Following a period of unprecedented misery and upset for thousands of people, caused by a broken railway, the regional Press across the North of England is today making an historic united stand to demand: enough is enough.
In a week where the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling blamed everyone bar himself for the chaos and confusion that has hit train operator Northern, The Post is putting years of rivalry with our publishing peers to one side for the good of our proud regions.
We say to Prime Minister Theresa May: if, as he did last week, your Minister refuses to acknowledge his failings and refuses to accept responsibility for the interminable disruption for which he – whether he likes it or not – is ultimately responsible, then you must.
The Post and our colleagues across the industry today, on behalf of the 15m people who are proud to call the North home, table a vote of no confidence in the Transport Secretary.
Our unprecedented show of unity is in direct response to the disruption suffered by hundreds of thousands of passengers since new timetables were introduced on the Northern network a fortnight ago.
With passengers bracing themselves for weeks of further delays as a result of these cack-handed changes, Mrs May, you, will be jeopardising the credibility of the Northern Powerhouse, and alienating the regions for good, if you do not intervene now.
Given its over-riding objective is to improve public transport between the North’s major cities in order to transform the future economic prospects of this region, we together urge the Prime Minister to:
* summon transport chiefs, and business leaders, to 10 Downing Street this week for an emergency summit to devise an action plan to get this region moving again;
* challenge train operator Northern to specify, in full, its promised compensation scheme for those passengers most affected by the delays and disruption;
* give Transport for the North the necessary policy and financial powers so it can have full oversight of all local, suburban and regional services and work in tandem with Network Rail. It is clear our railways cannot be cared for properly from London;
* commit the Government to a full and fundamental review of rail franchising – the Northern fiasco is yet another example of a franchisee over-promising and under-delivering;
* promise that the planned high-speed line across the Pennines - NPR - will take precedence over or equal to the Crossrail II scheme being drawn up in London.
Before the introduction of an emergency timetable yesterday which saw 165 services scrapped until the end of July, more than 2,000 trains had been cancelled – and even more subjected to long delays. The resulting inconvenience suffered by passengers ranging from top business executives to commuters, jobseekers, students, tourists and many others has been, and remains, incalculable. Many people, including the low-waged, have been left stranded.
Unlike London and the South East, this region’s transport infrastructure has been under-funded by successive governments and the North simply cannot sit and wait for the completion of HS2 and better links to and from London.
If we are to make a greater contribution to the prosperity of the whole country, we need a transport network fit for the 21st century with improved east-west connections and the North’s great cities linked by the quantity and quality of services being introduced on London’s state-of-the-art Crossrail line.
This needs to be Mrs May’s number one transport policy – Chris Grayling’s promises are, frankly, worthless because he’s so bereft of credibility across the region – and she needs to take affirmative action now before the North’s economy is put at unnecessary risk.
Rest assured, The Post along with other media in the North, will not ease up until it is satisfied with the answers provided by Mrs May and her Government’s level of commitment to the North.
What commuters say
Father-of-two Chris Halliwell, 30, from Poulton, paid £3,700 for a season pass to take him from Poulton to Manchester where he works for a law firm.
Before the problems with Northern struck, he would get the 7.22am service from Poulton to Piccadilly, returning on the 16.47 which got him home for 6pm.
Now, he says it is simply ‘pot luck’.
Chris said: “I am having to check the train schedules 30 minutes before I finish work and sometimes having to ask my boss if I can leave early. It’s embarrassing. And often I’m late by 20 or 30 minutes - it’s like being back at school telling the teacher ‘my dog ate my homework’.
“I’m not getting home until 8pm - I have a four-year-old and a one-year-old and I often don’t see them at night. It is causing people anxiety - I’m far more worried each day about the trains than my job.
“When a train does arrive it is often only two carriages and it is packed, often dangerously so. If you can’t get on you are waiting for half an hour for the next one and there is no guarantee that will arrive either.
“And I don’t accept the excuses either - Northern knew about this a long time ago and the electrification of the line between Blackpool North and Preston overrunning and lack of train crew is a smokescreen.
“A conductor was telling me last week that he was on the platform at Blackpool North with the driver of the train ready to go then it was cancelled suddenly. They were looking at each other, confused.
“I feel sorry for the staff, they get yelled at each day and it’s not their fault - it’s Northern’s and the Government. People are understandable upset by this on a daily basis and I have heard stories of people losing their jobs because of this.
“The replacement buses add time to my day but at least Blackpool Transport are reliable and the buses are efficient. It looks like we’ll have to use them for some time yet.”
Chris says Northern should focus on the key commuter routes - such as Blackpool North to Manchester and Liverpool to Manchester - instead of still servicing smaller routes in Yorkshire until the problems subside.
Steph Monk, 21, from Chorley, said: “Last week I was getting a train from Preston to Poulton and when I was on the train they announced the next stop was Blackpool so I had to come back on myself to get to Poulton.
“The trains have been a nightmare.”
Kath Reddington, 62, from Poulton, said: “I rely on the trains to get to work and the amount of times I have been late because of them has been ridiculous.”
Jacob Walker, 25, from Poulton says the cancellations have been routine.
He said “My train has been cancelled again and I’m waiting for another replacement bus.
“I don’t think Northern care at all otherwise they would be doing something about it.”
Craig Butler, 38, from Blackpool, said: “I am just fed up with it now. It’s been going on since last year and it should have been done by now. I have relied on getting taxis sometimes because of the trouble and I probably won’t see any of that money back.”
Heather Megson, 29, from Blackpool, said it has been “chaos”.
She said: “I have been waking up each morning and the first thing I have been doing is checking if my train has been cancelled or delayed.”
John Hardman, 57, from Preston, says he has to plan his routine around the timetables.
He said: “As long as I’m not late for work I don’t mind, but I know that I have to get up early to make sure that the trains are running or not.”
What our MPs say
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle was among a posse of politicians demanding to see Transport Secretary Chris Grayling last night over the continuing rail crisis.
And the Deputy Speaker of the Commons was intending to make just one demand: take the Northern franchise back into public ownership.
Sir Lindsay, who wrote a scathing letter to Mr Grayling last week about the state of the train services in the North of England, said: “We can’t carry on like this. It is a shambles. It is a disgrace.
“We took the East Coast franchise back for less, so how can he sit back and allow this to continue?
“Someone has got to get a grip and take control.
“The Government has to step in and sort this whole mess out.”
The Department of Transport said yesterday it would not be able to schedule meetings with all the MPs who were queueing up to see Mr Grayling. At one point the list stretched to 60.
The admission came before a statement by the Minister in the House about the rail problems which have left hundreds of thousands of travellers either late or with no trains at all.
Speaking last night Mr Grayling laid the blame squarely at the door of the rail franchises.
He said the rail industry believed “until the last moment” that it could successfully introduce the new timetables.
He accepted people would find that “hard to understand”, amid mass cancellations and delays on Northern and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR).
In a statement in the Commons, Mr Grayling revealed that GTR “assured me personally that they were ready” just three weeks before services were rescheduled on May 20.
“Clearly this was wrong and it is totally unacceptable,” he said. “The rail industry has collectively failed to deliver for the passengers it serves.
“It’s right that the industry has apologised for the situation that we are currently in and that we learn the lessons for the future.”
How bad is it for commuters?
While it wasn’t quite the chaos of the previous two weeks, yesterday’s emergency timetable still prompted travellers to go off the rails across Lancashire.
There weren’t the same number of cancelled services at the county’s busiest rail station. But then there weren’t the same number to cancel after Northern’s “interim” timetable reduced trains by six per cent overall.
Preston, which paid a hefty price for the cuts last week, was still experiencing late cancellations as the new arrangements came into force.
Bus replacement services were departing from outside the station to places like Blackpool North, Wigan and East Lancashire.
And travellers whose trains did show up, still had to put up with the odd late arrival.
Passenger George Mortiss, from Worcester, who makes regular trips to Bamber Bridge to pick up vehicles, waited patiently at the Butler Street entrance for a bus to take him on the last leg of his journey. He would be, he estimated, a good 80 minutes late, even though his mainline train had been on time reaching Preston.
“I just missed the last train to Bamber Bridge before they suddenly switched to buses,” he said. “I’m told the trains will resume later, but that’s no good for me, I’ll be driving back south by then - if I don’t hit a jam on the M6.
“All these people in Whitehall who make the decisions don’t care about us passengers, they don’t have to put up with this.”
Nicola Collison, from Leyland, was also waiting for a bus, hoping that her experience last Friday getting back from a day trip to Manchester wasn’t repeated.
“It took me four-and-a-half hours to get to Leyland,” she said. “We had to go via several different stations trying to get home.”
And Levena Mitchell set off by bus from Blackpool an hour earlier than normal to make sure she reached Preston in plenty of time to make her connection to Scotland.
“When I came down on Friday, train after train was ‘on time’ at first, then it was running a bit late and then it was cancelled at the last minute,” she said. “At least it doesn’t look as bad as that. I ended up being an hour and half late in total.
“So going back I set off on the replacement bus service at eight o’clock to make sure I made the 9.54 to Edinburgh. I have to get home today, so I couldn’t risk missing it.”