It has been over two years since I held a debate in Parliament holding the Government to account over better funding for the Tyne and Wear Metro. Back then, the Minister acknowledged that the current Metro cars were “coming to the end of their life” and that the Government was “looking towards a new train fleet”.
Since then, we have had two Prime Ministers and two Secretaries of State for Transport, along with numerous Transport Ministers. In that time I have been successful in forcing the cessation of DB Regio’s contract with Nexus and have consistently put pressure on the Government to invest in our Metro. To date, they refuse to invest.
It is not just Metro users who are being failed by the Government. Railway customers have also been short-changed with no improvements. The only thing that has remained a constant is that commuters and train travellers have been taken for granted by the Tories.
Recently, Government-regulated fares have risen at their fastest rate for five years. Here in the North East we have been hit particularly hard. According to figures released by HM Treasury, spending on transport infrastructure in London is £2,595.68 per head, whereas here in the North East only a paltry £5.01 is spent per head. You may also recall that in 2015, the Tories put profit before passengers and ideology before common sense, when they sold off the East Coast Rail franchise to Virgin - despite it returning over £1 billion to the UK taxpayer whilst in public hands.
This recent price rise is yet another kick in the teeth for passengers, who already have to stump up massive sums to travel on unreliable, overcrowded and outdated trains.
With over three quarters of Britain’s railways now in the hands of foreign companies, these huge sums of money aren’t being invested in essential upgrades and modernisation here. They are being siphoned off to subsidise transport services abroad.
The transport watchdog Transport Focus recently published its 2017 National Rail Passenger Survey. With promised upgrades delayed and fares rising way ahead of wages, it is disappointing but not surprising that this survey found that passenger satisfaction remains low. They also found that there was a decline in passengers’ sense of personal security. This is against a backdrop of planned Government withdrawal of guards on trains, who provide a critical role in terms of passenger information, comfort and above all safety.
The survey also showed that less than half of passengers believe their ticket is value for money. It is totally unjustifiable that this Government is allowing private and foreign state-owned companies to take money out of our transport system that should be used to improve our services and keep fares down.
It is clear that an alternative is needed for Britain’s railways. A return to public ownership of the railways and putting service before profit is way overdue. Only Labour are committed to delivering this.