EVEN THOUGH bosses of under-fire operators Northern and TransPennine Express maintain the pretence that they’re ‘not to blame’ for the daily delays on the railways, they’ve run out of time – and, frankly, excuses – as political and public opinion turns against them.
As they tried to defend their respective records at a meeting in Leeds by blaming, to varying degrees, Network Rail, delays to new rolling stock and staff sickness, Boris Johnson was coming under pressure in the House of Commons to intervene on behalf of passengers.
And, as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps now prepares to visit Yorkshire 24 hours later than originally envisaged, the Prime Minister signalled to MPs that the Government will act. “We are developing contingency plans for a replacement for Northern Rail,” he said.
Yet, while the majority of passengers here will say ‘not before time’ given the extent to which the reliability and punctuality of all rail services has deteriorated as Ministers promise action, these respective exchanges show that there will, in all likelihood, be no quick fixes.
Even if Arriva and First Group are stripped of the respective Northern and TransPennine Express franchises for failing to fulfil their contractual obligations, the same problems – delays upgrading the rail network and a shortage of rolling stock – will persist.
And although executives at these firms have done themselves no favours with their above-inflation remuneration deals, obfuscation and reluctance to properly engage with passengers, the most important people of all, the Government must ensure that its ‘contingency plans’ are fit for purpose.
In essence, the question is this – will the changes lead to more trains running on time, and customer satisfaction increasing as a result of more services being able to operate on the North’s creaking network?