Has the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ hit the buffers? Four years on and despite all the hype around connecting the North like never before, the #NorthernFail meltdown has exposed a stark reality which is a far cry from George Osborne’s original vision. The fact is you can’t have the drivers of ‘powerhouses’ or ‘engines’ holed-up on rammed trains, going nowhere fast and feeling utterly powerless.
The new timetable, and delays in planned electrification, are symptomatic of a much wider failure of Government to improve rail across the North. Despite unprecedented cross-party collaboration and a sense of collective outrage from Northern Mayors, MPs, media, business and civic leaders all calling for investment, accountability and action, there has yet again been a surprisingly Westminster-centric (none) reaction. The renewed Northern Rail strikes this week show that the chaos is far from over.
Given that the Northern Rail shambles is the kind of stuff that brings down failing Prime Ministers and Secretaries of State, surely the Government can no longer afford to ignore the angry voices of Northerners? It needs to listen hard and take urgent remedial action.
It is quite simply not good enough to just compensate Northern Rail passengers for the inconvenience caused. That’s tantamount to sticking a plaster on a broken leg. It will do nothing to heal any of the underlying problems caused by decades of Government under-investment and over-promising. Also to only recognise the misery caused to #NorthernFail passengers ignores the millions of others across the North, who consistently suffer intolerable journeys every day.
Like most things – including the national rail timetable - what happens next will be decided centrally. Instead the Government must wake-up and listen to the calls for more powers to be devolved. Transport for the North (TfN) knows what the North needs but does not yet – along with the many other sub-national transport bodies - have sufficient power to hold franchises to account. An acceptable response from Government would be to give TfN the powers and resources it needs to deliver a 21stcentury transport system which drives growth, connectivity and investment in the North. In a post-Brexit Britain the North needs to be a true powerhouse and the Government must be seen to act.
Gill Morris, DevoConnect