‘JUST when you think things can’t get any worse, they do’. This timeless adage doesn’t just apply to the political crisis over Brexit – it is equally applicable to the shameful state of the region’s railways.
Services were thought to have hit rock bottom in the summer last year when botched timetable changes caused unprecedented disruption for passengers; exposed a glaring North-South split in transport investment and prompted Ministerial promises of action.
Yet, despite some very modest improvements in punctuality and reliability, the performance of both Northern and TransPennine Express – the region’s two main operators – is as bad as it was 12 months ago in the aftermath of the timetable turmoil.
Set out in a report to Transport for the North, this is – effectively – the legacy left to the neglected North by a certain Chris Grayling who was one of the few former colleagues overlooked by Theresa May in her resignation honours list.
And there’s even worse news for commuters. According to Tom Davidson, TfN’s transport planner, this latest downturn, which he describes as “a significant concern”, is before the autumn period “when demand traditionally increases and the effects of leaf fall can have an impact on performance”.
As such, rail chiefs – as well as political and business leaders – must come up with an emergency action plan when they meet. Promises of new rolling stock will not suffice alone. Every cancelled or delayed train now is another blow to the Northern Powerhouse’s credibility and economy.
Yet the task facing Grant Shapps, Mr Grayling’s successor at the Department for Transport, is more profound – just how bad, as passengers brace themselves for the New Year fare increase, do services have to get before he intervenes on behalf of the travelling public and says ‘enough is enough’?