Dozens of trains cancelled ahead of England’s opening Euro match as a result of rail staff shortage

Going places? Great Western Railway hub at London Paddington (Simon Calder)
Going places? Great Western Railway hub at London Paddington (Simon Calder)

“DO NOT TRAVEL” – that was the stark warning from Northern Rail to passengers in northwest England on Sunday afternoon and evening.

The state-run train operator warned passengers of “significant disruption and cancellation, meaning later services will not be able to run”.

Passengers who had been hoping to watch the England-Serbia match and then travel home by train were told: “Last services will now be earlier and train services will not be replaced by buses.”

Northern blamed: “High levels of train crew sickness and non-availability.”

About half of the rail firm’s train drivers do not have Sundays within their working week. On-board conductors also have only a Monday to Saturday working week. Those employed on the west side of the Pennines never have to work on Sundays if they prefer not to do so.

On a day when England’s first match coincided with Father’s Day, it was clear that many staff had chosen not to work.

The picture was replicated elsewhere in the country. Between Penzance and London Paddington on Great Western Railway (GWR), there was a gap of over seven hours between services.

The 10.18am departed on time, but the following two trains were cancelled. The 5.55pm did run, but had only five carriages (instead of up to 10) and arrived late in London, by which time much of the Tube had shut down.

GWR told passengers: “Owing to a shortage of train crew, train services on routes across our entire network are subject to delay and cancellation.

“In a couple of isolated instances consecutive services along the same route have been adversely affected”.

The film maker Franny Armstrong posted on X: “Seems there was a ‘shortage of train crew’ across the country on the evening of the first England men’s Euro 2024 match.”

Many staff working for Great Western Railway are not obliged to work on Sundays, even though it is now one of the busiest days of the week.

A GWR spokesperson said: “We are really sorry to anyone who faced disruption on Sunday.

“Because of a shortage of train crew, we had to cancel or amend some of services. We appreciate how frustrating this was for customers affected, and would encourage anyone whose journey was affected to get in touch to seek your Delay Repay compensation.”

On the East Coast main line, 10 LNER expresses were cancelled or curtailed, mainly between London and Edinburgh. Some of the trains that did run were reported to be “full and standing”.

A spokesperson for the government-owned rail firm said: “We are sorry that we had to make a small number of unavoidable timetable changes.

“When this happens we proactively contact customers who have booked directly via e-mail. We also use social media channels and live updates on our website and from our app.

“Customers are always advised to check before they travel.”

Last year the transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “Sunday services are essentially dependent on drivers volunteering for overtime. Which means, despite best efforts, we can’t run a reliable seven-day-a-week railway on which customers can depend.”

He vowed: “Modernising working practices must be part of reform.”