More than 40 rail services cancelled

BELEAGUERED rail operator National Express East Anglia (NXEA) was forced to cancel dozens of services over the weekend - partly because staff sickness.

Simon Tomlinson

BELEAGUERED rail operator National Express East Anglia (NXEA) was forced to cancel dozens of services over the weekend - partly because staff sickness.

The crisis has placed the troubled company under further intense pressure - just weeks after being de-railed by strikes.

More than 40 services were affected on Saturday, including the Ipswich to Norwich, London to Stansted Airport, and Colchester to Clacton routes.

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NXEA initially posted on its website that services had been cancelled due to an “operating incident”.

However, a spokeswoman later revealed the cancellations were down to the “unavailability of staff”.

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She added: “We are working to arrange cover wherever we can. It is something that happens from time to time.”

When asked why staff had not come to work, she replied: “It may be that someone has called in sick or something like that.”

Later she added: “It can take a small number of staff to cause cancellations due to short-notice sickness.

“Extra trains were needed for the football match at White Hart Lane and there is the challenge of providing a work stream on the bank holiday weekend.” She apologised for any inconvenience caused.

One campaigner has questioned whether there is more to the situation.

Neil Skinner, vice chairman of the Essex Rail Users' Federation, said: “The cynic in me is saying that staff are taking a long break over the weekend.

“I'm wondering if there is something deeper. Relations between staff and the company are not good as recent strikes have shown.”

Mr Skinner said there were still elements of disaffection left over from the dispute between unions and bosses at NXEA which appeared to have been settled earlier this month.

The RMT, Aslef and TSSA all but wiped out services with a strike on August 13.

Fewer than 5% of trains were able to run, but the 48-hour action was called off half-way through after NXEA caved in to their demands for better pay and conditions.

NXEA was also left red-faced on August 19 after it took more than six hours for passengers to arrive home in Suffolk on the last train from London.

The 11.30pm service to Norwich broke down twice.

National Express has also announced that it is walking away from its loss-making East Coast rail franchise.

The government has responded by threatening to strip the company of its two other rail franchises - regional operator NXEA and south Essex commuter route c3c.

The group recently posted interim pre-tax losses of �48.1 million against profits of �52.4 million a year earlier.

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