Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to me on Facebook, Twitter and by email over the last few weeks when I asked for feedback on our local train services. The picture that these collective experiences paint certainly isn’t a positive one. Serious action is needed to address overcrowding.
On Friday I was more convinced than ever that we need to nationalise the railways if we want to make real progress.
Just to give an idea of how disjointed and confused the whole system is; I met with representatives of Northern Rail (currently run by Serco and Abelio until April), First Transpennine Express (currently run by First Group and Keolis), First Group (who will take over Transpennine as a different company in April) and Network Rail (who manage the rail network infrastructure). Even meeting all of these people I still got the sense that nobody there had the willingness or ability to make things right.
These four people all suggested that perhaps Arriva, train lease companies, the Secretary of State for Transport and others might be better placed than them to improve local services. Nobody takes responsibility so nobody takes any action. It’s a mess, and Bolton residents are being let down by all of this organised chaos.
Under a nationalised system responsibility would be clear. There’d be one organisation in charge, putting the needs of customers first, and rather than have Arriva and First keep the profits we could channel all that money back into the service to put more trains on the tracks and stop the endless cycle of fare rises. This has to be the solution in the long term.
Matthew from Northern Rail said that more than 571 extra seats are now available on morning services into Manchester, and 732 back into Bolton in the evening.
When I shared the frustrations of my constituents about the continued problems of overcrowding on the services he insisted that “we’ve really enhanced it”. He suggested that the main problem is Northern Rail talked up the figures in the press too much, giving annual figures rather than daily, which made people expect more. I’m not sure the people who spent this morning crammed in with no place to move will agree that this is just a problem of expectations.
I gave example after example of the disgraceful circumstances facing Bolton’s commuters and was simply told Northern would “keep it on the radar” and maybe we should meet up at the end of the year when future plans are clearer.
There was a lot of talk about the positive chances that electrification will bring. All kinds of exciting improvements might happen after that. Then Jonathan from Network Rail informed us that the electrification project would no longer be completed this year as planned. We will have to wait until at least December 2017.
After two years of complete chaos it is simply unacceptable to suggest that anybody should be happy with a suggestion that maybe things will get better sometime in 2018… or maybe a few years after that.
I wish I could offer some kind of relief to Bolton’s commuters after all of that. All I can say is that I’m going to keep working on this, it will remain one of my top priorities.
I’m meeting Arriva next month to discuss their plans for the Northern Rail franchise. I’ll be putting regular pressure on the Government to intervene urgently to address overcrowding, and to give the long term investment that the region needs.
Please keep sharing your experiences with me because that’s the best way for me to demonstrate why change is needed.