IF Keith Williams – the former British Airways executive leading the Government’s rail review – has any sense, he will spend some time travelling on the North’s railways and hearing first-hand from exasperated passengers before finalising his proposals.
They’re the people who matter most of all. Individuals like regular reader Richard Morton, from Sheffield, whose experiences have helped to shape The Yorkshire Post’s coverage as part of the agenda-setting Power Up The North campaign and our repeated calls for greater transparency and accountability.
“I travelled back from my sister’s in Whitby,” he emailed before the insult of this week’s fares increase. “Usual lovely journey up the Esk valley. On looking at my ticket the cheerful conductor apologised for my 55-minute wait at Middlesbrough: ‘I’m afraid it’s the new timetable Sir’.
“Ah well, this gave me time to enjoy a coffee and scone in the buffet on the station (Stottie’s cafe). Fine room that missed the WW2 bombing which destroyed much else. So to the 14.21 TransPennine Express service to York, destination Manchester Airport. Spot on time and busy but fully staffed – again cheerful.”
And then things went downhill. “At Northallerton I noticed the electronic platform board had us two minutes late due to “staffing shortages”. Really?” he observed.
“Given that we’d left Middlesbrough right time and hadn’t lost any crew en route (hopefully!) I wonder how TPE (TransPennine Express) had the nerve to offer passengers such an explanation?
“If they’re going to offer excuses, plausibility and accuracy ought to be paramount and not this scarcely believable feckless, ill-considered rubbish!”
I agree and was amazed when senior executives from rail operator Northern said the issue, from their perspective, was not “staff shortages” but “driver training”. Why they couldn’t get this message across on information screens, or social media, was still beyond me.
Anyway back to Mr Morton who has now reached York. “The Cross Country train to Reading, 15.37, was cancelled so ‘try the Plymouth at 15.44’,” he reported.
“This four coach train (!) rolled in full to the rafters and 15 minutes late. Thus I stood to Sheffield, jammed into a corner of the vestibule along with eight other mugs/passengers, two of whom were students going all the way to Plymouth.
“These two young women were close to tears. Had it not been for a tiny girl playing on her phone who kept us entertained I suspect that they would have just dissolved into tears of despair.
“I felt so sorry for them as I quit the train at Sheffield and fled. Of three return journeys to York over the last six weeks, I’ve had to stand all the way on four occasions in spite of booking a seat!”
He added: “Frankly observation or comment is superfluous. Please keep hammering away at the clowns who ‘run’ and are ‘responsible’ for our railways.”
This newspaper will do so and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will, hopefully, use his visit to Leeds this week – trains permitting – to meet people like Mr Morton. Their day-to-day experiences mean they’re probably etter qualified than many politicians when it comes to running a railway efficiently.
For, when Radio 5 Live presenter Clare McDonnell is moved to tell the nation on New Year’s Eve that – with regard to the North – “the trains are shocking but the people are great”, this region is suffering terrible reputational damage.
And, as such, the mission facing Mr Williams – and Ministers – is this at the start of a new decade. Within five years, the verdict must be: “The trains are now great and the people of the North even greater.”
GEORGE Osborne – remember him? – tweeted this week: “One thing that every Conservative I know wants for 2020 is for Rebecca Long Bailey to become leader of the Labour Party.”
The former Chancellor was referring to the credentials of the Shadow Business Secretary who is a political and economic disciple of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Yet the question for Labour, as the campaign to succeed Mr Corbyn begins, is far more fundamental – does it want to try and survive as a protest movement, or does it want to attempt to become a serious party of government and, if so, how?
Only when this conundrum is reconciled will the contest have any chance of becoming meaningful.
TALKING of Labour, there’s a suggestion that political parties – when selecting leaders or plotting strategy – should do what their opponents would least like.
On the basis of George Osborne’s doctrine, Ms Long Bailey should be a non-starter. But what of the other candidates? Give each one, I say, the chance of taking on Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions to see if they have the gravitas, and forensic skills, needed to hold Boris Johnson to account.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, probably does, but can he – as a North London MP who campaigned so strongly for a second referendum on EU membership – cut through in Labour’s former heartlands that back Brexit?
I SEE Boris Johnson is being urged to promise a football World Cup final in the North – presumably Manchester – if England’s bid to stage the tournament in 2030 is a winning one. It’s being headed by Selby MP Nigel Adams.
This, it is argued, would signal to the world that the political centre of gravity in Britain has changed. By then, there’s a chance some trains might be on time – and not the public transport equivalent of a penalty shootout.