In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference today, transport minister Chris Grayling said he was sorry “so many rail passengers have had such a difficult time” as a result of Northern’s timetable change, blaming problems on the railway on under-investment by Labour when they were last in power eight years ago.
Grayling told the conference in Birmingham: “I have already apologised for the disruption caused by the failures in the introduction of the new timetable in May. It was unacceptable. And I want to say now again how sorry I am that so many passengers had such a difficult time.
“For us as Conservatives it was particularly frustrating, because the new timetable is part of a big investment programme in the railways, to deliver more trains and more seats for passengers in both the North and the South.
“The chaos cannot and will not be allowed to happen again. But it is clear that the system has greater challenges than a failed timetable introduction. In the last twenty years the railways have been through an extraordinary period of growth; the number of trains and passengers travelling has doubled, trains are packed, the network is creaking. Passengers experience too many things going wrong.
“Which is why today I can announce that we will introduce once click compensation for delays and disruption – making it easier for people to claim compensation.
“But I want the railways to work better for customers. As Conservatives in Government, we are spending more on rail than any Government in modern times. New trains. Upgraded tracks. New routes. Across the North, in the South and in the Midlands.
“But after a decade under Labour when things stood still, we have much ground to catch up. Do you know, they let a Northern Rail franchise with no new investment at all? Our response: We let a Northern Rail franchise which is replacing and refurbishing every single train.”
In response to criticism from Labour that the Conservative Party was ignoring the North, he told the conference “it was they who neglected it for so long, leaving us to play catch-up.”
The extensive disruption caused across the North by delays to Network Rail construction works, Northern’s emergency timetable, and delays to electrification of key routes has dominated headlines throughout the year. Grayling has been criticised for his lack of communication to council leaders and his attempts to shift blame for the mayhem away from central Government.
At the Conservative Party Conference over the next few days, while ministers such as Kit Malthouse for housing is appearing on numerous panels allowing opportunities for questions, Grayling is conspicuously absent from events.