From iNews: Staff working for Network Rail have been told to fly around the UK for business when it works out cheaper than taking the train.
From the Daily Mirror: Nearly half of bus routes are at risk of being scrapped due to a funding crisis, town halls warn as they battle Tory austerity.
From The Guardian: Train punctuality has slumped to a 13-year low after a series of significant issues plagued Britain’s railway in 2018.
One in seven trains (14.6%) missed the industry’s public performance measure (PPM) of punctuality in the 12 months to 8 December, according to Office of Rail and Road figures.
This annual rolling average has not been worse since September 2005. PPM measures whether a train arrives at its final destination within five minutes of the scheduled time, or 10 minutes for a long-distance service.
Over the past 12 months, punctuality has been affected by extreme weather, errors in the launch of new timetables, strikes and signalling failures. Snow and ice crippled parts of the network when the “beast from the east” hit Britain in February and March, while rails buckled during a summer heatwave just three months later.
Passengers in the north and south-east of England endured weeks of chaos when new timetables were introduced on 20 May. Several operators have experienced disruption throughout the year owing to a long-running industrial dispute over guards on trains.
Punctuality has also been affected by infrastructure failures, with London Waterloo services hit by signalling faults.
The cost of many rail season tickets will increase by more than £100 next week as average fares go up 3.1%. There have been calls for prices to be frozen due to the poor performance of the industry.
From Metro: Sky presenter Martha Kelner branded Virgin Trains a ‘national disgrace’ after she was forced to splash out £338 on an open return ticket to the city for work. She said it was cheaper to fly to New York.
From The Independent: The ‘catastrophic’ privatisation of Britain’s railways has cost the taxpayer £5bn per year and driven up fares by 20 per cent, Labour has claimed.
From Daily Mirror: Calamity-prone Tory Chris Grayling has refused to resign despite a damning report into this summer’s rail chaos finding “nobody took charge”.
From The Guardian: When Jill White, 53, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she had three years of treatment, including operations and chemotherapy. It was a stressful enough experience to go through, but White, who is single and doesn’t drive, also faced a four-hour round trip, on a good day, to get to a hospital that was only 13 miles away, because buses from her village of Tatworth, Somerset only run on average every two hours.
“My appointments were often at 9am, so to get to Taunton hospital I would have to leave by 7am,” she says. “And then, even though I would be really tired after treatment, I faced another two-hour trip to get home again. Four hours was a good journey. It could have quite easily been a lot longer.”
White says the service used to be quite good. “When I first moved here 20 years ago, there was a bus every hour, evening, weekend and bank holiday – and they were reasonably punctual. Now they are often 30 minutes late, there are no buses on Sundays or bank holidays – and nothing after 6pm.” White’s situation is far from unique. A report last week by the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) found that local authority funding for bus routes in England and Wales has been cut by 45% since 2010 and more than 3,000 routes reduced or scrapped. This prompted the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to raise the bus issue in parliament during last week’s prime minister’s questions, where he promised to “save” the bus industry and give all those aged under 26 free bus travel.
From Morning Star: Bus passenger numbers have plummeted by millions in northern England and the Midlands as a result of routes being axed because of Tory austerity, Labour has said.
The party revealed its analysis of government figures as shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald and shadow minister for buses Matt Rodda visited Northampton.
Since 2010 bus passenger numbers have fallen by seven million a year in both England’s north-west and in the east Midlands, by five million in Yorkshire & Humber, by four million in the north-east and by three million in the west Midlands.
The figures show that the number of routes is projected to be cut by nearly 5,250 nationally by 2022.
From The Guardian: Campaigners have called for the government to act to help dwindling bus services, as a report showed council funding had almost halved since 2010.
Budgets to subsidise routes were reduced by another £20m last year and 188 services were cut, according to the Campaign for Better Transport.
Its Buses in Crisis report found that squeezed local authorities across England and Wales had taken £182m away from supported bus services over the decade, affecting more than 3,000 bus routes.
Council funding has preserved funding for services, particularly in rural areas, that private firms have deemed unviable, and where no alternative public transport exists, accounting for more than one in five journeys. But most either cut funding – or spent nothing – last year.
From The Times: Industry sources have accused the Tory transport secretary Chris Grayling of “scapegoating” train firms and Network Rail, while failing to acknowledge his own department’s shortcomings may have contributed to the cancellation of thousands of trains.
[Read full article on The Times website…] [paywalled, but free registration allows access to two articles per month]
From The Guardian: Theresa May is coming under pressure over the rail chaos in northern England as some of the area’s largest newspapers join together to demand that she “get a grip” on the government’s response.
The news came after the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, faced calls to resign as he was questioned by MPs and announced an inquiry into the botched timetabling changes that have caused delays and cancellations for hundreds of thousands of people.
As he came under increasing pressure in the Commons, titles that collectively sell an average of more than 300,000 copies per edition said Grayling “should take accountability”, while the prime minister should “should take a personal grip of resolving the crisis”.
The 25 titles, which are owned by various groups and include the Manchester Evening News, the Liverpool Echo and the Yorkshire Post, called on May to lead an emergency summit in Downing Street this week to find a solution to the crisis, and urged a review of rail franchising. They also urged Northern Rail to clarify its plans for a compensation scheme for passengers who have been hit by crippling disruption.
From The Guardian: Chris Grayling, the Tory transport secretary, has been accused of passing the buck over severe rail disruption on Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern trains, for which he blamed staff shortages caused by “militant unions”.
A report from the National Audit Office criticises the government’s management of the UK’s largest #rail franchise, held by Govia Thameslink, and concludes that policy decisions have had a negative impact on millions of passengers.
The report says Department for Transport officials failed to grasp the potential impact on passengers of combining an increase in capacity, targets to improve services and the increase in driver-only operated trains, which led to strikes by union members.
However, Chris Grayling said blame for the disruption should primarily be shouldered by the unions for their decision to take industrial action.
Editorial from The Guardian: There are few more annoying issues for the great British public than their railways. While some cities and towns have seen stations spruced up, the public suffer from often late, expensive and frequently overcrowded train services. While the cack-handed rollout of infrastructure improvements has led to cancellations and delays on the network, commuters saw ticket prices rise at twice the rate of their wages between 2010 and 2016. Tuesday’s news that rail passengers will be hit by the largest fare hikes in five years next month will do nothing but confirm the view that the public are being taken for a ride. The situation, it seems, is one where private companies reap the benefits, while passengers bear the costs.
There is a good case to return more train operating companies to state hands. Three in four voters, disillusioned by high prices and poor service, back renationalising the railways. Many train lines in Britain are run by state-backed European rail firms. So why not in Britain?
Tory councillors ridiculed as they are drowned out by traffic noise while arguing against cycle path
From Cycling Weekly: An attempt by Conservative activists to promote their campaign against a new Cycle Superhighway in south-west London has somewhat backfired after a video posted online showed three men struggling to be heard above the noise of passing traffic.
While the three men talk about how they think the segregated cycle path will “destroy the character” of the “village high street”, they are drowned out by the sound of passing cars, vans and lorries, with Cllr McGregor’s introduction also interrupted by what sounds to be a truck reversing just off camera.
The video was picked up by Guardian writer Peter Walker, who said that you “genuinely couldn’t make it up”, before other Twitter users, including a certain Ned Boulting, weighed in with their thoughts on the video, also pointing out that getting more people on bikes would reduce pollution in the area and, as shown by studies elsewhere in London, provide increased trade for local businesses.
From The National: Scottish ministers have demanded a “fair funding deal” for Scotland’s railways after the UK Government announced a “real terms cut” in investment over future years.
The Treasury said the Scottish Government will receive more than £3.6 billion over five years from 2019/20, an increase of £600 million on the previous period. But the Scottish Government said this is a “real terms cut” that will lead to a £600 million shortfall as it needs £4.2 billion over that period.
But the Scottish Government said that changes due to be introduced by the UK Government in 2019 will lead to a shortfall that will have a “massive impact” on the country’s railways.
From London Evening Standard: An analysis by the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) showed that rail fares have risen by around 32 per cent in eight years, while average weekly earnings have only grown by 16 per cent.
From The Guardian: Plans to make the railway network faster, greener and cleaner by electrifying lines have been scrapped by the government after massive budget overruns, prompting fury at “years of broken promises”.
The plans to modernise the line from Cardiff to Swansea, the Midland mainline and tracks in the Lake District were dropped on Thursday after Network Rail spent huge sums on engineering works, with costs in the Great Western region alone going as much as £1.9bn over budget.
Network Rail’s electrification works around the country, most notably on the Great Western mainline from London to Swansea, which started in 2014, were described as a vital upgrade that would bring cleaner, faster and more reliable services for passengers.
From Metro: The cost of running Britain’s railways has increased by £50 billion due to the ‘ill-judged’ break-up of British Rail. Researchers from the University of Essex said that the new system is highly fragmented and inefficient – leading to losses, and higher fares for customers.
From The Guardian: The transport secretary, Chris Grayling, has been accused of showing “an astonishing lack of knowledge” of his brief after arguing in the House of Commons that cyclists do not count as road users.
Grayling, shown in a video last month knocking a rider off his bike by suddenly opening the door to his ministerial car outside Westminster, made the comment on Thursday morning.
Grayling was questioned by the Labour MP Daniel Zeichner about an interview he gave late last year warning that London’s new protected cycle lanes “perhaps cause too much of a problem for road users”. Were cyclists not also road users, Zeichner asked.
“What I would say to him, of course, is where you have cycle lanes, cyclists are the users of cycle lanes,” Grayling responded. “And there’s a road alongside – motorists are the road users, the users of the roads. It’s fairly straightforward, to be honest.”
From Another Angry Voice: “When the Tories were introducing their ideologically driven and hopelessly botched plan to privatise the UK rail network the Tory Transport Secretary John MacGregor claimed that passengers would benefit from reduced fares.
“Anyone who understood the basics of monopolies (captive markets) knew that MacGregor’s promises were fantastical nonsense. Once a monopoly service is handed to a private profit-seeking entity, prices are certain to rise because there’s no price competition in a captive market.
“Two decades after rail privatisation the average train fare has increased by 117% (24% adjusted for inflation). On some journeys fares have increased by well over 200%.
“Aside from the direct hit to passengers’ wallets, there’s also the fact that the private rail operators are being showered with £billions in direct and indirect taxpayer subsidies.
“Annual direct subsidies to the private rail franchises far exceed the entire cost of running the entire UK rail network back when it was run as a not-for-profit public service.”