and colleagues became displaced, which meant we had to make additional changes to our planned timetable.

“We have also been seeing some short-notice cancellations which are a result of resourcing challenges where we have seen a shortage of train crew due to historic leave agreements. We are working hard to make sure we can minimise these cancellations.

“We’re sorry for customers whose journey was affected and would like to remind them to claim delay repay compensation if their train was cancelled or delayed by 15 minutes or more.”

The firm said it was “anticipating crowding and disruption to services on New Year’s Eve” due to the “combined impact of recent storms damage across the network, higher than usual rates of sickness absence within our teams, as well as reduced capacity within our Sunday timetable”.

Days after Storm Gerrit crippled parts of the network, high winds caused delays on the East Coast Main Line, while flooding led to disruption on high-speed Javelin services between London and Kent.

The Met Office has warned that 75mph winds could affect parts of southern England and Wales on Saturday, potentially causing more disruption.

Passengers at King's Cross station in London. Problems with two Christmas rail engineering work projects are causing major disruption on Wednesday. Services at the southern end of the Midland Main Line between St Albans and London St Pancras are affected by a fault with the signalling system, while overrunning engineering work caused misery for many Southeastern passengers. East Midlands Railway said the signalling issue is preventing it from running services between London St Pancras and Luton Airport, meaning thousands of passengers risk missing flights. Picture date: Wednesday December 27, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story RAIL Engineering. Photo credit should read: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Services from London King’s Cross are set to be affected (Photo: Yui Mok/PA)

Network Rail, meanwhile, is carrying out engineering works affecting TransPennine Express services across the North and into Scotland.

Upgrade work is continuing at London Victoria station until Monday with Southeastern services diverted to Blackfriars, Charing Cross and Cannon Street as a result.

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents train companies, said: “We know that it’s frustrating when customers cannot get the service they are expecting. We are committed to making sure that train services are reliable and punctual.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “While staffing is a matter for industry, we are working with them to ensure they are able to deliver the services that passengers need, making clear that we will hold them to account if they let passengers down.”

New Year’s Eve cancellations and early finishes

Avanti

Due to engineering works, trains are finishing earlier, with the last service leaving London for Manchester at 5.15pm. The last train sets off for London from Glasgow at 4.29pm. The firm is also experiencing “short notice” cancellations due to a shortage of train crew

Northern:

“Significant” disruption throughout the North West due to shortage of crew. “Do not travel”‘ warning on the following routes:

  • Morecambe/Heysham – Lancaster
  • Preston – Colne
  • Manchester Victoria – Chester
  • Manchester Victoria – Stalybridge
  • Manchester Piccadilly – Chester (Via Altrincham)
  • Clitheroe – Bolton

LNER:

Rail replacement coach service between Darlington and York. Services between Leeds, York and London King’s Cross will run to an amended and reduced timetable until 11am. On New Year’s Day, services will start later than usual and run to an amended timetable. No services between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen or Inverness.

CrossCountry

Services will be “extremely busy” and expect cancellations or changes to planned timetables. 

East Midlands

Liverpool to Norwich trains will start/terminate at Sheffield. Rail replacement buses will run between Sheffield and Stockport.

ScotRail:

Services will run as normal until around 7pm, when services will begin to wind down. No trains on New Year’s Day

Transport for Wales

Services to wind down from 8pm. No trains on New Year’s Day

Southeastern

No trains from London Victoria. Trains will be diverted to Cannon Street or Blackfriars. Additional late-night trains run after midnight from Charing Cross and Cannon Street.

TransPennine Express

  • Due to engineering work, trains between Manchester and Scotland will start/ terminate at Preston.
  • Buses replace trains between Manchester stations and Preston.
  • Trains between Manchester and Hull/Scarborough will be replaced by buses between Huddersfield and Leeds.
  • Buses will replace trains between Manchester and Sheffield until 3pm.
  • Services between Manchester and Scotland also affected on New Year’s Day.

Thameslink

“Major disruption” due to shortage of train crew – route between Bedford and London worst affected