Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The trouble with the Department…

The Department for Transport, similar to the rest of the current government, is arrogant and out of touch. With remarkable consistency it forgets that it is, primarily, there to listen to the electorate and be responsive to their needs.

The government has had responsibility for rail for the past ten years. During that time it should have put in place plans to deal with the very obvious trends of increasing capacity. Passengers knew the rail system was becoming more crowded and have been telling the government so for years; train operating companies saw demand was increasing and told the government so in their franchise projections; and, passenger bodies understood that more people were travelling by rail and have repeatedly lobbied the government over this issue. The warnings have been ample; the opportunities to do something in response have been plentiful. The repeated failure to act has been shameful.

It is now patently clear that this government, this Department for Transport, has absolutely no vision when it comes to the railways. It has no imagination. And it has no plans to take action – or let others such as train operating companies take action – over serious concerns about the future of the rail industry.

Rather, the department prefers to spend its time – and taxpayers’ money – micro-managing the rail network: setting timetables, determining the amount of rolling stock required, arguing over whether a 06.25 service should be permitted to run down a branch line hundreds of miles away from Whitehall. Aside from being a waste of resources, not being sufficiently sensitive enough to passenger needs, it also makes a huge botch of doing all of these things making travellers’ lives a misery in the process. It then has the sheer gall to blame operating companies like First Great Western and let them face the wrath of irate travellers.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Department is now being arrogant over the issue of road pricing. Over a million people have told the government they don’t want it yet Douglas Alexander, the inept Transport Secretary, seems unconcerned saying he’s keen to press ahead. Road pricing, no matter how badly it works, will inevitably increase demand for rail service, putting yet more pressure on the very same rail system that this government is slowly but systematically ruining. Is this really what John Prescott had in mind when he first came up with the principle of integrated transport?

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