Bridget Phillipson, Labour’s MP for Houghton and Sunderland South, has this week backed a damning cross-party report on the government’s management of rail services and franchises.
The inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the body which scrutinises the value for money of government spending, said it was ‘unacceptable’ that passengers do not know when they will benefit from improved services to Sunderland promised by the Department of Transport, following the collapse of the Virgin Trains East Coast franchise in 2017.
Elsewhere, the report states that the government’s oversight of British railways is characterised by ‘cost overruns, project delays and disruption’, that disabled passengers are being ‘let down’, and that ‘taxpayers risk continuing to pay the price for the Department’s failures’ unless urgent improvements are made.
Ms Phillipson, who sits on the PAC in Parliament, said: “This report makes clear the scale of the government’s shocking mismanagement of our railways, and its complete failure to deliver improved rail services in the north east.
Passengers were promised regular and improved services to Sunderland, as well as new services to Middlesbrough by May 2020 when the East Coast franchise was awarded to Virgin Trains East Coast in 2014.
Despite the franchise collapsing in 2017 and returning to public ownership, people in the north east are still none the wiser as to when they are likely to benefit from these new services, as ministers are simply unable to say when vital improvement works will be taking place.
Unfortunately, the government’s dismal record in overseeing other rail franchises gives little hope that improvements will be delivered anywhere near on time.
These delays are unacceptable, and the government must make good on its promises to deliver the high-quality rail services and investment our region needs and deserves.
During this inquiry I also raised specific concerns that disabled people are being let down by poor accessibility when travelling. I’ve heard distressing accounts of passengers left unable to travel, without the pre-booked assistance they need, and sometimes even denied access to basic facilities such as toilets. Our report confirms that too little is being done to ensure equal access for all, and it falls to government ministers to act.”
You can find out more about the PAC’s rail inquiry on the Chronicle Live’s website: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/inquiry-condemns-department-transport-after-15890136
Download the PAC’s full report on rail management and timetabling here: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1793/1793.pdf