NORTHERN business leaders have called for more accountability by rail operators after transport chaos and cancellations on the Transpennine Express route before Christmas.

The rail operator has apologised to customers for widespread delays and cancelled trains, but the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said ongoing rail chaos across the north over the year meant employees had been unable to get to work, and with services cancelled, sometimes without warning, the impact on families and businesses had been huge.

The partnership published an independent report into timetable chaos in May which found the cost to businesses in the north to be more than £37m on one company's services in just the immediate aftermath..

Train operator performance figures obtained by Northern Powerhouse Partnership found TransPennine Express (TPE) was consistently the worst performing train operator in the north over the week before Christmas in terms of the proportion of trains over 30 mins late or cancelled.

On Thursday, December 19, more than 37 per cent of its services were either more than 30 minutes late or cancelled compared with the next worst operator, Northern at 13.5 per cent.

TPE’s Preston to Scotland route was particularly poor with 73.9 per cent of trains on that day cancelled or over 30 minutes late.

The partnership said despite warnings from local authorities and other northern leaders, TPE should have acted to mitigate avoid the disruption, as they and government had the power to stop the introduction of timetables if they were not prepared.

Henri Murison, director of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said: “Last year’s rail chaos was partly the fault of poor infrastructure. This time, Trans-Pennine Express knew exactly what they needed to do but have extended themselves too far competing with rival operators to run services as far as Edinburgh from Newcastle despite warnings not to from northern leaders until they had enough trained drivers to run a competent service. This mess is caused, not by an act of God or an engineering problem, but commercial pressures unduly influencing behaviour so rather than passengers coming first, they get a disgraceful level of service as northerners start the Christmas get away."

He said further devolution was the 'only option', allowing rail decisions about the north to be made in the north.

TPE managing director Leo Goodwin apologised for the pre-Christmas disruption and promised to halve cancellations before January.

Thirsk MP Kevin Hollinrake is also meeting the Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps to ask him to review TPE's fitness to hold the franchise, which is scheduled to last up to 2023.