I have been a fan of trains since I can remember. Sure, the ones I was most keen on in the 1980s were sentient and had their inner most thoughts narrated by a former Beatle, but they kick-started a lifelong love of train travel.
I moved to the North West in September and naively believed the 35 minute commute between Liverpool and Manchester would be a breeze.
After all, I used to live in London and loved that I could descend into the bowels of the station in grimy Mile End, and emerge 35 minutes later surrounded by the glitz and glamour of Bond Street.
Now, in what feels like a really rubbish version of Sesame Street for adults, my commute is usually brought to me by the words ‘cancelled’ or ‘delayed’. Fed up, I decided to question someone working behind the ticket desk at Liverpool Lime Street.
“It’s going to be like this for the next 12 months,” he optimistically explains. “The government have insisted upon bringing out new trains to meet their deadlines, but they haven’t got anyone to drive them.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I exclaim.
He agrees and then quickly pretends to type something into his computer, so he no longer has to sustain eye contact with yet another irate traveller.
He’s about as convincing as a newsreader shuffling papers about at the end of a bulletin, overlooking the fact that we all know they use computers.
It begs the question, why is our government hurriedly demanding that new rolling stock is brought into service, before they’ve trained sufficient numbers of drivers?
Simple. The Disability Discrimination Act of 2005 states all trains must be fully accessible to disabled passengers by January 1, 2020.
If you’re scratching your head, and thinking, but they have had 14 years to sort this out, you’d be wrong. They have in actual fact had 21 years, as legislation for the accessibility of mainline trains dates back to 1998.
To put that in perspective, the Spice Girls have had sufficient time for Geri to leave; the band to split up; the band to reform; to release a greatest hits album; to have twelve kids, four marriages; do three world tours and one Olympics closing ceremony.
Cynics amongst us would question whether any government – be it New Labour, the Coalition or Conservative – have actually taken accessibility legislation seriously enough? This rushed approach smacks of someone who has done their homework on the bus on the way to school (they had to get a bus, the train was cancelled).
— Mancunian Matters (@MM_newsonline) January 18, 2019
By the government’s own figures, 800 out of 14,000 train carriages fail to meet accessibility standards and at least eight rail companies are applying to the Department for Transport (DfT) for permission to continue running non-compliant trains in the new year.
A spokesperson for TransPennine Express said in an interview with the Northern Echo: “Unfortunately we have had to cancel a number of our services recently and we are truly sorry for the inconvenience this has caused.
“We are currently running a temporary accelerated training programme for our drivers and conductors as we roll out our new fleet. This, coupled with a high number of infrastructure issues we have been experiencing, has led to a high number of cancellations.”
It is obvious to anyone with half a brain cell that the North of England is dramatically underfunded in comparison to London and the South East, hence the high number of infrastructure issues referenced above.
Where is the mythical Northern Powerhouse that David Cameron and George Osborne kept banging on about in 2014?
Perhaps it is operating on the same timescale as the accessibility-compliant rolling stock; at this rate the Spice Girls will be great grandparents and have completed ten world tours by the time HS2 reaches Manchester and Leeds.