Since 7 October, London Midland has cancelled 410 train services, and now the company is blaming the cancellations on a shortage of drivers. It says there aren’t enough qualified drivers, which has caused a series of train cancellations on routes from the capital to major cities in the West Midlands and surrounding Midlands.
Following hundreds of cancellations already, the company announced on Friday that 38 trains were cancelled. On Saturday, it announced the early termination of 37 services and cancellation of 58 journeys due to the shortages. The affected lines have included – Birmingham to London, Liverpool and Northampton via Coventry; Wolverhampton to Rugeley via Birmingham and Walsall; and Lichfield to Redditch via Birmingham.
London Midland runs 1,300 services every day and says the shortage of train drivers will be addressed by mid-December. In a statement, it said that they have had to cancel many trains over recent weeks due to a temporary shortfall in qualified drivers. They apologise for the affect it has had on travellers. While the shortfall should be addressed before the end of the year, they are working to keep the impact on passengers to an absolute minimum. They hope to run a full service on most days.
The company also noted that some drivers are working overtime to miminise the impact, and several changes to how they resource their train services will help as well. Passengers are advised to check the London Midland website until December 11, where they will post cancellation updates by 5pm the day before services are expected to be affected.
At the end of last week, a spokeswoman said they are really sorry and are working to counter the issue. They are making a lot of progress, with many drivers working during their time off and other flexible working by staff. They expect very few affected services on Sunday and Monday – only about six each day. She added that they were trying to be as open as they could and give travellers the journey information they need.
When Sunday came around, however, London Midland was able to operate all of its 520 services. It then said that it expected to cancel seven trains on Monday. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF), which represents the drivers, said that they sympathise with the company. Mick Whelan, the general secretary, said the shortage of drivers was caused by several things – including a competitor offering higher salaries in the area. Voluntary overtime from existing drivers can only do so much to deal with the problem though.
Passenger group Travel Watch West Midlands has called the competency of London Midland into question, saying that the level of service is unacceptable. Spokesman Phil Davis, who’s also a Labour councillor for Birmingham City Council, said that the situation appears to be getting worse. It’s clear the train operator doesn’t seem to be meeting obligations.
Davis also said that he will be writing in the capacity to the rail regulator and encouraged others to complain as well. This is unacceptable, as travellers are really having a hard time commuting to work. They really need a service they can rely on. He noted that he experienced the cancellation firsthand, while other residents have complained to him.
Rail Minister Norman Baker has warned London Midland that they are monitoring its performance. The Birmingham Chamber of Commerce has told the company that it’s vital the problem is resolved for the sake of businesses in the area – particularly shops during school half-term.