Tom Richmond: Where’s the TransPennine Express boss? His train service is so bad that commuters miss the old Pacers

Punctuality and reliability levels on the TransPennine Express have deteriorated markedly.
Punctuality and reliability levels on the TransPennine Express have deteriorated markedly.
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TRAIN operator Northern has, rightly, been in the firing line over the continuing chaos on the region’s railways – its record of failure embodies Chris Grayling’s dismal tenureship of the Department for Transport.

Yet First Group’s rapidly deteriorating TransPennine Express franchise, which operates longer distance services, is just as culpable and Scarborough resident Janet Toker performed a very useful service earlier this week by allowing The Yorkshire Post to publish the catalogue of excuses she chronicled over a two-week period.

She’s a human casualty of the disruption which has cost the economy over £35m – and one million lost hours – according the Northern Powerhouse Partnership. And she’s not alone.

Her anguish prompted residents of Slaithwaite and Marsden, two commuter communities served by the main Leeds to Manchester line, to get in touch about their daily nightmare which is damning of the whole rail industry from Mr Grayling to the bosses of rail franchises.

Slaithwaite resident Michael Blake wrote: “Until May 20 we had an hourly service in both directions run by Northern on ancient rolling stock (Pacers).

“By and large the service, although not perfect, worked pretty well, subject to the Pacers breaking down occasionally because they were clapped-out and the well-known cancellations because of staffing shortages. TPE took over the franchise on May 20 and, since then, the service has fallen apart completely.”

That’s right. The decrepit old Pacers – buses converted to trains – were more reliable than the current service where last-minute cancellations mean passengers are left stranded in either Slaithwaite or Marsden on the way to work, or at Manchester or Leeds for the journey home, for at least an hour, and longer if the next train also does not turn up. “Residents have now lost all confidence that they can catch a train at the advertised time,” adds Mr Blake.

It’s a familiar story which needs retelling to remind 10 Downing Street that the Government must now honour Theresa May’s call for further improvements. Yet, after reading reams of emails and correspondence, what angers – and appals – Mr Blake, and his fellow critics, most of all is the near silence, and ambivalence, of TPE managing director Leo Goodwin.

There has been no response of note. This is shameful. His organisation is failing to provide a public service – and all those at the mercy of his trains deserve a full and frank explanation from the man in charge. I hope it is forthcoming by the time that I write next week’s column.

THE Government’s intention to quietly drop Theresa May’s ‘burning injustices’ rhetoric is misguided. Ministers and Tory strategists believe that it risks boosting support for Labour. I’m dumbfounded. The issues highlighted by Mrs May, like pay, mental health and the rights of tenants, are as relevant now as they were in 2016 when she became PM on the back of this agenda.

By doing nothing, it’s another broken promise which alienates voters. As I suggested in an editorial last week, Mrs May should fully focus on Brexit while her de facto deputy, David Lidington, presides over domestic policy and reforms to avoid the Government becoming even more bogged down.

NOT only is Theresa May’s chief whip Julian Smith now mistrusted by MPs after appearing to break Parliamentary protocols to ensure the Government survived a knife-edge Brexit vote, but he’s making enemies in his Skipton and Ripon constituency.

For, when residents wrote to him to express dismay over controversial plans for new a leisure park in Hellifield, he wrote back to say that he didn’t intervene in planning matters – really? – and that they should contact Craven District Council with their concerns.

Judging how this has gone down with the CPRE and others, perhaps Mr Smith won’t be able to take the next election in his constituency, supposedly one of the safest in the country, for granted. This is because these issues do genuinely matter to those concerned – and residents do have long memories.

SO leave does mean leave. Three weeks after resigning over Brexit, Boris Johnson finally moved out of the Foreign Secretary’s official residence on Monday.

I hope he’s been charged full rent while ‘holed up’ at Carlton Gardens. After all, he’s already resumed his second (or is it first?) career as a newspaper columnist, when former Ministers are supposed to wait three months before taking up money-making ventures.

AN own goal from Trade Minister Graham Stuart. In a piece for The Yorkshire Post, the Beverley and Holderness MP praised the six footballers from Yorkshire who made Gareth Southgate’s World Cup squad.

I suggest he kicks his speech-writer into touch. Seven hailed from these parts. The Minister should be thankful that this paper corrected his column. There are already enough politicians who are phoney football fans.

EVEN the Tour de France – won heroically by Geraint Thomas – finished a week ago, there’s still a sign on the A65 in Leeds warning of road closure on May 6 this year because of the Tour de Yorkshire. Come on Leeds City Council and Welcome to Yorkshire, there’s enough street clutter without this adding to it.

FINALLY, given a flag depicting the red dragon of Wales flew above 10 Downing Street in celebration of Geraint Thomas’s achievements, how about the Government committing itself to flying Yorkshire’s white rose flag on August 1 next year, and on every Yorkshire Day, to honour this county’s achievers?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk