Gale`s View 25th September 2013
Network Rail has apologised for the fact that one in six trains run late.
That will be of small comfort to those many of my constituents who daily commute to London to work, who pay thousands of pounds for their season tickets, who see network rail handing over enormous sums in compensation to the Train Operating Companies as compensation for Network Rail`s shortcomings and who know that very little of that money is passed on by, in this case South Eastern trains, to the poor bloody traveller who actually bears the real cost of this failure.
It was reported recently that a Thanet commuter was giving up his job because he was no longer willing to pay, out of his modest taxed income, through the nose for poor service. I have long said that I believe that travellers on the Kent Coast line are paying the price for investment in a vanity” service, High Speed One, from which many from East Kent gain little or no benefit, experience trains that take longer than before the introduction of HS1 and deliver them to a station at which they do not wish to arrive and entailing further cost and journey time to get back to where they really wanted to be.
In a recent interview for BBC Radio Four, which may or may not have ended up on the cutting room floor, I indicated my support, in principle, for High Speed Two. That project has been described as a waste of money” and like Concorde, it will be vastly over-budget”. Setting aside the fact that Concorde was probably the most prestigious and beautiful aircraft that has ever flown there are, I think, times when we have to invest in major engineering projects at almost whatever cost. Had we not done so in the past Brunel would not have been heard of, the new” and internationally iconic Houses of Parliament would never have been built, man would not have landed on the moon and there would be no Channel Tunnel. I do not believe that our grandchildren will forgive us if we fail to plan to invest, today, in the transport infrastructure of the future.
That does not mean, though, that Britain can or should write out a blank cheque with no thought to a beginning, a middle and an end to the story. Just before we embark upon HS2 it would be a very good thing if High Speed One, which at present effectively hits the buffers at Ashford, were to be properly completed through to Manston and Thanet. And if more commuters are to be prevented from throwing in the towel and giving up good jobs in London because of cost and journey time then a sensible fare structure and properly enforced performance also have to be built into the system alongside HS2. We cannot allow another service to suck in all the investment that ought to be put into what are risibly known as classic” services.
The fact that there is a new rail franchise round facing train operators has begun to concentrate minds on some very considerable political opposition to more of the same”. If my friend the Secretary of State for Transport wants support for HS2 then it is going to have to come in exchange for some very real attention to fare structures and services in the South East. Blaze a trail to the North by all means, but don`t let it be at the ongoing cost of a third-world rail service in the South East.