IT HAS taken Transport Secretary Grant Shapps less than six months to do what his predecessor Chris Grayling failed to do in three years – confirm, publicly, that rail operator Northern is not fit for purpose.
“I’m simply not prepared for the service on Northern to carry on as it is and I’m taking action,” he pledged in response the backlash over the 2.7 per cent increase in fares as performance deteriorates.
Yet, while the Minister’s resolution is markedly different to Mr Grayling’s disregard for the North, Mr Shapps will need answers to these three questions when he visits Leeds next Wednesday to meet transport leaders.
First, Northern passengers have been complaining ever since Arriva was awarded the Northern franchise in 2016 about declining reliability and punctuality. Why has it taken the Department for Transport so long to acknowledge this?
Second, Northern is not the only failing franchise here – the performance of First Group’s TransPennine Express network of services between the North’s main cities is, believe it or not, even worse. What action does this Minister propose to take over this firm’s woeful record?
Finally, there are suggestions that the DfT prefers to wait for operators to fail before intervening. What reassurance can Mr Shapps offer to all those people here whose livelihoods, and way of life, are dependent on a reliable train service and can he confirm that the senior executives in question will be forbidden from taking up new roles in the public transport sector?
Unlike Mr Grayling, who was invariably nowhere to be seen when the annual increase in ticket prices was introduced, Mr Shapps has shown a willingness to confront the situation. Yet, as he will know, actions always speak louder than words – especially when it comes to political action, or inaction, over a rail network in the North which is now going from bad to worse.