Shortage of drivers hits train journeys in Staffordshire and Cheshire
RAIL passengers are facing more disruption today because of a shortage of train drivers.
London Midland has been forced to cancel seven services in Staffordshire and Cheshire, as a Government minister issued a warning to the company.
Two trains from Birmingham New Street to Liverpool Lime Street, which call at Stafford and Crewe, have been cancelled, as well as two services from Birmingham to Crewe.
And three trains from Liverpool to Birmingham, which also serve passengers at Crewe and Stafford, will not be running.
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London Midland has come under fire after more than 60 services were cancelled nationwide on Monday and Tuesday.
Services from Liverpool to Crewe and Stafford were also affected over the weekend, with some trains being cancelled at short notice.
The company says the problem is down to a temporary shortfall in the number of qualified train drivers due to staff departures and expects disruption to last until mid-December.
Norman Baker, the minister responsible for the day-to-day running of the railways, said: "I am concerned that passengers using London Midland are not getting the services they need and that there are too many cancellations.
"I have spoken to London Midland's managing director to make him aware of my concerns and to discuss how performance can be improved.
"As with other franchises, London Midland is required to meet stringent benchmarks relating to their performance and I will be monitoring this extremely closely to ensure that normal services are resumed as a matter of absolute priority."
Drivers leaving the company have to give three months' notice, however, it takes on average 12 months to train a new driver.
It will take until mid-December for more drivers to complete their training and a new more flexible shift pattern to come into effect.
A London Midland spokesman said: "While the shortfall itself should be addressed by mid-December, we are working hard to ensure the impact on our passengers in the meantime is kept to an absolute minimum.
"On most days we hope to run a full service.
"We have a dedicated team focusing on delivering the train service on a day by day basis and as a result we have been able to run a near-normal timetable on all but a few days, compensating for the shortage with drivers who have volunteered for overtime."
The company has apologised to commuters for the cancellation and advised passengers that daily cancellation updates will be posted on the company's website at 5pm, the day before services are due to be affected.
Selwyn Brown, chairman of North Staffordshire transport group Aces, said: "Everyone who travels London Midland recommends them and says they provide a good service, but it's obvious there are problems at the moment.
"When the franchise comes up again, it's important that things like this are remembered."