Dispute over Sunday working brings rail chaos

A rail company faced a barrage of criticism after it was forced to cancel all but one of its Sunday services today because staff have failed to volunteer to work.

London Midland came under fire after revealing that its drivers usually work on a voluntary basis on Sundays, but this week insufficient numbers have put themselves forward for the shift.

It means that trains on almost all of its routes will be idle today due to "staff shortage" - leaving thousands of passengers stranded or delayed.

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard has asked the Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, to investigate the disruptions.

Mr Pritchard, MP for The Wrekin and a member of the House of Commons Transport Select Committee, told the BBC: "Hundreds of Midlands people use their trains for business and leisure.

"London Midland need to pay their staff a fair wage to work anti-social hours - and get the trains moving again."

The Birmingham-based company, which operates more than 1,200 services a day to 149 stations, said all trains will be cancelled except those on the Birmingham to Liverpool line.

London Midland runs train services throughout the heart of England, serving major cities including London, Birmingham and Liverpool, and linking scores of towns across the midlands.

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union said workers were not taking organised action, but called on the firm to address staffing problems "as a matter of urgency".

General Secretary Bob Crow said it was simply a case of staff exercising their contractual right not to work on Sunday.

He added: "Many of our members will be working as rostered and if the company has staffing problems it should sit down with us as a matter of urgency to resolve them."

Speaking for the Northampton Rail Users' Group, one of the largest towns served by the network, Shaun Hope said: "It's a shambles. How can they run an essential service on a voluntary basis? It's an astonishing way to operate a train service.'

Passengers have been advised to avoid travel if possible and arrangements have been made for other operators - including Virgin Trains and Chiltern Railways - to accept London Midland tickets.

Efforts are also being made to arrange replacement buses on some routes.

On its website London Midland apologised for the situation and advised customers: "If you're travelling by train this weekend, please be aware that there will be no London Midland trains running on Sunday 6 September 2009, except between Birmingham and Liverpool, due to a staff shortage.

"For the majority of London Midland on train staff, working on Sundays has always been voluntary.

"This weekend, so few have volunteered to work, that we have had no choice but to cancel services.

"We have made arrangements with other train operators to accept London Midland tickets...but if practical we suggest you avoid travelling."

Services will be back to normal on Monday, the firm said.

Ashwin Kumar, director of the independent passenger watchdog Passenger Focus, said: "Passengers rely on Sunday trains for a day out with the family, for shopping trips and, increasingly, to get to work.

"They will be frustrated and angry at the lack of London Midland trains this weekend and it is vital that this issue is resolved as soon as possible.

"It's also crucial that plenty of accurate and timely information is given to passengers so they can make an informed decision about their journey and make alternative arrangements."

Shadow transport secretary Theresa Villiers said: "London Midland needs to get their act together. They really should have contingency plans for a situation when their regular drivers don't put their names down for Sunday shifts."

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