In a Westminster Hall debate on rail in Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin MP highlighted the litany of issues facing local rail users on a service that has become a “recurring nightmare” for commuters.
The MP raised issues including the “shameful” lack of disabled access at Batley and other Kirklees stations, the uncertainty around TransPennine electrification plans, the disparity on transport spending between the north and south, and the woeful performance of trains running through Batley Station.
Ms Brabin’s speech in full:
The local rail network is vital to many of my Batley and Spen constituents, and crucial for our long-term economic prosperity. Its importance has increased since 2010, as our bus services have been slashed due to a lack of Government investment.
The town of Batley—home to the only active railway station in my constituency—lies between Leeds and Manchester on the trans-Pennine rail route, but as one constituent who commutes from Batley every day succinctly put it, the service “has descended into farce”. What should be a simple commute has turned into a recurring nightmare.
Every time I visit Batley station, commuters are eager to share their anger: anger at the packed train that does not stop and whizzes past; anger at the cancellation announced seconds before the train is due to arrive; and, for those lucky enough to cram themselves on to a carriage, anger that they are paying so much for the privilege.
Now, almost eight months on from the timetable debacle, I discover that Batley station is ranked in the bottom 15 in the whole nation for performance. Over the last six months—bear in mind that Batley is a small station—459 services have been cancelled. Less than 10% of services overall have been on time.
Barely a week goes by when a constituent does not alert me to yet another failing. Just last week, I was contacted by several people who were furious that the direct TransPennine service from Batley to Manchester had been removed without their knowledge.
They only made the discovery as they arrived at the station on Monday morning. They now have to change in Huddersfield, subject to further potential delays and cancellations.
Such chaos and uncertainty are damaging to my constituency. People have to make frantic phone calls to employers with the familiar message, “I’m going to be late, again.” Children wonder where their parents are as they struggle to get back in time to collect them. Some are considering uprooting their families from the communities they love out of exasperation. Those are not just stories, Minister; they are people’s lives.
After several meetings with Ministers on Transport for the North, Northern and TransPennine, it is clear to me that the issues go way beyond just reliability and performance. Shamefully, Batley station does not have permanent disabled access.
Of the 16 stations in the district of Kirklees, only eight can accommodate disabled passengers. Those people are effectively barred from travelling independently, and miss out on the amazing culture and opportunities in nearby cities. The Equality Act 2010 requires that all station operators take reasonable steps to ensure that they do not discriminate against disabled people. Hopefully, the Minister will update us on the precise action that the Government are taking to ensure that operators meet this crucial legal requirement.
Underpinning all of this is the infrastructure, which is sadly lacking. Detailed plans for the long-promised electrification of the trans-Pennine route remain as elusive as ever. When I inquired earlier this year, the Secretary of State refused to tell me whether the whole route would be electrified. Perhaps the Minister can venture a response. Although I welcome the much-vaunted introduction of new rolling stock to our network—which, incidentally, has been delayed until next spring—given the existing infrastructure, I fear it will have little effect on reliability.
Batley station is only as welcoming as it is thanks to the attentions of a fantastic group of volunteers called the Friends of Batley Station. They have spent weekends planting flowers and creating a café, with the backing of local businesses, such as PPG and Batley Bulldogs. Volunteers, however, cannot give us a better service. We desperately need long-term strategic investment.
The latest analysis by IPPR North shows that transport spending has risen twice as much per person in London as in the north since the launch of the northern powerhouse. Last year alone, public spending on transport in London was three times higher than in Yorkshire and Humber. The so-called enhancement package of £15 million to be used across the north, which was announced by the Government last month, amounts to little more than a drop in the ocean. That is unacceptable and indicative of the chronic under-investment in the north.
Where do we go from here? Transport for the North’s strategic transport plan, which includes plans for northern powerhouse rail, has some exciting and potentially transformative proposals, but I feel that more work needs to be done to ensure that towns feel the benefits, along with cities. That plan will of course need the Government’s backing to become reality. We were promised an interconnected northern powerhouse, yet it remains a challenge to get from one town to the next. Franchisees, such as TransPennine and Northern, have serious questions to answer, but the buck stops with the Government and, ultimately, with the Secretary of State for Transport.
The Minister will no doubt repeat the “record investment in transport” mantra, while failing to note that the lion’s share of investment has gone to projects in the south. Will the Minister tell me when exactly the people of Batley and Spen will see significant investment in the rail services on which they rely? My constituents are sick and tired of feeling like second-class citizens, and deserve clear answers on an issue that will have a deep and long-lasting impact on our community.