January 30, 2020
The transition from school to university is a difficult enough time, but for Keren Efoloko, the issue was compounded by the daily grind of unreliable train travel.
Northern Rail Failed Us – It Deserves To Go, But We Need Something Better
The 22-year-old lives in Manchester, but went to study psychology and sociology at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston and thought it would be cheaper to commute.
The constant delays and cancellations by Northern Rail led to her feeling fraught and constantly under pressure and culminated in her missing an important exam. 
“It was hugely stressful and it affected my mental health.” she told HuffPost UK. “The big change in your life from school to uni is hard enough without heaping a load of extra pressure on it.
“I was commuting between Manchester and Preston three or four times a week in my first year of university and it was really difficult.
“Northern Rail’s services were regularly delayed or cancelled and it made me late for lectures.
“I knew I couldn’t rely on the trains so when I had a 9am lecture, I would wake up extra early and catch an earlier train just in case the one I needed was cancelled. The trains would be so late, at times I would feel tearful.”On the day of a major exam, Keren, who now works as a mental health support worker, was dismayed to discover her train was cancelled and remembers feeling panicked and sick.
She called the university to tell them she was stranded and would not be able to get there in time to sit her exam. “I was worried they would think I was lying or say that I should have planned ahead in case this happened. I had revised really hard for this exam and felt very emotional and upset.
“But luckily, the university was very understanding and realised it wasn’t my fault. I was told to come in when I could and show the evidence about what had happened.
“I was allowed to do a written assignment instead of the exam.”
The ordeal of commuting by train was so problematic during her first year, Keren decided to move to Preston for her second and third years and live in halls of residence. “After all the hassle I had with travelling during my first year, I just could not bear the pressure of commuting any more.”
Northern Rail’s unreliable service has had a deep impact on his life personally and financially, Muhammad Waheed, told HuffPost UK.“Northern Rail’s services are hardly ever on time.” he said. “The other train services aren’t as bad – the issue is always with Northern.”
The 25-year-old is self employed. He supplies clothing to different places and travels by train regularly to places including Manchester, Liverpool and Warrington.
“The trains are delayed or cancelled all the time. Every day, it is the same old story. Even on the rare occasions when the train is on time, it suddenly stops in the middle of nowhere and you are stuck for ages.”
Muhammad said he has lost out financially after missing appointments with clients who he wanted to talk about supplying clothing. “If you arrive late, they often can’t see you. Even though it is not your fault, they don’t want to listen to excuses.
“If I wasn’t self employed, I know I would have lost my job several times over by now through being late so much.”
Being unable to rely on regular and punctual train services also affects your personal life, says Muhammad, who is married with a four-month-old baby boy.
“I am always getting home late because of the problems with the trains and as a result, I am missing out on family time. Often, by the time I finally get a train home, my little boy has gone to bed so I can’t see him.
“On one occasion, I was in Warrington and was stood on the platform in the rain and cold. After four trains were cancelled, I ended up getting a taxi to Manchester which cost me about £60 to £70.
“Northern Rail’s failures have affected me personally and financially and I am not surprised they have lost the franchise.”
As a working mum of two teenagers, Rebecca Johnson knows how delayed and cancelled trains impinge on her whole family.She works in museums and regularly travels on trains for meetings. Her husband travels on Northern Rail’s trains daily for his work commute and gets the first train of the day as he knows it is the only one likely to run on time.
“Train travel around here is absolutely horrendous,” she told HuffPost UK. “We have these ridiculous old trains and there aren’t enough trains for the number of people and then they are notoriously late.
“Northern is such an unreliable service that if people can avoid using it, they do. If I go to London or travel by train elsewhere in the country, the journey is beautifully smooth. It is just closer to home that the problems occur.”
Rebecca remembers once coming back from a family holiday abroad and finding the trains had been cancelled so having to pay for a taxi home instead. And she regularly finds herself having to pick up her teenagers from train stations after they find themselves stranded due to delays and cancellations.
“It really does impact family life in so many ways,” she said. “If my teenagers go somewhere on the train, I always have the worry about whether they will be able to get back.”
When Lizzie Leek was studying dance in Manchester, she had to travel from Chorley to Manchester Piccadilly three days a week. But the poor train services led to her often only going in one day a week and it affected her assignments and ability to attend choreography sessions.The 19-year-old told HuffPost UK: “There were so many times that the trains would be cancelled or delayed and you just felt on tenterhooks all the time wondering if you would be able to get there.
“Some days, when trains were cancelled, I would have to get my mum to give me a lift, but this would mean her going 40 minutes out of her way.”
Zaynab Hussain, 21, recently finished college – a period of her life beset by the stress of unreliable trains.
“The worst experience I had was when I arrived half-an-hour late for a mock test which was at 9am,” she said. “Even though I explained the train was delayed, I felt it was not deemed to be acceptable. I cannot control the train service but it was affecting my attendance for my education.
“Rail transport should not be like this because people are paying for it but are getting a terrible service for their money. It is like they are robbing people.
“Northern Rail failed us so it deserves to go. But we need something better in its place.”Mohammed Ali, 21, is studying pharmacy at Huddersfield University and commutes there from Manchester. He says his punctuality is regularly impacted due to the unreliable Northern Rail service.“I am always arriving for lectures late and it makes you feel very stressed,” he said. “I found it particularly hard during exam season as I arrived five or 10 minutes late for some of my exams and this made me feel pressurised and the whole experience a lot more stressful.”Recruitment consultant Will Adams finds the only way to cope with the unreliable train services is to constantly book a much earlier train than the one he actually needs.“If I have meetings with clients, I always get an earlier train rather than risk being late,” he said. “My worst experience was getting stuck in Crewe on a train for about 40 minutes and the power went off and no one was telling us anything.“I know sometimes things can happen, but the trains are just so unreliable and it makes life particularly difficult when you have a connecting train to get which you end up missing.”Alison Richards, 72, who lives in Warrington, says it’s ludicrous how atrocious the train services in the UK are compared to abroad.She believes the dreadful public transport services make it almost impossible for people to leave their cars at home, as commuters are urged.“I travel by train to Manchester for shopping and often find the trains are late or cancelled,” she said.“The worst experience I had was when I went to the platform about 5pm and trains kept getting cancelled so the platform became extremely overcrowded. It seemed dangerous and it makes you feel vulnerable.“It makes you feel really sorry for commuters who must go through this ordeal every day.”When Alison and her husband travel by train in countries such as Spain or Portugal, she says it is a completely different experience. “Train travel there is cheap and the trains are electrified and punctual.“But in the UK, we are paying over the odds for an inferior service. It makes me feel quite depressed when we are supposed to be a first world country.”Arriva Rail North’s responseChris Burchell, managing director for Arriva’s UK trains division, said: “We had a clear vision for the Northern franchise that would better connect the cities of the north with more frequent, reliable and modern services and unlock economic growth.
“It was clear, however, that – largely because of external factors – the franchise plan had become undeliverable.
“A new plan is needed that will secure the future for Northern train services.  As such, we understand [the] government’s decision today.
“I would like to recognise the hard work of the 6,000 strong team at Northern who have worked tirelessly over the last four years to deliver improvements to local rail services in the north, at times under extremely difficult conditions.
“The scale of the challenges we faced outside of our direct control were unprecedented, particularly around delayed or cancelled infrastructure projects and prolonged strike action.
“Despite the challenges, the team has introduced brand new trains onto the network for the first time in a generation. They have introduced more than 2,000 extra services per week, refurbished trains and stations, and created hundreds of new customer-facing jobs as part of a £600m investment programme for the north.
“We recognise, however, that overall service improvements have not come quickly enough, and passengers deserve better.
“For that, we wholeheartedly apologise. We now stand ready to support [the] government and the operator of last resort to ensure a smooth transfer for our passengers and colleagues alike.”Related... Northern Rail Stripped Of Franchise After Years Of Passenger Misery Train Fares Have Gone Up Again – Here's Why All The Christmas Eve Travel Disruption, Mostly Due To Northern Rail's 'Staff Sickness' Hey Northern Rail, This Is What Your Timetable Chaos Is Doing To People’s Lives
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