OUR railways are often used as an easy stick with which to beat the Government or those in charge. National media regularly make headlines with claims of rail services being ‘too full’ or ‘too expensive’ in unfair comparisons with motoring or air travel – overlooking that these are problems essentially caused by two decades of rising passenger numbers rather than any cynical secret plan to treat travellers badly.
Sometimes, however, the railways deserve the criticism and the weeks since the May timetable change have been just such an occasion, with Northern and TSGN being particularly guilty.
While the first day’s delays and cancellations could have been put down to teething troubles, that day became days and then days became weeks of disruption. Things seemed only to get worse rather than better until emergency timetables had to be issued to try and stabilise the situation.
The underlying cause boils down to trying to rush through the new services. In many cases, Network Rail’s infrastructure improvements were not delivered on time, giving the operators insufficient time to retrain staff – while the timetable itself was not thoroughly tested at the planning stage, such that it was sometimes unworkable in practice.
To top it all, the operators’ management seemed very unwilling to speak about what had gone wrong. Faced with continued, and this time fair, criticism in the wider media, it was often left to the likes of the Rail Delivery Group to front questions on their behalf, and this only served to enrage passengers further.
Our railways cannot afford to shoot themselves in the foot like this. There are more than enough people willing to attack them at the best of times without also providing the ammunition.
The July issue of Rail Express is on sale from June 15.