Tom Richmond: Rail campaign shows how the North can speak as one

Problems with rail services in the north have come to national attention.
Problems with rail services in the north have come to national attention.
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WHEN national political journalists are praising the impact of the One North campaign over the region’s railway failings, it is making a difference.

“One of the best things I’ve seen regional papers do in a long time. And I think had a real impact on the mood in Westminster,” tweeted Matt Chorley of The Times. Thank you, sir.

It’s also hit a nerve with commuters and readers alike. Some have asked if local leaders were asleep at the wheel? Others want the buses and roads sorted. And some say it strengthens the case for a Yorkshire mayor.

First things first. Services on Northern – and also on trains operated by Trans-Pennine Express – need to return to normal as soon as possible. The disruption is hitting business, tourism and students.

Furthermore, the ‘lessons learned’ inquiry must be more rigorous than the planning of the timetable changes which led to so much chaos, disruption and newspapers across the region uniting with a joint call for action.

What did Transport Secretary Chris Grayling know – and when? Network Rail said many months ago that improvements in Greater Manchester to free a bottleneck would not be completed in time. Why did he not act?

Next Network Rail itself. Why was it unable to complete the electrification of a section of line near Manchester on time and what are the consequences for future infrastructure projects that will, inevitably, be more complex and challenging?

Finally Northern. There are reports that it was cheaper for the operator to pay fines for cancelling 165 services a day than hiring sufficient new staff and drivers. The full terms and conditions of its franchise, and penalties, must be publicised.

The only consolation is that the case for total transparency over rail contracts, and the subsidies offered to train operators, is now overwhelming, and a competent Transport Secretary will act.

The inquiries now underway also need to look at the adequacy of Transport for the North’s powers. Its officials, too, should not be exempt from scrutiny. Are they capable of standing up to the railway industry, and do they have the necessary know-how?

If they’re to have greater control of all transport policy, and that includes buses and roads, it needs the right structure, and leadership, from the start. A ‘no excuses’ culture is needed when Chris ‘Don’t Blame Me’ Grayling is shunted aside. And then devolution. This collaborative effort by The Yorkshire Post – and its rival publishers – has shown what is possible when the North speaks with one voice. Yet, having taken a stand on behalf of passengers, I do hope this momentum galvanises those leaders on this side of the Pennines who are trying to seal the One Yorkshire devolution deal.

Andy Burnham, the metro mayor for Greater Manchester, has been a powerful advocate for the North West. Yet, here, there’s not the same sense of purpose.

Transport is integral to the future economic prosperity of West, North, East and South Yorkshire. The sooner this region gets it act together and puts on an united front, the better.

I HEAR Scarborough MP Robert Goodwill wants Yorkshire dialect lessons at Westminster.

Referring to GCHQ’s base near the resort, and the work undertaken by spies, he mentioned “that many locals still refer to it as t’wireless station”.

However he was disappointed that it was transcribed as ‘wireless station’ by Hansard stenographers who record Parliamentary proceedings.

“They obviously need more Yorkshire dialect training,” he says.

Perhaps they need more practice, starting with Yorkshire MPs using their influence to speak up more frequently on behalf of this county.

SIR Kenny Dalglish, the football legend, had to wait over five years after leaving Liverpool Football Club’s managerial hotseat for a second time to be awarded a long-overdue knighthood for his charity work and, specifically, his steadfast support for the Hillsborough disaster survivors and campaigners over 29 years.

Meanwhile Mark Carne, the outgoing chief executive of Network Rail – or should that be Fail? – received a CBE before he had left office and at a time when services across the country were in disarray. Any reform of the honours system should begin by banning public sector top executives from receiving awards for at least five years after they have left their post so their legacy can be properly examined.

FAIR play to Leeds-born footballer James Milner. The former England international, who plies his trade with Liverpool, is so determined that his young children become bilingual that he only speaks to them in Spanish.

“It’s a very good gift you can give your children,” says Milner who learned Spanish so he could communicate with his team-mates from overseas. Talk about leading by example when it comes to parental responsibility.

SPRINT icon Usain Bolt made a lightning quick point when asked about the prevalence of knife crime amongst young people.

“More sport,” he said. “Get kids into sport. Go into schools and find out what sport they really want and try to figure out how to get them into it.”

Forget trying to be a footballer Usain, you should be Sports Minister.

RIGHT, I’ve made a start. I’m no longer going to purchase greetings cards, or fruit and veg, wrapped unnecessarily in cellophane. What are you going to do to cut your plastic use? As a politician once said, we’re all in this together.