Wednesday, 10 September 2014

This Monday is emblematic of the Tories’ short-sighted vision for rail in the north

This Monday rail fares across the Northern Rail franchise have increased in some places by an eye-watering 117% as the result of the abolition of off-peak rail travel across the Northern Rail franchise area.

A Wigan-Manchester Piccadilly return ticket will increase from £4.20 to £9.10, a frankly unacceptable rise that will literally make travelling by train unaffordable for a lot of people – indeed the scale of the rise makes it seem as if this was indeed the intention.

At a time when we should be increasing and improving rail in the North of England, we are once again taking backwards steps. The solution to overcrowding at peak hours is not to make it unaffordable, it is to provide more, better quality rolling stock – however this rise comes after recent news that the North would be lumped with older diesel pacer trains for the foreseeable future.

The thing that really causes anger in the region is the fact that services are noticeably worse than elsewhere in the country, and the trains themselves are out of date, dirty and uncomfortable. What will we see as the result of these huge hikes? – no improvement in service that is for sure.

Northern Rail's response to the criticism over these hikes was to simply point out that they had been 'widely publicised', as if that was going to placate the financial worries of those who have seen their commuting costs doubled in many cases. They may have been well publicised through the anger of people opposed to the rise, but in terms of public consultation and the time since the announcement, I do not think they have been widely publicised.

The Government has shown itself more than happy to fall in line behind the message being put out by Northern Rail, stating that these price hikes would make the rail "better for the passenger and better value for the taxpayer". What the Government doesn't seem to realise is that my constituents are taxpayers, and people across the north west are taxpayers as well as passengers.

We deserve the same quality of services that people receive in the South East of England, and not a Government that treats rail passengers in the North West as if they should be grateful when they occasionally flip us a coin.

In the context of the ongoing franchise consultation and negotiations for both Northern Rail and Trans-Pennine, I would personally feel a lot happier if those companies bidding for the Franchise made it clear that they understood the fact that people in the area often feel short-changed and disappointed with the service we currently receive.