YP Comment: The railways are a public service

Vision of the future: Yorkshire's HS2 termimnal is a far cry from the reality of today
Vision of the future: Yorkshire's HS2 termimnal is a far cry from the reality of today
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Put passengers in the driving seat

IT will come as little surprise to those commuters who endure the region’s railways each morning that delays in Yorkshire rank amongst the worst in Britain – York, Sheffield and Leeds stations all feature prominently on a new list of shame.

Travellers here have received a sub-standard service for too long, certainly in comparison to London which has been the beneficiary of unprecedented levels of investment, and the additional rolling stock – a pre-condition of the newly-awarded Northern and TransPennine Express franchises – cannot come soon enough.

However this alone will not be sufficient. Many of the problems can be attributed to a railway infrastructure which was never intended to transport so many people each day. Network Rail, under the astute leadership of Sir Peter Hendy, must find a way of instigating improvements at those “pinch-points” – passengers should not have to wait for the advent of high-speed rail at some date in the dim and distant future.

It does not end here. The railway industry needs to improve its customer care on two fronts. First, passengers are likely to be far more tolerant if they’re given accurate and up-to-date information rather than false promises. Second, it should be far easier for travellers to claim compensation when services are delayed.

For, if the train operators actually have to dig deep into their pockets, it might galvanise them into working with organisations like Network Rail to ensure that more trains run on time and provide a level of service commensurate that is commensurate with the public’s expectations and justifies the annual increase in fares.

On this, rail firms must not be allowed to opt out of the Consumer Rights Act, the subject of a Government consultation. As the Campaign for Better Transport makes clear, passengers should have a right to such safeguards so they’re not taken for a ride by those train operators who seem to forget all too frequently that they exist to provide a public service.

Weapons of war: Dialogue and siplomacy in Syria

THREE points were noteworthy as Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond updated Parliament on the RAF airstrikes in Syria against Daesh – the so-called Islamic State – a fortnight after an impassioned speech by Labour’s Hilary Benn culminated with MPs voting to extend the scope of military action.

The first was that more backbenchers were not present to hear this statement after making repeated appeals on December 2 to be kept appraised of developments in order to avoid “mission creep”. It should be a privilege, and a duty, to hold Ministers to account on matters of war and peace.

Next was Mr Hammond’s reassurance that there have been no civilian casualties as a result of the RAF being able to use the latest precision technology to hit pre-identified targets. The Government, and its coalition partners, need to make clear that this is action is intended to defend moderate Islam from the forces of extremism.

Finally, there was the Foreign Secretary’s disclosure that the West is being far more pro-active in using the internet to rebut propaganda posed by those terrorists whose poisonous views are a betrayal of the Islamic faith. This has the potential to be far more effective than the call by Donald Trump, one of the Republican frontrunners for next year’s USA presidential election, for “areas” of the internet to be closed in order to suppress extremists – dialogue and diplomacy remain the most important weapons of all in this “war on terror”.

Christmas warmth:

“DON’T knock the weather. If it didn’t change once in a while, nine out of 10 people couldn’t start a conversation.” This caption, attached to an illustration produced by the American cartoonist Kin Hubbard, could not be more apt as Britain basks in the warmest December for 70 years.

There will be those who attribute this, and the recent floods, to the effects of climate change, while others will contend that it is a once-in-a-generation phenomenon which is sparing families, and especially the elderly, from even higher heating bills this winter.

Either way, it can be said with certainty that this unseasonably warm weather makes a mockery of the recent forecast which predicted the coldest winter on record and that it could, in fact, put a slight dampener on the festive celebrations. For, without those cold and crisp December days, with Yorkshire’s moors covered by snow, it just does not feel like Christmases of old.