AS a driver of economic growth, Britain’s rail network matters. It is why £15bn is being spent on the Crossrail scheme in London – successive governments have recognised that public transport improvements hold the key to the capital city’s continuing prosperity. It is why Crossrail’s successor is already being planned – the rewards will outweigh the costs.
This same mindset also holds the key to Yorkshire’s future financial fortunes and Chancellor George Osborne’s desire to turn the North into an “economic powerhouse” as support grows for a super-fast railway across the Pennines in addition to the HS2 railway linking London with Yorkshire and the North West. Even though just 45 miles – a relatively short journey in the South East – separate Leeds and Manchester, the number of people commuting between the two cities by train is miniscule in comparison.
Yet this rail revolution will not happen overnight. It will take decades for Britons to enjoy the type of high-speed trains that have been the norm in Japan for half a century following the introduction of the first Bullet services in October 1964. In the meantime, the greatest challenge is sourcing additional rolling stock to ease a chronic overcrowding crisis as part of the renegotiation of the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express franchises.
Take Northern Rail. Many of its 30-year-old diesel trans have been likened to “buses on rails” – they are relics that belong to a bygone age. Or the TransPennine Express. Despite passengers having to stand for many journeys, 18 carriages could still be switched to Chiltern Railways to benefit London commuters. It can’t go on like this. Londoners would not tolerate such a third-rate service – there would be uproar. It is time for Mr Osborne to put his money where his mouth is and order his colleagues across Whitehall to end five decades of under-investment in Yorkshire’s railways. The sooner he acts, the quicker the North’s economy can get back on track and start making a more substantial contribution to the Exchequer’s finances.
No, Non, Nein: Cameron must echo Thatcher
how IRONIC that Margaret Thatcher lost her job shortly after responding to plans for greater political and economic union in Europe by telling the House of Commons: “No. No. No.” It proved too much for Sir Geoffrey Howe, whose resignation brought about the Iron Lady’s downfall.
Yet there’s a likelihood that David Cameron will suffer a similar fate at the next election unless he responds with similar stridency to the European Union’s preposterous demand for an additional £1.7bn to Britain under a funding mechanism that dates back to 1995 and is linked to economic performance. To avoid any doubt, three small words will suffice – No, Non, Nein.
The United Kingdom already pays its dues to Brussels to the tune of £8.6bn a year. It is ludicrous that this country should be penalised for out-performing other EU countries like France and Germany, not least because Britain took the decision to opt out of the euro. This is prima facie evidence of why Mr Cameron is right to demand a root and branch renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU before a referendum. The status quo must not persist and it was particularly unedifying to listen yesterday to Ed Balls accusing the Prime Minister of a lack of leadership when Labour will not even give the British people a say on this issue.
Even though Labour would, presumably, pay the bill, the political problems are Mr Cameron’s because of the electoral theat posed by Ukip ahead of another by-election. If voters wanted further proof of the importance of returning a Tory government next May in order to bring about lasting EU reform, this is it.
Pollution poser: Park in countryside conundrum
THERE is a certain irony to the latest report which confirms that the North York Moors are a pollution hotspot. To many, this idyllic National Park is a remote wilderness which could not provide a greater contrast to Yorkshire’s congestion-filled cities.
It also illustrates the proverbial ‘catch-22’ dilemma facing park bosses. They want to welcome more visitors – tourism is the glue that holds the rural economy together – but they also have a duty to preserve the natural environment for future generations to treasure.
Better public transport, including park-and-ride facilities, is one answer – but can the cost of this be justified when so many commuters are travelling on the aforementioned, bone-rattling trains that have been likened to ‘buses on rails’?