Blackfriar: Lack of stock? Our railway system is a laughing stock

25/9/09  A view of Leeds  across the railway lines at Leeds Station, from the Watermans Place development  at Granary Wharf in Leeds
25/9/09 A view of Leeds across the railway lines at Leeds Station, from the Watermans Place development at Granary Wharf in Leeds
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SOMETIMES you can only really understand your home city by viewing it from a distance.

We all grumble about terrible transport connections that blight vast swathes of God’s Own County.

Commuters travelling relatively short distance in Yorkshire face overcrowded and delayed trains, or congested roads.

One of Blackfriar’s colleagues has to endure a joyless struggle on his daily commute to work on the railway. We’re not talking a journey of Trans-Siberian proportions either.

The journey from Dewsbury to Leeds ought to take as little as 10 minutes, but Blackfriar’s colleague has been driven to distraction by trains that don’t run on time, or are so overcrowded that passengers are forced to travel in the toilet.

Last week, Blackfriar visited Nuremberg, a German city that has rebuilt itself around a superb, seamless transport system.

After arriving at the city’s gleaming airport terminal – where free short-term parking seems to be relatively easy to find – you can explore the city on a tram or underground system that is a model of cleanliness and punctuality.

Back in the 1960s, a far-sighted German government chose to invest in its public transport network, at a time when the Beeching cuts were destroying railway stations and lines around Britain.

Today, you can navigate your way around Nuremberg in a relatively speedy, and environmentally friendly, manner. The same cannot be said of Leeds, or many other British cities.

Nuremberg has precisely the type of transport system that cities like Leeds have been screaming out for for years.

The brutal fact is that, when it comes to public transport, Britain has fallen horribly behind its economic rivals.

Companies in places like Nuremberg, which is a similar size to Leeds, are finding it much easier to extend a welcome to investors from India and China because their transport system works better.

What really struck Blackfriar on his trip to Nuremberg was the quiet efficiency of the public transport system, and the lack of litter and grime.

It’s no surprise that almost half of SMEs in Yorkshire believe that they would become less efficient if they had to rely on public transport. Many business people feel that their only option is to hop in a car and join the nearest traffic jam.

The findings from the Lex Autolease/YouGov survey shows a clear North-South divide, with firms in London far more inclined to rely on the bus, underground or train.

This is partly due to the short-sightedness of policy makers in the 1960s, but also shows how successive Governments have simply ignored the needs of the North of England. Almost a quarter of Yorkshire-based SMEs said they were poorly served by public transport. It’s a very different story in London, which, as the report states, is served by the country’s most sophisticated transport network.

The under-investment in Yorkshire’s transport system is a national scandal, because it stops our economy from growing and increases the risk of local people suffering unemployment and poverty.

The changes promised by the Government as part of its “Northern Powerhouse” won’t have any impact for years.

Yesterday, passengers were promised a transformation in their journeys as the winning companies in the competitions to run Yorkshire rail services were announced. Most commuters will shrug their shoulders or roll their eyes, and hunt, possibly in vain, for a seat on the train.

What is needed is spending today on more carriages and new stations.

Old railway lines, where possible, should be brought back into use. This change won’t come cheaply, but the rewards would be glorious.

Just think of the colossal sums spent on the transport system in the South in recent years. If a fraction of that amount had been spent in the North our working lives would be very different.