18.00h August 15th 2014
To the news editor
PRESS RELEASE: (immediate)
The North needs a rail revolution, not mean-minded ‘trade-offs’
The Hannah Mitchell Foundation – a campaign and think tank supporting Northern regional government, has sent a strongly-worded response to the Government’s consultation on the future Northern and TransPennine Express franchises which start in February 2016. It has called on Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh to commit an incoming Labour Government to major changes to the franchise if the Government persists with a cuts agenda. It wants a new fleet of trains to replace the unloved and life-expired ‘Pacers’ – and for the trains to be built in the North.
“The Government consultation talks a lot about ‘trade-offs’ between investment and cuts to on-train staff and booking offices. We completely reject that and want to see the growth we’ve seen on rail over the last 10 years encouraged more, not choked off” said Foundation chair Barry Winter. “Stations should be centres of activity, with even small stations acting as community hubs with small shops and space for community groups.”
The Foundation stresses the importance of new rolling stock for the increasingly over-crowded rail services across the North. “Many of the trains that are running around the North are well past their sell-by date,” said Foundation secretary Professor Paul Salveson. “We need a new generation of diesel as well as electric trains to replace the old ‘Pacer’ and ‘Sprinter’ trains. And crucially, these new trains should be built in the North of England, the home of railways, not in Germany or France.”
“It must be a ‘growth’ franchise, not the ‘steady state’ approach which has served the North so badly since 2005,” said Barry. “We want to see an expanding network with re-openings across the North, including Skipton – Colne, a new line to Skelmersdale, the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne network and York to Hull via Market Weighton. Routes such as Calder Valley desperately need electrification and a Bradford cross-rail would help transform the West Yorkshire rail network, as part of a wider strategy lining regional rail with the proposed ‘HS3’ route across the Pennines.”
The Foundation rejects the current franchising system which will see ‘the usual suspects’ of major private companies and foreign-state owned railways bidding. “We have seen enough profit exported from our under-funded railways to private shareholders or foreign state-owned railways,” argued Paul Salveson. “Our railways in the North should be accountable to people in the North, run by a not-for-profit company which involves employees and passengers and re-invests any surplus back into the railway”.
The Foundation supports union efforts to keep staff on trains. “Having a conductor on trains isn’t just about collecting revenue and opening and shutting doors, it’s about having a visible presence to help and assist passengers and provide a sense of security – as well as vital support in the case of emergencies. We want to see trains that are properly staffed with a stronger focus on passengers and their needs”, said Professor Salveson, himself a former railway guard who became a senior manager with Northern Rail.
HMF suggests that the consortium of 30 local authorities called Rail North, – “very much a ‘junior partner’ in the partnership with the Government which is letting the new franchises”, should be strengthened and given full responsibility – and the funding to go with it – to manage and develop the rail network. Ultimately, Rail North should be accountable to a directly-elected assembly for the North as a whole, ensuring real accountability and a fully joined-up approach to transport and wider development.”
The Foundation wants to see transport integration taken much more seriously, with improved bus links and safe cycling and walking routes to stations. Trains should have more space for bikes and luggage, with the option of safe cycle storage at stations.
The franchises do not start until February 2016. “There is every possibility of Labour sweeping to power in May 2015, said Barry. “It would be absurd for an incoming Labour Government to preside over a new Northern franchise which fails to meet the needs of passengers, staff and the wider community,” he stressed. Ed Miliband and his transport shadow secretary Mary Creagh would win huge support if they committed a Labour Government to major changes to the Northern franchise proposition, putting the needs of people and not profit first.”
More information: Paul Salveson 07795 008691