Tom Richmond: Railways need champion to stick up for passengers

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Isn’t it time, now the Government has finally woken up to the importance of rail services, that someone took ownership of the issue and began championing the interests of passengers?

I pose this question after an utterly miserable trip on a two-carriage Northern Rail bone-rattling train from Leeds to Skipton in which passengers were packed like sardines – it would have been a criminal offence to treat dogs this inhumanely – and desperately clung onto bags and cases that couldn’t be fitted onto the luggage racks safely.

Stung by criticism about their poor performance over the Tour de France weekend, the publicly subsidised operator has admitted that it probably under-estimated demand for the 10.26pm train on the night in question because of the Beacons Festival in the Yorkshire Dales.

Progress at last? Alas not. Even though the train in question was so rammed that the poor conductor could not walk down the aisle and admitted to passengers getting off the modern-day equivalent of a charabanc at Shipley that he felt conditions were unsafe, this doesn’t appear to wash with Northern Rail.

“Our customers’ safety is our priority and we would not operate any service if we felt it was unsafe to do so,” spokeswoman Carolyn Watson told me. “On many peak time services it can be difficult for conductors to walk down
the aisles due to the volume of passengers but this does not mean that they are unsafe.”

Asked if there was a limit on the number of people who could stand in a single carriage, she pointed me in the direction of the Office of Rail Regulation criteria which appear to be little more than a hotch-potch of aspirations. It does, however, expect passengers to avoid blocking entrances and exits and to stow baggage safely.

Given that the path to the carriage doors was blocked and involved a schmozzle as people pushed and barged to get off the train at the first stop, and the luggage racks were creaking, I would have thought that this service fell foul of the ORR’s criteria. However, when did
 you last hear of the rail regulator stopping a train on grounds of overcrowding? Never.

Three points in conclusion. First, this was not a rush-hour service, it was 10.26pm on a Thursday and offered evidence of the level of demand for train services. Second, lack of capacity explains why Northern Rail is restricting use of off-peak tickets which will no longer be valid in the evening rush hour. Third, if the railway industry cannot be persuaded to act, how about the creation of directly-elected transport commissioners to hold operators to account – and oversee the introduction of new services across the region? If the concept is good enough for the police, then why can’t it be applied to a key public service so that the trains can take the strain without endangering the health of its passengers?

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PLEASE can Boris Johnson – and the wider Tory party for that matter – take a vow of silence over the future of the Mayor of London?

Even though his term of office will not end until 2016, I’m frankly bored by the endless speculation that he’ll succeed David Cameron after the next election, or become Business Secretary or form a pact with Uncle Tom Cobleigh to oust the Tory leader.

I can’t see Johnson being able to combine two high-profile roles simultaneously.

Perhaps there needs to be a new law that forbids MPs from serving simultaneously as MEPs or as elected mayors. After all, these are supposed to be full-time jobs in their own right.

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Tony ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’ Blair doesn’t appear to be improving his choice of friends.

As well as his association with shamed newspaper boss Rebekah Brooks, he wrote to Denis MacShane when the former Rotherham MP was in prison for filling out bogus expense receipts and said: “Please come and see me after you emerge and I will do whatever I can to help. You still have a lot to give and you should know you have a friend in me. Yours ever, Tony.”

It’s a comment which gives credence to the view that the Blair years totally corrupted British politics – and that politicians of all persuasions face an uphill struggle if they’re to win back the public’s trust.

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THERE is one way that David Cameron can prevent a repeat of the embarrassment that is being caused to the Tories by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s resignation from the Foreign Office.

He could vow not to promote politicians from minority backgrounds through patronage and encourage them, pro actively, to stand in – and win – elections.

It is a far better way of encouraging community engagement rather than allowing the continuing use and abuse of the House of Lords to reward a favoured few (and their egos).

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HUDDERSFIELD Town parts company with manager Mark Robins after just one game of the 2014-15 season; Sunderland pay a reported £10m for the over-rated, under-achieving, injury-prone Jack Rodwell, and the late, great Sir Tom Finney leaves just £115,415 in his will – a smidgen of the £300,000 that Wayne Rooney, a player ill at ease in the England shirt, earns each week.

Forgive me, therefore, if I don’t join all the hullabaloo about the start of a new football season. I’m afraid this sport’s finances and values, certainly at the highest level, are now bankrupt.