Rail firms are using loopholes to axe thousands of services without officially recording them – after selling travellers tickets for the cancelled ‘ghost trains’.
A record 314,000 were dropped in the year to October 15, the Office of Road and Rail has admitted – but that figure does not include those hit by strikes, lost in ‘amended’ timetables or cancelled before 10pm the night before.
Veteran rail expert Christian Wolmar revealed the ruse, explaining: ‘I had a ticket for an 8am King’s Cross train – I looked on the station noticeboard and it wasn’t there. The man said there is no 8am train and I said I have a ticket for it. It was always on the timetable but it had become a phantom train.’
He said of the official figure – 3.8 per cent of services across the country: ‘I can’t remember such a high figure but it’s irrelevant because it only represents cancellations on the day.’
Avanti West Coast was savaged by prime minister Rishi Sunak last week as it emerged it had the worst official record with 7.7 per cent cancelled. In the 12 weeks to mid-October, it timetabled 60 per cent of the trains it operated a year earlier.
Govia Thameslink is second worst with 6.4 per cent, while TransPennine Express – owned by the same company as Avanti – cancelled 5.3 per cent.
Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham called the hidden figures ‘outrageous’, adding: ‘There’s no other word. People have lost trust in trains.’
The government extended Avanti West Coast’s contract last month but said it would lose it in April unless it ‘drastically improves’.
No.10 yesterday urged the RMT union to consult members over an eight per cent pay offer over two years.
But RMT boss Mick Lynch – dubbed Mick Grynch for ruining Christmas – rejected it and announced yet another strike, from 6pm on Christmas Eve to 6am on December 27. His members will vote on strikes due on December 13, 14, 16 and 17. They are expected to go ahead after he urged them to reject the ‘extremely detrimental’ offer.
However, the TSSA union last night called off its own December 17 strike to put a ‘best and final’ Network Rail offer to its members.
Transport secretary Mark Harper said: ‘It’s incredibly disappointing that, despite a new and improved deal offering job security and a fair pay rise, the RMT is not only continuing with upcoming industrial action but has called more strikes over Christmas.
‘It’s especially disappointing given TSSA called this new and improved deal the “best we can achieve through negotiation” and called off strikes.’
He said the government played its part but the RMT failed to, causing ‘harmful disruption’ this Christmas rather than ‘helpful discussion’.
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