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Executive Leader Cllr Brenda Warrington

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Councillor Brenda Warrington, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

Northern Rail: The End of the Line

Tuesday, 05 June 2018


The sad state of our railways was highlighted yet again at the start of this week as Northern Rail, responding to unprecedented disruption and cancellations on their lines, announced the suspension of 165 daily services – 6% of all of the trains running in the North. This measure was carried out, as highlighted by Mayor Andy Burnham, with the blessing of the Department of Transport and without any approval, consultation or compensation of the commuters it affected.

The triggering cause of the crisis appears to have been a change in service timetables across the country last month, combined with staffing shortages that can no longer be plugged by more overtime. Anybody who has ever taken a Northern Rail train before, however, knows that there have been issues with their services for a long time. There are very few who use the railways in the North on a daily basis that don’t have their own horror stories about services being delayed, overcrowded, or just plain cancelled. On one day alone, 18th May, the “Northern Fail” app, which tracks Northern Rail’s performance across the network, logged 117 fully cancelled trains, 63 part cancelled and 5 running with reduced carriages.

Let’s be clear as well, behind those numbers and figures is a very real human cost. There have been people who have had to move jobs because the trains they relied on consistently failed to get them to work on time. There have been people for whom being forced to sit in a hot, overcrowded carriage day after day eventually took a serious toll on their physical and mental health. There have been families and businesses that have endured massive strains as commutes that should take half an hour or so at most start taking two or three hours instead. As a regular commuter on Northern Rail from Hyde Central to Manchester Piccadilly, I’ve seen first-hand just how dreadful the service can be, as well as the unnecessary suffering and frustration it can inflict on people who have no choice but to take what is offered.

I think there’s something else at work here as well. Ask anybody standing on a platform at Manchester Piccadilly, Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Flowery Field, Guide Bridge or any other train station in the Tameside, Greater Manchester, or indeed in the North of England, and they would be able to give you chapter and verse about exactly what it’s like to rely on public transport in this part of the country. At first you wonder why anybody with the power to make the big decisions hasn’t asked for their opinion, and then you remember. The Transport Secretary is a Surrey MP, the Department for Transport and Network Rail are based in London, and Deutsch-Bahn, the company that ultimately runs the Northern Rail franchise, is even further away in Berlin. Decisions about our transport infrastructure are made by faraway politicians and unaccountable private companies, most of who don’t know what the North needs and have never bothered to ask anybody that might have been able to tell them. Is it any wonder that we are where we are now?

It’s clear in my mind that a few things need to happen. I echo the calls from Andy Burnham for an official investigation into what has happened and how we can fix it. I also firmly believe that if Northern Rail are found to be in breach of their franchise commitments and cannot come up with a satisfactory improvement plan, then the franchise should be stripped from them and brought back into public control, as has happened recently with the East Coast route. Finally, but perhaps most importantly of all, I want the people of Tameside, Greater Manchester and the North to have more of a say on the future of their own services.

We’re not asking for the world; we’re just asking for trains that get people to where they need to be, on time and with a basic level of comfort.  Surely, in the sixth largest economy in the world, that isn’t too much to ask?
 

 

Posted by: Executive Leader


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