Page last updated at 15:42 GMT, Sunday, 6 September 2009 16:42 UK

Staff shortage hits rail travel

Sign at Hall Green station, near Birmingham
Sign at Hall Green station, near Birmingham

Thousands of rail passengers have endured problems after a train firm cancelled all but one of its Sunday routes because of a lack of drivers.

London Midland relies on drivers volunteering on Sundays, but said not enough had offered to work this week so services could not run.

An agreement where drivers were paid double on Sundays ended last weekend.

Network Rail said its major stations had been noticeably quieter. Some of the smaller stations were deserted.

London Midland runs about 1,200 services with trains calling at 149 stations between London, the Midlands and the North West.

London Midland travel advice
Virgin Trains accepting tickets on routes between London Euston and Crewe, Rugby, Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton
Chiltern Railways accepting tickets on routes between Birmingham Snow Hill and London Marylebone
Cross Country accepting tickets on routes between Birmingham and Nuneaton, Tamworth, Coventry and Stafford (for connections to London)
East Midlands accepting tickets on routes between London St Pancras and Wellingbrough (running coaches to Northampton)
Tickets also valid on National Express West Midlands and the Midland Metro
National Rail Enquiries number: 08457 48 49 50.

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said Birmingham New Street, a major rail hub in the West Midlands, had been noticeably quieter although other train operators were still running their services.

But smaller stations, such as Hall Green, near Birmingham, were left deserted as all services were cancelled.

The only London Midland service operating is between Birmingham and Liverpool.

Replacement bus services are being provided on some routes and other rail companies have said they will accept London Midland tickets, but the firm has warned passengers not to attempt to travel by train unless necessary.

Conservative MP Michael Fabricant, who represents Lichfield in Staffordshire, said the situation was "unacceptable" and called on the Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to withdraw London Midland's contract.

"After all the disruption, sacrifice and noise residents were forced to endure caused by the four-tracking of the main line by Lichfield, the present debacle cannot be allowed to drift on any longer," he said.

Hall Green
Hall Green station, which has several trains an hour, was deserted

Shaun Hope, of Northampton Rail Users' Group, based in one of the largest towns served by London Midland, 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."

London Midland said working on Sundays had always been voluntary.

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

Bob Crow, General Secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers Union (RMT), said the move was not organised action by workers but a case of the contractual right not to work being exercised.

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

He said: "Their contracts of employment say they haven't got to work on a Sunday. It's their choice.

"They're not breaking their contracts of employment so what is the big deal?"

Mr Crow said he believed the situation could have been avoided if London Midland had told the union it had problems filling the shifts.

Alan Bevan, West Midlands spokesman for Railfuture, which campaigns for better train services, said both London Midland and the drivers were at fault.

He said: "The current franchise operator has had the franchise for a couple of years now and knew full well when it took it on that there was this particular difficulty. And it should have been addressed then.

"But I feel that the drivers are being somewhat irresponsible."

Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who represents Wrekin in Shropshire, has also asked Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to investigate the circumstances behind the mass cancellations.

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