Walkouts among 40,000 rail workers on Thursday and Saturday, along with London Underground strikes on Friday, have paralysed much of the UK transport industry this week.
The transport secretary then clashed with BBC Breakfast’s Charlie Stayt on Friday morning when he tried to correct the presenter’s claims about how many trains were actually running.
“You incorrectly told your viewers there’s only one train running from Manchester to London,” the minister said. “That’s not the case, even under the reduced timetable – it’s four trains an hour.”
Stayt replied by clarifying that there’s only one direct train between the two cities at the moment.
″Well, all I can tell you is there’s still trains running down the west coast mainline – the strikes do not enhance the situation,” Shapps responded.
Stayt pointed out while it seemed they were “getting bogged down in the detail”, this was still important.
Shapps then asked: “When you say direct, are you saying trains that stop at no other stations? Because trains stop at Milton Keynes, for example. I’m not quite clear on your definition.”
Stayt noted that had always been the case that trains stopped at Milton Keynes, while Shapps replied by claiming that, again, even under the reduced timetable, four trains an hour ran from Manchester to London.
This claim is not true for the current timetable.
BBC Breakfast’s official Twitter account even commented below the clip, pointing out that the advice from the train company Avanti West Coast’s website confirms: “We plan to run four trains an hour from London Euston.”
But, only one of these goes to Manchester – the other three go to Glasgow, Liverpool and Birmingham.
The website adds: “This amended timetable will be in place until further notice, and we will continue to monitor and review the situation.”
The shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, tweeted out her dismay at Shapps’ BBC Breakfast interview, sharing a screenshot of current train times.
She also described Shapps’ answers as “infuriating”, claiming: “The clueless transport secretary doesn’t have the first idea how bad the disruption he signed off on is.
“Passengers are paying the price for his sheer incompetence.”
Haigh is referring to Shapps’ refusal to talk to the unions leading the rail strikes, claiming that this dispute needs to be resolved between employers ad employees.
Asked in July (during the first wave of rail strikes) if he would get involved at any stage of negotiations, Shapps said: “It’s a no. This is a game by the unions – it’s a complete red herring as well and it’s simply not how strikes are resolved. It can only ever be the employer – in this case Network Rail and the train operating companies – and the union.”
Her frustration was shared by the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, who tweeted: “I can’t believe I’m watching this.
“What hope do we have when the Transport Secretary doesn’t know the details of the reduced timetable he signed off?”