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Chris Grayling is presiding over a rail catastrophe

Tom Fitzpatrick

Crossrail’s opening could be pushed back by almost a year as the scheme’s central section continues to struggle with rising costs and delays.

The announcement is likely to put paid to Crossrail 2 being green-lit any time soon. This government simply doesn’t have the fight for what will become an even more politically toxic project due to today’s revelations.

Remember, Crossrail (to be called the Elizabeth line) was itself subject to decades of delay before construction work even began. In that time, central London became an ever more complex web of thronged streets and development.

Having finally been approved under Gordon Brown, it became a political football under the next coalition government.

Boris Johnson famously claims credit for “not scrapping it”. I wonder will he be taking credit today?

Don’t expect the government to make the brave decision to start Crossrail 2 any time soon, given it is gripped by a crisis on northern rail infrastructure, as well as escalating costs and political conflict on HS2. This government currently seems to lack conviction, let alone the courage of its convictions.

Crossrail 2 is one of many schemes that need to go ahead in order to keep the country moving, especially post-Brexit.

These schemes are not only needed for the country to operate effectively, but to ensure the economy doesn’t collapse. The work on Crossrail and the Olympics prevented the construction industry from suffering complete meltdown after the global financial crisis.

The man behind the uncertainty

But today, the UK’s rail infrastructure is engulfed in a storm and is now second only to housing in terms of its divisiveness and uncertainty. 

The man presiding over all of this is the transport secretary Chris Grayling.

“The transport secretary is not only losing the knowledge of senior industry leaders who should be responsible for these projects, but is also seemingly losing his grip on the nation’s railways”

Mr Grayling, who chaired the prime minister’s successful leadership campaign, has been in post for more than two years now as rail infrastructure has descended into farce.

There have been unprecedented cross-party and cross-media campaigns to hold this government to account over its failure of leadership on rail timetabling and upgrades in the North.

But this crisis is extending throughout the UK. Electrification schemes have been delayed or axed. Network Rail is under fire for the northern chaos, but try telling Southern commuters this isn’t a UK problem. HS2 costs are coming under further scrutiny.

Executive exodus

In the last 18 months, the chief executives of Crossrail, Network Rail and HS2 have all departed and been replaced – the three people responsible for the biggest portion of UK infrastructure, all of whom have exited under the current transport secretary.

Crossrail’s CEO Andrew Wolstenholme has left the industry to join BAE Systems. HS2’s Simon Kirby departed the rail sector to join Rolls-Royce (and has subsequently departed from there too). Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne has also retired from the industry.  

Sir David Higgins is being replaced as chairman of HS2 – ironically by Crossrail’s chairman, the respected Sir Terry Morgan.

The transport secretary is not only losing the knowledge of senior industry leaders who should be responsible for these projects, but is also seemingly losing his grip on the nation’s railways.

At a recent grilling by MPs, Mr Grayling said he was “not a specialist in rail matters”.

There is now a complete lack of faith in his ability to manage this crisis. Given that Theresa May has threatened to take control of the housing shortage personally (how’s that going, by the way?) perhaps she could add the rail crisis to her portfolio before things get any worse.

Readers' comments (3)

  • I would suggest it is our industry that is losing its grip - we are failing Mr Grayling. It would be far more interesting if CN did some articles on the various problems our industry has delivered (why they happened, what we can learn from them) rather than putting the boot in on Mr Grayling who just seems to be a whipping boy for others' failures. I was thinking about taking out a subscription for CN but if this is the level of journalistic comment on the issues confronting the industry then I don't think I'll bother.

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  • I think the above comment is unfair. CN regularly has extensive articles / investigations looking at when and how things go wrong in the industry. For example, they were way ahead of any other news publication on the Carillion debacle and have shown great leadership on issues such as mental health and diversity, and they rarely point the finger at Government for the sake of it. I do not agree that their article casts Chris Grayling as a whipping boy for the failures of others. As the Secretary of State, the buck stops with him and he has demonstrated for many years, and across many ministerial posts (not just transport) that he is not fit for purpose.

    Before his current role at Transport, Chris Grayling was the Justice Minister. He is directly responsible, via ruthless and ill-considered budget cuts and hapless decision making (generally against advice of those far better qualified than him) for many of the shambles to have hit the justice system during and following his tenure there. These include the recent riots in prisons attributable to chronic staff shortages and the Govt taking over Birmingham prison (30% staff cuts and £1bn cut from the budget during his time there and a deliberate policy of making prisons more ‘more spartan’); the disastrous reforms to the Probation Service, which he was warned at the time were misconceived; cuts to legal aid and the Court Service leading to more miscarriages of justice, mistakes, an understaffed service and an undermined legal system (ask his fellow Conservative MP Nigel Evans what he thinks of Grayling’s ruthless legal aid cuts and ‘reforms’ – it cost him £130k of his own money, which he is not entitled to recover, to clear his name of very serious criminal charges).

    During his time at the DfT he has overseen, indeed created, delays to the improvements that were promised to Northern rail infrastructure (whilst at the same time passing the buck to local councils), cancellation of several electrification schemes, the shambolic East Coast bailout (at a massive cost to taxpayers), the ongoing Northern Rail chaos and now delays to Crossrail.

    MPs and ministers often unfairly carry the can and have the finger pointed at them for things that are not really their doing. In Mr Grayling’s case, I’m afraid he’s either extremely unlucky to have suffered so many mishaps across his various Government roles, or he’s simply not up to it. Anyone can make a mistake, but to make so many without accepting any responsibility or seemingly learning anything from his misadventures takes a special kind of person. Mr Grayling is very much failing the industry, rather than the other way around. CN is on the right side of this, and are right in calling the minister out for it.

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  • Well said Chris Hallam, Grayling must go.

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