‘Grotty’ trains with ‘filthy’ seats… Northerners fume ‘the Tories don’t care about us’


Leeds and Bradford are two major northern cities which will no longer benefit from the HS2 ­eastern leg and Northern Power Rail upgrades after the Tories scrapped part of their multibillion-pound plans.

To give a picture of what it’s like using the northern transport network, reporter Vicki Grimshaw , who lives near Pudsey between the West Yorkshire cities, spent two days on trains and buses and spoke to long-suffering passengers.

Day 1

8am: New Pudsey, West Yorkshire, to Liverpool. Cost: standard single £35.40

My nearest station is on the outskirts of Pudsey so I take a taxi there for speed. I want to go to Liverpool but there is no direct train and I’m advised to go in the opposite direction and change at Leeds.

The man in the ticket office says: “Or get the Chester train via Bradford, if they turn up on time.”

The 8.22am Northern Railway train costs £2.70 single fare and takes eight minutes to Bradford Interchange, which is a run-down, almost deserted place that hasn’t changed since the 1980s.

At the end of a branch line, trains have to reverse back out again – despite Bradford being home to half a million people.

New Pudsey Train Station in Farsley, West Yorkshire, where Vicki started her journey
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

9.04am: Bradford to Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside

With only one train an hour to Liverpool and a 30-minute wait, I take the freezing cold TransPennine Express to Chester.

The five short carriages trundle through the scenic Pennines via Halifax, Hebden Bridge and Rochdale.

Luke Sudlow, 30, a carpenter from Prestwich, boards at Manchester Victoria.

Carpenter Luke Sudlow on the train to Chester from Bradford Interchange
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

He says: “The trains are a nightmare, especially travelling with my work tools as we are always packed in like sardines.

“There aren’t enough carriages and connectivity is awful.”

We arrive eight minutes late.

Bradford Interchange Train Station in West Yorkshire
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

10.24am: Train from Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool

After a 10-minute wait, I’m on the TransPennine Express to Lime Street station.

A cancelled train into Manchester means the journey being taken by retired art lecturer Steve Childs, of Chadderton, to a meeting in Liverpool is taking two-and-a-half hours, an hour longer than it should.

We arrive on time into Lime Street at 11.02am.

Retired art lecturer Steve Childs on the Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool Lime Street Station train
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

The writer at Newton-le-Willows train station
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

12.25pm: Bus from Liverpool to Ormskirk, West Lancashire. Cost: Single fare £2.80

I take the short walk to Queen Square bus station and wait half an hour for the 310 Arriva bus. Terence Dunn, 64, is waiting for a bus back to Kirkdale.

He tells me he uses his bus pass to travel everywhere and that the buses are frequent and cheap compared to trains.

“There is no investment in Liverpool transport and we have been conned into thinking it would change,” says the carer. “The Tories don’t care about the North.”

The bus, which leaves five minutes late, takes an hour and 15 minutes to travel the 15 miles.

Vicki gets onto the Arriva 310 bus from Liverpool to Ormskirk, Lancashire
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

2.01pm: Train from Ormskirk to Preston. Cost: Standard single £6.60

I arrive shortly before the train departs. It’s lucky I got there in time as there is only one train an hour. In 2019, the Ormskirk to Preston line was dubbed the worst in the UK when 2,000 trains were cancelled due to Northern Railway timetable changes. Today we leave on time but arrive 10 minutes late at 2.43pm after being held up by a red signal.

3.23pm: Train from Preston to Hull. Cost: Single fare £58.70

I want to travel east to Hull but it’s impossible to go direct and I have to head to Manchester Piccadilly. The 36-mile journey takes 52 minutes.

It soon becomes standing room only due to attempts at social distancing.

A carer, Keifer Bentley, 31, boards at Bolton on the way to a gig, saying: “I usually take the bus but can’t risk being late. But the trains are pretty bad.

“There are tons of old, noisy, uncomfortable trains from the 80s, particularly on the Blackburn route, although they are supposed to have phased them all out.” I arrive at 4.20pm.

Passengers at Manchester Piccadilly Station
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Daily Mirror)

4.57pm: Train from Manchester to Leeds

With hundreds of passengers trying to exit the ticket barriers and the Hull train departing 10 platforms away, I watch the 4.20pm to Hull disappear.

I can wait an hour for the next direct train or half an hour going via Leeds. Cancellations and broken-down trains are being announced, so I choose the latter, even though it’s running four minutes late. The journey takes an hour and 13 minutes.

Bank worker Vicky Westmoreland, 40, is going home to Wakefield, West Yorks, 40 miles away. Vicky says: “I have to change at Leeds so it takes two hours and 15 minutes door to door, and costs £36. It’s a rare day to get a seat.”

The reporter at Leeds Train Station
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

6.34pm: Train from Leeds to Hull

Chilled by the 25-minute wait on a cold platform, I’m relieved that the TransPennine Express train is on time and I get a seat for the 59-minute trip.

Financial adviser Jo Harrison, 56, is heading home after a shopping trip in Leeds. She is a regular on the line which she describes as “not very good’.

Her return trip between Beverley, near Hull, and Leeds is £50 including taxis. Using the train, her journey to Leeds is two hours and 10 minutes. She could drive it in under an hour. She says: “The decision to not electrify the line from Selby to Hull is like the final nail in the coffin for Hull.”

Hull Paragon Interchange Train Station, in East Yorkshire
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

Day 2

8.28am: Train from Hull to Sheffield. Cost: standard single £14.50

Despite it being rush hour, the station is almost empty. With one train an hour taking one hour and 20 minutes to reach a major city like Sheffield it’s unsurprising so few are using the network. Four sisters – Sue Clancy, Joanne Arnold, Wendy Richardson and Jackie Taylor – are off on a Christmas shopping spree. Sue, 53, says: “The service up here makes the north-south divide worse. With one train in and out an hour and cancellations, Hull really is the end of the line.

“The buses are always cancelled too, and there is no tram system.”

Vicki Grimshaw on a Northern Service train from Hull to Sheffield
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Julian Hamilton/Daily Mirror)

11.02am: Train from Sheffield to Leeds. Cost: Single fare £12.20

Sheffield station is in chaos. A signal failure at Derby and an RMT strike mean trains have been axed and platforms are full of waiting passengers.

I’m told the network is a mess today “apart from the Leeds line… for a change”. Buying a coffee, I miss two trains. The next one isn’t for 40 minutes, a slow one taking an hour and 22 minutes, but it’s not worth waiting for the fast train as no one knows when it will turn up. The slow train has just two carriages. The tables are chipped and the seats are filthy.

“This train is grotty but some are worse,” one of the passengers tells me.

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Levelling up is supposed to be the big idea of Boris Johnson’s government.

When he was elected in 2019 he pledged to spread opportunity to every corner of the UK.

But two years later we are still waiting for the Prime Minister to deliver on his promises.

A White Paper setting out the Government’s plan was supposed to have been published this month but has now been shelved until the new year.

Many are starting to question whether Mr Johnson is genuinely committed to spreading wealth and opportunity or if levelling up is just an empty slogan.

That is why the Mirror is today launching Levelling Up Watch.

We intend to hold the Government to account over its plans to improve schools, communities, education and transport.

We also want to see any additional money distributed fairly and not just to seats the Tories need to retain to stay in power.

What is clear is tinkering with the structure of local government and sprinkling money on piecemeal transport schemes will not be enough.

The regional inequality in Britain is not only deep and engrained, it has become starker since the Conservatives came to power in 2010.

During that period more than 1,000 Sure Start Centres have closed, local councils have seen their funding cut by more than 25% and the budgets for public health and education have been badly squeezed.

The National Audit Office found that since 2017, funding in the most deprived fifth of schools fell in real terms by 1.2%, while funding in the fifth least deprived schools rose by 2.9%.

The additional money announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his Budget will only return per pupil funding to 2010 levels.

People in poorer areas are likely to have worse health and shorter life expectancy but the budget for Public Health England in 2021-22 is 24% – £1billion – lower in real terms than in 2015-16.

Nor can it be right that 2019-20 transport spending was £882 per capita in London, compared to £315 in the North East and £309 in Yorkshire and Humber.

We have heard plenty of words from Mr Johnson about his ambitions to level up but the time for rhetoric is over. We need to see some action.

1.05pm: Bus from Leeds to Pudsey. Cost: Single fare £3.20

I take the bus outside the station rather than the train back to New Pudsey to avoid needing a taxi.

I only wait five minutes, and it takes 40 minutes for the six-mile trip.

Buying a ticket on the First Bus app would have been cheaper at £2.70, one of the other passengers tells me, adding: “It’s still a rip-off.”

After the bus journey, my partner still has to pick me up as our village has not had a bus service for 40 years – and that sums up travel in the North.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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