Arriva fined £2m for huge cuts to train schedules

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The Independent Online

Rail company Arriva was fined £2m for cancelling trains and was given an ultimatum to improve services within a month or face losing its franchise. The Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) set a 19 November deadline for improvement, and said the depleted service from Arriva Trains Northern was the "most serious situation" involving a franchise company since privatisation.

Last summer, Arriva was fined £6m by the SRA for poor performance after the company and five other operators blamed repeated cancellations of services on a national shortage of train drivers.

Yesterday, the company, which runs rail services in the North-east, was fined for cancelled trains between May and August and told its passengers had suffered an "unacceptable level" of disruption. The SRA chief executive, Mike Grant, said: "If performance does not improve, the company faces the possibility of further serious sanctions including, ultimately, franchise termination."

But the SRA, a government body which manages the train operators, invoked the fury of long-suffering rail passengers in the North-east by announcing an interim agreement for further reduction in Arriva's service which it said would provide "greater certainty about which services will be operating".

From 1 October this year, the company dropped 80 trains a day, or 5 per cent of its service, due to driver shortage. It said yesterday it would stop a further 160 services a day from 29 October 29 until 24 February 2002 because of the same reasons. Most train companies have driver shortages because managers cut costs after privatisation. Some operators are struggling to recruit drivers.

The SRA said the measures had been agreed to give passengers greater certainty about which services will be operating, and to focus on recruitment and training drivers. Arriva said it inherited the driver-shortage when it took over the franchise and its "service revisions" would reduce the number of ad-hoc cancellations. The company, which runs 1,600 trains a day, said most services would be unaffected.

Among routes affected are the Transpennine Express, Newcastle-Morpeth-Chathill, Newcastle-Darlington-Middlesbrough-Saltburn, Newcastle-Hartlepool, the Calder Valley services, Sheffield-York and Leeds-Ilkley.