If it’s not his job to step in, who’s is it? Chris Grayling under fire again over Northern rail chaos

Transport secretary Chris Grayling.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been urged to grant a “strong democratic and passenger voice” when future decisions on rail timetables are made as he faced criticism for claiming he did not have overall responsibility for the railways.

Mr Grayling’s claim that “I don’t run the railways” and that industry experts had given the go-ahead for the new timetables which led to weeks of delays and disruption for Northern passengers were questioned today by a Yorkshire council leader.

During an interview Mr Grayling, who yesterday missed a regional transport summit in Manchester to be in Westminster for the vote on the expansion of Heathrow airport, was questioned about the botched introduction of the timetable on May 20.

He said an inquiry would examine how “the industry readiness board, the organisation set up to monitor the arrival of the new timetable, could give this a green light in early May” and how Northern “said they would be ready for the new timetable and they weren’t”.

Challenged by the BBC interviewer whether he had overall responsibility, Mr Grayling said: “Actually, no, I don’t run the railways. And what happened in May is both train companies and the industry experts said ‘we will be ready for the timetable change’.

“It didn’t happen, that’s unacceptable and we need to work out why this went wrong.”

Date: 25th June 2018. Picture James Hardisty. Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald at York Station, to highlight the Government's 'failure' on rail.

Date: 25th June 2018. Picture James Hardisty. Shadow Transport Secretary Andy McDonald at York Station, to highlight the Government's 'failure' on rail.

Mr Grayling was pressed twice on whether he had considered resigning, but said: “My focus has been on making sure we sort out things for passengers.”

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, who is leading a review of the rail disruption, said: “If it is not the Transport Secretary’s job to intervene to stop decisions which damage the interests of passengers being taken by the rail industry, whose is it?

“The responsibility for oversight is emerging as one of the central issues my review into the rail disruption must address.From what we already know about the disastrous introduction of the new timetable it is clear that we need to ensure there is a strong democratic and passenger voice when such decisions are taken in future.”

It came as the Department for Transport was accused of “obscuring the facts behind regional transport investment” after it claimed new figures proved transport spending in the North in the next three years will be higher than in London and the South. The department said it will be investing £831 per head on road and rail upgrades in the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber between 2018 and 2021, compared with £799 in London and the South.

Grayling’s Transport Department is stronger on spin than on delivery.

Hull North MP Diana Johnson

Luke Raikes, Senior Research Fellow at IPPR North, whose research earlier this year showed the the capital will receive 2.6 times more per capita spending than the North, said in response: “Only by focusing on a narrow selection of transport spending are they able to claim that the North is set to receive more.”

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald, who today visited York as part of Labour’s ‘Rail Mayhem’ campaign, said Mr Grayling’s refusal to accept responsibility was “evidence that he has lost control” and called for him to quit.

He said: “It is remarkable that the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, denied that he is the person with overall responsibility for running the railway.

“More evidence that he has lost control and should resign.”

A protester dressed up as a chicken wearing a mask of the Transport Secretary yesterday as part of a demonstration outside a conference he had been due to address.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) accused Chris Grayling of “chickening out” of attending a Northern Transport Summit in Manchester after he sent a junior Minister instead.

Aviation Minister Baroness Sugg visited Liverpool Airport ahead of attending the summit, where she said Heathrow expansion could lead to tens of thousands of jobs as businesses take advantage of the UK’s improved connections with the rest of the world.

She said: “We are investing more than £13 billion to improve connections across the north between 2015 and 2020, getting people to their work, family and friends, quicker and easier than before.

“This investment demonstrates the government’s commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, which will help unlock economic growth and much-needed housing across the region.

“And a new Heathrow runway will bring further benefits to the north, better connecting the region’s airports with the UK’s hub airport and opening up new trade opportunities which could deliver a further boost to the northern economy.”

Henri Murison of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership said current government spending commitments are a “downpayment of what we eventually need, an extra £50 per person every year for pan-Northern transport investment over existing plans”.

Hull North MP Diana Johnson said: “It doesn’t require much research to see that forthcoming major schemes, such as the £30bn Crossrail 2 or the Oxford to Cambridge Growth Corridor, are more advanced than Transport for the North’s plans for the next 30 years. Grayling’s Transport Department is stronger on spin than on delivery.”