‘Ashamed’ rail staff hide from public because of poor train services, Lords told

Rail staff have taken to hiding from the travelling public because they are so “ashamed” of the service being offered, Parliament has been told.

The House of Lords also heard seasoned train managers were “absolutely terrified” of going to work because they do not know if they will be properly stocked or if the equipment will work, leaving them to face abuse from angry passengers.

The poor performance of train services and problems on the network were highlighted during a transport debate in the upper chamber.

It coincided with Labour unveiling flagship plans to renationalise the railways if the party wins the general election.

Speaking at Westminster, Labour peer and former railwayman Lord Snape said: “The failings of our railway network are many and manifold.”

While fares had gone up, reliability had declined since privatisation, he argued.

Lord Snape said the high daily rate of cancellations had also led to a “collapse of morale” among those employed in the industry.

He told peers: “I use Birmingham International station on a regular basis to travel to and from London. The staff there tell me that on some days they hide from the public because they are so ashamed of the product that they have to put in front of them.

“They also say that, by and large, information is not transported down the line – no pun intended – to those at the front end so that they can pass it on to passengers.

“They are as unaware as the rest of us of when things go wrong and how they can be put right.”

This was echoed by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goddard of Stockport, who also criticised the unreliability of services.

He said: “If you talk to train managers who have been there for 20 or 25 years, they will tell you that they are absolutely terrified of turning up for work.

“They have no idea whether the stock will be there and the kit will work, and they take abuse from the public, day in, day out. That is absolutely unacceptable.”

Concerns over the current state of rail services were also raised on the Government’s own benches.

Tory former minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth said: “The system is creaking badly. We see it every day and it is harming our economy.”

Independent crossbencher and former BBC boss Lord Birt, who served as a strategy adviser to Tony Blair argued the UK’s transport system “is not remotely fit for purpose”.

He said: “The train from Liverpool to Norwich, passing through and stopping at some of our great cities – Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Peterborough – takes five and a half hours.

“If, rather than take the train from Liverpool to Norwich, you decided instead to fly from Liverpool to Sharm el-Sheikh, you would reach Sharm el-Sheikh more quickly than you would Norwich.”

He added: “As in so many areas of our national life, we are now operating in slow motion as a country. We need to get a grip. We need massively to raise our game.

“In transport, we need to learn from the rest of the world and identify what kind of infrastructure is needed in a crowded country heading towards and beyond a population of 70 million.

“We need to accept that it will take 25 to 50 years to create, but we need to start now.”

Responding, transport minister Lord Davies of Gower said: “The department has been clear that the current performance of the railway is unacceptable. The industry needs to make significant improvement to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers deserve.

“That is why the department has regular high-level meetings on punctuality and reliability with both Network Rail and representatives of the train operators to hold rail partners to account.”