A NORTH East MP has blamed Northern Rail for failing to ease overcrowding on an early-morning Northumberland commuter train.
Hundreds of commuters use the “jam-packed” service travelling from Hexham to Newcastle every day.
Just before Christmas the rail company bowed to public pressure to bolt on extra carriages, but after just three days they were removed without warning.
It emerged that train drivers’ union Aslef raised health and safety concerns in an issue now dubbed “torchgate”.
The way the new carriages were attached meant drivers had to jump down from the cab and walk from one end of the train to the other in order to change direction.
The union deemed it was a hazard for drivers to walk in the dark without a proper light to avoid hazards.
But The Journal understands that managers have dismissed claims that lighting is necessary, and say the issue is not health and safety but industrial relations.
Negotiations between the union and Northern Rail have so far failed to reach an agreement.
Now Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman has in frustration offered to buy torches for the drivers to solve the lighting stand-off.
“I blame Northern Rail for their failure to plan and their failure to sort this out with the drivers and their union,” he said. “The public will be amazed that a more practical and speedy solution cannot be found.
“I have taken the train myself and like others have had to stand all the way to Newcastle. Northern Rail have failed to manage this change and have failed to plan such that the drivers will not walk in the dark.”
The row concerns the 7.42am train from Hexham to Newcastle and Middlesbrough.
The service arrives early and shunts into a siding to allow a Glasgow service to pass through on the Tyne Valley line. Drivers used to walk inside the train to change cab and take the service back to the station.
But with no walkway between extra carriages this became impossible.
Mr Opperman raised the matter in the House of Commons during a transport debate and described the 1985 tram-like trains as “Leyland buses on wheels”.
But Richard Allan, area director for Northern Rail, said: “We are working desperately hard to reach a resolution that will see the return of the additional carriage.
“We understand our passengers’ frustrations at the removal of this carriage and we would like to apologise to them for the continued overcrowding on this service.”
But that is little comfort for the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group which has urged both sides to reach an early settlement.
Chairman of the group Malcolm Chainey said: “We hear from Northern Rail that discussions have stalled for want of a response from Aslef, and that the earliest that there will be any contact is a meeting between the two on February 3.
“This means that there will be at least another two weeks before the second unit is deployed, and passengers will continue to endure uncomfortable and possibly unsafe journeys.”
Aslef declined to comment.
I blame Northern Rail for their failure to plan and ... sort this out with the drivers and their union