Put bluntly, a successful West Yorkshire helps deliver a successful North Yorkshire – and vice versa.
It is critical that we have good long distance connections between the different parts of Yorkshire, and two projects hold the key to this – Northern Powerhouse Rail and High Speed 2.
Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), conceived and developed by the Northern authorities, is a bold vision for a new line between Manchester and Leeds to link some largest economic centres of our region.
NPR provides much-needed resilience across the Pennines and into York and North Yorkshire. The only current strategic route is the Victorian Trans-Pennine line, which is desperately in need of an upgrade to meet the needs of modern trains. It is good news that we expect Government will soon announce a multi-billion investment in the line.
If fully funded, the ‘TransPennine Route Upgrade’ will be a massive improvement for the services running between York and Manchester. It will add more track to allow more trains to operate, reducing delays and providing more capacity for the busiest rail connections in Yorkshire – between Kirklees and Leeds and York.
But even this solution is more about fixing the problems of the past rather than planning for the future. It will also mean considerable disruption while the existing line is improved over the coming years.
However, the most important issue is that it funnels all the trains down the same Victorian corridor. The line will likely be full from day one, and runs the risk of a ‘single point of failure’ that could impact on inter-city services right across the North.
To address these problems, and to truly give the North the East-West connectivity we need, it is imperative that Northern Powerhouse Rail is delivered.
Our vision is for a brand new line extending from Manchester to Bradford, Leeds, York and northwards. It would be separate from the existing Trans-Pennine route, bringing more capacity, better speeds and more resilience. It is a long-term project, but one we need to commit to now in order to have it ready for the Northern economy of the future.
It will also address a glaring gap in the mainline rail network in Britain – by connecting England’s third largest city, Bradford, and its 537,000 people, to the strategic rail network. This will not only benefit Bradford, but all those places that trade with it, and greatly increase access to skills, jobs and essential services.
We also need to continue to invest in Leeds railway station, which pre-pandemic was the busiest transport hub in the North of England. As well as being the station for one of Yorkshire’s largest economic centres, it plays a vital connecting role for the rest of the network, acting as a link to North Yorkshire and beyond.
We look forward to the Government publishing its ‘Integrated Rail Plan’ for the North.
This will offer the prospect of an overarching vision of a truly coordinated network that makes a real difference to the daily travel needs of North Yorkshire, and will be one of the most significant long-term investments that Government can make as part of ‘levelling up’.
Over successive years we have made our case to Government about the importance to the UK economy and society for investing in the North.
We now look forward to the Government’s response.
Susan Hinchcliffe is the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Portfolio Chair for Transport and the leader of Bradford Council
Carl Les is Leader of North Yorkshire County Council