December 10: New age of the train – or not?

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Franchises have much to prove

THE two firms entrusted with the future of rail services across Yorkshire have much to prove if they’re to meet the public’s expectations. After all, Arriva had a dismal reputation here before losing the Northern franchise which it has now won back after the latest tendering exercise while First Group can consider itself very fortunate to have retained control of the TransPennine Express.

Unlike previous deals which did not foresee the untapped potential of this region’s railways, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin has used this opportunity to insist that the new franchise-holders invest in new rolling stock to help ease overcrowding on rush-hour trains. Yet it remains to be seen whether these operators, and their partners, can deliver the “world class rail service” envisaged by Mr McLoughlin and which is so integral to the much-vaunted Northern Powerhouse which aims to improve connectivity between major cities.

Even though there will be far more local oversight by Mr McLoughlin’s department than in the past, there must be the prospect of significant fare increases down the line – the promises made by the franchisees exceeded those which were expected of the Transport Secretary.

And then there is the question of planning for the long-term. These announcements coincided with a warning by accountants from EY that the first benefits of the Northern Powerhouse, and promised infrastructure investment, will not be seen until 2020 at the earliest. This needs to be seen in the context of the simultaneous warning from the respected IPPR North think-tank that the Northern Powerhouse will only begin to fulfil its potential if the line from Hull to Liverpool is totally transformed as a matter of priority.

Though the electrification of this route is now back on track, it remains to be seen whether this project will come to represent a new age of the train – or just another false dawn. Like the new franchise-holders, the Government, too, has much to prove if Yorkshire is finally to receive a rail service which stands bears comparison with the rest of the country. It’s the very least that this county’s long-suffering travellers expect.

Pulling together: Tour de Yorkshire unites county

IF only Yorkshire’s political leaders could harness the positive energy which continues to be derived from cycling. For, while this region’s town hall leaders still can’t decide whether to work in tandem, or not, when it comes to devolution, next year’s Tour de Yorkshire – a legacy of the 2014 Grand Départ – shows what is still possible when the county pulls in the same direction.

Not only is the proposed route far more daunting than this year’s inaugural race, not least the dramatic and circuitous final stage from Middlesbrough to Scarborough via iconic ascents like Sutton Bank, but the route encompasses every part of the region from urban conurbations to market towns and little-known villages.

The potential benefits do not end here. Not only will the second stage, from Otley to Doncaster, feature a full-length women’s race in deference to Yorkshire’s latest world champion Lizzie Armitstead, but the planned television coverage means that both the sporting spectacle – and Yorkshire’s stunning scenery – will be broadcast to as many as 174 countries.

This can only help to reaffirm Yorkshire’s new-found status as the cycling capital of the world. Now all is required is for the county’s political and business leaders to embrace the vision, energy and dynamism of Welcome to Yorkshire’s indomitable Sir Gary Verity who, yet again, has delivered an object lesson in team work and the art of the possible.

In very safe hands: Yorkshire’s youth policy pays dividends

CONTRARY to popular perception, not all young people are bad. In many respects, their willingness to learn, and their humanity towards the less fortunate, represents the very best of Yorkshire.

This is illustrated by the fact that two inspirational people from this county, Ashleigh Porter-Exley and Adam Bradford, have just been honoured by the Queen’s Young Leaders Award scheme.

Given that there are just 60 recipients across the whole of the Commonwealth, and two of the UK’s three award-winners come from Yorkshire, this accolade is testament to not only this county’s youth policy, but the willingness of the next generation, thanks to Ashleigh, Adam and many others, to rise to the challenge and show that this region’s best days lie in the future and not the past.