Why, the Transport Secretary was asked, are so many trains running late – or being cancelled – six months after a new timetable was introduced? Yet another review is underway, he said.
Why is Yorkshire’s rail network still, according to newly-published data by the IPPR think-tank, the poor relation when it comes to investment? Blame the last Labour government, he replied.
Why won’t the Government scrap the Northern and TransPennine Express franchises which are causing so much inconvenience to passengers? There’s no better alternative, he ventured.
And so it went on – the ‘don’t blame me’ Transport Secretary in denial about the shambles he has presided over since July 2016 and unable to say when services will return to normal.
Yet the problem for Mr Grayling – and Theresa May if Brexit triggers another election – is that his timetable of excuses, the only thing relating to the railways that does run on time, is nothing compared to the half-truths told by rail operators to passengers like Vanessa Bremner who now keeps monthly records of her daily commute from Doncaster to Leeds that she has passed to The Yorkshire Post.
Emblematic of all those passengers who say ‘enough is enough’, her day invariably begins with daily tweets about the state – and status – of Northern’s 06.57 service in the hope that the Department for Transport will acknowledge her plight.
A contracts administrator, she has to travel by train out of necessity and regularly works through her lunch break to make up for time lost by late-running trains. She also has to get home each evening to look after an elderly relative who suffers from diabetes and dementia.
Virtually every day reveals new agonies about Northern, going back to early April when she started her log: “4/4 N dirty and a lot of broken seats. Arrived Leeds on time but made to wait outside station so long we were then late. 5/4 N weather was absolutely freezing. Got in train early but door would not close, going numb. Late. 9/4 N filthy. Mud and food all over seats, rubbish over floor. Got to outside Leeds on time but just stopped. Late.”
Things became worse when timetables were changed. Take June 7 when her train was cancelled. “On Twitter, N said it was due to delay in train being released by depot. However, train wasn’t in depot – it was on platform. Station announcement said no staff. Questioned on Twitter, N then admitted no driver had been allocated to this service.” Has Northern had lessons in obfuscation from Mr Grayling? It looks like it.
Or June 26, which illustrates the personal and human strain when travel plans are disrupted. “N train cancelled. Station staff said due to it being faulty. My only option to at least attempt to get to work on time is going via York, but train not showing on any boards in station.”
Or August 2, which exposes the state of the decrepit Pacer trains. “N ran but only a Pacer. Overcrowded. Had sore neck by time it reached Leeds due sitting on odd angle to allow people standing some room.”
Or October 5 when a late train caused chronic overcrowding. “Arrived Leeds 08.21, 42 mins late. Had to run to work, caused asthma attack.”
Or November 21 and the latest miscommunication. “N showed as running. At 07.00 (after scheduled departure), changed to delayed until 07.30! Eventually departed 07.49. Twitter claim train fault, everyone that was stood there knows it’s because there were no staff. As soon as staff actually arrived, train departed. Train did not stop at Bentley, Adwick, South Elmsall or Sandall.”
The ontraintimes.co.uk database confirms Ms Bremner’s 06.57 service has only run on 85 per cent of occasions in the past 12 weeks. Believe it or not, it could be worse – new data shows Doncaster and Leeds to be two of Yorkshire’s better performing main stations (while nine out of the 10 stations with the most punctual services are in London).
However the number of times the 06.57 has left Doncaster, and arrived at Leeds within five minutes of its schedule, is a pitiful 47 per cent – and Ms Bremner is also scathing of the return services in the evening run by the renationalised LNER as angry MPs, like Dewsbury’s Paula Sherriff, press for a Commons debate.
In response, a Northern spokesman said an official will meet Ms Bremner tomorrow to apologise. He added: “We will ensure she receives the compensation she is due.”
Yet, while this is all very well, it is Chris Grayling who should be spending a week enduring Ms Bremner’s commute for himself rather than hiding his Whitehall bunker, and staying off social media, so he doesn’t have to come into contact with irate travellers whose votes could swing the next election as patience runs out.
Then he might just realise how his many excuses are failing the railways – and passengers like Vanessa Bremner – as his vague promises appear to be even less reliable than the trains here. And that’s saying something.