YP Comment: Rail network's new direction? Minister's admission of failure

TWO DECADES after John Major privatised the railways, a policy too controversial for his more radical predecessor Margaret Thatcher, long-suffering passengers continue to pay the price.

Network Rail could be broken up to reduce delays.

Despite record fares, rush-hour services are overcrowded; investment is skewed in the South’s favour; delays are compounded by poor communication and who can forget the human misery two years ago when chaotic engineering repairs at King’s Cross over-ran?

Yet it’s always been mysterious that the management and maintenance of the railway infrastructure, first by Railtrack and then by Network Rail, was kept separate to the running of the trains on a daily basis. It is this anomaly which Transport Secretary Chris Grayling proposes to address – he says delays could be avoided if there was one company in charge of an entire rail route from the upkeep of lines to the provision of services.

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There’s some merit to this initiative being pioneered on the proposed Varsity line from Oxford to Cambridge as former railways are brought back into service to ease congestion – too many well-intended policies have not worked in practice.

Moving forward, Mr Grayling needs to be aware of two points. First, the green light to this scheme in the Home Counties is another slap in the face to the North when his junior minister, Paul Maynard, won’t even sanction the electrification of the Hull to Selby line so trains can speed up along one of the longest stretches of straight railway in Britain. This region also wants high-speed services along HS3 to be fast-tracked, a scheme just as significant as the Oxbridge line. Second, his speech is an admission of failure. His immediate priority should be making sure that engineering delays in the future are kept to a minimum – and that means the railway industry communicating with passengers more effectively.

A patriotic Brexit?

THERE WILL be many who concur with Theresa May’s patriotic call for a ‘red, white and blue Brexit’ while others will lament the nationalist undertones to the Prime Minster’s clarion call during a trade mission to the Gulf. For a leader who promised ‘no running commentary’ on Britain’s negotiations with the EU, Mrs May appears to be doing her level best to contradict herself as every shade of Brexit is floated in the hope of unifying her party. What next? ‘Star-spangled Brexit’ in deference to President-elect Donald Trump?

However, after a polarising year, it would perhaps be helpful if the jingoistic rhetoric was toned down. After all, it falls to Mrs May to represent the whole country, including those who voted Remain, and such language will make it even harder for her to unite the country.

Irrespective of whether the Supreme Court decides whether Parliament or the Prime Minister triggers Article 50, and regardless of today’s non-binding Commons vote on the Government’s strategy to date, the tortuous negotiations with the EU will not be settled by soundbites. They will require measured and meaningful discussion, hence Mrs May’s reluctance to define ‘Brexit means Brexit’ when she was running for the Tory leadership. And the 
more slogans she uses, the 
more people will ask why her Ministers have not made more tangible progress on the one issue which will define Mrs May’s place in history.

End of the peer show – Betty Boothroyd on the warpath

TALK about telling it like it is. Yorkshire’s very own Betty Boothroyd cut straight to the chase when she accused former prime ministers, and David Cameron in particular, of undermining the independence of the House of Lords by appointing their own cronies – “lobby fodder” as she put it – to scrutinise legislation.

The Dewsbury-born former Speaker of the Commons was withering as she called for the excessive number of peers to be reduced to 400. “The repeated abuse of Prime Ministers’ powers of privilege is as plain as a pikestaff. To my mind, it betrays arrogance, reeks of hypocrisy and has no place in a Parliamentary system,” she thundered. “The abolition of their untrammelled power is long overdue. Be gone, I say – and I hope Theresa May takes note.”

Hear, hear. Mrs May can’t fail to take note of such a powerful contribution spoken from the heart. If the PM has any sense, she will put a moratorium on the appointment of new peers until there’s a consensus on Lords reform. If not, she, too, will find herself being put straight by Baroness Boothroyd.