I was watching the news recently and one thing attracted my attention, the Metro mayor of good old Brum and former John Lewis supremo Andy Street, basically gave notice that West Midlands trains who won the rail franchise last year. Have operated such a dire service over the last few months that he has told them that they have until the end of January to sort their train set out. Otherwise, if they do not then he said that he will be asking the Government to intervene and basically replace them and get someone else in who knows how to play at trains. What surprised me was that the owners of West Midlands trains are actually a Japanese / Dutch partnership, ironically the Japanese of all people are traditionally stickers for ensuring that everything runs like clockwork. In Japan public transport, simply runs as it should, indeed the concept of late, or even worse early operation does not compute. The timetable is king, irrespective of whatever happens it is always business as usual. I recall seeing on the news some years ago a feature about a massive sink hole, that appeared one day in downtown Tokyo. It was huge and literally cut a big highway in half. The bulletin then showed the army of worker ants who turned up and basically repaired the whole shooting match in something like less than 48 hours. What was even more impressive was the sheer speed and efficiency that was shown. Had that happened over here, I suspect that it would have taken for ever to arrange a meeting, devise a plan, and then implement the said plan.
Returning to the original plot, just what are West Midlands trains going to do to improve on a rail network that is presently operating at something like 45% reliability. This is frankly dire, and the reason given was when a major timetable change took place in May, somehow this exposed a serious shortage of both drivers and crews, in short there were not enough people employed to deliver the scheduled service. This is not unique to the West Midlands, there were horrendous scenes last year when South West trains did the same thing, this resulted in near riots as punters fought to catch the odd train that was on time. So, we will have to wait and see what happens, not just with West Midlands, Northern Rail, who are also in deep trouble, and being watched by the Government. And of course, we will have to wait and see just how Avanti the new Firstgroup/ Italian partnership will get on now they have replaced 20 years of the Virgin rail Pendolino service, which although in my experience very expensive provided a quality service in my experience. However, for the sake of balance we should not be too hard on the rail operators. There is a lot of blame to be attached to the Government, and DFT, and yes, I am sorry to name and shame but the former transport Minister Chris Grayling, has a lot to answer for in my opinion. Sadly an unmitigated disaster across all transport sectors, Bus, rail, aviation, non existent ferries, the list is long and inglorious, but in fairness if you are a rail passenger waiting for trains that do not turn up, you really could not care a less, all you want to do is get to where you are going. No doubt as ever it will all come out in the wash…..