IF NHS hospitals, schools or police forces had a public satisfaction rating of just over 70 per cent, they would have serious questions to answer – and with very good reason.
Yet the state of the region’s railways is such that beleaguered operator Northern will regard its latest score of 72 per cent as justification to continue running the trains here.
It should not be. Even though the proportion of passengers satisfied with rail journeys has increased by three percentage points in the past year to 82 per cent according to the latest National Rail Passenger Survey, Northern’s performance is unchanged and remains at a historic low while TransPennine Express improved, surprisingly, to 79 per cent.
And this is the dilemma facing Transport Secretary Grant Shapps as he decides whether to effectively renationalise Northern by setting up a so-called Operator of Last Resort under the auspices of the DfT – or to give its parent firm Arriva a short-term contract until former British Airways boss Keith Williams completes his review of the railways.
By opting for renationalisation, he will be conceding that the Tory policy of rail privatisation has been a failure in spite of record numbers of passengers travelling by rail. By giving Northern a reprieve, however brief, he will be giving the current management a stay of execution and suggesting that others, like Network Rail, are to blame for poor performance.
Yet the choice facing the Cabinet Minister should be a simple one as just 54 per cent of Northern passengers contend that they receive value for money – he must back the plan that is most likely to improve the reliability of the trains and ensure that top executives are held to account. After all, the railways are still, in whatever guise, a public service and the problems – namely an outdated and antiquated network operating at capacity – will remain the same.