Tom Richmond: Rail bond would provide service travellers deserve

Passengers are receivng an unfair deal on the railways.
Passengers are receivng an unfair deal on the railways.
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THERE will not be much New Year cheer on those trains which do beat the latest strikes – a 2.3 per cent fare increase for the privilege of travelling on increasingly decrepid rolling stock which would not look out of place at York’s National Railway Museum.

Yet, given this is still a public service, and operators receive very generous taxpayer subsidies for the right to run services, it defies belief – in the supposed age of the consumer (rather than the train) – that passengers are still regarded as an irritating inconvenience.

This was evident during a Commons debate last week when a former minister Tim Loughton, whose constituents have the misfortune to be at the mercy of the Southern franchise farce, explained how travellers are being fleeced by the railway system’s very own complaints procedures.

The figures are shocking. Because of delays caused by engineering works or infrastructure glitches, train operators received £107m last year in compensation from Network Rail – the body responsible for maintaining the tracks on a day-to-day basis.

Yet just £26m was passed on to passengers – the people whose travel plans were inconvenienced – with the remaining £81m presumably being used to underwrite the ever more exorbitant salaries commanded by the railway industry’s under-performing executives who are only accountable to their own consciences and bank balances.

It does not end here. Even though travellers are now encouraged to fill in compensation forms, the derisory £2.2m paid out by Southern’s owners Govia Thameslink Railway – rightly regarded as the country’s worst train operator – to passengers equated to just 0.4 per cent of total turnover according to Mr Loughton.

As the MP said, this is hardly an incentive to run a proper service. “We need a much more effective awareness programme, alerting frustrated passengers to what their rights actually are,” he added. “There is certainly no sign of that from the train operators themselves. The current problem is that the passenger can like it or lump it.”

I agree. The answer is quite simple. An independent complaints body is set up to process claims on behalf of passengers – with compensation paid out of a ‘bond’ lodged by train operators at the start of each year. If their trains are on time, and they provide a first class service, they get their money back. If not, they forgo the money and it is used to recompense travellers.

If the Government is truly on the side of the people, and not just the privileged few, it will put the wheels in motion – without delay – so passengers get a fairer deal.

TWO weeks after The Yorkshire Post exposed the foolhardiness of Leeds Council’s decision to withhold the identities of four councillors who were the subject of legal action for late payment of council tax, public disquiet is beginning to abate after the authority named those concerned.

Yet one key question remains unanswered. Who at the Civic Hall decided that the electorate did not have the right to know such information – and who authorised the use of public money to contest the matter when the legitimacy of this newspaper’s Freedom of Information request was upheld by the Information Commissioner?

There’s now a case for identifying the officials who tried to instigate this botched cover-up. Like their colleagues who presided over the trolleybus shambles in Leeds which has so undermined confidence in the authority’s competence, they seem to have forgotten that they exist to serve the public. Over to chief executive Tom Riordan...

LET’S hope 2017 sees the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg tone down her own self-importance when it comes to Brexit after her unforgivable cheap shot at the Queen.

Informed by a contact that HMQ could see no reason for Britain remaining in the EU, Ms Kuenssberg did not broadcast the claim because she – and her lackeys – could not obtain the necessary corroboration. So she took to the airwaves this week to discuss the story in the knowledge that it would neither be confirmed, or denied, by Buckingham Palace. Shame on her.

IT will, bewails Ken Livingstone and others, be the end of democracy if voters have to provide photo ID, or utility bills, at polling stations in the future to help combat electoral fraud.

I’ve always thought Britain’s quaint voting system was too trusting for its own good – namely voters simply having to produce a paper polling card – and that there should be nothing to fear from such a safeguard if it prevents the type of abuses that would shame the proverbial banana republic.

GIVEN singer songwriter George Michael’s philanthropy was, at his request confidential, why did Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen make it public within hours of the his death being announced on Christmas Day? I’m sure I was not alone in finding this distasteful.

SPORTING achievement of the week has to be North Yorkshire jump jockey Andrew Thornton, 44, recording his much-deserved 1,000th winner on Boxing Day. He’s a horseman who has truly made the most of his ability.

How ironic that he should then twist his right knee after dismounting from Kentford Myth after the landmark win at Wincanton. Yet, typically, there’s was not one word of complaint. “That’s racing!” he said phlegmatically.

Remember say when you next see a footballer rolling around on the pitch feigning injury.

THE very best of luck to Hull as it prepares for its year as the 2017 UK City of Culture – I, for one, can’t wait to return and see how this proud city is reinventing itself after so many years when it was synonymous with John Prescott’s Jaguar(s) and little else. If it’s a resounding success, as I confidently expect, it will be a triumph for optimism and how a thriving cultural scene can help communities to come together and help to put cities back on the map.

ONE request for 2017 – please can Theresa May be judged on her leadership rather than as a fashion accessory?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk