Leaving the Doncaster Works in South Yorkshire in February 1923 and entering service exactly 100 years ago today (24 February), the Flying Scotsman is synonymous with the golden age of rail travel and is recognized as a feat of design and engineering.
Her achievements include hauling the inaugural non-stop train service from London to Edinburgh in 1928 and becoming the first UK locomotive to reach 100mph six years later.
A century later, it’s hard to imagine Sir Nigel Gresley, the designer of the iconic steam locomotive, being impressed by the unreliable train services that passengers must endure on a daily basis in Manchester and across the North.
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Poet laureate Simon Armitage, who penned a poem as part of efforts to mark the centenary, said the Flying Scotsman was “an emblem of when we could be proud” of railways, adding: “My railway at the moment through Huddersfield is absolutely shameful and chaotic.”
What to do about TransPennine Express (TPE), the rail operator under fire that runs trains from Huddersfield to Manchester, Leeds, York and the North East, was one of the big topics for political and business leaders at the Northern Transport Summit yesterday in Liverpool.
In the four weeks to February 4 alone, TPE cut 1,048 services due to train staff shortages, far more than any operator. The firm blamed high levels of illness, a driver training program and the lack of a ‘work day off’ agreement where crews work on their days off to fill roster gaps.
But the Labor Party’s shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, is unimpressed by TPE’s explanations, saying the problems it faces are “no different to those experienced by any other operator across the country”.
The Sheffield MP tells this week’s episode of The Northern Agenda podcast: “I would say the only people to blame for that are the management of TransPennine Express and we’ve really run out of steam, we’ve had enough of their behavior and mismanagement. ”.
Listen to the full interview with Louise Haigh on The Northern Agenda podcast:
She believes that instead of giving TPE a chance to deliver on its latest upgrade plan, the government should strip it of its contract immediately and hand it over to the nationalized ‘operator of last resort’ that runs services like Northern and LNER.
“It’s not a complete panacea because the system as a whole is broken, but it has provided short-term improvements and has been more reliable to be delivered by the carrier of last resort. So we think it’s definitely for the best.” interest of the passengers.
Speaking earlier at the conference, the government’s railway minister, Huw Merriman, said TPE’s services were not good enough, but whoever takes over the services “is going to end up in exactly the same situation because the situation is the underlying reform.
He called on the Aslef union to accept the Government’s offer to restore the working day off at TPE, which expired a few months ago and was not renewed, so that drivers can be trained to ensure that fewer trains are canceled in the short term. .
Minister Tory explained that with sickness rates of 14% in TPE and the lack of rest day work, if a conductor calls in sick, their train must be cancelled. And he said train crews can book vacations 48 hours in advance, making planning impossible. He said: “Tesco would not operate like that. And our passengers need the trains to operate in the same way as if you go to Tesco, with the exception of the fruit and vegetable aisle, and get your service, that’s what you’ve gone for.”
Meanwhile, first prize for not reading the room goes to the representative of the West Coast Partnership, who suggested that the North spends too much time “talking about our infrastructure and complaining about how broken it is.”
The asker, whose organization is responsible for the poor performance of intercity services between London and the North West, asked members of a conference panel how “we get better at rebuilding public trust and trust in transport.”
Panel events in Northern conferences are generally cool, collegiate affairs. But an irate Henri Murison of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership countered that the West Coast Partnership, which sponsored the conference, should apologize “for what it has done to the Northern economy” before talking about doing repair work.
He said the “disjointed relationship” between rail bosses and the workforce “has led to a dire situation, disproportionately affecting northern cities.”
Emma Degg, from the North West Business Leadership Team, added: “Service on the West Coast Main Line for my businesses would not be in London and the South East, full stop and I’m telling you we’re losing millions of pounds of investment.” .
A grounded West Coast Association official was forced to stand up and tell the audience: “I apologize and we are working very, very hard to fix the issues.”