Tom Richmond: '˜Failing Grayling' goes to new lengths to bring chaos to railways

HERE'S a new excuse for rail passengers to comprehend in addition to Transport Secretary's Chris Grayling's litany of failings '“ the train which is now due to arrive at platform one is too long.

Illustrator Graeme Bandeira's depiction of Chris Grayling after the Transport Secretary refused to accept blame for the region's rail chaos.

This, I can reveal, is the scenario that will confront passengers on two of the region’s busiest commuter routes when trains are extended to six carriages next year.

Even though I’ll believe it when it happens given the continuing fiasco across the North over last month’s timetable changes, I’m afraid this shows just how little that the Department for Transport – and rest of the railway industry – thinks of Yorkshire.

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It takes ‘mind the gap’ – that familiar refrain – to a new level. Unlike rural routes where it’s not feasible to extend platforms to cater for longer trains, the Aireborough and Wharfedale lines, which link Leeds with Skipton and Ilkley respectively, are two of the busiest in the North.

They’re not branch lines. They’re already so overcrowded – 600 people are regularly crammed on services designed to carry 360 passengers – that it is feared that travellers will, on occasion, struggle to walk through trains to reach a carriage where they can get off safely.

According to Reverend Tim Calow, who heads the Aire Valley Rail Users Group, only Leeds, Keighley, Skipton and Ilkley stations will be long enough to accommodate the promised trains.

“However Network Rail have no plans to extend platforms. We believe this will result in confusion for many passengers. There will be significant risks for passengers who attempt to leave the parts of train which are not at platforms. The train service will be slower and less reliable,” he writes.

I agree – and I’m still to be convinced that Network Rail, and Northern Rail, understand these valid safety concerns.

“We are working with Network Rail and other train companies operating on the line to identify what work may be required and prioritising what needs to be done this year,” said a Northern Rail spokesman. At stations where the train is longer than the platform, we are aiming to operate selective door opening, a safe operation that is common place across the UK.”

Network Rail concurred – and conceded it will take longer for people to get on and off the trains. Its own statement, issued simultaneously, added: “It’s important to note that even if platforms are not extended, this does not mean that longer trains will not call at stations along the route.”

However I respectfully point out the misgivings of Reverend Calow: “Many trains are too full for passengers to make their way along the train to access the correct coach to be able to leave the train.” Like him, I suspect this is another example of the North being short-changed and I have now submitted a Freedom of Information request to establish where Network Rail has extended platforms in the past five years after the quango refuted suggestions that it had run out of money for improvements here.

I also guess that neither Mr Grayling, nor Theresa May, would accept this situation in their constituencies where, at the opposite end of the spending scale, Crossrail is the priority. In the meantime, what are organisations such as Transport for the North, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leeds City Council doing to ensure that public safety is not put at unnecessary risk?

I would suggest that they lobby Chris Grayling, but in the wake of his latest letter to MPs this week in which he absolved himself of any responsibility for the shambles on the railways, it would be a waste of time.

After all, he’s only the Transport Secretary and mired in so many scandals, mainly of his own making, that Northern Rail has been renamed Northern Fail and #failinggrayling, the sobriquet that I gave to the Cabinet minister last year, now trends on Twitter.

TWO quick follow-up points after a very senior former Cabinet minister told me that Chris Grayling makes Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt “look popular”.

First, why hasn’t Theresa May asked to meet Northern business, transport and political leaders to form an action plan to improve reliability? Second, why have so few Tory MPs come to Mr Grayling’s defence? Their silence speaks volumes.

IF Scarborough-born Gavin Williamson can’t answer questions posed by a TV inquisitor as friendly as Richard Madeley, the Defence Secretary has no chance of becoming Prime Minister. Indeed, I congratulate the TV presenter for saying “interview terminated” and cutting off the Cabinet minister when he obfuscated.

I can only assume that, after Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation, Williamson only put his name forward when he, as the then chief whip, advised the Prime Minister on replacements. True or false? A one-word answer will suffice.

ALTHOUGH Brexit Secretary David Davis has now visited the Northern Ireland border to see the lie of the land for himself with regard to customs arrangements, the Haltemprice and Howden MP should have made the trip shortly after his appointment in July 2016 – and not left it until April 2018.

If he, and others, had done so earlier, they might have had more time to come up with a workable plan that satisfied the Brexiteers, and the EU, and not put the Peace Process at risk. Now there’s little chance.

THERESA May effectively lost the election on this day last year when she couldn’t answer a nurse’s question in York about public sector pay. What a year. And Chris Grayling is still the best person to be Transport Secretary? Come off it, Prime Minister.