IT is difficult to know what was more insulting – train operator Northern cancelling dozens of services for the third successive Sunday or the glibness of the company’s blasé statement putting the onus on travellers to “plan their journey carefully”.
Typically, Northern tried to play down the disruption, saying only 80 out of 1,500 scheduled services weren’t due to run, and that passengers can apply for compensation if their journey is delayed by more than 30 minutes.
Yet, while more services were being cancelled each day at the height of the timetable chaos, the reputational damage to the rail industry, and the north of England, is growing due to the mismanagement of rail franchises and inability of Chris Grayling, the equally discredited Transport Secretary, to hold them to account.
And, unless the Government intervenes and strips the firm of its franchise, the disruption will continue because, just like so many of the faulty trains on the Leeds commuter lines, there’s a total breakdown of trust between Northern’s top management and staff.
After the embarrassment of allowing too many staff to book off the day of last month’s World Cup final, it is again citing staff shortages, training requirements and late-running engineering work for abdicating its Sunday service. Yet when a did a major High Street store stay shut because too few people turned up for work?
It does not end here. The RMT has announced that its staff will strike on three successive Saturdays, starting on August 25, as part of its long-running dispute over the role of guards. And so it continues as Northern’s timetable increasingly resembles a work of fiction on those days when its ageing rolling stock is actually functional.
This is not to bemoan those railway employees who are doing their best in very trying circumstances. They’re not to blame. The fault rests solely with senior executives like managing director David Brown and his deputy Richard Allan – they have lost the confidence of their staff and passengers by putting their culture of excuses before their public service contractual requirements. If staff and commuters can see this, why can’t Northern’s parent company Arriva – or the Government?