Rail disruption

Having been promised improved rail services in the May timetable from last week, long-suffering passengers on Northern Rail have suffered yet more disappointment.

All three lines into Manchester through High Peak – from Hadfield, Buxton and along Hope Valley – saw several services cancelled or stops missed out.  Passengers have been crammed into overcrowded carriages and left stranded at stations, often in sweltering heat.

This was part of a pattern across Northern’s rail network with one in seven trains cancelled and one in six delayed over the past week.

The problems were compounded by long-planned strike action by guards, campaigning against Driver-Only trains.  The huge problems in recent days show how necessary guards are, often to keep passengers safe when too many are trying to cram onto late trains.

Politicians from across the north of England have been asking for the reasons behind this huge disruption.  The underlying cause is that Northern is laying on around 1,300 additional services without the rolling stock or staff to guarantee that all the extra trains can run.

Northern trains and the Government are blaming Network Rail and delays in the electrification of the track between Bolton and Preston for not being able to release enough diesel engines.

This is convenient for the Secretary of State for Transport, who is keen to claim that government-controlled organisations do not work as well as the private sector – whilst omitting to mention that he himself is therefore responsible for the performance of Network Rail.

Northern is run by Deutsche Bahn, the German rail operator, which is wholly owned by the German government.  Profits from the British franchises which it runs go to the German government.

Ultimately there is conflict between the different organisations running British railways which makes planning and delivering trains on time much more complicated than in state-run organisations – and creates a ‘Blame Someone Else’ culture when things go wrong.

Transport for the North will now be holding an enquiry into who is to blame for the current delays.  I hope that it will look not just at Northern and Network Rail, but at the system which creates such conflicts.  76% of the public believe that our railways should be run by the British government for the British people, and I wholly agree.

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