THIS region’s long-suffering rail passengers were among the first to realise that the Department for Transport was devoid of “strategic direction and leadership under Chris Grayling – his reputation has not recovered since he challenged this region to sort out its own difficulties as he prioritised a second Crossrail line for London.
Yet the fact that this criticism has come from transport expert Keith Williams is all the more significant. Why? He is the former British Airways chief executive who is heading up the Rail Review that was commissioned after last year’s unprecedented delays and disruption on train services across the country.
And here is the irony. Many difficulties, concludes Mr Williams, stem from flawed decision-making by the Department for Transport – an observation made even more damning by Mr Grayling’s reluctance, even refusal on occasion, to accept any responsibility for the failings that have taken place on his watch.
Evidently, the DfT’s micro-management extends to specifying which trains stop at which stations, despite Mr Grayling having the audacity, at the height of his buck-passing, to claim that running the railways was not part of his job.
When operators such as Northern and TransPennine Express are escaping censure from regulators for their unacceptably poor communication with passengers in this region, this intervention further vindicates all those business and civic leaders who are trying to persuade the Government to give Transport for the North the policy and financial powers that it requires to bring about real transformation.
Yet, given the seriousness of the critique being put forward by Mr Williams, it is clear that there is no chance of the DfT getting back on track until Theresa May, or her successor, sees sense and replaces the Transport Secretary with a leader who can be trusted to deliver lasting change that puts the needs of passengers first.