There aren’t actually any train stations in Oldham West and Royton, but thousands of my constituents use both Mills Hill and Moston train stations to commute into central Manchester. So I’m well aware just how poor the service is and just how poor it has been for the entire time I’ve been an MP.
It should not have taken central government this long to act, there’s no excuse for it. Trains regularly turn up late – in fact less than two-thirds of Northern services run on time, and they’re regularly cancelled, as recently as last week Northern cancelled hundreds of trains across the north leaving people stranded over the busy festive period. Even when the service does turn up, there have been far too many instances where the train is already full because Northern aren’t running enough carriages on the service. The stock is in dire need of replacing, pacers are uncomfortable, unaccommodating and would not be used in central London.
I’m glad that central government is looking at alternatives, but they shouldn’t be the ones deciding on the future of the franchise. There should be much more local accountability, and the best way to do this is to give the Mayor of Greater Manchester responsibility. This mess has been allowed to continue because there is such a disconnect because government ministers haven’t had to regularly deal with the chaos.
We cant expect to deal with climate change properly, or to rebalance our national and local economies if we don’t get public transport right. If we want to reduce emissions we need to give people a reason to not use a car, and that starts with affordable and reliable public transport.
And the truth is, for some time Northern has provided neither of those. All the while fares continue to rise – in fact they have gone up by 2.7% today – and it’s essential we ask why this happens, service isn’t improving with the price rises so why should commuters have to pay more for it? I’ll be amazed if it did, and according to Transport Focus 53% of rail commuters feel that tickets don’t offer value for money.
Whatever happens next and whoever takes over the franchise needs to manage the transition effectively. Commuters should not have to put up with more delay and disruption, they have dealt with enough. This should also bring forward the rail stock replacement, we absolutely cannot risk 40-year-old pacer trains riding for much longer into this new decade.
In all the Transport Secretary’s comments leave me with a few questions for him:
Given he announced in October that he had begun this process why hasn’t Northern been stripped of the franchise by now?
Does he agree that we should ensure that this mess does not delay the rail stock replacement, that it in fact presents us with an opportunity to bring it even further forward?
Does he agree that part of the reason this mess has been allowed to continue for so long is because the decision makers are so disconnected from the reality of the situation on the ground?
And finally, does he agree with me that there should be greater local accountability?