THE performance of rail operators Northern and TransPennine Express has, for some time now, been totally unacceptable and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is addressing this.
He will decide next week if services run by Arriva-owned Northern should be effectively renationalised – or a new short-term franchise drawn up while former British Airways boss Keith Williams completes a wider review into the railway industry.
But even the most accomplished operators in the world would have struggled to run the trains on time when Network Rail’s improvements to outdated infrastructure have run months, if not years, behind schedule.
Not only has the knock-on effect been delays to the introduction of new rolling stock – drivers do have to undergo extensive training before operating new trains – but a wider loss of public confidence. And while Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy said the body would “atone for its sins” when he addressed the Great Northern Conference staged by The Yorkshire Post, the problems have persisted, even worsened, and he will both understand, and accept, the Office of Road and Rail’s formal investigation.
Yet this does also highlight the accountability vacuum which has emerged since the original decision was taken to separate the running of the rail infrastructure, like track and signalling, and day-to-day operation of trains. During his visit to Leeds earlier this month, Mr Shapps acknowledged that the industry was too fragmented and that this will be addressed by the Williams review.
But, in the meantime, commuters will be expecting Network Rail, in conjunction with train operators and others, to pull out all the stops to keep avoidable delays to a minimum so train operators – in whatever guise – can plan ahead with a greater degree of confidence and certainty.