The latest “strategy” from the government for the UK’s beleaguered rail network has gone down like a lead balloon among trade unions, passenger groups, and industry experts.
Let’s get digital. Digital. We’re gonna get digital.
- “Safely allow more trains to run per hour by running trains closer together.”
- “Allow more frequent services and more seats.”
- “Cut delays by allowing trains to get moving more rapidly after disruption.”
- “Enable vastly improved mobile and WiFi connectivity, so that passengers can make the most of their travel time and communities close to the railway can connect more easily.”
The main area of focus of the strategy is digital signalling, which the government claims will provide drivers with “real-time information”. The plan is that that digital signalling will reduce delays, congestion, and disruption. According to Rail Technology Magazine, the government plans to upgrade 70% of journeys to “digital railway technology” in the next 15 years.
Launching the strategy, transport secretary Chris Grayling said:
We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railway since Victorian times to deliver what passengers want to see – faster, more reliable and more comfortable journeys.
Sadly the transport secretary’s plans haven’t convinced everyone.
It’s nothing but a smokescreen for Chris Grayling to suddenly start parading around as a great rail moderniser… No one is going to believe a word he says.
Britain’s railways have been jammed in the slow lane for decades due to a toxic combination of under investment, fragmentation and private profiteering.
To drag ourselves into the digital age will take more than a PR stunt. It will require real investment in staffing and technology and an end to the bleeding away of the cash required to make it happen by the greedy private train operators.
Respected rail journalist Roger Ford also poured scorn on the government’s plans:
Having got the embargoed press release for tomorrow's digital railway announcement by the Transport Secretary, it is clear that DfT doesn't have a clue about the technology and its capabilities.
— Roger Ford (@Captain_Deltic) May 9, 2018
Passengers hit back
The Association of British Commuters (ABC) isn’t buying the government’s plans either. Its co-founder Emily Yates told The Canary:
Not for the first time, we note that Chris Grayling’s rhetoric about innovation and technology is something that better resembles a relic of the ‘Victorian age’ – or perhaps, going back further, a superstitious practice like praying for rain. We are in the fourth industrial revolution, not the third, and this kind of technocratic PR-speak just doesn’t cut it anymore.
Read Yates’ full statement below:
The government: running out of track
The government didn’t convince the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) either. Its general secretary Manuel Cortes said:
…whilst… Grayling, appears to be offering jam tomorrow, passengers will be rightly asking what is he doing in the here and now to alleviate the myriad of problems they face on a daily basis. From overcrowded, clapped out trains to the highest and most complex fares in Europe, Grayling’s ‘Department for Failure’, is continuously letting our travelling public down…
If Grayling cared about passengers and taxpayers, the announcement he would be making today is that he was ending the failed Tory rail Frankenstein privatisation experiment.
People would be more likely to believe the government’s plans if its track record on our railways wasn’t an unmitigated disaster. With failed contracts, rail industry bail outs, and scathing parliamentary criticism, Grayling and the government’s ineptitude for the rail network knows no bounds. With public support for rail nationalisation continuing to be overwhelming, the government is proving it’s out of touch with our rail industry, and is rapidly running out of track.