What's gone on in the world of rail this month? Read on to find out.
New plans for northern rail
The government has unveiled its new plan for improving rail services in the north of England. Existing services are to be maintained and capacity will be increased on key routes as part of the project.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin stated: "Rail services across the north are vital for passengers and for the economy. By helping people access work and leisure more easily, we are securing long-term economic growth across the region."
Among the improvements that are set to be delivered include more carriages between Manchester and Blackpool, greater capacity on Cumbrian Coast services and electric trains on the Manchester Victoria to Liverpool and Liverpool to Preston routes.
Other projects will see new services between Manchester and south Cumbria, as well as the maintenance of an hourly service between Manchester Airport, Sheffield, Doncaster and Cleethorpes. Finally, services between Manchester, west Yorkshire, north Yorkshire, Yorkshire coast, Humberside and the north-east will all be guaranteed a minimum of three carriages or 181 seats.
Fare freeze begins
The government has also put into place a freeze on rail fare increased. As of January 2nd, regulated fare rises have been capped at the rate of inflation, marking the second year in a row this measure has been enforced.
"We are investing in the biggest rail modernisation since the Victorian era, and fares have a crucial role to play in funding these improvements," Mr McLoughlin commented.
As a result of the freeze, regulated fares will not be able to rise by more than 2.5 per cent this year. The government has also removed train operators' ability to increase individual fares by as much as two per cent or more. These companies have been asked to improve the information they provide when people buy tickets.
According to industry figures, 97 pence of every pound spent on rail fares goes back into the network, be it through maintenance, improvement works, or staff and train costs.
Shadow business secretary and Southern Rail spat
January has seen the shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna become embroiled in a spat with Southern Rail concerning the number of late train services run by the franchise.
Writing on Twitter, the politician stated: "Surprise surprise...@SouthernRailUK train to Streatham Hill delayed. Totally shabby service. On the case."
Southern Rail responded the train was delayed due to an earlier problem. However, Mr Umunna pointed to Network Rail statistics that show less than half (40.9 per cent) of the franchise's trains arrived on time, claiming this is evidence of an "endemic problem", the London Evening Standard reports.
Network Rail defends Christmas actions
Network Rail has defended the way it handled the disruption to rail services in London over the Christmas period. Overrunning maintenance work meant King’s Cross was closed on December 27th and passengers were instead transferred to the much smaller Finsbury Park. The station struggled to cope with the huge numbers of travellers and many people missed trains due to overcrowding.
Network Rail’s operations director Robin Gisby stood by the decision and said he would make it again, even though he admitted the conditions were not ideal.
"Finsbury Park was entirely unsuitable compared with King’s Cross but there was nothing else we could do. Any other decision would have caused even more discomfort for passengers," he stated.
Mr Gisby was speaking to the Commons transport committee, which is looking into how the disruption was handled. Network Rail has revealed it will look into the possibility of moving major repair and maintenance works away from the Christmas period.
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