Are we about to enter a new Age of the Train?
Green Party members from the High Peak local group have been looking at the fine print of Government policy, and doing a bit of informal research out and about in Derbyshire.
First of all, what do people actually want from the railways? Well, a good start might be that the travelling public should be able to buy a ticket to their destination and then get to the appropriate platform, and yet at many of Britain’s stations neither of these basics can be assumed.
You wouldn’t think that just buying, or trying to buy a ticket would cause huge problems, and yet we have found in this part of the country that it is the hassle of getting a ticket that exasperates people just as much as expensive ticket prices, poor station access and late trains. People put up with unmanned stations. Everyone has experienced being crammed onto an ancient, crowded train with just one guard. The last straw for travellers is when in addition to hurrying to get to work on time, they have to queue at their destination to buy a ticket before leaving the platform to avoid being fined. Try persuading a commuter to ‘think green’ and swap their comfy car for that option!
One High Peak resident who had recently lived and worked in Hong Kong commented: – “Returning to the UK, I didn’t expect the High Peak to be served by 12- car commuter trains which arrive every three minutes, but in 2015 and the age of smart phones, I was amazed to find that there are so few ticket dispensers installed on platforms, and such little use in the UK of stored value cards like the Oyster card.”
What has brought this about? Under-investment? Vanity projects? Profits before people? The current Conservative government has of course raised expectations with its talk of the Northern Powerhouse, and more recently with the announcement of its National Infrastructure Commission. In the foreword to ‘Transforming the North’s Railways’, the Secretary of State for Transport and Derbyshire Dales MP, Patrick McLoughlin wrote in February 2015: “This government has huge ambitions for the North of England and the railway is key to those plans.”
Great words – but at the Green Party we really wonder whether these ambitions can ever be achieved for the travelling public when it’s private companies bidding for franchises who are in the driver’s seat.
An issue we care about passionately at the Green Party is inclusion, providing a civilized society for everyone. Cloud-cuckoo land? Well, what about just getting to the platform?
One of our members spent a few hours observing conditions for travellers at Chinley, a station on the mainline between Manchester and Sheffield, where the only access to both platforms is via a footbridge with two sets of steep steps. Mums and Dads with pushchairs struggle to use the steps safely. Travellers to/from Manchester airport risk hurting themselves hauling heavy suitcases up and over the footbridge, and of course people with a mobility problem or people who use a wheelchair are nowhere to be seen. No ramp, that’s your lot, so they don’t come.
The Green Party demands an inclusive society, and we will acknowledge progress where it has been made. Representatives from the rail companies and the Department of Transport would argue that Access for All and Station Improvement programmes have delivered substantial improvements to many stations, and rail operators have a duty to help if access to a particular station is substantial. The Equality Act of 2010 does offer some protection for rail users if they feel discriminated against, but when it comes down to it, members of the public would just like to travel in safety and comfort from A to B without having to consider taking court action against the operator of the services, or tweeting yet another “dissatisfied” comment to Customer Services.
The Green party isn’t satisfied that our railways are being run for the benefit of citizens, and has committed to implementing a comprehensive plan for fully accessible transport so that public transport will be usable by all members of the public. What’s more, the Green Party feels strongly that the privatisation of the railways has created a situation where the tax payer is like a supplicant at the gate of the Lord of the Manor, begging for alms. We are not satisfied with this relationship. The needs of all of our citizens are our first priority, and only by taking proper control of our national rail network can we hope to achieve a civilized service for everyone.
We want our railways to be more accessible and attractive for everyone. Only when and if this happens will people ever be able to choose to leave the car behind and opt for more environmentally friendly means of transport which, alongside other benefits, will help provide a sustainable long–term solution to our chronic air pollution.
Interested in reading more? Have a look at the Green Party’s policies in detail at: