IF there was any doubt that Yorkshire would be excluded from Britain’s high-speed rail network, those fears were nullified with a visionary statement by Transport Secretary Justine Greening that puts this region at the vanguard of a new railway revolution.
She is to be congratulated for endorsing a framework that has the potential to enable passengers to catch an early morning train in Leeds or Sheffield – and be in the heart of Paris by lunchtime, and also without the inconvenience of changing services in London.
That this region will finally enjoy direct trains to and from the heart of Europe is an unexpected bonus from an announcement that recognises the potential of 200mph trains to transform the economic dynamic of the whole country and, specifically, those parts of the North denied major rail investment for too long.
It is also testament to the persistence of this newspaper’s Fast Track to Yorkshire campaign that Rotherharm-born Ms Greening is looking to include the Leeds leg of the planned HS2 network in the first tranche of legislation that will have to pass through Parliament.
Again, this is welcome. It offers clear recognition that high-speed rail is critical to this region’s future – and that this Government does not intend to be sidetracked by its increasingly vocal opponents in the Home Counties who claim that the line is financially unviable and an unnecessary blot on their landscape.
However, it is paramount that such negativity and nimbyism is overcome. If such a mantra had prevailed in the 19th century, the railways would not have been built. Likewise, those opposed the construction of motorways or those residents who tried to block the Channel Tunnel rail link through Kent – there are occasions, in history, when the national interest has to take precedence over local sensitivities, and this is one such instance.
For, while people living along the route’s first phase already enjoy frequent and reliable trains into London and beyond, the same cannot be said for those parts of the country that have had to “make do” with sub-standard services for far too long. Ms Greening recognises this and her challenge now is to deliver a combination of high-speed and suburban services that compare favourably with Europe’s finest.