Whitehall “contempt” for northern rail users has been laid bare in emails showing Department for Transport (DfT) officials discussing “propagating myths” to handle criticism of route closures.
In another email released by Labour MP Lisa Nandy, officials talk of “throwing a sop” to passenger groups concerned about services in their area.
Ms Nandy also claimed the correspondence, which predates Chris Grayling’s promotion to Transport Secretary in July 2016, showed Ministers and DfT officials “were warned of impending chaos two years ago”.
Her explosive revelations at Prime Minister Questions came after weeks of misery for rail passengers in the North of England, who have experienced unprecedented delays and cancellations due to the botched introduction of new timetables on May 20.
In the Commons, Ms Nandy said the emails, which mainly related to the potential downgrading of services from Southport to the rest of the North and the design of the Northern rail franchise, were “a disgrace”.
Prime Minister Theresa May and the DfT said they would not comment on “leaks”, even though the emails were released under freedom of information laws.
Mrs May added: “In advance of the timetable changes that took place for both Northern and Govia in May there was an independent panel set up by the DfT, to reassure the DfT about the nature of those plans.”
Bradford South MP Judith Cummins said the emails “reveal the utter contempt” the North is held in by the Government, with “deception, diversion and constant buck-passing”.
Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake said the emails paint a “worrying picture” and raised questions about what was known when the timetabling decisions that led to the current disruption were were taken.
Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff said: “This kind of disrespect is a downright disgrace”.
Hull North MP Diana Johnson said: “These latest revelations show that even were the incompetence, dissembling and misinformation of Chris Grayling’s farcical stewardship of the Department of Transport ended, we would still have an uphill task overcoming the cultural disdain for the North within the Whitehall Establishment.
“Grayling going would only be a start. We also the need to devolve real power and responsibility from Whitehall to the North over regeneration issues, including having a proper timetabling review of rail links from Northern cites to major airports. Giving Transport for the North the same powers and clout enjoyed by Transport for London as soon as possible would be central to this.”
Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison said: “The allegations raised by Lisa Nandy MP, who has tirelessly campaigned on behalf of her constituents and rail passengers across the North since this crisis began, are deeply concerning and raise questions for the Department of Transport which must be answered.
“The alleged disregard for Northern commuters and families and the poor judgement and attitude of those within the department is yet another compelling reason why the North should take control of its own destiny, with Transport for the North being given full responsibility for the performance of Network Rail in the North to ensure the impact of cancellations and delays is never seen again."