Passenger Power: If it looks like a bus and crawls like a bus, how can they call it a train?

Today we relaunch our Passenger Power campaign, based on our readers' experiences, with the tale of the rail firm that makes its customers go by road.
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The Independent Online

The train to Knottingley was due to leave Wakefield Westgate at 18.10, yet with less than five minutes to go the platform number had still not appeared on the departure boards. No wonder. Arriva Trains North was running a train service without any trains. Instead the rush hour commuter railway service in West Yorkshire consists of 16-seater minibuses.

The train to Knottingley was due to leave Wakefield Westgate at 18.10, yet with less than five minutes to go the platform number had still not appeared on the departure boards. No wonder. Arriva Trains North was running a train service without any trains. Instead the rush hour commuter railway service in West Yorkshire consists of 16-seater minibuses.

Blaming a shortage of drivers, Arriva has stopped using trains on several of its services. It has also used buses between Pontefract and Leeds for the past three months, and for six months on the route between Thirsk and Newcastle upon Tyne. The buses are officially designated trains by the Strategic Rail Authority and appear in railway timetables.

Rev Martin Short, head of communication for the Church of England, regularly travels between Bradford and Leeds to catch the connection to London. His 22-minute train journey takes double the time by road. On Friday morning passengers at Pontefract Monkhill shivered in the cold as they waited for the 8.17 service to Leeds, while the guard and the ticket-seller took refuge inside a parked car. Each time a passenger arrived, one popped out of the car to sell train tickets for travelling in a bus.

The 13-mile stretch should take 40 minutes, which is itself at least 15 minutes more than the train. But rush hour traffic meant this particular journey took an hour. "The bus is fine if you wish to enjoy meandering through the small towns across England," said commuter Jon Pyper. "But it takes a hell of a lot of time."

Local MPs have received dozens of complaints. As the Conservative MP for York, Anne McIntosh, said: "I don't see how the SRA can say that a train service is still being provided, and passengers are paying a train fare, when they are actually going on a bus."

But she insists it is not the fault of privatisation. "Everyone underestimated its success. Who could have imagined we needed that many trains?"

Arriva has told passengers that normal service will resume by 23 February. Its spokesman says buses will continue to be used while it trains more drivers. But its customer helpline tells commuters that it has no information at all.

Write to Passenger Power, Independent on Sunday, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS. Or email passengerpower@independent.co.uk

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