Up to 70% fewer people took a train to Lincoln Christmas Market this year, mainly due to issues caused by a rail staff strike which was cancelled at the last moment, leading to further confusion.
Craig Leaper, Head of Train Planning and Access at East Midlands Railway told Lincolnshire County Council’s Highways and Transport Committee on Monday that 20,000 people visited the event by train.
Giving a report on EMR’s latest situation, he said there had been “significant sacrifices” and challenges in the run up to the event, including the pandemic and the strikes originally planned to be held by the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) but called off at the last minute.
Pre-pandemic and with the full complement of train services that would ordinarily run for the event, EMR said it would expect to see between 65,000-70,000 visitors through Lincoln station over the four days of the Lincoln Christmas Market.
Mr Leaper said: “We had to make some quite significant sacrifices across the whole network in order to try and focus as much capacity as we could to Lincoln and the surrounding area and cope with increased demand.”
He added there were also issues with finding replacement busses due to the industry facing its own issues, such as increased costs and a lack of drivers.
Mr Leaper told councillors that the RMT Union strike was called off just 12 hours before the event which did not give organisers time to reorganise their time-table again, leaving trains in “shambles”.
Despite the issues, the City of Lincoln Council said it had more visitors in this year’s event than in the year before the pandemic with more than 276,000 people flocking to the festive event to look around the 150 stalls and enjoy the funfair scattered around the uphill area.
Lincolnshire County Councillor Tom Ashton hit out at RMT’s actions.
“I condemn that industrial action as a kick in the guts to passengers and an industry which is already struggling at a time when everyone in that industry should be pulling together to make this service work and making sure passengers come back,” he said.
Elsewhere in Mr Leaper’s report, he said EMR was currently operating with less than half of rail passenger journeys compared to pre-pandemic at just 45.4%.
He said “good progress” was being made after a new timetable launched in May “bit off more than it could chew”.
The new timetable, which was a “significant change across the network” struggled to cope and led to “short notice delays and cancellations.
“We were very ambitious, we felt we could do it and indeed what happened in reality was that didn’t transpire.
“We’re now building a slow and steady recovery to be able to deliver that service robustly and reliably rather than having ad hoc cancellations.”
In further timetable changes, however, four services between Skegness and Nottingham will be temporarily cancelled over the winter until next May in order to reinstate services between Newcastle, Crewe and Nottingham.
They include the 8.46am, 11.14am, 1.46pm and 4.14pm services. They will be reintroduced once business picks up again in summer.