He’s right. Three years to the week after ineptly-planned timetable changes led to unprecedented disruption across the North, expectations here are modest – punctual and clean trains, preferably with sufficient seats for travellers, and, in time, wifi and air conditioning.
And it explains why the Covid pandemic has, in many respects, accelerated the reforms being set in motion in by Mr Shapps – there’s simply no point returning to the old franchise model when the Government is still having to bail out rail operators until passengers numbers return to normal.
It remains to be seen how Great British Railways will operate in practice, the ticketing structure, the ability of commuters and taxpayers to scrutinise leaders, the extent of future funding from the Government to invest in the network and how GBR’s work dovetails with metro mayors and other bodies.
What is significant, however, is the telling admission that Mr Shapps made to senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper about the infrequency of trains serving the five towns in her Pontefract and Castleford constituency in comparison to London’s commuter suburbs. “She’s right to say if that was in the South, the connectivity would be vastly, vastly better,” he said.
One of the very few occasions when a senior Cabinet minister has conceded that the North is the ‘poor relation’ when it comes to rail investment, the greater test of these reforms is whether they pave the way for more frequent, and more reliable, trains across the North alongside the still opaque ‘levelling up’ agenda. Over to you, Mr Shapps.
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