Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with me about the current travel chaos on our railways.
It’s frustrating enough that commuters from Fleetwood and Over Wyre have to find their way to Poulton or Blackpool before getting a connecting train to a mainline station. Having completed that part of your journey I know many of you have then become victims of the Northern Rail crisis.
On Monday evening I was granted a strictly timed 10 minute meeting with the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson MP.
I began by stressing that this crisis is not just about the new timetable. Passengers in Lancashire and across Northern’s network have faced years of poor service, cancellations, over-crowding, lack of investment and being forced to travel on old trains.
I shared with him your stories. Constituents have emailed to tell me they’ve lost their jobs or have been given final written warnings. One Mum was two hours late picking her child up from school. By the time she got to him he was very upset. Another Mum and her toddler were on a delayed train with toilets that were out of order. She had to try and squeeze him into his baby brother’s nappy to avoid him having an accident. He’s not wanted to travel on a train since. Constituents with disabilities are also having a very difficult time. Replacement buses don’t have stop announcements so the blind and partially sighted can’t use the rail replacement services. Similarly other disabled constituents are struggling because they can’t get wheelchairs on rail replacement buses. Whilst Mr Johnson was sympathetic, he offered no solutions.
I’m also greatly concerned about the economic impact this crisis is having on the northern economy. I asked Mr Johnson if the government would be assessing the damage. His reply was that it’s ‘early days’. This is disgraceful. So much for the government bleating on about its commitment to the Northern Powerhouse. Its actions, not words that matter.
I’ve also requested a remuneration/compensation package for all travellers whether they hold a season ticket or otherwise. We know that passengers are already waiting months for Northern to pay out compensation, so I asked what plans he had to ensure this latest compensation package reached passengers quickly. The Minister was keen not to reveal any details or commit himself to anything until he had negotiated with the Train Operator. Frankly, I would have liked to see him put passengers first and demand a decent deal for passengers from Northern.
It’s clear now that rail services across the country are in meltdown as a result of the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling’s complete failure to prepare for the transition to a new national railway timetable. Chris Grayling can’t wash his hands of this chaos by blaming the “rail industry”. The buck stops with him. It was him who awarded contracts to incompetent train companies and it was him who propped up a failed and unpopular system of rail privatisation. The whole fragmented rail system is completely failing passengers, because it’s they who have been left stranded at stations up and down the country. The next Labour government will put in place a new rail service, publically owned and therefore better integrated, so that rail is run in the interests of the public.
Following on from this meeting I will be putting my concerns in writing to Jo Johnson and, with my constituent’s permission, I will send him copies of the emails I have received on this matter.