UNLESS you try to use our local railways on a daily basis, you probably don’t understand how shockingly bad, how utterly appalling, they are.

Last year, my daughter, Genevieve, started at the Northern College of Art in Hartlepool. We live to the south of Darlington. The best way for her – and probably for the environment – to get there is to drive to Yarm station, park free, get the 9.22am TransPennine Express (TPE) which is timetabled to arrive at Thornaby at 9.31am, and then catch the 9.40am Northern service to Hartlepool.

Northern has taken all the flak this week, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps saying yesterday it is likely to collapse within months, but it is the good guy in our story.

TPE was so unreliable that a couple of weeks into the term, we began to keep a rail diary, and on 27 of 36 days Genevieve was attending college at the back end of last year, TPE was delayed by several minutes.

In the diary’s second week in late October, on two of four days, the delay was longer than nine minutes late so she missed the Hartlepool connection and so had to wait an hour for the next one.

This gave her time to master the Trainline app which gives real time updates of how a train is progressing – or standing still in the case of TPE. On November 6, her train was due to leave Leeds at 8.16am but appeared to be still stuck there at 8.43am. As it could not possibly reach Yarm at a reasonable time, we joined the rush-hour traffic on the A66 and drove to Thornaby – a tactic we had to employ the following day as at 9.11am the app said the train (due at Yarm at 9.22am) was still in York 38 minutes away.

As November wore on, TPE employed a new tactic to dispirit its passengers. With barely any warning, it cancelled her evening train home, leaving her stuck in Thornaby for an hour.

In the first half of December, evening trains were cancelled on eight occasions – once due to overhead wire issues, but usually the excuse was a lack of train crew or a lack of train drivers.

What sort of train company manager doesn’t have enough crew to run his trains? Ah, the TPE managing director is Leo Goodwin who we learned in October had enjoyed a 44 per cent pay rise, taking him to £331,000-a-year for presiding over this failure – TPE was the second worst company in the country with just 38.7 per cent of its trains arriving on schedule.

I raised TPE’s shocking performance with Mr Shapps when he was electioneering in Darlington. As a commuter himself, he offered Genevieve his sympathies, but said only: “It is nowhere near good enough for the area that invented the railway.”

Another local politician, saddened that the franchise system has taken away the power to hold failing companies to account, wryly said that with the aged Pacer trains finally being withdrawn, at least she’d soon be waiting on a new, comfortable seat.

This week, Mr Goodwin announced TPE season ticket holders would get a three per cent rebate because of his company’s lamentable performance, but a student travelling four days a week doesn’t have a season ticket, and her parents don’t receive any compensation for dropping everything and ferrying her from station to station.

College is flexible; you could not commute by rail in the Tees Valley and hold down a proper job.

On the first two days of the 2020 term this week, TPE was so late it left her stranded at Thornaby for an hour, so now she is joining the morning queues on the A66 and then, because our transport system is badly integrated and Thornaby station doesn’t have adequate parking, she is cruising the residential streets fighting with other commuters for a space.

The railway is so bad she’s been driven on to the roads. What an appalling state of affairs.