CHRIS GRAYLING’S policy failings are now so numerous that it has become impossible to keep pace. They are just as frequent, if not more so, than a clapped-out train running late here.
From misleading voters in 2017 over the status of rail electrification schemes that had already been cancelled to hiring a ferry firm with no ships to prepare for Brexit, he is widely regarded as the most incompetent Minister of modern times (and there is no shortage of competition).
Yet today will, hopefully, be the last occasion that Mr Grayling takes Transport Questions in the House of Commons following three dismal years supposedly in charge while avoiding all responsibility. Even he can’t be kept on by the next Prime Minister, can he?
And, if the next Tory leader, presumably Boris Johnson, wants any justification for shunting the Transport Secretary’s career into the political sidings, it is the antiquated Pacer trains still in service here.
It is difficult to know what is most symbolic of the North-South divide – the multi-billion shiny new Crossrail stations in London that have no trains due to delays completing the capital’s new £17.6bn line as costs soar or Pacer trains, introduced temporarily in the early 1980s, outlasting Mr Grayling. This is because technical problems with new rolling stock being introduced by operator Northern have meant another reprieve for the 100-plus Pacers still in use here.
A failure emblematic of the wider lack of trust in politics, it is set in the context of Mr Grayling’s disingenuous statements to MPs since November 2017 – the month when he first ‘‘snubbed’’ a Commons debate in which he was accused of putting London, and specifically a second Crossrail line, before the neglected North.
For the record, this is his track record:
November 29, 2017: Responding to Labour MPs, Mr Grayling declared: “The old Pacer trains... which should have been scrapped years ago and were not under Labour, are being scrapped by us now.”
Blaming others has become a familiar trait – Labour left office in 2010. And when told by Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff that her constituents were “fed up with chronically overcrowded and unreliable trains and substandard services”, he said “the good thing” is “that, although she is right that her constituency has old, overcrowded trains that are not long enough, we are replacing them with new longer trains”. When?
January 18, 2018: Asked if there was sufficient funding for the North’s railways, Mr Grayling was unequivocal: “All the old Pacer trains are going.”
March 27, 2018: In response to Tory MP Trudy Harrison who won the Copeland by-election in February 2017, precipitating the snap election when Theresa May became too weak to sack her inept Transport Secretary, Mr Grayling was almost whimsical. “She and I stood at Seascale station while a Pacer train chugged past, and she will be delighted to know that in a few months’ time that Pacer train will be in the scrapyard.”
May 16, 2018: When the aforementioned Dewsbury MP said she was still receiving daily complaints from passengers, the Transport Secretary told her: “I expect the first Pacer trains to go to the scrapyard later this year.”
May 23, 2018: In a transport debate, Mr Grayling said “all the Pacer trains” were “going to the scrapyard” and renationalisation was not an option.
“The reason why right now we have knackered old trains in the north of England – the Pacer trains that were no more than bus bodies bolted on to train wheels in the days of British Rail – is because British Rail, in the public sector, did not get the capital to invest properly, and that would happen all over again,” he told the Commons.
October 11, 2018: When Mr Grayling launched the Rail Review, Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel told him: “My constituents who use the Wharfedale and Harrogate Northern rail lines are still experiencing missed and late services and are still travelling on Pacer trains.”
The Minister’s reply? “The Pacer trains will be going, the sooner the better from my point of view.” Really?
November 22, 2018: Pressed to explain the unprecedented disruption on the North’s rail services in 2018, the poor old trains got the blame. “Some of the performance issues recently have been caused by the elderly Pacer trains, which are being phased out, starting in the coming weeks,” he said. So nothing to do with Mr Grayling then?
June 13, 2019: Asked by Bradford MP Judith Cummins about plans to improve transport connectivity in the wake of the Power Up The North campaign launched by this newspaper, Mr Grayling said he was “getting rid of the long-outdated Pacer trains”. He then turned on Labour MPs by accusing them: “They did nothing; we are doing things.” Like keeping 101 Pacer trains in service – before they’re converted into community centres in the final insult – when they are already long past their political and practical sell-by date.
And just like Chris Grayling himself whose leaving present should be a broken down replacement bus – delivered late.